WHEN TO GO TO BOTSWANA
When to visit Botswana is one of the most frequently asked questions when planning a trip to this top African safari destination. The best time to go to Botswana is largely dependent on what you’d like to experience on your bucket-list Botswana trip. As Botswana is home to such an incredible diversity of landscapes, vast wilderness, ecosystems, and wildlife, it is the ultimate year-round African safari destination for adventurous travellers and nature and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.
Botswana has two distinct seasons, the dry season (winter) and the wet season (summer). Although it is a glorious year-round destination, each season offers visitors a uniquely different experience. As most people (both local and international) travel to Botswana to experience its pristine game-viewing and diverse wildlife, the dry winter months of May to October is considered the best time to visit Botswana.
The dry season in Botswana is the time of year when game viewing is at its peak and animals are concentrated in ever increasing numbers around water sources. This means visitors will have the opportunity to experience exceptional wildlife sightings and encounters.
**Extra Insider Tip: As it can get pretty hot closer to the end of Botswana’s dry season, reaching day-time temperatures as high as 40ºC (especially during November and October), the dry season’s cooler months of June to August is regarded as the very best time of year to enjoy the ultimate Botswana safari – The game viewing is consistently excellent during this time, with virtually no rain.
REASONS TO VISIT BOTSWANA DURING THE DRY WINTER SEASON
The best time of the year to visit Botswana and its pristine wildlife and wilderness areas is during its dry winter season. Botswana’s dry season takes place from May to October. One of the top reasons why the dry season is considered the prime time to visit Botswana and its surrounding areas, including the untouched freshwater wetland of the Okavango Delta, rolling savannah of the Savuti, Africa’s elephant paradise of Chobe, the Makgadikgadi saltpans and the semi-desert grasslands of the Kalahari, is because of the sheer abundance and glorious diversity of wildlife and birdlife present during this period. Game-viewing is at its ultimate peak, resulting in pristine wildlife sightings and encounters.
Botswana is home to some of the most prolific wildlife on the African continent, in fact, very few countries can compare to Botswana’s sheer diversity of wildlife – And, as most local and international visitors travel to this top African safari destination for its remarkable wildlife sightings, they will certainly not be disappointed.
Here are more top reasons to visit Botswana during the dry winter season and why you should add this pristine African safari destination to your travel bucket-list right away:
- During Botswana’s dry winter season, the grass is considerably lower, and the trees have less foliage than during its wet summer season – This allows for optimal game-viewing visibility, which makes for spectacular wildlife sightings and encounters.
- Due to minimal rainfall during Botswana’s dry season, animals are concentrated in ever increasing numbers around permanent water sources and various watering holes. This gives visitors and wildlife enthusiasts the opportunity to enjoy incredible wildlife sightings as animals flood in from far and wide to take advantage of these water sources.
- Although Botswana’s dry season coincides with its winter season, this time of year is characterised by little to no rainfall and sunshine-filled days, with mild and lovely day-time temperatures. This makes it the ideal time to explore and experience everything Botswana and its surrounding wilderness areas have to offer.
- Due to minimal rainfall, it’s the perfect time for visitors to tick some thrilling adventure experiences off their Botswana bucket-list.
- Water levels are at its highest during June – August in the Okavango Delta. This provides visitors, thrill seekers and avid adventurers with the best opportunity to enjoy a thrilling boating and canoe safari, with the most popular and exhilarating being traversing the waterways on a traditional mokoro canoe. The unique mokoro or dugout canoe is a traditional canoe used to negotiate the channels of the Okavango Delta. This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure everyone visiting Botswana should experience at least once.
- Many animals migrate to the Okavango Delta during the dry winter season. It is estimated that around 260,000 mammals congregate around the delta during this time of year. This gives visitors the incredible opportunity to see a diverse variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. As the Okavango Delta is affected by seasonal flooding with flood water from Angola reaching the Delta between March and June, peaking in July, this coincides with Botswana’s dry season, resulting in great migrations of plains game from the dry hinterland.
