Beautiful Botswana really is a jewel in Africa’s crown. This is no idle phrase, either. After the discovery of two huge diamond mines back in the 1970s, Botswana has gone from strength to strength. Through good governance and prudent re-investment, it’s been termed “one of the world’s great development success stories”, by the World Bank no less.
But what does all this mean to the would-be traveller? Thankfully, a good proportion of this prosperity has gone towards protecting the country’s natural treasures. With a fantastic conservation record, it’s widely acknowledged that Botswana offers an exceptional safari experience, featuring both the fabled Big Five and a truly unique diversity of habitats. Indeed, among the deserts, grasslands and savannas, one region stands as the most iconic – the Okavango Delta.
This vast ecosystem is formed each year when the rain tumbles down from the Angolan highlands and becomes stuck between two ancient earthquake faults. With no great lake or sea to flow in to, the water spills and floods fan-like across the plains, bringing great migrations in from the hinterland. It’s simply gorgeous and supports such an abundance of bird- and animal-life that, in 2014, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Without further ado, here’s your guide to making the most of this fantastic destination.
Obviously, the wildlife is the star of the show. Chobe National Park, for instance, is home to no fewer than 100,000 elephants – the highest concentration anywhere in the world. So prolific is the population, I almost found myself sharing my luxury tented room with one! More on that later. However, the big cats are my favourites. I could have sat for hours watching lion cubs play-stalk their older siblings, suddenly pouncing on and waking their dozing parents sleeping away the midday heat under shaded bushes. I’ll also never forget coming across a cheetah on a fresh kill, its little cubs – still fluffy with their infant facial hair – playing with a now-detached antelope tail.
I also enjoyed a personal wildlife first – a night safari. It was a revelation. Alongside a darling bush baby, several spring hare and a bat-eared fox family with two young cubs, we even came across the very rare and incredibly mean-looking honey badger. That’s on top of a whole host of lesser-known gems, including the cutesy aardwolf and the tiny cat-like genet. While I was lucky enough to spot the African civet, a distant furry cousin of the raccoon, I missed out on the pangolin anteater. It’s considered the holy grail of animal sightings, with African bush-lore citing it as a sign of great wealth to come.
It will come as no surprise that a good proportion of your time in Botswana should be dedicated to exploring its waterway maze. Spectacular channels weave between reed islands, grassy plains are animated by a wealth of wildlife and odd, lonely palm trees dot glittering rivers. Even a simple boat arrival to your lodge is transformed into an adrenaline-fueled spectacular. You’ll also want to slow things down with sundowners enjoyed on a floating pontoon boat or a trip in a traditional mokoro dugout canoe, punted by an expert guide. In short, there’s nowhere better in the world for a water safari.
I also highly recommend taking it all in from the air, whether on a charter-flight hop between lodges or a sightseeing helicopter flight. It’s the chance to really appreciate the sheer scale of the delta labyrinth. Then, in the national parks and reserves, you’ll be exploring with game drives, punctuated by stops for refreshing smoothies and, of course, champagne. The wildlife watching continues back at base, with most lodges featuring their own waterholes. It’s the perfect backdrop to evenings spent round the boma fire, enjoying traditional barbecue dinners, African song performances and the views of the inky dark sky glittering with thousands of stars.
While it wasn't an "official trip" our game guide Jason at Qorokwe Camp deserves a special mention. Alongside helping us spot the elusive black rhino, he even insisted on taking us to his village. We were passing and he insisted on inviting us in – a true privilege!
No other African safari destination offers the range of exclusive accommodation that Botswana does. With restricted visitor numbers, they’re delightfully intimate, typically consisting of between six to eight exquisite tents or lodge rooms. And, peppered away in private concessions, the lodges blend into the ecosystem with environmentally conscious design, offering exceptional views of their privileged setting. What’s more, alongside sustainable practices, the government also encourages community support and conservation projects, ensuring the protection and preservation of its natural treasures.
There’s also more than a touch of luxury. Lodges tend towards the all-inclusive, so you can expect to enjoy the likes of afternoon teas, fine-dining meals and sundowners of ice-cold Amarula – a cream liqueur from the fruit of the same name. The lodges’ amenities are also suitably impressive, and I enjoyed everything from my own plunge pool to a world-class massage on my room’s private deck. However, my accommodations’ most impressive visitor was an interloping elephant, who all but wandered into my luxury tent.
Lastly, across all my visits, the staff were fantastic. I was constantly struck by the friendliness of the people, the warmth of their welcome and the passion for their amazing, land-locked country and her wildlife.
In my opinion, there’s not a wrong time to visit Botswana, but I particularly enjoy the “green season”, from November through March. Here, animals can be found sat right along the roads and tracks, as most don’t care for the long, wet grass. That said, I found that the hyenas were more than happy to sit down in a puddle! Alternatively, look to the dry season for clear skies, comfortable temperatures and abundant animals. It begins in May, but really comes into its own over June, July and August.
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend and Botswana became mine. If you’ve been inspired by my guide, take a look at our Highlights of Botswana itinerary for the ultimate in luxury. Alternatively, get in contact with one of our Africa specialists to start planning your own trip. For more information, fill out an enquiry form or call us on 020 7590 0770.