With a pristine nature, the famous Kalahari Desert, wetlands blossoming in the Okavango Delta, the Chobe River, the savanna and traditional villages, Botswana is a paradise for wildlife lovers and people looking for an authentic Africa.
Its unique heritage makes it an exclusive destination offering excellent lodges and extremely protected reserves.
There are no words to describe the overwhelming feeling of watching the sun setting on the delta waters, flooding the sky with its red and orange tones, revealing shadows of wild mammals as the night awakens.
Flying over Botswana on a light aircraft or a hot air balloon, riding through its watery wilderness by mokoro (small canoe), walking or roughing it in a 4x4, this country is a paradise for safaris and will reward you with unforgettable memories.
The history of Botswana goes back to the Stone Age. 2000 archaeological sites have been identified but only 100 of them have been excavated.
The territory of present-day Botswana has been the home to the San people since prehistory, the beginning of the human era.
Most of them have been displaced by the Bantu Tswana who migrated from present day South Africa in the area at the beginning of the 19th century.
The Tswana split into 3 groups: the Pedi in Transvaal (now Gauteng in South Africa), the Basotho in present-day Lesotho and the West Basuthso (or Tswana) in Bechuanaland, that is now Botswana.
Between the European Middle Ages and the 18th century, many other people settled in the region like some Herero people escaping the German rule (in Namibia). Later on, in the 1st half of the 19th century, missionaries such as David Livingstone and Robert Moffat entered the territory.They developed European education and helped the locals to obtain Britain’s protection against the Boers.
Worried about the Boers occupation of the Transvaal republic, the Tswana Chiefs petitioned the British for protection and the territory became the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland in 1885.
The capital was however placed out of the Bechuanaland, more precisely in Mafeking, South Africa (now Mafikeng).
Britain wanted to allow businessman Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company to control the country. Tswana Chiefs sailed to London to appeal for status quo. The British government conceded but granted Rhodes a strip of land to build his railway line “Cape to Cairo”.
The British introduced the English language into the government, courts and the few schools but as Tswana was spoken by 90% of the population, it remained the main language.
The British colonisation was rather a peaceful
After its victory over the Boers, Britain created the South African Union in 1910. The new colony pressed for Bechuanaland’s amalgamation into the Union but the Tswana Chiefs refused.
The British created the African Advisory Board in 1920, which gave the Tswana a voice in the protectorate government.
During the World Wars, contingents of the Bechuanaland went to serve in the British Army overseas and when they returned, greatly influenced the country politically and economically.
They introduced English as the business language of the country.
The first legislative elections took place in 1961.
In 1966, Bechuanaland peacefully gained its independence and became the Republic of Botswana, despite South African opposition.
Sir Seretse Khama became president.
English became the official language for governing purposes. Later on, Tswana Chiefs worked actively at promoting the national language, Tswana. The Tswana Language Council was founded to ensure its technical development. Three years after the independence, the issue of linguistic discrimination was raised by members of parliament, Tswana being promoted at the expense of other national languages like Kalanga. The issue was raised again in 1988 and 1995. In the meantime, some Batswana lost their first language or do not speak it to their children.
After the discovery of diamonds in Orapa, the country became one of the main diamond producers in the world.
Not only mining brought wealth to the country, but under the influence of international financial organisations, the government put into place sound economic policies that stabilized the public finances.
In other words, the country got the opportunity to be managed well.
Sir Seretse Khama was reelected three times.
Although in disagreement with the Apartheid government’s old policies, Botswana has maintained a close relationship with South Africa as it is closely tied up with its economy.
Since the emergence of a new South Africa, the president Quette Masire, elected in 1980, fought for a “balanced interdependence” with its powerful neighbour within the South African Development Community (SADC).
In 1999, Festus Mogae, was elected president. He committed himself to improving the economy of the country and trying to stop the escalation of the Aids pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization, around 25% of the adult population of Botswana would be infected by the virus.
Although Botswana is totally dependant on South Africa for exports of its wealth, it preserved its independence during the years of struggle against Apartheid.
Mogae was reelected in 2004.
In 2008, Ian Khama, the son of Sir Seretse Khama, was elected and is now president of the Republic of Botswana.