- Botswana, especially the Okavango Delta, experiences a largely mosquito-free winter climate during this period.
Additional wildlife, vegetation & birdlife sightings visitors can expect to experience in Botswana’s various wilderness areas during its dry season:
Other seasonal highlights of Botswana’s dry season include:
- Visiting Botswana during its dry winter season gives wildlife enthusiasts the opportunity to experience up-close encounters with large herds of elephants and buffalo on a boat trip on the Chobe River.
- Wildlife viewing is at its sensational best in Chobe National Park, Savute and Moremi Game Reserve during Botswana’s dry season. There is also a strong predator population in Moremi’s secluded forest area.
- Visitors will experience wonderful sightings of the lion prides of the Savute Marsh region.
- Impala rutting is in full swing during the Okavango Delta’s dry season with dramatic clashes between rival males.
- Breeding herds of elephant start to increase in density in the Okavango Delta during Botswana’s dry season as they visit the permanent water sources to drink.
- During Botswana’s dry winter season the landscape starts to dry. Once the vivid green bushes and surrounding scenery start to fade to the duller dry seasonal colours, the predators begin to take advantage of their colours blending in with their surroundings once again. This is when predator numbers in Botswana and its surrounding wilderness areas begin to spike, giving visitors to Botswana the opportunity to experience some really thrilling predator sightings and encounters.
Monthly dry season highlights in Botswana:
- May: May is one of the best all-round months for visiting Botswana. It boasts mild, dry weather, relatively quiet campsites, and parks, and excellent game-viewing across Botswana, especially in the Savuti region where herds of zebra and buffalo congregate in large numbers. As surface water evaporates, elephants return to the Linyanti Chobe River System, and to the Khwai River and northern Moremi. The gently rising water during this period attracts numerous resident water birds, while migrant species take to the skies in numbers and begin the long journey north.
- June: As the pans have usually dried by June, animals begin to congregate in large numbers along the fringes of the Okavango Delta and on the northern waterways of the Savuti Channel and Chobe Linyanti River System.June is a particularly special time to visit Botswana as the beloved African wild dogs begin to search for dens for their pups – This gives visitors the spectacular opportunity to see these magnificent endangered animals in their natural habitat. In the Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari, lion and other predators are never far from the permanent waterholes during this time, and large herds of springbok and oryx (which can survive with limited water) can still be seen on the drying, golden plains.
- July: July is another excellent month to visit Botswana, especially the Okavango Delta, Moremi and Chobe National Park as wildlife congregate in greater numbers along the permanent water channels. In the Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari the permanent waterholes become the focal point for larger predators – Giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy some spectacular predator sightings. The shorter grass and less foliage during this period make it far easier for visitors to spot smaller animals such as the honey badger and Cape fox – some of which they may never have seen before.
- August: During August game viewing along the Okavango Delta waterways is at its ultimate best and will remain so until the first rainfall in November. If you’re an avid fisher, late August marks the start of the barbell (catfish) run in the northwest panhandle of Botswana. August – November is also the best time to catch tigerfish.
- September & October: The months of September and October boast particularly impressive wildlife sightings along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers. Thousands of animals rely on these waters for survival, especially elephants, which can drink up to 200 litres of water a day. Visitors can thus expect to enjoy spectacular sightings of these gentle giants of the African bushveld. Moremi is another excellent game viewing region during September. The dry, thin vegetation during this time of year makes for exceptional game-viewing and wildlife sightings. The cooler mornings and evenings are also great for predator spotting as they come to the channels to drink. As an added bonus, be sure to keep an eye out for the Kalahari’s black-maned lions lurking in the grass stalking the large herds of springbok, oryx and red hartebeest that still roam the plains during this time. By September, the Okavango’s barbell (catfish) run is in full swing and its prime time for tigerfish in the northwest panhandle.
