When it comes to African safari destinations, Botswana is a little bit special. As well as ticking all the boxes for abundant wildlife and of course the Big Five, it’s the variety of landscapes that makes the country stand out.
From river delta to arid desert and everything in between, Botswana is a relatively untouched wilderness where adventurous travellers can enjoy safaris with the feeling of exclusivity.
Most first-time visitors to Botswana make a bee-line for the Okavango Delta. And rightly so.
Labelled by many as one of the most beautiful places in Africa, the emerald delta covers 15,000 km² during the high-water months, transforming the landscape into labyrinthine channels, lagoons of lilies and islands of lush greenery.
It’s a haven for wildlife and all the usual suspects can be found here, including elephants, buffalo and giraffe, closely followed of course by lions, hyenas and even rare wild dogs. It’s also the perfect place to spot the semi-aquatic red lechwe antelope and if you’re into birds, you won’t be disappointed.
Whilst game drives and bush walks are possible here, the main event is safari by water. There’s nothing quite like gliding serenely through the reeds in search of crocodiles and kingfishers whilst relaxing in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe) under the expert steerage of a local guide.
Chobe is the place to go for your elephant fix, especially if you’re visiting during the dry season when they congregate down by the river in their thousands.
The park is understandably the most popular game reserve in Botswana, and is accessible by car which makes it a little less expensive than some of the other more remote reserves. Always a bonus.
Chobe is the second largest park in Botswana, with landscapes ranging from floodplains and marshland, to savannah and woodland. One of Chobe’s specialities is sunset game viewing on a river cruise. An excellent vantage point from which to watch the animals as they come down to drink in the fading light and always popular on a Botswana honeymoon.
When it comes to wildlife Chobe pretty much has it all. As well as its enormous elephant and buffalo populations, the area is teeming with life from all along the food chain, including giraffe, kudu, tsessebe, lions, cheetah and if you’re lucky, leopards. Wild dogs can sometimes be seen here too.
If you’re searching for untouched wilderness, then you could do worse than visit the Moremi Wildlife Reserve in the north-east of Botswana. The reserve has an incredible variety of ecosystems, from lagoons and floodplains to grasslands and even acacia forests.
Known as one of Africa’s more diverse wildlife areas, Moremi is a network of waterways full of lily pads, hippos and a spectacular range of colourful birdlife – there are over 500 species. Herbivore herds are common too, and elephants often come down to the water to drink.
Perhaps even more exciting are the black and white rhino that roam the area, as well as the excellent predator sightings that come with such abundant prey.
Moremi is a fenced reserve which means game viewing is spectacular throughout the year. Bush walks, game drives and canoe safaris are the order of the day here, and it’s the perfect place to tick off the all-important Big Five sightings.
The semi-arid Kalahari Desert is a remote terracotta wilderness with sprawling plains extending nearly a million km² across southern Africa. It’s one of the world’s least inhabited areas (most people here are San Bushmen) so it’s a great place to go if you like getting away from it all.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve experiences some of the most dramatic landscape transformations ever seen in the world, all thanks to the rains. Temporary lakes form in the desert, followed by marsh before the land becomes dry once again. With the water come the animals, the most notable being the legendary black-maned lions who like to check out the enormous herds of impala, zebra and oryx. Cheetahs sometimes join in the fun too.
For something a bit different, head over to the otherworldly landscapes of the Makgadikgadi Pans where salt glistens in the sun as far as the eye can see. Millions of years ago a lake the size of Switzerland covered this area of the Kalahari, and today the salt pans are the largest in the world.
There’s still a real sense of ancient history all around, with ancient baobab trees, prehistoric beaches, an abundance of fossils as well as Stone Age ruins. The prevalence of vultures just adds to the mysterious vibe.
Wildlife here is nomadic and very hardy, a necessity when coping with such a harsh environment. Makgadikgadi is the place to see rare desert animals such as the aardvark and aardwolf, as well as brown hyenas and meerkats. Visiting the meerkats is always particularly popular on a Botswana family safari. Hippo sightings are also good here as they wallow in the few remaining pools waiting out the dry season.
The real spectacles however are the pink swathes of flamingos who arrive with the rains, along with a symphony of frogs that fills the night air. As always the wet season heralds the appearance of herds of plains animals, making it a spectacular and unusual location to witness part of the great migration.