Welcome to Botswana. As a peaceful, economically thriving democracy, Botswana breaks the mould of how the West sees Africa. Mike Main unravels the story behind the country's indisputable success, and looks at the contribution made by tourism.
© Your private deck at Camp Moremi. Okavango
Contributor: Mike Main
Where to go and What to See on your Safari
From his home in Gaborone, Mike Main takes every opportunity he can to explore Botswana's wilderness areas. Eastern Botswana is the area most amenable to agriculture and human habitation. Ancient stone tools
and rock paintings reveal that this region has been inhabited for at least 80,000 years.
Francistown is the second city of Botswana, primarily a shopping centre
with a number of good-value places to stay. South-east of Francistown lie the Lepokole Hills, an extension of Zimbabwe's Matobo Hills, full of caves, gorges and rock-painted overhangs. To the east, on the border with Zimbabwe, is the Tuli Block, including Mashatu (45,000ha of savannah plains, riverine forests, open marshland and sandstone outcrops) and the smaller Tuli Game Reserve.
South-west of Francistown lies Serowe, former hometown of Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth. The Khama III Memorial Museum outlines the history of the family and of Serowe, and has a natural history section
. 20km north-east is the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, home to White rhino, with plans to introduce Black rhino soon.
Rich in wildlife and scenic beauty, north-eastern Botswana includes the Makgadikgadi, Sua and Ntwetwe Pans, the remains of a super-lake
that once covered most of northern Botswana. From November, Wildebeest, antelope and Zebra gather in the surrounding grasslands to await the rains that will fill the pans.
Millions of birds (notably flamingos) also arrive, sometimes staying until early June. Any journey into the area requires a 4x4, a map and compass, food, fuel, water and vehicle supplies. Some companies offer organised expeditions.
The Nata Sanctuary is a community refuge for the wildlife
around Sua Pan, where predators, plains game and about 165 species of birds (including Pelicans, Flamingos, Kingfishers, Bustards and Ostrich) have been recorded. Near the south-western corner of Sua is Kubu - a rocky island studded with baobabs and ancient artifacts.
Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park
Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park, west of Gweta, includes Baines' Baobabs, painted by the Victorian artist and hunter, Thomas Baines
. The Nata-Maun road divides the park, which comprises saltpans, grasslands and beautiful mopane- and acacia-studded savannah. It is well populated with game during the rainy season, including Wildebeest, Zebra, Gemsbok, Giraffe, Wild Dogs, Hyaena and Bat Eared Foxes.
Chobe National Park
To the north stretches Chobe National Park, a wild country of flood plain, Baobab, mopane and acacia woodland. The strip north of the Chobe River, with its perpetual water supply, supports the largest numbers of wildlife
in the park, while Savuti, Linyati Marshes and the Mababe Depression are also inundated with game (especially elephants) and birds.Kasane is the gateway to the park
, situated at the meeting point of four countries - Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe - and at the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers. There are numerous places to stay both in Kasane and in the park.
The Okavango Delta is arguably Botswana's biggest attraction, a fan-shaped wilderness of channels, lagoons and flood plains covering an area the size of Switzerland. There is a wide variety of wildlife and birds
. The best game-viewing months are July-October. The scenic Moremi Wildlife Reserve is superb for a mokoro (dugout) trip through reeds, papyrus and water lilies.
At the southern tip of the Delta, Maun offers varied accommodation and most tour operators' head offices. The Nhabe Museum outlines the natural history and culture of the area. The attached Bailey Arts Centre stages theatrical and cultural evenings
, and sells local curios and artwork.
The wild north-west contains Gcwihaba Caverns (Drotsky's Cave). Gcwihaba means 'hyaena's hole' in the !Kung language and these caverns contain breathtaking stalagmites
, stalactites, flowstones and passages. Strong torches and extra batteries are essential - there is no natural light inside.
Nearby on the Namibian border are the 700 million-year-old limestone, marble and dolomite Aha Hills. The area is completely barren
- no water, mammals or birds, just a few insects and reptiles (notably the barking gecko, after whose call the hills are said to be named).
The Tsodilo Hills, west of the Okavango panhandle, consist of four rock formations: the Male, the Female, the Child and North Hill. They have been home to the San people
for the past 30,000 years and contain over 4000 separate paintings, the Female hill offering the most impressive sightings.
The Kalahari is a vast, silent tract gradually opening up thanks to the new Trans-Kalahari Highway between Gaborone and Windhoek. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is covered by grasses, acacia trees, shrubs and flowering plants, and was originally established as a reserve
for Botswana's San population.
Most people head for Deception Pan, which is packed with wildlife after the rains. Other pans in the reserve, including Piper's Pan and Sunday Pan, receive artificially pumped water for the wildlife. Any journey into this unforgiving area requires a 4x4, sufficient food, water and fuel, mechanical supplies and good maps.
Khutse Game Reserve
The Khutse Game Reserve, bordering the southern end of the CKGR, is a popular weekend getaway from Gaborone
. Antelope, big cats, Hyaena, Porcupines and a variety of birds are present in the clay pans, ancient riverbeds and savannah scrub.
To the south is Jwaneng, the world's largest diamond deposit. Unlike Orapa, this is an open town and mine tours
can be arranged by appointment. The mine produces nearly nine million carats annually and in a month processes almost 500,000 tons of rock.
Ghanzi, west of the CKGR, is the base for a productive cattle ranching
area. The Ghanzicraft co-operative produces textiles, bags, bow-and-arrow sets, dancing skirts, ostrich eggshell necklaces, woven mats and dolls, with all proceeds going to the San craftspeople.
Kglagadi Transfrontier Park
In far south-western Botswana lies the Kglagadi Transfrontier Park, with apricot sand dunes and fossil riverbeds
. Gemsbok, Eland, Springbok, Hartebeest and Wildebeest occur during the rainy season (October-April) in the Kalahari Gemsbok section. More wildlife may be seen in the Mabuasehube Game Reserve section, including Eland, Gemsbok, Lion, Cheetah, Brown Hyaena and Wild Dog. Entry is usually from the South African side, via the Bokspits border post and Twee Rivieren.
Gaborone, in the south-east, is Botswana's capital, built on the Notwane River. Tours of Orapa House are available
, where the country's diamonds are sorted, stored and dispatched. The Gaborone Game Reserve is home to a variety of antelope as well as White rhino. There are numerous places to stay in Gaborone, ranging from camp sites to luxury lodges.
North of Gaborone is Mochudi village, first settled by the Kwena in the mid-16th century, then by the Kgatla in 1871. The Phuthadikobo Museum outlines the history of Mochudi
and the Kgatla. The distinctive architecture, the village kgotla (meeting place and court) and the royal kraal are noteworthy.
Just south of Mochudi is Odi village, best known for the Lentswe-la-Odi weavers. Richly coloured hand-spun woollen products include handbags, mats, bedcovers, jackets and tapestries. Nearby is Gabane village, renowned for Pelegano Pottery
hand-painted ceramics (including masks, bowls and animal figurines).
The Mokolodi Nature Reserve, south of Gaborone, promotes wildlife and conservation education, and is a research facility
, a breeding centre for endangered species and a sanctuary for orphaned or injured birds and animals. It is Botswana's only protected habitat for Mountain reedbuck. Also present are White Rhino, Zebra, Hippo, Warthog, Honey badgers, Leopard and many antelope. Activities include roaming with elephants
and tracking Rhino on foot.Copyright © 2002 Travel Africa. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.