- October: Despite October being Botswana’s hottest month, it is one of the most popular safari months in Botswana, especially along the Chobe River which is famous for its herds of thirsty elephant. In Moremi, the delta waters begin to drop in October, opening the flood plains and providing much needed vegetation for the grazers. The drying pools also trap fish, which draw vultures and other scavengers in for a feast. Away from the delta the vegetation is sparse, making it great for spotting predators. October in Botswana is also a particularly beautiful time to be on the pans, especially Baines’ Baobabs and Lekhubu Island.
Things to remember when visiting Botswana during the dry season:
- One of the downsides to visiting Botswana during its dry season is that it can get quite crowded as this period falls within the northern hemisphere’s main holiday time. This means thousands of safari and nature enthusiasts flock to this popular African safari destination from the north, ready to take full advantage of the incredible diversity of wildlife Botswana and its surrounding areas have to offer. As it’s considered Botswana’s peak season, visitors can also expect some rate increases in certain instances.
- September and October in Botswana are particularly hot, especially in the Okavango Delta, with day-time temperatures reaching as high as 40°C on some days (typically October). If you choose to visit Botswana during this time of year, make sure you’re fully prepared.
REASONS TO VISIT BOTSWANA DURING THE WET SUMMER SEASON
Although the wet summer season is not considered the best time of year to visit Botswana, especially as it pertains to game viewing, it offers visitors a uniquely different experience. Nature and wildlife lovers as well as adventure enthusiasts will be pleasantly surprised by what Botswana and its surrounding areas have to offer during this time of year.
Here are just some of the highlights you can look forward to during Botswana’s wet season:
It is GREEN season in Botswana
Botswana’s wet season is also known as its glorious green season. During Botswana’s green season the increased summer rainfall transforms the dusty, arid land into a lush green grassland paradise. On top of that, it creates temporary shallow lakes and streams.
- Lush greenery & great photography: Botswana, the Okavango Delta and surrounds is widely known as a top photographic safari destination and offers some of the best unspoilt vistas in Africa. The beautiful green surroundings, popping colours of the thriving vegetation, fresh sprouting grass, trees bursting to life and often dramatic thunderstorm skies allows for excellent photography opportunities.
The high levels of rainfall experienced during Botswana’s wet season results in several seasonal pans filling up throughout Botswana, particularly in the Delta, attracting more wildlife to these destinations. As the rain becomes more regular from December – February, the grazers particularly enjoy the greenery that comes along with it. This gives photographers the opportunity to capture some amazing shots of the wildlife and birdlife in their natural habitat as well as gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy some stunning sightings.
Plenty of new-born wildlife
One of the top highlights of the wet summer season is that it marks the start of the birthing season in Botswana. This means visitors can expect to see plenty of new-born wildlife roaming about.
Botswana’s increased green season rain usually kickstarts a period where many of the herbivore species, including impala, wildebeest, and antelope take full advantage of the lush green grass at their disposal by giving birth to their new-born calves. If you’re lucky enough to witness it, it promises to be a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience.
During the month of November, the Okavango Delta birthing season begins with the tsessebe, followed by impala and Lechwe, with more new-born species to follow thereafter. If you’re eager to see some of Africa’s most magnificent young wildlife in their prime, the wet summer months is undoubtedly the best time of year to visit Botswana, the Okavango Delta, and its surrounding wilderness areas.
Peak predator season
Predator interaction, sightings and encounters are much higher during Botswana’s wet summer season, as lion and leopard move into the area to take advantage of the vulnerable new-born calves. The Okavango Delta is widely known as a world-famous stronghold for predators – which only increases during the Delta’s wet season. As the Delta’s wet season progresses, rainfall levels continue to increase, this results in the formation of dense bushes and ever-growing greenery and shrubbery, which ultimately provides predators with excellent hiding places to observe and stalk their prey – With the young and new-born wildlife being the easiest targets for these persistent predators.
Annual zebra migration
The Botswana green season marks the start of the iconic annual zebra migration. This is one of the top highlights of Botswana’s wet season. Wildlife and nature lovers visiting Botswana during this time of year will have the remarkable opportunity to witness thousands of zebras move through Botswana’s Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks. The annual zebra migration is the second largest migration of wildlife in Africa – Making witnessing it first-hand a once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list worthy African wilderness experience.
