BOTSWANA Natural Attractions
The main touristic attraction is wildlife in the 12 national parks and reserves. But given the sheer size of the open country, a climatic cycle of alternating periods of drought and rain, man’s encroachment into unprotected game areas, and the resultant interference with game migration routes, the highly mobile game appears seasonally in any locality, and its population fluctuates considerably in size. Hence, a little research and good luck are required in order to see the most in the nearly 100,000 km2 of protected land. But despite the fact that game is not always abundant, is not easily found, cannot be seen from domestic comfort, and the exercise is an expensive one, to those who have been there, Botswana is still the place to visit and experience the real meaning of wilderness. To these people, the thrill of animal herds cannot compare to the bewitching charm of pristine wilderness experienced in the National Parks and the various Game Reserves.
Okavango Delta Swamps
The Okavango swamps are Botswana’s main tourist attraction. In a strange reversal of the usual order of things, the development of the Rift Valley across the course of the Okavango River, seventh largest river in Africa, gave rise to the Okavango Delta, which is one of the most fascinating places in Africa. The 15,000 km2 inland delta (the largest in the world) is a result of the Okavango river and others flowing inland and forming a sea in the Kalahari Desert. Each year, heavy rainfall in Angola, the source of the Okavango River, results in the river breaking its banks and creating what is known as the Okavango Swamps as it flows into Botswana. The swamp waters are crystal clear, clean and free of bilharzia. This Eden is home to a vast array of animal, bird and plant life. Mid-May to mid-September, when the water levels are neither too high nor too low, is the best time to visit. To get the most out of the Okavango Delta experience, it is advisable to use the services of professional and experienced tour operators able to convey you through the complicated waterways, to lead you to the best game viewing, birdwatching or fishing spots. Contrary to some tourist literature, the whole delta does not teem with game – its attraction lies more in bird watching, fishing, the solitude (the silence and tranguility) and the unforgettable sunsets.
For anybody visiting, this natural wonder of beautiful channels, lots of pristine landscapes, and islands inhabited by lots of wildlife, is a must. Access is by road and air. No big hotels can be found in this area which instead is characterised by a few excellent lodges and small camps. The policy is in line with keeping the habitat as natural as possible.
The Kalahari Desert
The Kalahari, or Kgalagadi, covers almost two-thirds of Botswana. It is a sandy desert with very little vegetation. Beneath the dunes are a complex and fascinating system of pans, depressions and river beds. Wildlife was once abundant, and remains so in certain areas. These include hartebeest, wildebeest, springbok, gemsbok, eland, giraffe and ostrich. The various game reserves in the Kalahari offer a variety of attractions which range from geological to the said wild animals including big game. Travelling through the Kgalagadi offers one the ultimate wilderness experience, almost out of this world. Overnight campers have an unforgettable experience under the starry night sky. Access is by road and accommodation at camping sites.
Located in northwestern Botswana. Attractions include more than 2,000 ancient San paintings, impressive peaks and hiking. Access is by road. No facilities for accommodation but ideal camping sites available.
Located between Nzai Pan National Park and Makgadikgadi Pan Game Reserve is a complex of small salt pans, called Kanyu Flats, that is interesting to visit. In 1862 the artist-explorer Thomas Baines painted a group of massive baobab trees, which today remain as he painted them over 130 years ago.
BOTSWANA NATIONAL PARKS AND GAME RESERVES
1. Central Kalahari Game Reserve
52,800 km2. Immediately to the north of and adjoining Khutse Game Reserve. This is the second largest game reserve in the world. There are no roads and water in this reserve and it is closed to the public. Access is allowed only by permit. Further information may be obtained from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Gaborone.
2. Chobe National Park
11,000 sq. km. in northeastern Botswana. Habitats range from swamp and flood plain to dead lake bed, sandridges and forest. This is Botswana’s second tourist attraction. It has varied game populations. There is no development and remains a natural wilderness. Access is by gravel and sand roads, and by air. The two main entrances to the park are at Kasane (an hour’s drive from Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls) and at Mababe (an hour’s drive from Maun). The riverine areas to the west of Kasane are accessible by saloon car. Main attractions are large herds of elephant and buffalo, hippo, lion, leopard, rhino, giraffe, eland, zebra, tsessebe, waterbuck, puku, lechwe, crocodile, sable antelope, wild dog, warthog, baboons, impala, hyena, roan, kudu, and many others. Entry and camping tickets can be purchased in both Kasane ad Maun. Accommodation is provided in lodges and park camping sites at Serondela, Savuti (the Savuti area is closed from January to March), and Noatsau. Camping sites are administered by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, PO Box 17, Tel. 17, Kasane and PO Box 11, Tel. 230, Maun.
3. Gemsbok National Park
26,000 sq. km. in Southwestern Botswana is typical of the drier areas of the Kalahari including deep fossil river beds and high sand dunes. It borders the south African Kalahari Gemsbok National Park with only the dry bed of the Nosop river dividing the two parks. The main attractions are the game (spring, gemsbok, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, eland, lions, cheetah and brown hyena) and the 170 species of birds which include the social weaver bird known for building huge structures, sometimes as large as small rooms. The best time to visit is March to early May when plants are green and game abundant. Access is by tarred road, Gaborone to Tshabong, after which 4-WDs become necessary. There is no entry to the park from Botswana whose park has no roads or water. Entry is through Twee Rivieren in the Cape Province or Matamata from Namibia. All roads are suitable for saloon cars and the South Africa Parks Board provides three fully serviced camping sites on the South African side. During school holidays and long weekends it is necessary to make advance reservations through the Chief Director, PO. Box 787 Pretoria 1000, South Africa.
