Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Botswana's independence with these amazing activities, designed to take you to the heart of this adventurous destination
More of a wilderness area than a game park, the huge Central Kalahari Game Reserve protects sparse populations of red hartebeest, wildebeest, oryx, ostrich, springbok, eland, hyena, and even wild dog. But the real star of the show is the Kalahari lion.
Lion in the Kalahari (Shutterstock.com)
Chances are, you'll hear a Kalahari lion before you see one. Their roars are the soundtrack to every desert evening, whether you're sleeping under canvas or in a luxury lodge.
Finding the elusive lions is half the adventure. You can choose to take a four-wheel-drive safari or hire a private guide and a tracker. For a real adventure you could try looking for lions from the back of a horse, led by Bushmen guides. One thing for certain, you won't forget your first encounter with these magnificent beasts. It's guaranteed to be up close and personal.
Exploring the vast, stretching water trails of the Okavango in one of its ubiquitous mokoros (dugout canoes) is not only a slow, stealthy and immensely satisfying way to search for wildlife, but it also puts you in touch with the culture of the delta’s indigenous San people. The Bugakhwe and Xanekwe Bushmen have traditionally navigated the delta’s maze of reed-fringed channels, poling narrow dugout canoes on fishing, hunting and plant-gathering trips.
Mokoro Safari in Okavango Delta (Shutterstock.com)
Gliding along, inches above the water’s surface, you gain a unique perspective of the Okavango – peering into the bright chalices of water lilies, ducking through lush plumes of papyrus or marvelling at the vast scale of the delta as you cross an open lagoon.
With no engine noise, mokoro safaris are ideal for birdwatching; you may also spot other often-overlooked creatures, particularly amphibians and insects. Slipping silently past big game – elephants drinking at the water’s edge or a herd of lechwe splashing through the shallows – will also hold you rapt.
The San people of the Kalahari are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa. They have eked out an existence in this vast, dry land for at least 20,000 years, accumulating an incredibly intimate and detailed knowledge of the area and how to live in it. And, although their lifestyle has changed dramatically over recent years, this knowledge is still passed on to younger generations, and shared with travellers who seek out the San when they visit.
Kalahari bushmen (Shutterstock.com)
A walk into the desert with the Bushmen, even a short one, is an education you will never forget. You'll learn how to extract water from tubers hidden deep underground, set traps to catch guinea fowl and read the myriad of footprints in the sand. Spotting wildlife is almost guaranteed – a bushman's life depends on it.
Be warned. The modern world is encroaching fast and the reality of life for the Bushmen does not match the romanticised image that most people have. But these people have thousands of years worth of accumulated knowledge that is worth seeking out.
The Okavango Delta and the Kalahari are undoubtedly the jewels in Botswana's crown, but the country's other National Parks are well worth checking out too.
During the dry season, Chobe National Park ranks with the subcontinent's best. In the north, the permanent rivers of the Linyanti and Chobe host dense concentrations of game. Large herds of elephants and buffalo are virtually guaranteed, and Chobe can seem an impossibly beautiful backdrop.
Elephants in Chobe National Park (Shutterstock.com)
Don't miss out on Nxai Pan. It covers a series of wide, grassy plains dotted with acacia bushes and is a favourite with giraffes throughout the year. Nearby, the Makgadikgadi salt-pans are usually flat and bare – but when it rains, huge herds of springbok, Burchell’s zebra, red hartebeest and blue wildebeest migrate to both, accompanied by predators.
Time your visit right and you will witness the annual spectacle of thousands of zebras and wildebeest making their way through Makgadikgadi Pans and Nxai Pans National Park
Tucked away in the far north-west of Botswana, the rocky outcrops of the Tsodilo Hills boast one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world. Unesco estimates there are over 4,500 paintings crammed into a 10-square-kilometre area.
Rock paintings on Tsodilo Hill (Shutterstock.com)
The paintings appear to span from the Stone Age right through to the 19th century and chronicle the relationship between the local people and the harsh environment they live in. The local Hambukushu and San communities still revere Tsodilo as a place of worship today and regard it as a home for ancestral spirits. Always remain respectful during your visit.
The private safari camps in Botswana offer the best of both worlds. They are nearly always located next to wildlife hotspots. And most offer incredible levels of luxury in a way that perfectly complements their stunning natural locales.
Lying at the heart of the Okavango, Moremi Game Reserve is a good place to start. Khwai Tented Camp and Machaba Camp are typical of the Okavango’s intimate camps, with just 14 en-suite tents between them.
Luxury camp in Chobe National Park (Shutterstock.com)
Surrounding Moremi Game Reserve, you'll find a patchwork of private reserves offering small, exclusive camps and more flexible rules – you can go off-road and embellish safaris with night drives, walks and horse-riding.
Lavish Abu Camp even offers elephant safaris: you can walk through the bush with a family of previously captive elephants that has been returned to the wild.
Other luxury options include the spectacular Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, an architectural masterpiece oozing sustainable technology, which reopened in September 2014 following a complete redesign.
Craving a Botswana adventure of your own? See Wanderlust's Trip Finder for Botswana tours with top travel operators.
Main Image: Okavango Sunset (Shutterstock.com)