Excellent bird watching
Botswana has established itself as an exceptional year-round birding safari destination. However, it gets even better during Botswana’s wet season, as migrant birds return from Europe, Asia, and other parts of Africa.
In the Okavango Delta, bird viewing is especially remarkable during January as it is the peak breeding season for many of the migrant bird species. This coincides with stunning wildflowers, brilliant green foliage and constant sounds day and night – both from insects and birds.
While game-viewing and wildlife sightings are not nearly as pristine as during Botswana’s dry season, the wet season certainly offers reasonable game-viewing opportunities, although the thick bush and dense shrubbery can make viewing a little harder at times. As the wet season is considered a prime time for predators, visitors are likely to see predators chasing the fast developing young of their prey species during this time. On the contrary, the wet season is also the best time of year to see Botswana’s magnificent new-born wildlife in their natural habitat.
Low season in Botswana
While the dry winter season is celebrated for its pristine wildlife sightings and exceptional game viewing opportunities, it is also Botswana’s peak season. One of the biggest downsides to visiting Botswana during its dry season is that it can get quite crowded as this period coincides with the northern hemisphere’s main holiday period. This means thousands of safari and nature enthusiasts flock to Botswana from the north, ready to take full advantage of the abundance of wildlife Botswana and its surrounding areas have to offer. This can often hinder true wildlife and nature enthusiasts from fully immersing themselves in the authentic African wildlife experience Botswana and its surrounding wilderness areas have to offer.
If you’re looking to escape the large crowds, embrace and enjoy the tranquillity, natural beauty and spectacular wildlife and birdlife of Botswana, visiting Botswana during its wet summer season is perfect for you!
Additional wildlife, vegetation & birdlife sightings visitors can expect to experience in Botswana’s various wilderness areas during its wet season
- Close-up views of large herds of elephants and buffalo on a boat trip on the Chobe River.
- Sightings of the Savute Marsh’s elephant-hunting lion prides.
- Close-up views of Bushmen rock paintings in Savute’s Gubatsaa Hills.
- Incredible game viewing, with strong predator populations in Moremi’s secluded forest areas.
- Delta birdwatching is at its best, with migrants from Europe, Asia, and other African regions present.
Monthly wet season highlights in Botswana:
- November: November marks the start of the anticipation of the summer rainfall. When the Botswana summer rainfall does arrive, it’s often with a literal bang! During this time, water levels in the delta continue to recede, opening the flood plains and providing essential, fresh grazing. The Chobe and Linyanti riverbanks will become crowded with game as large numbers of elephant congregate around the waterways. If, for some reasons, the summer rain arrives earlier than expected, November is an excellent time to visit the Central Kalahari as enormous herds of oryx and springbok attempt to protect their new-borns from prowling cheetah and lion.
- December: December is the start of the summer ‘green season’ in Botswana when the vegetation recovers, and grazing land is plentiful. New-born calves frolic on the Kalahari plains and are often targeted by the ever-present predators. As the pans slowly fill, more and more animals are drawn to the central parks and both the Central Kalahari and Nxai Pans National Parks boast abundant wildlife at this time of year. The Savuti region is also packed with game, although, by now, the elephants along the Chobe River are beginning to disperse as more water and vegetation becomes available inland.
- January: Birding in Botswana is excellent during January as migrant birds return from Europe, Asia, and other parts of Africa. It is also the peak breeding season for migratory birds. January is one of Botswana’s peak rainfall months – The increased summer rains attract large grazing herds to the suddenly verdant grasslands of the Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans, and the Savuti plains. Wildlife viewing is spectacular in these areas during January, with plenty of predator activity.
- February: February is another one of Botswana’s peak rainy months. The heavy rainfall transforms the landscapes into a green, grassy paradise with lots of new-born antelope and a great variety of birds. February is still prime time for the Central Kalahari, Savuti, and the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans, which attract large numbers of zebra, springbok and oryx. Predators, especially lion, are never far away either. Birding is at its best during this time of year with numerous migrant species and large flocks descending on the pans. The Central Kalahari really comes to life during February with the grasslands enticing plains game. Ripening fruit also sees many different species congregating around the trees in search of a sweet meal.