4. Khutse Game Reserve
2,500sq. km. in Central Kalahari is the closest reserve (only 240 km) to Gaborone. It combines most types of typical Kalahari habitat with grassed and bare pans (over 60 of them), dry river beds, fossil dunes, and rolling grasslands. The reserve is typical of vast areas of the Kalahari and offers an unsurpassed wilderness experience: low vegetation, wide bare pans and vast spaces combining to create an atmosphere of silence and peace. Local San guide visitors around the reserve, teaching them about edible and moisture-bearing plants and about the animals in the area which survive on little water. �Visitors should not expect to see large herds of game, though large herds of antelope sometimes occur towards the end of winter and in spring (late July to September). Nevertheless, there is a wide variety of species. Birdlife is extremely interesting with over 150 species having been recorded. Access is by road but 4-WDs are essential. Camping and entry tickets may be bought at a Department of Wildlife and National Parks camp at Galalabodimo Pan at the entrance to the reserve. Guides prepared to accompany visitors and camp with them may also be hired here. It is normal to feed guides and pay them about P4 a day. They take their own bedding. Further information may be obtained from the Department’s headquarters, in Gaborone.
5. Mabuasehube Game Reserve
3,900 sq. km. that includes some really remarkable country. In Sengaloga language the word ‘Mabuasehube’ means “red earth”. The focal point of the whole Reserve is the three large salt pans and several smaller ones, all separated by small sand dunes except for those at the southwest of each pan which are high and magnificent. The pans are starkly beautiful and reflect extraordinary colour changes as the day wears on. Large herds of animals especially eland and gemsbok come to lick salt from the pans. Predators too are frequent visitors.
The Reserve shares a boundary with the Gamesbok National Park. During winter and spring it is home to some of the herds which migrate from the west. Of the 170 recorded species of birds are large birds such as Kori bastard, secretary bird, eagle, vulture and buzzard. Water fowl visit the area after heavy rains.
The best time to visit is from July to September, although the park is open throughout the year.
The Reserve lies on the main road from Tshabong in the south to Hukuntsi. The road is navigable only by 4-WDs. Accommodation is at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks camp at Mabuasehube pan. One must bring all provisions and make arrangements with the Department in Gaborone or Tshabong (no phone) as the camp is not always occupied.
6. Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve
2,500 sq. km. Once a great lake, probably as large as Lake Victoria, the Makgadikgadi is now dry save for ephemeral pools after rain. Its floor stretching for miles and miles over the horizon, is bare salt. These salt pans are the largest in the world and are clearly visible on most TV weather satellite photographs – appearing like clouds to the uninitiated. Travelling over the surface of the salt pan can be an extremely trying experience when one’s vehicle gets stuck. Several hours of digging may be required to free such a vehicle. The main attractions are the solitude one experiences out on the pans, and the congregations of birds, including flamingoes which come to breed, during the rains (summer months). Concentrations of game are to be found to the west of Ntwetwe. Accommodation available at designated campsites in the park.
7. Moremi Wildlife Reserve
3,900 sq. km. Established 1965 when Chief Letsholathebe Moremi and the Batawana became so convinced of the need to conserve wildlife that they set aside 3,000km2 of their ancestral lands for this purpose. Lies on the northeast side of the Okavango Delta. With habitats ranging from dry savanna woodland, through semi-desert-like knobthorn and Mopani forests, riparian woodland, floodplain and reedbeds to permanent papyrus swamp, it is reputed as one of Africa’s most beautiful protected areas, with a diversity of ecologies. The main attractions are the enormous range of birds and game. Some of the finest sights are the heronries on tiny islands which consist of little more than gomoti figtrees which grow from termite mounds with their roots below the water. Clustered at night in the tops of these thickets at Cakanaca, Gcobega and Gcodikwe are large colonies of night herons, ibis and egrets, marabou and other storks. The moremi flood plains are home to buffalo, lechwe, zebra, waterbuck, loin, cheetah, wilddog and hyena. Crowned and wattled cranes are also common. The use of boats for game-viewing and fishing is permitted. Access to the reserve is from Maun. Roads are not good and it is advisable to use 4-WDs. The South Gate is at Maqwe, just over 100 km north of Maun; the North Gate is on the Khwai River about 170 km from Maun. At times the reserve closes during the rains. There are several tour operators serving the Reserve, and accommodation is at camps and lodges.
8. Nxai Pan National Park
2,100 sq. km. Located in northeastern Botswana. Nxai Pan was once part of a great lake that included the Makgadikgadi. Now it is a grass pan with small islands of trees. It is most attractive during the rainy season (late February to April), when large herds of wildebeest, zebra, and gemsbok can be seen on the open pan. By May the herds migrate southwards to Makgadikgadi until the start of the rains in November when they move north again. Nxai Pan is best known for its giraffe which at times number up to fifty in a herd. Cheetah are frequently seen. Other game include eland, springbok, impala, hyena, and kudu. Elephant and buffalo are occasional visitors during the rains. The pan is also excellent for bird viewing. Access is by road (4WDs). Accommodation is at a public camp site belonging to the Wildlife and National Parks Department. One must travel entirely self-contained.
Other Botswana Game Reserves
Gaborone Game Reserve (4 sq. km); Mangelanong Game Reserve (3 sq. km); Mashatu Game Reserve (450 sq. km, private.); and Maun Game Reserve (3 sq. km).