Safaris in Botswana: Planning an Enchanting Itinerary
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Botswana is a varied country, featuring desert, wetland, savannah, and hills.
It is also home to two spectacular attractions in Southern Africa: Okavango Delta and Chobe River.
Botswana is well-known for its commitment to nature and conservation. The ecotourism model in the country is based on low-impact luxury lodges. For the travelers, this means the prices tend to be expensive. However, there are also campsites available, which help keep the cost of the trip affordable.
That said, between deciding on what places to visit and when, figuring out accommodation and transportation options, planning a safari trip in Botswana can become daunting.
That’s why, in this article, we’ve put together an itinerary for your trip to Botswana that is created in such a way so you can pick and choose whichever destination fits your travel budget and style.
But first, when is the best time to visit Botswana?
Photo credit: African Coast Travel and Tours
The good news is that some parks and reserves offer excellent game viewing year-round.
However, the best time to visit the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, and Chobe National Park is from May to September, during the dry season.
There’s less vegetation and the animals congregate around water. Rain is rare and there are fewer mosquitos during this time of year.
The Okavango Delta is flooded from June to October, making it perfect for mokoro safaris.
Even though the dry season is also the high season, the parks won’t feel too crowded (except for Chobe). However, the prices are at their highest during these months.
If you are pinching pennies, you may consider visiting Botswana during the low season. But do note that October and November can be scorching hot, while the rain is almost continuous in January and February. On the plus side, the country is greener, and the rates are lower.
Kindly note that some lodges close down for part of the wet season.
How long should I stay in Botswana?
Botswana is a relatively high-end travel destination so, the length of your trip will most likely depend on your budget, what you plan to do while visiting the country, and the (vacation) days off you can take.
We recommend spending at least six nights in Botswana. There are a lot of activities available – on the water, by land, or up in the air – and traveling between parks also takes time.
If you want to explore more than one or two parks and also visit other places, you should consider spending 10-14 days in Botswana.
A flexible Botswana itinerary for the most popular safari destinations
Unless you land in a nearby country, Maun is the “de facto” start point for any trip exploring Botswana’s majestic Okavango Delta.
While most safari organizers offer to whisk you away straight from Maun Airport (IATA: MUB), you should plan to spend an overnight here.
A great way to get to know the local culture is by taking a traditional dance class. Or you can learn the art of basket weaving.
If you are passionate about history, visit the Nhabe Museum and discover the colonial-era artifacts.
And while the Botswanan cuisine is heavily influenced by the other Southern African cuisines, it still has its unique dishes. Indulge in the local street food, head to local bars, or markets.
If you are planning to only stay in Botswana only for several days, it’s a great idea to set the base in a camp outside Maun and take a mokoro trip into the Okavango Delta from Maun. Or, you can opt for a short flight above the delta.
Moremi Game Reserve & Okavango Delta
Photo credit: Enjanga Tours and Safaris
There are two ways to get from Maun to the Okavango Delta: by mokoro or by charter plane.
When it comes to accommodation, if you are looking to save money, you can opt for budget tent camps.
But to enjoy the best of what Botswana has to offer, you should consider at least a night in one of the breath-taking lodges in the wildlife-rich Moremi Game Reserve.
Located on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta, Moremi is the only protected area of the delta and contains some of the densest concentrations of wildlife on the continent.
» Find out all the great reasons to visit the Okavango Delta!
Moremi Game Reserve comprises both permanent water and drier areas, which make it a great place to see savannah game and do some birdwatching in the lagoons. You may even get a chance to spot the rare African wild dog here.
The reserve is home to all of the Big Five animals: the African lion, the black rhinoceros, the African elephant, the African leopard, and the Cape buffalo. You should know that Moremi is known to be one of the best places in Botswana to see the rhino.
Other animals to be on the lookout for are giraffes, hippos, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and impalas.
The best way to explore Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta is during a mokoro safari. There is something unique about gliding on the surface of the water while being attentive to spot the hippos that take residence in the waterways.
Plan to spend at least two nights to explore the Okavango Delta.
Chobe National Park & Suvati
To the northeast and bordering Moremi Game Reserve, you can find Chobe National Park.
This part of the journey takes place by land (in a 4x4 vehicle). It is possible to self-drive from Maun to Kasane, but you need an appropriate vehicle (4x4 WD), be familiar with driving in these particular conditions – the roads might be flooded, some sections are sandy – and set the tire pressure for deep sand. Expect the drive to take at least 7 hours.
Make sure to stop in the Savuti area. There are plenty of camps and lodges to choose from, depending on your budget and preferences.
The most important attraction here is the Savuti channel which opens into the Savuti Marsh, a mini swampland in the middle of a dry area.
There are resident and migrating elephants in the Savuti area, so you’ll be sure to be rewarded by magnificent sightings.
Chobe National Park is also home to the greatest number of elephants in Botswana and you’ll have the best chance of spotting them during the dry season.
» Here is all you need to know about visiting Chobe National Park
Four of the Big Five animals are present here (unfortunately the rhino is absent). Other animals that you may get a glimpse of are zebras, hippos, giraffes, Red Lechwes, hyenas, and cheetahs.
There are many ways in which you can get up close and personal with wildlife in Chobe. One of them is by going on game drives. You can choose half-day drives (early morning departure) or full-day drives (depart in the early morning and return at night).