- March & April: March and April are considered some of the best months to visit the Kgalagadi. As the summer rains start to decrease, the landscape is at its most striking, boasting a vast green grassland against low, red-ochre dunes. As wildlife congregate around the pans that are still full during this time, predators, especially lions, gather too, with thrilling interactions between predators and prey virtually guaranteed. To the northeast, Nxai Pan is green and full of life as migrating grazers make the most of the lush grassland and abundant surface water. In the Okavango Delta, the Marula trees start dropping fruit during the months of March and April, attracting hungry elephants, often right into camp.
- April: By mid-April, water levels in the Okavango Delta panhandle begin to rise and the Delta itself feels fresh and alive, with fruit-laden trees and tall, green grass as far as the eye can see. April is also the start of the antelope breeding season and the well-fed male impala begin fighting it out for females. If you’re a keen fisher, then the deeper waters of the panhandle offer bream (tilapia) from April to August, but tigerfish are more likely from late August/September. The Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari are at their best in April – Offering the perfect combination of lovely cooler weather, prolific game, and lush, leafy landscapes. Game is also still plentiful at Nxai Pan during this period.
Things to remember when visiting Botswana during the wet season:
- During Botswana’s wet summer months of November – April, it can get extremely hot & humid with day-time temperatures ranging from 25ºC / 77ºF – 45ºC / 113ºF.
- Wildlife sightings and game viewing opportunities are not at its peak during Botswana’s wet summer season compared to its dry winter season. There is also less wildlife present in the area during the wet season, this a partly owed to the extreme temperatures.
- As a result of the dense vegetation, wildlife is harder to spot.
- Water levels in the Delta can drop too low for mokoro trips, boating, and canoe safaris. This means visitors to the Delta during this period won’t be able to enjoy this exciting adventure experience.
- Afternoon rainstorms & powerful thunderstorms can interfere with activities, adventures, and safari experiences. Parts of the Okavango Delta and Botswana can also become inaccessible during its wet season due to the high levels of rainfall.
- November to April is considered the low season in Botswana, this means there will be less visitors and some lodges and camps may be closed during the wettest months (particularly from January – March).
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
WILDLIFE & BIRDLIFE
Botswana is home to some of the most prolific wildlife on the African continent. Very few countries can compare to its sheer diversity and abundance of wildlife. The country covers a total area of 581,730 sq. km, and approximately 40% of this land falls within a wildlife-protected area. Besides its glorious diversity of wildlife, these protected areas serve as a sanctuary for the world’s largest concentration of elephants, and a stronghold for other endangered large mammals such as the black rhinoceros, African wild dog, cheetah, and lion.
As a large portion of its land is dedicated to conservation and a ban on virtually all hunting was effectively implemented from 2013, Botswana is a true haven for wildlife. Its therefore no surprise that several of its protected areas, including the Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve, rank among Africa’s best game viewing destinations.
Botswana supports large concentrations of wild animals, birdlife, reptiles, and amphibians on both a seasonal and permanent basis. For avian enthusiasts, there exists no better place in the world to view the Slaty Egret and Wattled Crane and seeing the illusive Pels Fishing Owl for the first time has been known to bring even the most avid of birdwatchers to tears.
Big 5 in Botswana
A visit to the premium wildlife destination of Botswana will almost guarantee sightings of the most famous of Africa’s mammals; the Big Five. Here is a quick guide for the best chance of spotting the Big Five in Botswana:
- Chobe National Park for the highest concentration of elephants.
- Savuti region for lion spottings.
- Northern Okavango to see the large Cape buffalo.
- Moremi Game Reserve will offer excellent rhino sightings.
- Mashatu Game Reserve plays host to the elusive leopard.
