Botswana is not only regarded as one of the most exclusive safari destinations in Africa, but one of the most remarkable wilderness areas on earth. Boasting vast areas of protected wilderness, pristine landscapes, and a rich diversity of wildlife, as a safari destination, Botswana is hard to top.
The south and east of Botswana consist of the jaw-dropping Kalahari Desert and lunar-like pans at Nxai and Makgadikgadi. The north and west, on the other hand, comprise the dazzling water worlds of the Okavango Delta and Chobe River ecosystem. The sheer diversity of Botswana’s terrain lends itself to an endless array of things to do, see, and explore.
Whether it’s the allure of free-roaming wildlife, spectacular natural landscapes and rich cultural immersion, Botswana is sure to have it in spades. Landlocked in Southern Africa, Botswana offers some of the most abundant wildlife viewing opportunities on the African continent, whether you bed down at an out-of-this-world luxury lodge or enjoy the simple comfort of a rooftop tent.
Whether it’s your first trip to Botswana or your 10th, there is always something unique and exciting to experience when visiting one of Africa’s most extraordinary safari destinations.
If you consider yourself a head-over-heels nature and wildlife lover, here are 5 of the best must-explore national parks and game reserves in Botswana that absolutely deserve to be on your African safari bucket-list.
#1 Okavango Delta
One of the largest inland deltas, the vast and virtually untouched freshwater wetland that is the Okavango Delta is deemed one of the world’s premier wilderness areas. The Delta is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa in 2013.
The Delta covers between 6 and 15 000 square kilometres of Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana and owes its existence to the Okavango (Kavango) River. The Okavango River cuts through the center of the Kalahari Desert, creating a unique inland water system that gives life to a vast diversity of birdlife and wildlife as well as the Okavango Delta’s dynamic ecosystem.
Unlike most river deltas the Okavango River empties onto open land, flooding the savanna and creating a unique and ever-changing inland delta. The Okavango Delta is affected by seasonal flooding, with the delta floods covering over 6,175 square miles/ 16,000 square kilometers every year. The Delta’s peak flood season takes place during May – October (with water levels being at its highest during June – August). The Delta’s peak flood season coincides with Botswana’s dry season, which in turn coincides with great migrations of plains game from the dry hinterland. During the Okavango Delta’s dry season, around 260,000 mammals are estimated to congregate around the delta, resulting in pristine wildlife sightings and encounters. The Delta is also known as a world-famous stronghold for predators and an exceptional birding site, home to approximately 530 bird species.
Besides enjoying an authentic African safari, by far one of the top things to do in Botswana is mokoro through the Okavango Delta. A mokoro is a traditional dug-out canoe which is used to traverse and explore the waterways and channels of the Okavango Delta. Enjoying a mokoro journey through the Delta is not only a unique bucket-list worthy safari experience, but gives you the opportunity to see and explore hidden gems, secret spots, rare sightings, and smaller things you’d miss on a traditional game drive.
#2 Moremi Game Reserve
Covering one third of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, bordering on the Chobe National Park, the Moremi Game Reserve, also known as the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, is a small reserve which is home to a dense concentration and vast diversity of African wildlife. This undoubtedly makes the Moremi Game Reserve one of the top tourist attractions in Botswana for any wildlife enthusiast.
Known for its exceptional and abundant wildlife, Moremi Game Reserve and adjoining private land concessions in the Okavango provide the perfect environment in which to see endangered Wild Dogs and other rare wildlife species in their natural habitat. Some of these rare species include, the Black-maned Kalahari Lion, Sitatunga, Puku and Red Lechwe antelope, Brown Hyena, the African Skimmer and Aardvark.
The Moremi Game Reserve is also regarded as one of the best reserves to spot the renowned African Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo) thanks to the recent re-introduction of both black and white rhino into the area. If you’re an avid bird lover, you are in for quite a treat as Moremi Game Reserve’s birdlife is truly unrivalled with over 500 species to admire.
July through to October is the best time to visit this amazing part of Botswana, with 4×4 safaris combined with water-based traditional mokoro trips being the best and most unique way to see the abundant wildlife and birdlife the Moremi Game Reserve has to offer.
#3 Chobe National Park
The renowned Chobe National Park lies within Botswana’s Okavango Delta and covers four distinct eco-systems. Chobe National Park is home to over 120,000 African elephants, making it one of the top places on the planet to see these huge mammals in their natural environment. The best time of year to enjoy spectacular sightings of these gentle giants of the African bushveld is during Botswana’s cooler, winter months (dry season) between May and September when enormous herds congregate on the banks of the Chobe River.
