Botswana safaris are truly special. The country doesn’t see as many tourists as most other countries in Southern and East Africa, but this in no way diminishes the quality of the game viewing and safari experience Botswana has to offer – and in many ways, it’s a bonus. Rural Botswana is an inhospitable place for humans, but a country that manages to support an incredible diversity and number of wildlife.
Botswana is a large, wild country (approximately the size of France) with a decent – but very limited – road network where only the major roads are tarmacked. This makes Botswana a safari destination for the intrepid. If you’re planning on doing an independent safari in Botswana a high-clearance 4WD vehicle and spirit of self-reliance are essential to get the most out of your visits to the national parks.
Self-drive safaris are a big thing in Botswana and are popular with overland tours and independent travellers alike. You’ll need a rugged 4WD to access all areas, and be confident that you’re totally self-sufficient if camping on your own in the bush. If this safari style doesn’t appeal then browse our guide to safari companies in Botswana to speak to a professional.
Geographically Botswana is covered in scrub bush and savannah grasslands, with the occasional impressive geographic feature such as the Okavango Delta and huge salt pans. The country is landlocked and lies at a fairly consistent average elevation of 1,000m. The windswept and sand-based Kalahari covers over 80% of the country in the south, west, and centre. To the north lies 15,000 km sq of the Okavango Delta, fed by the Okavango River and forming the northern border with Namibia. To the east lie the great salt and clay desert of the Makgadikadi Pans and occasional deciduous forests towards the Zimbabwe border.
As the Okavango river and delta supply a year-round water supply to much of northern Botswana, they support a vast array of Southern African mammal species. These include the big five, wild dog, hippos, hyenas, honey badgers and a broad range of hoofed mammals. Each year Botswana is home to its own annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, and other animals as they move from their winter ranges in the Makgadikgadi plains to the summer feeding grounds of the Nxai Pan region. Not as large in scale as the East African migration, but there are also far fewer tourists around to take away from the experience. This lack of tourists, the sheer scale of the wilderness and abundance of game in Botswana’s national parks come together to make Botswana a safari destination that’s hard to better, wherever you visit in Africa.
Botswana safari highlights
Okavango Delta fly-in safari
Safaris don’t come much better or more luxurious than an all-inclusive fly-in safari deep in the Okavango Delta. Take a four-seater flight over the wetlands, wildlife spotting as you’re flown to an exclusive, out-of-the-way lodge for a few days of game drives, safari walks, and boat trips.
Best time to safari in Botswana
May to August is the best time to organize a safari in Botswana, as during this winter season the days are cool and sunny, and the lack of water drives the wildlife to congregate around permanent water sources. At this time getting around the country is fairly straightforward, with dust rather than water being the main obstacle. During winter months wildlife spotting is easy – simply find a river or watering hole and dig in to wait for the action. Bear in mind is that July and August is school holiday time, meaning more tourists than usual, higher prices for safari accommodation and tours, and busier national parks.
October to April is summer season in Botswana but brings with it severe heat and the rains – occasionally in extreme amounts. Getting around the country by road during summer can be disrupted by flooding, as many of the secondary roads are not tarmacked. Wildlife is also more dispersed and harder to spot, hidden by lush vegetation. An exception to this is in parts of the Okavango Delta where there’s so much flooding that many islands form, trapping wildlife which can be viewed from a boat – though vegetation still causes a problem.
National parks in Botswana
All national parks in Botswana are run by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), based in Gaborone, who enforce a strict no driving after dark rule in the parks. (See this great article on driving in Botswana.)
Whilst not actually a national park or reserve, Botswana is renown worldwide for the Okavango Delta region in the north of the country, providing water and supporting an incredible array of African wildlife.
Top Botswana national park picks
Chobe National Park
Botswana’s first national park at 11,000 km sq, there’s easy access for spectacular game viewing from a boat on the Chobe river and the network of dirt and gravel roads. The Savuti area in south west Chobe is recognised as having one the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.
Central Kalahari National Park
One of Africa’s largest protected area at a whopping 52,000 km sq. Braving the tough conditions in your own 4WD may reward you with viewings of hyena packs and prides of lions in the unforgiving desert.