Birding in Botswana
Botswana is regarded as a premier birding destination due to its protection of several threatened and endangered species. It also boasts an exceptional seasonal variation in birding, making it a top destination for bird lovers from around the world. The call of the Woodland Kingfisher is one of the most noteworthy calls in Botswana’s northern region and heralds the summer birding season. Wattled cranes, storks, herons, and egrets are also indications that the flood season in the Okavango is not far off. Botswana also has the most renowned Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo breeding sites in southern Africa.
The Okavango Delta is the greatest stronghold in Africa for Wattled cranes, as well as Slaty Egrets. Other notorious species include the Pel’s fishing owl, the African skimmer, and the White-backed night heron.
Each of Botswana’s exceptional wilderness areas is home to its own diverse wildlife population, providing visitors with a unique wildlife experience.
Savute region of the Chobe National Park
The Savute region of the Chobe National Park (located in Northern Botswana) is renowned for its high concentration of lions and large lion prides, historically numbering up to 30-odd individuals. It is also notorious for its vigorous predator interactions, particularly between lions and spotted hyenas. In Savute, May brings increased sightings of the endangered African wild dog as the females begin to den.
As September to October is the driest season in this region, bird lovers can expect incredible sightings as flocks of birds congregate around the artificial watering holes. As the rain begins in November, large breeding herds of elephant move into the wide open Savute Marsh, providing visitors with spectacular sightings of these African giants. During the summer months of November and December thousands of zebras migrate through Savute in search of grazing.
The unpredictability of Savute’s water supply has been known to set the scene for dramatic feats of survival, including hibernating crocodiles and bold lions preying on adult elephants. Savute’s vast savanna plains are great for enjoying sightings of Burchell’s zebra, tsessebe, giraffe, impala, and buffalo.
Chobe National Park
Botswana is home to the world’s largest concentration of African elephants, with the highest concentration found in Chobe National Park. Approximately 120 000 African elephants can be found in and around Chobe National Park. The best time to enjoy spectacular sightings of these gentle giants of the African bushveld is during Botswana’s dry season from about May to October when enormous herds congregate on the banks of the Chobe River.
The unspoilt environment of the Chobe National Park not only supports massive herds of elephant but a multitude of buffalo that is unrivalled elsewhere in Africa. Visitors will also be able to enjoy incredible sightings of the beloved endangered African wild dogs, jackals, leopards and a vast diversity of other wildlife and birdlife.
Besides being Africa’s elephant paradise, Chobe is one of the best places in Africa to witness the most dramatic predator action. The Savuti region of the Chobe National Park is notoriously known for brutal clashes between lions and hyenas as well as where powerful prides famously take down Africa’s biggest game like buffalo, giraffe and even elephants.
Other wildlife highlights of the Chobe National Park include:
- Giant hippos and crocodiles year-round.
- Chobe’s broad-leaved woodlands and riparian forests are home to the endemic Chobe bushbuck and other lesser-known antelope species like puku, sable, and roan. In fact, Chobe is one of the only places in Botswana where you’ll have the opportunity to see the rare puku antelope in its natural habitat.
- Chobe boasts the highest diversity of bird species in Botswana (approximately 468 species). Its glorious diversity of species includes birds found nowhere else in the country like the Schalow’s and purple-crested turacos, trumpeter and crowned hornbills and the crested guineafowl. Although bird lovers can enjoy amazing year-round birding, it is particularly phenomenal during a Green Season Safari.
- From November to March (wet summer season in Botswana), wildflowers burst into bloom, plenty of new-born wildlife arrive, and the exquisite carmine bee-eaters start nesting in the islands on the Chobe River.
An emerald-green paradise in the middle of the red Kalahari, the Okavango Delta forms the centrepiece of Botswana’s thriving safari scene. The Okavango Delta’s labyrinthine channels, open floodplains and tangled woodlands are bursting with an incredible diversity of wildlife and offers a wide range of safari activities including game drives, nature walks, boat rides and canoe safaris.