The unspoilt wilderness of Chobe National Park not only supports the world’s largest concentration of African elephants, but a multitude of buffalo and a remarkable and vast diversity of wildlife and birdlife. The Savuti Marsh in particular offers some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa all year round.
The Chobe National Park is also home to the beloved endangered African wild dogs, jackals, leopards, and various predators, to mention a few. 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.
You can self-drive in Chobe National Park, which makes it a great park to visit for those on a road trip or on an African wildlife adventure. You can also easily do a daytrip from Zimbabwe or Zambia. Alternatively there is a wide variety of accommodation options available.
#4 Makgadikgadi Pans National Park & The Nxai Pan National Park
#Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
One of the largest salt pans in the world, Makgadikgadi was once a lake covering a vast 10,000 square kilometers of north-eastern Botswana. While the cracked and dry Makgadikgadi Salt Pans may not look like the type of environment that would attract a large population of wildlife, people will be pleasantly surprised when visiting this unique part of Botswana.
During summer, the desolate dry expanses of Makgadikgadi come to life with thriving grasslands, attracting a vast diversity of wildlife, including springbok, wildebeest and zebra followed closely by lion and cheetah. Shallow waters begin to flood over seemingly endless pans, drawing thousands of flamingos.
By far one of the top highlights of visiting the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans during Botswanan’s wet season is seeing Southern Africa’s largest zebra migration from the Boteti River. During the annual zebra migration visitors will have the 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.
#The Nxai Pan National Park
Technically part of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Nxai Pan was created as an extension to expand the conservation area. Situated within Nxai Pan you’ll find the magnificent and highly sought-after wilderness and safari destination, the Nxai Pan National Park. While the spectacular scenery and vast landscapes is one of the area’s main draws, boasting remarkable sand dunes, towering baobab trees, and of course the salt pans themselves, Nxai Pan and Nxai Pan National Park has so much to offer.
During Botswana’s rainy season (from November to April), the lakebed becomes beautifully lush and green, playing host to an incredible variety of wildlife that migrate through the area. When flooded, the pans also offer exceptional birding and vast game-viewing opportunities. Another wet season highlight is the great annual zebra migration which sees thousands of zebras move through Botswana’s Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks. 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 migration as well as the second largest migration of wildlife in Africa.
While Nxai Pan and Nxai Pain National Park is open to visitors and wildlife lovers all year round, the rainy (wet season – November to April) is undoubtedly the best time to visit this majestic part of Botswana. In addition to the annual zebra migration, visitors are more likely to witness vast herds and a wide range of wildlife during this time of year, including lions, giraffes, kudu, springbok, impala, wildebeest, ostriches, jackals, bat-eared foxes, to mention merely a few of its wildlife highlights. Not to mention the incredible variety of birdlife you’ll encounter.
As the Nxai Pan National Park is located in the north-eastern part of Botswana, you can easily combine your visit with a trip to the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, which reaches into the park.
#5 Central Kalahari Game Reserve & The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
#Central Kalahari Game Reserve
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. As the Kalahari and its vivid landscapes are vastly different to Botswana’s more popular destinations, it is the ideal destination for seasoned travelers looking for a unique and authentic African safari experience.
Besides classic Kalahari wildlife such as zebra, wildebeest, oryx, eland, springbok and giraffe, Botswana’s three renowned Kalahari parks have a reputation for its vast predator activity. When visiting the Kalahari, wildlife lovers are likely to encounter black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetah, black-backed jackal, brown and spotted hyena, leopard, and rare and endangered wild dog sightings. A Kalahari safari also gives you the opportunity to see several of Africa’s smaller and more elusive animals such as the wild cat, porcupine, aardwolf, meerkat, and honey badgers.
Birdlife in the Kalahari is surprisingly exceptional, especially during Botswana’s 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.
#The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Boasting sand dunes, salt pans, and a thriving diversity of wildlife, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the best parks to visit in Botswana during the rainy summer months (November – April). Regarded as one of the largest parks in Botswana, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park covers an estimated area of 14,670 square miles/ 38,000 square kilometers. Its size is largely due to the fact that it encompasses two previously separate parks: The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.
While you won’t find the entire African Big 5 here, migrating herds of wildebeest and other antelope attract large numbers of predators and raptors – resulting in some pretty spectacular sightings. The protected area that makes up the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is unfenced, which allows the wildlife to follow their ancient migration routes.
If you’re a keen adventurer and wildlife enthusiast looking to experience an off-the-beaten-path African adventure, visiting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park should undoubtedly be on your safari bucket-list. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is not easy to get to, especially from the Botswana side. You’ll need a 4×4 and the ability to camp self-sufficiently if you’re eager to explore and experience this majestic piece of Botswana wilderness.