Area: 57 0000 km2
Botswana’s territory is mainly covered with the Kalahari Desert (84% of the country), a sandy basin 1000m above sea level with relatively low recorded rainfall. Two thirds of the country is below the tropics.
Botswana is the size of France or Kenya.
The main rivers of the country are Chobe in the North, Nossob in the South West, Molopo in the South and Marico, Limpopo and Shashe in the East. Beside the Okavango Delta and Chobe, the country has few permanent fresh water reserves.
The eastern Hardveld, home to most of the population, is a large strip of land, running from north to south, with small rock formations, the results of erosion.
Altghough Botswana does not have any true mountain ranges; its uniform landscape is punctuated by small hills, in particular at the South East border and in the North West.
The highest point of Botswana is the Otse Mountain (1491m) but the three main peaks of Tsodilo Hills in the North West of the country are much more spectacular.
Although it straddles the Tropic of Capricorn, Botswana experiences extremes in both temperature and weather. It’s mainly hot and dry, but does have a summer rainy season, which runs roughly from November to March.
From late May to August, rain is rare. Days are normally clear, warm and sunny, and nights are cool to bitterly cold.
The political stability of Botswana influences the economic growth of the country positively, based on a cautious management of the main mineral resources, diamonds being the main one.
However, Botswana is economically dependant on foreign countries and has to diversify. Botswana’s economy is dominated by the fast growing service sector (banks, tourism), cattle farming and the first diamond industry in the world (33% of GDP and 82.9% of exports).
The macroeconomic figures of Botswana are remarkable: high economic growth rate (8.2% per year for 30 years), low foreign debt (369M$), controlled inflation, trade balance and surplus balance, 4.2 Bd euros monetary reserve.
However, the economy of Botswana remains vulnerable because of strong natural constraints (landlocked, low population, dependence on global stock markets for mining resources and structural constraints (South African omnipresence with 77.6% of imports, strong dependence in terms of the mining industry, disparity in incomes, lack of qualified labour, unemployment).
The impact of Aids on public finances and the limited diamond production could slow down the economic growth rate in the future.
Botswana is well known for its rich wildlife. It is home to most African species, many of them being endemic to the area largely protected.
The region counts 164 mammal species such as wild dogs, lions, leopards, cheetahs, two hyena species, white rhinos, Burchell’s zebras, buffalos and hippos. Chobe area is home to the largest elephant population in Africa, numbering 150 000.
As far as avifauna is concerned, 550 different species are to be found in Botswana, whether they be breeding, migratory or rare. You can easily observe ostriches, flamingos, kori bustards, cape vultures, African fish eagles, bateleur eagles, various calaos species and kingfishers…
Botswana is also home to 157 reptile species: crocodiles, pythons, black mambas and cobras are the most known.
The natural environment varies according to the rainfall. Most of the country is covered with scrub, grass and tree savannas. The scrub savanna covers the south eastern part of Botswana while the tree savanna stretches over the rest of the country. There are also a few forests in the extreme northern region on the banks of Chobe River.
Acacia and mopane are the most common trees. More than 3000 plant species have been recorded in Botswana, 650 of them being woody plants. Many plants are edible such as the Tsamma melon (Citrillus lanatus) and the wild cucumber amongst 200 other plants, and are food to the local communities in particular the San in the Kalahari. About 17% of the national territory is a nature protected area.
Visas and passports...International visitors must be in possession of a valid passport of at least 6 months. European visitors do not require visas.
The Botswana pula is the official currency of Botswana. The course of that currency in 2010 hovered around 8,6 pula for 1 euro.
Lodges of Botswana load almost exclusively in US$ and Euros. Therefore it is useful to have cash in one of these two currencies. Credit cards are also accepted.
Telephone…The international code is 267.
The voltage is 220 volts, but the plugs are non standard (Similar to those of South Africa) and you will need an adapter.
There are about 1.8 million inhabitants in Botswana, split into:
71.1% Tswana (including 8 groups: the Bakgatla, the Bakwena, the Bamelete, the Bamangwaketse, the Barolong, the Batswana and the Batlowa).
