The southern African country of Botswana is a combination of desert, delta and diamond mines. Standing head and shoulders above many of its neighbours, it is one of the wealthiest and most stable countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and has all the ingredients of a fantasy safari: abundant wildlife, blood red sunsets and enough wide open spaces to bring an agoraphobic out in a hot sweat.
Here you can get your fill of the Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino and buffalo - and sneak a peek at slinky cheetahs, elephants, meerkats, hippos, Nile crocodiles and rag-tag packs of wild dogs.
Botswana can be pricey and hard to get around but, thanks to some admirable responsible tourism practices, you can experience ancient rock art, captivating boat trips and prime game viewing minus the crowds.
Watch your step and wear long trousers, socks and shoes or boots if tramping through undergrowth as 12 species of venomous snake call Botswana home.
Carry ID at all times. Pack a torch. Check that your insurance covers the cost of medical evacuation.
Winter (May-August) is the dry season with mild temperatures of around 25ºC, sunshine and barely any rainfall. Animals congregate around watering holes at this time making for great game viewing.
Summer (November-March) is hot with temperatures of up to 40ºC, cloud, rain and muddy roads. Of these months January and February are the wettest and see some heavy downpours. The rainy season attracts many birds to the delta.
April and May are good months to visit weather-wise. Between April and November huge numbers of animals migrate towards the Okavango Delta and in November/December it's calving season, offering ample opportunity to see animal mums with their babies.
Gaborone (GBE) 15 km from Gaborone.
There are a range of internal flights on scheduled airlines and charter flights which operate from Maun and drop travellers at various safari camps. Both forms of air travel are reliable. There is a train service but it is rarely used by visitors. Hitchhiking can enable you to get from town to town but in the back and beyond, especially if you're hoping to move from park to park, sticking your thumb out is a lost cause.
The main towns are linked by a cheap and regular bus network. Smaller minibuses reach their destination quicker than the traditional buses but both are equally as rowdy.
Botswana has good paved roads but venturing off road is not for the faint of heart and you will need a 4WD. Hiring your own vehicle for a self-drive tour is undeniably exhilarating, allowing you freedom to roam at will but it requires careful planning.
There is no shortage of swanky safari lodges, wilderness camps, mixed price hotels and budget guesthouses. Safari accommodation and tented camps vary from lovingly designed luxury lodges to simple eco-chic abodes. Most have flushing toilets, hot water and other amenities. Hotels are usually comfortable but unlikely to leave a lasting impression.
Many national parks have designated campsites. If you can't find an organised campsite, ask local landowners if you can spend a night or two on their land. Ensure you're securely encased in a tent or vehicle so as not to provide the wildlife with a midnight snack.
You will come across different dishes depending on the region you visit.
Sorghum is cultivated in the Kalahari and as a result many people eat bogobe (sorghum paste with a porridge or mashed potato consistency sometimes flavoured with a tomato or meaty relish). The local beef is famous. Seswaai (salty mashed meat) is unique to the country but Botswanan cuisine also borrows from other parts of Africa. Pap (maize porridge), samp (broken maize corns with beef or chicken in gravy), and the tasty sounding mopane worms (moth larvae) are popular.
Safari lodges usually roll out good quality food and offer a range of international dishes.
Drinks include clear and opaque beers, soft drinks and water (tap water is safe to drink in the major towns and water from bore-holes consumed in rural regions is normally safe too).
Petty crime is most common in urban areas such as Gaborone, Francistown and Maun. Be careful when driving as speeding drivers and wildlife on the roads can cause accidents. Car jackings sometimes occur. When in close proximity to wild animals follow the advice of park wardens to the letter.
Never drive at night. Travel in a group of at least two 4WDs. Carry everything you need to be self sufficient (satellite phone, extra tyres etc); there is no rescue service or phone reception. Bring plenty of drinking water.
Healthcare is good in the big towns but in rural areas it is pretty limited. Take precautions against sunstroke, malaria, hepatitis, snake bites, tick-bite fever, trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and bilharzia. There have been cases of swine flu and there is also a high incidence of HIV/AIDS. There are occasional outbreaks of anthrax among wildlife. Don’t swim in the lakes and rivers as animals and water-borne diseases can pose a threat.
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