The 4 Unique Safari Areas That Make Botswana Special
Botswana is one of the best safari destinations in Africa, and my personal favorite. Often chosen or recommended as a second safari trip, I maintain that Botswana is also a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime safari choice. With its completely diverse regions, it can be hard to believe you’re still in the same country as you travel from one area to the next.
Botswana offers a remote and wild safari experience, lacking power lines and in many cases, roads or even cellphone service. It smells natural and fresh the moment you step off the bush flight. The country is very stable and one of the safest to visit in Africa, with some of the kindest locals I have encountered. The variety of wildlife and activities will easily leave any visitor wishing they had more time. Botswana is also a great addition to an existing South Africa or Namibia itinerary, perfectly complimenting the safari experiences of these very different countries. Whether looking to spend a full two weeks or just three nights in this marvelous safari destination, there is a memorable experience to be had.
Here is my personal list of the top 4 unique and must-see areas that make Botswana so special:
1) Okavango Delta
One of the top natural wonders of Africa, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this inland delta is an intricate network of marshland and narrow water veins. It spans 5,800 square miles and can be seen on satellite images. Supplied by the rains in Angola via the Okavango River, the delta floods and dries up with a seasonal rhythm. This pattern is completely independent from the rain seasonality that is also at play. Botswana’s dry season typically begins in April and runs through the end of November when the wet season begins. The wet season then lasts until March, lending to some hot and humid months.
This environment provides a unique habitat for wildlife, resulting in harmonious ecosystems that rely on this water source. The popular wildlife to see in this area include elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffaloes, zebras, wildebeests, crocodiles, lions, leopards, hyenas, and the elusive wild dogs. Wildlife that is unique to the Okavango include species such as red lechwe, sitatunga, and rare antelope such as tsessebe, sable, and roan. More recently there have been rehabilitation efforts for the Black and White Rhino populations; however, they are still a rare sighting. The Okavango Delta is a particularly noteworthy birding destination all year round, with more than 400 different species.
For visitors, the narrow and plentiful waterways provide the opportunity to glide silently through the wilderness in a mokoro, a traditional canoe, where a different perspective is experienced as you drift past unsuspecting wildlife.
2) Kalahari Desert
In great contrast to the Okavango Delta, yet only a short bush flight away, is the Kalahari Desert. Picture a landscape that is flat and arid, with sand, small bushes, and baobab trees. Most uniquely, this area is home to the Makgadigadi Salt pans. Unlike the famous Salar de Uyuni salt pan of Bolivia, the largest single salt pan in the world, the Makgadigadi salt pans are a collection of small pans separated by stretches of desert that cover a collective span of 6,200 square miles.
This is seemingly not a very hospitable living environment, and yet life finds a way. At first glance, the area seems completely deserted, but visitors can encounter the Kalahari black mane lions, cheetahs, spotted or brown hyenas, the bat eared fox, yellow mongoose, aardwolf, and the famous and always-social meerkats. Also in this area are blue wildebeest, oryx, springbok, eland, kudu, and red hartebeest.
This is a great adventure destination, with opportunities for quad biking, bush walks with the famous San Bushmen, a nomadic tribe who live off the land, horseback riding, and walking on the salt pans, in addition to regular game drives and lodge activities.
Chobe National Park is the place to be if you love elephants! Chobe boasts one of the densest elephant populations in Africa, and is also home to lions, leopards, buffaloes, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeests, hyenas, and wild dogs. A unique feature of Chobe National Park is the Chobe River, a great place to set out on the water by boat for a sundowner and watch as herds of elephants come to the riverbanks for an evening drink. They are usually joined by crocodiles, hippos, and birds, and the dramatic backdrop of the sunset makes for quite a scene.
Chobe is conveniently accessible from the town of Kasane or Victoria Falls, making it an easy park to add to a South Africa or Victoria Falls itinerary. It is also a great spot to start or finish a longer Botswana itinerary, with easy connections between bush flights and domestic air back to Johannesburg.
Technically part of the Chobe National Park, Savuti lies to the southwest and feels like it’s a world away. The area’s marsh boasts a grassland and savanna reminiscent of the Serengeti, with a high concentration of wildlife and a famous amount of predator action. Resident lions and hyenas are unapologetic in this area, with the perfect combination of terrain and prey for them to thrive. Other animals found in this area include wild dogs, giraffes, elephants, zebras, impalas, kudu, buffaloes, eland, jackels, bat-eared foxes, and cheetahs.
One of the most mysterious features of the Savuti region is the Savuti Channel. It runs from the Chobe River to Mababe, but it isn’t always flowing. It dried up for about 70 years, running again in 1957 until 1982 when it dried up again until 2010. The channel is currently flooded, but there is no telling how long it will be, or if it will dry up again. There is no known reason or pattern to this phenomenon, although many people have investigated. Of course, this has a natural effect on the wildlife’s behavior in the area, reminding us that things can change at any time, and it is one of life’s greatest wisdoms to enjoy what we have while we have it.
Between boating on the Chobe River to watch the elephants drink, taking a mokoro through the one-of-a-kind landscape of the Okavango Delta, looking for desert-adapted creatures in the seclusion of the vast salt pans, and witnessing predator action in Savute, it is challenging to do it all! Botswana’s safari experiences are simply hard to find anywhere else.