- 9.4% Kalanga
- 1.8% Herero
- 1.7% San (Bushmen or Basarwa)
- 1.7% Haioms
- 1% Ndebele
- 1.1% Afrikaans
The rest of the population includes Birwa people, South Sotho, Xhosa, Naro, Luyana, Subiya, English, Nama…
The official languages are Tswana (generally called Setswana), closely linked to Sotho and English, mother tongue of only about 4000 people.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango River, 1300 km long, is the third longest River in Southern Africa. It rises next to Nova Lisboa in Angola, flows towards the South East through the Caprivi Strip in Namibia where it turns into the Popa Falls and then enters Botswana next to Shakawe.
The Delta of the River stretches over an area of 15 000 km2. It is the largest inland delta in the world, the size of Switzerland! It offers a mosaic of environments changing according to the seasons.
In March and April, after the Angolan rainy season the River swells and rushes towards Botswana. In June, the Delta waters rise, move the papyrus beds, flood the low islands and uproot the vegetation.
The Delta includes the Moremi Reserve that covers an area of 5000 km2 in the eastern part of the Delta, or 20% of this whole exceptional area.
Moremi has many diverse habitats from Riparian woodlands to reed beds as well as mopane woodlands and dry tree savannas. The wildlife is extremely diverse and spectacular: herds of buffaloes and elephants, processions of impressive predators (hyenas, lions, leopards, cheetahs) as well as many duck and goose species make Moremi a paradise for nature and wild life lovers.
The reserve counts many exclusive private camps such as Xigera camp, Chitabe camp and Xakanaxa camp that we often use on our tours, mostly accessible by small planes. You can explore the area by foot, in a 4X4 or by mokoro, local canoes that will lead you into the green labyrinth of the Delta revealing its many Nile crocodiles as well as the rare sitatunga, an antelope totally adapted to the humid environment, whose hoofs are turned backwards in order to move on the soft surface and immerses itself like a hippo when scared.
The Okavango is home to 30% of the world wild dog population, an endangered canine species, amongst the most effective predators.
Chobe National Park
Chobe is the second largest park of Botswana and stretches over an area of 10 566 km2. The park is divided into four main ecosystems: Serondela with its plains and dense forests along the Chobe River sector in the North East, the Savuti wetlands in the West, the Linyanti wetlands in the North West and the dry inland area that separates them.
Chobe is home to the largest elephant population of Africa, numbering 120 000! Being a population of a few thousands at the beginning of the 20th century, increasing rapidly it now spreads to the North of Botswana and North West of Zimbabwe.
The neighbouring countries elephant population suffered however from poaching in the 70s and 80s.
Chobe elephants migrate over a distance of 200kms between Chobe and Linyanti Rivers depending on the availability of water. They are known to be the biggest pachyderms of the continent but their tusks are not as impressive as some of the males in the South African Kruger Park.
The Savuti area is especially well known for its wildlife density throughout the year.
Giraffes, elephants, zebras, impalas as well as lions and hyenas are easily spotted.
Savuti has been experiencing severe drought since 1982 but it still well worth the exploration.
Larger than Denmark or Switzerland, the reserve covers 52 800 km2.
Created in 1961, it is the second largest nature reserve in the world.
The centre of Botswana is characterised by vast open plains with old river banks running through. It is home to sandy dunes punctuated by scrub species in the North. In the South, there are many trees and a flat scrub savanna in the central part of the country. The recorded rainfalls vary between 170 and 700 ml a year depending on the area.
The Kalahari is the heart of the Bushmen culture, generally called San or Basarwa. This ethnic group has been living in Southern Africa for thousands of years and has been the only people able to survive such harsh living conditions for some time by using the resources in sound and sustainable ways. They have been relocated by the government over last ten years for so called ecological reasons but some communities recently (legally) retrieved their ancestral land.
The wildlife consists essentially of large herds of springboks and oryx, blue wildebeests, and elands all adapted to the harsh natural environment. Most of these species meet their water needs through the vegetation they eat (Tsamma Melon, roots, dew captured on the leaves)
Many predators inhabit the Kalahari, such as lions, cheetahs, brown and spotted hyenas or wild dogs. Other species include giraffes, ostriches, suricates and many reptile species.