|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Land of the Giants
The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked nation in Southern Africa and was formerly the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland and adapted its name after becoming independent from the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966. The country is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west, Zambia to the north and Zimbabwe to the northeast.
Botswana is predominantly flat, tending toward gently rolling tableland and is dominated by the Kalahari Desert located in the southwest of the country. The climate is semi-arid and although it is hot and dry for much of the year there is a rainy season which generally starts in October or November and can persist until March or April. The best time to visit Botswana is April to October when the days are sunny and not too hot.
Botswana is a land of contrasts where one can experience varying life styles, travel from the busy urban centres to rural villages and even to the most remote life of the San people. The official languages are English and Setswana and the citizens of Botswana are Batswana, singular Motswana, regardless of ethnicity. Hunting and gathering is practised by all tribesmen but is guided by very strict traditional conservation strategies and the main tribe is the Tswana. In the northern villages of Etsha and Gumare the women are noted for their skill at creating baskets from Mokola Palm and local dyes.
The main safari destinations for tourism are Moemi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. The village of Phwai is trying to involve villagers in tourism Khwai Development Trust. Tuli Block is located in the extreme east of Botswana and it is here that the Shashe and Limpopo rivers make a confluence.
The topography is very unlike most other parts of Botswana with its rugged terrain and some of its hill and rock crops take on weird and fascinating shapes. Freehold cattle and game farms comprise this magnificent area and its history dates back to the time of Cecil Rhodes.
The capital of Botswana Gaborone is named after Chief Gaborone who led his tribe to this area from the Magaliesberg in 1880. Ten years later Cecil John Rhodes chose this little settlement as the site of a colonial fort. When Botswana began to move towards independence in the early sixties, Gaborone was chosen as the site for the new capital due to its strategic location, the availability of a reliable water supply and it's proximity to the cross continental railway line.
In 1966 the Republic of Botswana achieved full independence under Sir Seretse Khama. At the time of independence Botswana was counted among the ten poorest nations on earth. The discovery of the country's diamond wealth came within five years, and turned Botswana into one of the richest countries in Africa and the third largest producer of diamonds in the world.
Gaborone has all the facilities of any modern capital city. There is a range of hotels, a choice of cinemas and casinos, restaurants are numerous and varied and night clubs abound. The National Museum is situated near the centre of town and houses important collections of traditional crafts and southern African fine art. There is an international airport on the outskirts of the city. The city's main water source, Gaborone Dam, is a popular local resort. It is available for non-motorised water sports, but a permit is required.
The Gaborone Game Reserve is Botswana's third busiest game reserve. Well maintained roads give easy access to viewing of wildebeest, eland, zebra, gemsbok, rhino and kudu among many other wildlife species. Over 17% of Botswana's land area has been set-aside as national parks and game reserves. From the lush green of the Okavango Delta in the north to the red desert dunes in the south, great areas of wilderness have been carefully preserved to offer visitors an opportunity to experience nature at its very best; to feel a sense of solitude; to see an incredible variety of wildlife species and to enjoy the prolific bird life.
Whilst the major roads are tarred and in first class condition many of the access tracks that lead to the parks and reserves and many of the tracks within the protected areas, are rough and sandy, requiring the use of a 4 x 4 vehicle.
A major feature of the Chobe National Park is its elephant population which is currently estimated to be around 120,000. The Chobe elephants comprise part of what is probably the largest surviving continuous elephant population in the world and covers most of northern Botswana plus northwestern Zimbabwe. The Chobe elephants are migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 kilometres from the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, where they concentrate in the dry season, to the pans in the southeast of the park, to which they disperse in the rains.
Often described as one of, if not the best, wildlife-viewing area in Africa today, Savuti boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent. Animals are present during all seasons and at certain times of the year their numbers can be staggering. If you allow yourself adequate time here you will probably see nearly all the major species: giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, water buck, warthog, eland and accompanying predators including lion, hyena, jackal, and possibly even cheetah and wild dog.
The Okavango Delta water was once thought to have reached the sea, but this is no longer the case and rarely flows further south than Maun. Once the rains begin, around November, the floodwater begins its 250 km journey downstream from the Angolan highlands towards Maun.
The Okavango Delta is reputed to be the largest inland delta in the world and offers great scenic beauty and sustains phenomenal numbers of wildlife, crocodile, hippo, water bucks and various fish species. The meeting of dry land and wet land gives that breath-taking contrast, popularly referred to as the "Jewel of the Kalahari". With forests of palms, grasslands, islands, flood plains and lagoons to be seen, it is sure to be one of the best experiences you will have in your whole life.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is situated right in the centre of Botswana and is characterised by vast open plains, salt-pans and ancient riverbeds. The Kalahari Desert covers about three quarters of the western part of the country and is characterised by heavy sands to golden-sand dunes and is home to the San people, a semi-nomadic people who are expert hunters and gathers.
The people commonly known throughout the world as Bushmen, but more properly referred to as the Basarwa or San, have been resident in and around the area for probably thousands of years. Originally nomadic hunters and gathers the lifestyle of the Basarwa has gradually changed with the times and they now live in settlements, some of which are situated within the southern half of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Game viewing includes giraffe, brown hyena, warthog, wild dog, cheetah, leopard, lion, blue wildebeest, eland, gemsbok, kudu, red hartebeest and springbok and is best viewed between December and April, when the animals tend to congregate in the pans and valleys. The Kalahari Desert meets the wild Okavango River delta in an explosion of green that shelters and feeds some of the continent's most prolific wildlife.
The Mashatu Game Reserve, which is the largest private reserve in Southern Africa, has the largest elephant population (almost 900) on private land in the world. It occupies the area between the Shashe and Limpopo rivers south of the Tuli Circle. Mashatu covers 46,000ha of savannah plains, riverine forests, open marshland and rugged outcrops of sandstone.
The elephants of Mashatu are known as the relic herds of Shashe, which once roamed the Limpopo Valley in vast numbers. The elephants became extinct locally for about 60 years, but after 1947 they started slowly returning to the Tuli Block. Today visitors may drive into the midst of these mighty herds and with the aid of a ranger and tracker you can also see lion, leopard, giraffe, spotted hyenas, cheetahs and a number of other wildlife species.
The Mokolodi is a private reserve managed by the Mokolodi Wildlife Foundation, which is dedicated to wildlife preservation and environmental education. Just 10 km south west of Gaborone, the park was established in mid-1994 as a 3,000 ha conservation area. For the first few years an intensive re-stocking campaign brought many species of wildlife into the park including white rhino, cheetah, mountain reed-buck, giraffe, zebra, red hartebeest, sable, gemsbok and a team of hand reared elephants. This range of wildlife joined the indigenous game, such as kudu, impala, hyena, leopard and water buck, which were already living in the area, making the park a rich and varied ecosystem, literally just ten minutes drive from the city.
The elephant walk enables guests to spend a few hours walking through the park literally with the elephants. One of the added advantages of the elephant walk is that the other game is not threatened by a human presence, so with care you can walk remarkably close to the other game in the park.
For the more adventurous Mokolodi also offers the chance to track the endangered white rhino. With so few of these majestic creatures left, Mokolodi is one of the only places in the world where one has the chance to track these impressive animals in their own environment, and it is certainly an unforgettable experience.
Botswana is one of the last pristine wilderness left in Africa and a place where you can be at peace with the wildlife and experience an Africa rapidly disappearing.