Botswana is one of the best safari destinations in Africa owing to the high concentrations of wildlife, the diversity of scenic landscapes, as well as Bostwana’s Government’s dedication to conservation and eco-friendly tourism.
The country is unique in that a significant amount of its land has been set aside for wildlife conservation. 17% of land has been set aside for National Parks and Reserves while another 22% of land is used for Wildlife Management Areas.
Botswana has four National Parks and a number of game reserves; all are run by through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Chobe National Park, located in the north of Botswana, is an iconic safari destination. It is one of the most accessible and most visited safari areas in Botswana. Chobe is famous for its high numbers of elephant and Cape buffalo which can be viewed in their droves along the Chobe River during the dry season.
The park, which was established as a protected area in 1968, covers 11800km2 of savanna, woodland, floodplains and swamp. The park has four distinct ecosystems: the Chobe River and floodplain in the north, Savuti marsh in the west, the Linyanti swamps in the northwest and the hot and dry Nogatsaa hinterland in between.
Along with boasting having the highest concentration of elephants on the continent, Chobe National Park is a top birding destination, being home to over 450 species. The area is also famous for being a prime destination for safari boat cruises along the Chobe River; a truly unique way to experience wildlife.
In the middle of the dry savanna of north-eastern Botswana is Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. The National Park is home to the Makgadikgadi Pan – one of the largest salt flats in the world. Makgadikgadi is made up of a series of pans with the two largest being Sowa and Ntwetwe.
Salt flats or salt pans are large areas of flat ground covered in a layer of salt and other minerals. Makgadikgadi Pans is believed to be the remains of the ancient great lake Makgadikgadi.
Nxai Pan is another large salt flat forming part of the greater Makgadikgadi. The Nxai Pan itself is a 40km fossil lakebed. The Nxai Pan National Park meets the Makgadikgadi National Park at the Makgadikgadi’s northern boundary.
While the Mkgadikgadi and Nxai pans remain barren, white, and seemingly endless expanses during the dry season, they transform with the arrival of the summer rains. During the rains, the pans become an important habitat for migrating animals, including wildebeest and zebra, and the rains awaken aquatic life which brings with a variety of birdlife. Some of the most well-known are the flamingoes whose numbers can run into the tens of thousands.
While the migrating animals bring large predators to the pans, the inhabitants that attract the most visitors are the adorable meerkats that frequent the pans. Wild groups have become accustomed to human visitors and tend to climb them from time to tuime to use them as a vantage point.
Visitors to the parks have much to keep them occupied including game drives, wildlife viewing (after the rains), bush walks and bird watching.
Kgalagadi, which means “place of thirst”, is a wildlife reserve found in the Kalahari regions of Botswana and South Africa. The park, which now stretches across the border of the two countries, was originally two separate parks; Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa. The two countries made history in 1999 when they agreed to create the first transfontier peace park in Africa. Kgalagadi Transfontier Park was officially opened in 2002 and is jointly managed by both countries.
Kgalagadi’s landscape is made up on expanses of red sand dunes, grasslands dotted with acacia trees and fossil river valleys. The top three places to explore are: the Nossop River Valley along the Botswana/South Africa border, Botswana’s wilderness trails, and the wildlife in the northeastern reaches of the park.
Self-drive tours and camping are popular with visitors but to keep the wild natural beauty of the park, management limits the amount of cars and visitors per day.
While the Central Kalahari Game Reserve isn’t technically a National Park, it gets a special mention as it is the largest area of protected land in Botswana, and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world measuring in at 52 800 km2. Kgalagadi Transfontier Park and Chobe National Park are second and third in size.
The Central Kalahari was originally designed as a homeland for the San Bushmen. Today, the San are mixed with other local tribes who live in the southern parts of the reserve.
One word used to describe the Central Kalahari is immense. Tall, wild grasses brush at visitor’s waists and seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. The reserve has a remote beauty that attracts visitors year round. The summer rains make for great game viewing when the grasslands team with wildlife that gathers to graze.