Botswana is a premier Southern African safari destination offering some of the best wildlife viewing on the planet, especially in and around the Chobe and Okavango Delta region. The Kalahari Desert with its San Bushman culture is another Botswanan highlight that deserves a place on your itinerary. Check out this list of top attractions for more ideas about what to see and where to go in Botswana.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park lies in Botswana's Okavango Delta and covers four distinct eco-systems. The SavutiMarsh in particular offers some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa year round. Chobe boasts around 120,000 elephants. The park's vast herds are best seen from the water on a sundown river cruise. The best time to visit Chobe is between May and September when the weather is drier and cooler. Herds of zebra, eland, buffalo, giraffe, and wildebeest congregate here at this time of year. Chobe is accessible by car which makes it a little less expensive than some of Botswana's other parks. There's a wide variety of accommodation available to suit all budgets. You can even rent a houseboat.
The Okavango River cuts through the center of the Kalahari Desert, creating a unique inland water system that gives life to a huge variety of birds and animals. The Okavango Delta is a unique safari destination because you can view much of its wildlife from a traditional canoe, or mokoro. Every year the delta floods cover over 6,175 square miles/ 16,000 square kilometers. The best time to view wildlife is during peak flood season (which is ironically during the May-October dry season). Wildlife is more concentrated on the delta islands at this time, making it easier to spot. There are numerous lodges and luxury safari camps, many of which offer walking safaris and/ or island camping trips.
Tsodilo Hills is a spiritual outdoor art gallery, showcasing more than 4,000 ancient San Bushmen rock paintings. There are around 400 sites depicting hunting scenes, ritual dances and typical safari animals. Some rock art dates back more than 20,000 years and archaeologists have ascertained that people lived in this area as far back as 100,000 years ago. The San Bushmen believe this sacred area is the site of the first creation of man and a resting place for spirits of the dead. Not surprisingly, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can expect to hike the three main hills, with the assistance of local guides. There is a basic campsite and a small but informative museum on site.
Nxai Pan National Park
The Nxai Pan National Park is a spectacular destination for a safari. The scenery is the main draw here, with wonderful sand dunes, towering baobab trees, and of course the salt pans themselves. When flooded, the pans also offer tremendous birding and game-viewing opportunities. Short grasses replace the salt pans and attract vast herds of ungulates—including zebra and wildebeest. The best time to visit is from December to April. The location in northeastern Botswana makes it easy to combine your visit with a trip to Chobe and the Okavango Delta, which reaches into the park. Lodging here is only possible as part of a mobile camp, but nearby Makgadikgadi Pan camps are also an excellent option.
The Tuli Block is a wildlife rich area in eastern Botswana that borders South Africa and Zimbabwe at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers. It was once an area of private farms, but a few decades ago it made more economic sense to transform the land into a wildlife sanctuary. Now the Tuli Block encompasses several reserves, including Mashatu Game Reserve and Northern Tuli Game Reserve. It's a beautiful area with several rivers, riverine forests, savannah, and lots of massive baobab trees. Wildlife sightings are guaranteed year round. There are large herds of elephant, plenty of lion, leopard and even cheetah. Because it's private land, guided walking safaris and night drives can be enjoyed. There are fine lodges and camps to stay at.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Salt pans, Kalahari sand dunes, and plenty of wildlife during the rainy season makes this a wonderful park to visit during the summer months (January - April). But it's not easy to get to, especially from the Botswana side. You'll need a 4x4 and the ability to camp self-sufficiently. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is huge, covering an area of 14,670 square miles/ 38,000 square kilometers. It encompasses two previously separate parks: the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. You won't see all of the Big Five here, but migrating herds of wildebeest and other antelope attract large numbers of predators and raptors. Lodging is offered in camps on the South African side.
Mokolodi Game Reserve
Mokolodi is a short drive from Botswana's capital Gaborone and makes for a great day trip. Mokolodi is a private reserve dedicated to conservation education so when you visit, don't be surprised to see excited school children out on a field trip. Given that many Africans are denied access to game reserves because of prohibitive costs, Mokolodi is well worth patronizing so that it can continue its programs. Rhino tracking is a highlight at Mokolodi and it's one of the few places in Botswana where you can spot white rhinos. A successful breeding program has helped keep the white rhino from extinction in Botswana. Guided walks, game drives, and night drives are all possible at Mokolodi. Simple chalets and camping facilities are available if you want to overnight here.
Moremi Game Reserve
Moremi is a small reserve with a very high density and variety of wildlife. It lies in the eastern Okavango Delta and borders Chobe National Park. Its birdlife is unrivaled, with over 500 species to admire through your binoculars. July through October is the best time to visit, and 4x4 safaris combined with water-based mokoro trips offer the best way to see the abundant wildlife. Wild dogs are regularly spotted here, as well as the Big Five thanks to the recent re-introduction of both black and white rhino. There are a few camps within the park, some of which are exclusive to fly-in safaris. The others are very sought-after by those on a self-drive safari. Several lodges and camps just outside the reserve offer wildlife viewing in the park.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Tours
Alexander McCall-Smith's popular detective series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, put Gaborone (Botswana's capital) on the map. Now you can take a tour and see protagonist Precious Ramotswe's hometown come to life. Tours also include film locations from the popular HBO series based on the books. Short tours last for half a day and are based mostly in and around Gaborone where you get to see Precious' home on Zebra Drive and her office opposite Speedy Motors. Two-day tours take you further afield to Mokolodi (see above) and Machudi, Precious' ancestral home. Bush tea will be served along the way.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary
The Khama Rhino Sanctuary was set up in 1992 to help save Botswana's endangered rhinos and to re-introduce wildlife to the area so that the local community could benefit from tourism. The rhino sanctuary also hosts school kids from neighboring communities and Botswana's second-largest city Francistown, thereby educating them about conservation. The sanctuary is centered around the Serwe Pan - a large grass-covered depression with several natural water holes in the Kalahari Desert. Basic campsites and chalets offer accommodation at the sanctuary. Activities include game drives and walks to view the many animals (besides rhino) that live in the area. This is an excellent option for a self-drive safari.
Article updated by Jessica Macdonald.