Dreamy, wild, and serene, Botswana is a country of striking landscapes, wildlife encounters, and ancient civilizations. Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, an enormous, watery oasis in the Kalahari Desert, and the Makgadigadi Pans, the biggest salt pans in the world. And while the country’s population is only around two million people, it has the largest population of elephants in Africa.
Botswana is surprisingly expensive because most of the tourism caters to the high-end market. However, some of the most fantastic locations are managed by community trusts, which means you can support local communities while gaining a more authentic, off-the-beaten- track experience.
The best way to travel Botswana is to rent a car and camp (unless you’re prepared to splurge). Camping allows you to access the most interesting places, which are often out-of-the-way and don’t offer standard accommodation. However, it’s necessary to have some practical car skills and a spirit of adventure.
In Maun, the gateway city to the Okavango, you can rent four-wheel drive cars that come with rooftop tents. If you’re on a tighter budget and have more time you can rent these vehicles at a cheaper price in Windhoek, Namibia. If renting a car isn’t an option, Maun is easy to fly into, and a few places (such as the Old Bridge Backpackers) offer affordable accommodation and tours.
These three destinations encapsulate all that is Botswana, from the baobab-strewn Island of Kubu, the magic of Tsodillo hills, to the wilds of Kwai:
Kubu Island emerges from the desolate salt pans of the Makgadigadi. Here, baobab trees reign amongst granite rocks in this bizarre and unearthly landscape. In the wet months (November-April) access to Kubu becomes impossible as water fills the salt pans. Even in the dry season, access can be difficult. Getting stuck is a real danger, as the salt pans can appear deceptively hard on the surface. For this reason, it’s advisable to travel with other vehicles and to stay on the tracks.
Kubu’s main attraction is the magnificent and ancient baobabs. As the sun rises and sets over the flat horizon of the pans, the baobabs are illuminated and turned copper. Called the upside-down-trees by the bushmen, they were once used for food, water, shelter, and medicine.
The island is revered by the local people and is home to the “sacred cave,” where people leave tokens and coins for their ancestors. The cave is a crevasse made of huge wedges of vertical rocks, and while it’s not possible to enter, it’s an interesting walk from the campsite. Also on the island are the remnants of a stone wall, which suggests that Kubu Island might have been part of the Great Zimbabwe empire.
The campsites are well situated and well maintained. The long-drop toilets aren’t in the best condition, but they are kept clean. Firewood is available to purchase, but there is no running water, so remember to bring your own supply. Camping is around $12 per person, and park and vehicle entrance fees are around $5.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, the four hills of Tsodillo make up one of the oldest historical sites in the world. Rising majestically from the scrub of the Kalahari, the hills are home to more than 3,500 rock paintings.
Perhaps even more striking than the ancient rock paintings is the unnerving spirituality of the place. The people here believe that Tsodillo is home to ancestral spirits, and in the past, the San people held religious ceremonies in these hills asking for rain. Disrespectful visitors have been plagued by various pests and bad luck, such as swarms of bees and malfunctioning camera equipment (these experiences were recorded by Laurens van der Post in his book The Lost World of the Kalahari). To preserve the area, it is now compulsory to hire a guide.
There’s a basic campsite at Tsodillo hills, but it’s worth it to stay at Drotsky’s Cabins, a beautiful lodge and campsite on the banks of the Okavango River with all the amenities including a pool.
Animals roam in plentitude in Kwai, perhaps in larger numbers than anywhere else in the Okavango Delta. Kwai Community Camp, a well-kept secret, is sandwiched between Moremi, which has been voted the best game reserve in Africa, and the world-renowned Chobe National Park.
The campsites at Kwai are the real deal: no running water, trash cans, or toilets. But it is also the unadulterated wild, with elephants roaming freely through your campsite. Camping is around $30 a person which may seem expensive as the campsites are just clearings in the bush, but compared to what you would be paying elsewhere for a similar experience, it’s a steal. If you go directly to Kwai, there are no park fees because it’s not in a national park but you need to book in Maun with the Kwai Community Trust before you go. Don’t forget to bring a shovel for the bathroom, firewood, good flashlights, water, and trash bags.
While camping at Kwai is undoubtedly basic, it is also the Africa that people dream of, with the bush alive with bird calls, hippos grunting and trumpeting from their ponds, and elephants splashing and flirting with each other in the rivers. In the evenings, animals come to drink, and it’s not unusual to see zebras, baboons, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, and elephants all congregating at the water together. Perhaps the most magical time is the evening, when you can stargaze and listen to the zebras braying, hyenas cackling, and lions roaring.
3 Spectacular Responsible Travel Destinations in Botswana #travel
Image source: pexels.com & author's own