Protected in part by the Moremi Game Reserve and numerous private concessions, the Okavango Delta is home to huge numbers of plains game and unusual antelope like puku, sitatunga and red lechwe. It is a world-famous stronghold for predators as well as many sought-after bird species like Pel’s fishing owl, bee-eaters, and kingfishers. The Delta is also the best place to see the near-endemic Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane, and special waterbirds such as the Lesser Jacana, White-backed night heron and African skimmer. Undoubtedly making the Okavango Delta the ultimate African safari destination for wildlife, nature, and bird lovers from around the world.
There is a dynamic seasonal shift of animals between the arid region that surrounds the delta and the Okavango Delta itself. During the wet season most large animals move away from the delta to take advantage of the lush grazing that surrounds it. As the grazing begins to die in the winter, animals move back to the delta. The Okavango Delta is also known to attract a huge number of herbivores in the dry season, which in turn attracts the carnivores as well.
The Okavango Delta is said to be home to approximately 530 species of birds, 160 species of mammals, 155 species of reptiles, 35 species of amphibians, and 1500 plant species.
Botswana’s three Kalahari parks, namely Nxai Pan National Park, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, are a far cry from the common image of a sandy wasteland many might be expecting. Instead, the Kalahari boasts beautiful wooded grasslands and seasonally flooded pans which are home to an astonishing diversity of wildlife – Which are quite different from Botswana’s more famous destinations. This makes the landscapes of Botswana’s Kalahari the ideal destination for seasoned travellers looking for a unique safari experience.
Besides classic Kalahari wildlife such as zebra, wildebeest, oryx, eland, springbok and giraffe, Botswana’s three Kalahari parks boasts a well-deserved reputation for predators. Visitors are likely to see black-maned Kalahari lions as well as cheetah, black-backed jackal, brown and spotted hyena as well as rare wild dog and reclusive leopard sightings. A Kalahari safari also gives wildlife lovers the best opportunity to see many of Africa’s smaller and more elusive animals such as wild cat, porcupine, aardwolf, meerkat, and honey badgers.
Birdlife in the Kalahari is surprisingly exceptional, especially in the rainy summer months between December and April. Avid birders can enjoy incredible sightings of flamingos, secretary birds, martial eagles, great white pelicans, and giant eagle owls.
Another top highlight that has wildlife lovers travelling from all around the world to see is the Annual Zebra Migration. The Kalahari is not a true desert but rather a semi-desert. During the Green Season, the Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans spring to life with lush grazing – attracting up to 25 000 hungry plains zebra. Although the Great Migration in the Serengeti and the Masai Mara is the most famous and biggest land migration in the world, Botswana’s zebra migration is actually the longest.
The zebra covers vast distances from about November – when they’re congregated in Nxai and Makgadikgadi – to mid-year when they’ve moved to the outskirts of the Boteti and Chobe Rivers, as well as the Okavango Delta. Mid-year heralds the dry high season, this causes the zebras to move from the pans that are rapidly drying out to parts of Botswana with more permanent water sources.
As a general guide, the zebras are massed in Nxai Pan National Park in about January and February, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in about March and April and are back north at the rivers by May.
Wedged between Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Tuli Block is a corner of Botswana unlike the rest of the country. The Tuli Block is home to the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers and is located close to the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site in South Africa. It boasts dramatic rocky scenery, towering baobab trees and thick riverine forests. Although the Tuli Block was formerly known as a farming region, it has since transformed into a well-managed conservation area and much of its north-eastern reaches have been set aside for game reserves under the ambit of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve – Which is now one of the largest privately owned game reserves in Southern Africa.
Besides offering wildlife and nature lovers an exclusive African safari experience, one of the greatest allures of the Tuli Block is its prolific wildlife. Visitors can expect to see several species of antelope and large numbers of elephant, lion, leopard, and cheetah. The Tuli Block is also one of Southern Africa’s bird watching hot spots with at least 350 species recorded.
The Makgadikgadi is another extraordinary region of Botswana. It is characterised by inhospitable salt pans stretching as far as the eye can see, rocky granite islands and open grasslands that come to life during Botswana’s wet summer season. While the cracked and dry Makgadikgadi Salt Pans may not look like the kind of environment that would attract a large population of wildlife, visitors will definitely be pleasantly surprised.
