About the size of Texas, Botswana has a population of just over 2 million people. From the country’s southern border with South Africa, the arid grasslands of the Kalahari extend northward for more than 800 miles, eventually meeting the waters of the Okavango and the Cuando rivers flowing down from the rainy highlands of Angola. The Kalahari Desert encompasses much of Botswana’s arid terrain, the most striking anomaly of the landscape being the Okavango Delta in the northwest corner. This vast oasis of lush grasslands, floodplains, riparian forests and papyrus-hugged channels harbors the greatest collection of wildlife species in southern Africa. The annual flood, which arrives in April/May, inundates a wilderness area nearly 250 miles across. The delta’s crown jewel is the 1,200-square-mile Moremi Game Reserve. Predators such as lion and leopard can often be seen in abundance, and birdlife is unbelievably prolific. To the northeast lie equally famous wildlife areas such as the Selinda Reserve, Savuti Marsh and Linyanti Swamp.
Botswana has set aside 20 percent of its land for national parks and protected game reserves, with an additional 20 percent of the terrain designated as wildlife management regions. To further preserve the prized Okavango Delta, only small lodges are permitted. The delta camps are reached via light airplanes from Maun (20 to 40 minutes) or Kasane (75 to 90 minutes).
When the annual flood begins to recede from the periphery of the Okavango Delta in July, it leaves behind grassy savannas that are ideal for horseback safaris. Cantering in the midst of a swiftly moving herd of giraffe is an extraordinary experience — as is encountering a pride of lion. Fortunately, it is the job of your fearless leader to confront them, while guests make a slow and careful retreat. Several riding companies operate in the delta, but from personal experience, I can recommend African Horseback Safaris.
Where to Spot Big Cats
The question I am asked most frequently about African safaris is, “Where is the greatest concentration of big cats?” As I am not a wildlife scientist or a statistician, I can only reply from personal experience. The largest number of predators I have ever seen was at Mombo Camp at the top of Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta. It included five leopards on a single morning game drive, with one of them killing an impala on the airstrip in full view of an astonished group of arriving guests.
Trained African Elephants
One of the most remarkable wildlife experiences I have enjoyed was a walk in the bush with a group of trained African elephants at Abu Camp in the Okavango. When you are with elephants, other animals are unfazed by human presence, standing their ground and gazing imperturbably. It is also possible to sleep on a “Star Bed” overlooking the elephant boma, although they tend to snore rather loudly.
An Abundance of Birds
As well as its abundance of large mammals, the Okavango Delta has more than 400 species of birds. Certain camps are noted for their especially prolific birdlife. Xigera Camp is perhaps the best known among them.
Pula (BWP). Fluctuating rate valued at BWP10.59 = US$1.00 as of April 2019. Note: All of our suggested hotels quote rates in US$.
To phone hotels in Botswana, dial 011 (international access) + 267 (Botswana code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
Gaborone, Tel. (267) 395-3982.
Passport (valid for six months beyond end of stay and containing at least three unstamped pages). Visit travel.state.gov, and for travelers’ health information, cdc.gov.