Botswana is famous for its wildlife, areas like the Chobe National Park, Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have a very high concentration of game. The bulk of the Kalahari desert falls within Botswana’s borders and Botswana is home to most of the world’s San (bushman) population.
The economy, one of the most robust on the continent, is dominated by diamond mining and tourism.
As a tourist destination, Botswana has traditionally opted for a high price / low numbers formula, in part as a conservation strategy, and also to differentiate itself from neighbouring tourist countries who follow a mass market tourism policy. However, that isn’t to say that Botswana is an expensive high end destination. In many respects costs and quality compare to neighbouring South Africa. However the two jewels in Botswana’s tourism crown (the Okavango delta and Chobe National Park) are quite exclusive, although there are budget options.
For independent travellers touring the region Botswana offers an interesting contrast to the poverty of its northern neighbours, and is free from the apartheid hangover that still blights South Africa. Botswana has a long established tourism industry and levels of service are good, hassles are low and tourist numbers minimal away from the main parks, allowing for some magical ‘off the beaten path’ experiences.
The language of business in Botswana is English and most people in urban areas speak it, although in the more rural areas many people do not speak English, particularly the older generations. The primary indigenous tongue is Tswana, and is the first language of the overwhelming majority of the population. It is not difficult to learn basic greetings and such, and using these in conversation will make people very happy.
Wildlife is Botswana’s main draw. Wildlife parks compose nearly one-fifth of the country. In these parks you will find lions, cheetahs, crocodiles, hippos, elephants, antelope, wild dogs, and hundreds of species of birds. Visitors can take safaris and stay in lodges running the gamut from inexpensive dorms for backpackers with tour buses to $1,000+/night private lodges with your own maid & driver.
One of the most interesting ways to get to know a country and its people, and which has become increasingly popular, is to volunteer. As a volunteer you can support Botswana in terms of community development, wildlife conservation or education. To get a broad overview of all the organizations that offer volunteer opportunities in Botswana, you can also see the volunteering page.
Among southern Africa’s most impressive—and popular—wildlife destinations is the Okavango Delta where the Okavango River widens into the world’s largest inland delta. Lying in the middle of the arid Kalahari, the swamps & water channels attract animals from thousands of kilometers around and triples in size (to 100 000 sq. km.!) during floods in July and August. Nearby Chobe National Park has a large population of elephants and it’s also easy to spot many of Africa’s well-known species, especially zebras and lions. The bleak salt pans of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park attract a large number and variety of birds year-round. Other great game parks include Nxai Pan National Park, Mokolodi Nature Reserve, & Gemsbok National Park.
Most of the native tribes in Botswana only dress in traditional outfits and perform rituals for tourists. Nevertheless, for the culture-cravers, the villages of D’Kar and Xai-Xai have many offerings, including arts, crafts, and the opportunity to participate in various rituals. Tsodilo Hills contain one of the largest collections of rock art on the continent.
For the independent traveller prices in Botswana compare to neighbouring South Africa. Notable exceptions are petrol and diesel which are about a third cheaper in Botswana, and alcohol, which is about a third more expensive.
Indigenous Botswana cuisine is similar to the rest of southern Africa and offers little to inspire. Beef is taken seriously and can be of exceptional quality. The braai is a popular cuisine.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18.
Throughout Botswana the tap water is safe to drink (this general advise is taken with care, as it varies considerably depending on the area – so make sure you ask locals and travelers alike before drinking it!). Good fruit juice is hard to find (South African 100% juice blends are the norm) although Spar do a range of good juices. The national beer, St Louis, is often derided by foreigners as being worse than domestic US lagers. Most opt for Namibian or South African imports. Bottle stores are widely found in most places, and even regular, slightly bigger supermarkets are allowed to sell booze.
Botswana is an eco-friendly tourist destination. The country and it’s travel board focus on sustainable things for tourists to do. The fees for Botswana’s Safari parks go right back into the parks.