Come summertime, these desolate dry expanses come to life with thriving grasslands, attracting springbok, wildebeest and zebra followed closely by lion and cheetah. Shallow waters flood over seemingly endless pans, attracting thousands of flamingos. Another top highlight is watching Southern Africa’s largest zebra migration from the Boteti River.
Come nighttime, you will be able to catch a glimpse into the secret lives of playful bat-eared foxes and shy brown hyenas. Nature lovers will also encounter beautiful clusters of palm trees and odd stunted baobabs that have stood for millions of years.
FLIGHTS & TRAVELLING TO BOTSWANA
Flying is the fastest way to travel to Botswana. The easiest and most convenient is to fly via a connecting flight from Johannesburg International Airport (O.R Tambo) in South Africa. There are also connecting flights to Botswana from Cape Town and Windhoek (Namibia). Currently there are no international carriers that fly directly to any of Botswana’s airports. Botswana has three airports catering to various travellers and connecting flights:
- Maun International Airport: Set at the edge of the Okavango Delta, Maun International Airport is Botswana’s busiest airport. It is served by flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Gaborone, Kasane (Chobe) and Windhoek. Daily flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town allows for easy access for travellers to the Okavango Delta’s gateway airport. From there, you will transfer to a light aircraft for the final leg into the delta and then usually a short 4X4 drive to your lodge.
- Gaborone Airport: You can also choose to fly to Sir Seretse Khama – Botswana’s main international airport.
- Kasane: You can fly to Chobe’s gateway from Johannesburg, Gaborone, or Maun. From there, you will transfer by road (usually by means of a 4X4 drive) to lodges located in the Chobe River area or via a smaller aircraft for safaris in Savute or Linyanti.
The best way to get to Botswana, however, is to fly to either Maun or Kasane. Besides these two towns having international airports, they are located in northern Botswana, close to popular national parks and main roads. Both Kasane and Maun International Airport facilitates the arrivals and departures of domestic flights to airstrips in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, and Central Kalahari.
If you choose not to fly, self-driving travellers can easily access Botswana through the border posts from various neighbouring countries. While this is by no means the easiest or fastest way to travel to Botswana, it’s a great opportunity for a fun, scenic and adventure-filled road-trip as you discover several incredible destinations and hidden gems along the way.
GETTING AROUND IN BOTSWANA
Transport in Botswana is relatively efficient with various options for getting from one place to the next. Getting to your destination, safari camp or lodge, or making your way between destinations is as easy as jumping on an air shuttle service or a safari vehicle. Charter flights on small aircrafts and land transfers via open-sided 4X4 vehicles are the norm for getting from place to place in Botswana. Some of the more remote camps and lodges are however only accessible via aircraft or boat.
Botswana travel and getting around is both varied and exciting, depending on your sense of adventure and what you’re up for. While safaris and game drives are conducted in open-sided 4X4s, visitors to the more remote camps and destinations in Botswana as well as the diverse wetlands of the Okavango Delta, can expect excursions by motorboat and canoe as well as on foot where warranted. This makes for quite an adventure-filled and unforgettable travel experience.
There are oftentimes long distances between parks, lodges, campsites, and towns within Botswana, travelling by road can thus become quite time consuming. However, fortunately, much of northern Botswana’s land is dedicated to conservation. So, even when you are driving outside of the national parks, wildlife roams free – This means that the opportunity for visitors to see animals en route between locations are abundant, making the trip far more worthwhile and exciting!
Fly-in safari goers will however save plenty of time as they make use of Botswana’s various scheduled flights and air-transfers. The only downside to this method of travel, especially when you’re travelling and adventuring through Botswana on a budget, is that it is relatively expensive. For this reason, there are road transfers available from all the major towns in Botswana, which offer a more affordable way to get from A to B. Although more time consuming, it allows for more time for game spotting and pristine wildlife sightings.