To safari in this bountiful corner of Africa is to venture into an unchecked natural world that casts life into the driest and most unforgiving of deserts. Delight in secluded delta enclaves, relax in sumptuous lodges deep within national parks, or observe reeds rustling with wildlife on softly-gliding river cruises.
Exemplifying the high-yield, low-impact tourism model, Botswana’s roadless, unrestricted, sparsely-populated plains have cultivated some of Africa’s most memorable safari experiences, along with the development of indulgent lodges. The lush Okavango Delta – ‘the river that never finds the sea’ – flows from the fertile north of the country into the fierce Kalahari. It’s this miraculous body of water that supports Botswana’s staggering population of game, roaming completely unchecked and unhurried by human development: witness zebra gallop through sapphire waters, and spiral-horned kudu spar in a flash of dust; watch elephants forge paths through golden grasslands, and lions hunker low awaiting unsuspecting herds of gazelle. In vibrant lagoons, see startling contrasts of savannah and wetlands, enjoy silently exhilarating bush walks, and have the chance to navigate the green labyrinth of waterways in a traditional mokoro canoe.
Drive into the shimmering nothingness of the Makgadikgadi or Nxai salt pans where the curvature of the earth is pierced by mysterious islands guarded by thick-trunked baobabs that have stood there for millennia. Come the rainy season, these flat lands transform into a watery paradise for, among others, migrating flamingoes, pink-backed pelicans and saddle-billed storks. Wake to the Linyanti Reserve’s colourful dawn chorus, which announces the splashing arrival of enormous elephant herds, while further south the papyrus-lined waterways of Botswana’s most ecologically diverse area – Chobe National Park – are awash with crocodiles, hippos and buffalos. At night, brilliant stars illuminate the unending space of the Kalahari which, by day, is one of Botswana’s most adventurous and isolated safari destinations; fossil river valleys, acacia-spotted grasslands and dunes are home to remarkable desert-adapted game and its black maned lion predator. Just a stone’s throw outside Botswana’s northern border, the mighty, nearby Victoria Falls spills the Zambezi’s torrents into the zig-zagging canyon below – an unforgettable addition to tailor-made holidays to Botswana.
Botswana has them all in abundance. Rumbling herds of migrating Cape buffalo are found throughout the country, like the huge, hardy African elephant, while the Okavango is the best place to spot lonesome rhinos emerge between the reeds. African lions lounge arrogantly wherever they please, but you’ll want to take a night safari for your best chance to see the enigmatic, nocturnal African leopard.
The world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango is Botswana’s life-spawning heart; a tranquil network of waterways and lagoons whose thick green vegetation nourishes a tremendous variety of animal and bird life. Paddle blissfully on mokoro canoes, take a safari boat, or luxuriate at a private island lodge for animated panoramas of this flourishing habitat.
Exploring the African bush on foot draws you closer to the action, creating a real sense of intimacy with Botswana’s diverse wildlife and sprawling beauty. But it’s the San tribespeople, whose ancestors created the 4000 rock paintings in the Tsodilo Hills, who offer the most culturally educational and spiritually humbling safaris. Men hunt with silent agility and poisoned arrows, while women gather food from the land – all with a wise respect that will enrich your time in Botswana.
Known locally as ‘The Smoke that Thunders’, the world’s largest sheet of falling water tumbles at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, irresistibly close to northern Botswana. Tailor a visit into your itinerary for awe-inspiring views and opportunities to zip line, bungee, or white-water raft. Take the plunge into the Devil’s Pool, inches from the waterfall’s edge, or slow the pulse with the Royal Livingstone Hotel’s sumptuous spa, and twilight cruises on the mesmeric upper Zambezi.
Highlights of Botswana
10 days from £8,865 pp incl. flights
This is a safari at its most indulgent. Explore the winding waterways of the Okavango Delta and the vast expanse of the Kalahari Desert with stays in ultra-luxury lodges, enjoying all-inclusive activities and dining.
Highlights of Southern Africa
14 days from £6,200 pp incl. flights
Take in highlights of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa as you cruise under the world’s largest waterfall, enjoy two national-park safaris, and plunge through Southern Africa on a luxury rail journey before ending in Cape Town.