You can also enjoy the Chobe River on a boat. River cruises accommodate 30-40 people and focus on spotting the elephants; whereas small boat tours focus on photography and birding.
And if you prefer a canoe trip, you can choose a mokoro safari in Chobe National Park.
It is recommended to spend at least two nights in Chobe National Park.
The Great Makgadikgadi Pans
Photo credit: diego_cue via Panoramio
It’s time to backtrack to Maun and then travel onwards to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, a salt pan located in north-eastern Botswana. The drive is about 3.5 - 4 hours from Maun.
Located south-west of Okavango Delta, it is surrounded by the Kalahari Desert. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park stands in the middle of dry savannah and is one of the largest salt pans in the world.
If you want to visit the salt pan itself, it is only accessible during the dry season (May to October). It is wintertime, but the weather is warm during the day. However, the nights are really cold, so plan accordingly.
It is one of the best places in the world to watch a sunrise – the glaring white surface spreads so far that you can see the curvature of the Earth and the sun moving along the horizon as it rises.
During the summer (wet season), the Pans are not accessible as they become flooded. But in April and May, it’s the perfect time to visit for game drives and birding. Spectacular flamingo flocks call the Pans their home.
Other animals that can be spotted here include springboks, gemsboks, wildebeests, and zebras. These animals are part of a migration in which they move from the Pans in the South-east side of the park to the Boteti River on the Western side of the park.
The best way to take in the vastness and isolation of this place is to fly over the Pans in a helicopter.
Camping here is an absolute delight especially if you want to indulge in stargazing. There are a lot of camps to choose from.
In order to have a full experience, it is recommended to spend at least an overnight in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
Should you have spare days on your hands, you may add Kubu Island to your itinerary. You can access the Kubu Island via Gweta, north of the Makgadigadi Pans, or via Lethlakane, in the south.
Part of the Makgadikgadi Pans, Kubu Island is a very unique-looking Instagram-worthy place.
It’s not an island per se, though. It’s an outcrop of ancient granite rocks that stand at 20m / 65.6ft above the salt pan. It’s 1km/0.6 mi long and is home to baobab trees.
Because of its location, Kubu Island is the best place to watch the sunset in the Makgadikgadi Pans. You’ll be in awe watching the sun go down over the vastness of the Pans.
If you want to spend the night, consider camping right under the stars, near Kubu Island. The campsite has 14 spaces available and offers a rustic experience. Because of the limited number of spaces, you need to book 10 weeks in advance.
» Learn more about camping in Africa!
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Photo credit: Mathias via Flickr
You need to get back Maun to make your way to Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It is located just 250km/155 mi from Maun and the drive takes about 5 hours.
It is much faster to fly directly into one of the camps within the game reserve.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an off-the-beaten-path destination in Botswana. Despite offering stunning desert scenery, it is rarely on the travelers’ trail.
Unlike the other destinations in Botswana, it’s best to visit this game reserve from January to April, during the green season.
The lush vegetation attracts the springboks, gemsboks, ostriches, giraffes, wildebeest, desert-adapted elephants, rhinos, wild dogs, warthogs, and cheetahs.
But the stars of the reserve are, without a doubt, the striking Kalahari black-maned lions. They differ from their relatives which can be found in the Serengeti and other African national parks and reserves.
The Kalahari lions have a lower body weight as they adapted to traveling long distances to find prey. They have spots on their lower legs and the males have the distinctive black manes.
Just like they have adapted to the scarcity of food, the Kalahari lions can also go for up to two weeks without water.
Leopards and hyenas also reside here but they are difficult to spot.
Make sure to head to the northern part of the reserve, which has the most concentration of wildlife.
There are many activities to explore the game reserve. Choose a game drive or go on a guided walking safari. You’ll be accompanied by Bushmen trackers who enhance the experience with their incredible knowledge of the area and its wildlife.
While night drives aren’t permitted in the reserve, there are some private concessions located outside of the game reserve boundaries which do allow you to get a glimpse of the nocturnal creatures residing in the area.
It is recommended to spend at least two nights in the area.
Combining the best safari destinations in Botswana
Photo credit: Travel Creations Botswana
Although driving in certain national parks and reserves can be quite challenging, it is certainly possible to explore Botswana on your own.
However, without a doubt, the most affordable and easiest way to get to know the country is to choose an overland tour in Botswana.
Taking out the stress of having to plan the routes and drive in an unfamiliar country will make it possible to enjoy the time spent in Botswana a whole lot more!
In general, combining at least two safari destinations in Botswana offers the chance to explore a variety of landscapes and see a plethora of animals.
Four days are enough to catch a short glimpse of Botswana’s beauty, but if you want to linger and truly get to know it, plan for at least seven days. Anything longer than that would be a real treat for your senses.
Some of the popular combinations you may consider include:
- Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve (4 days)
- Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, Maun, Okavango Delta, and Makgadikgadi Pans (7 days)
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Nxai Pan National Park, Okavango Delta, and Moremi Game Reserve (12 days).
Kindly note that while most safaris depart from Maun’s airport, some itineraries request you to fly into Victoria Falls International Airport (VFA) in Zimbabwe. Make sure to ask the safari operator whether the transfer to and from the airport is included or needs to be paid for separately.
Excited to get up close and personal with the wildlife in Botswana? Book one of the walking safaris in Botswana and allow yourself to be dazzled!