Arguably Southern Africa's premier safari destination, with a couple of fine walking safaris too

Botswana is arguably Southern Africa’s premier safari destination and has prolific wildlife. It’s benefitted from long term political and social stability, a relatively high GDP per capita compared to its neighbours and has capitalized on its magnificent, seemingly endless natural spaces by implementing strong, sustainable conservation policies – the mainstay of Botswana’s conservation strategy has been to promote high-end, low-density, privately-leased safari concessions that impact very lightly on wildlife habitat yet fund conservation and involve local communities as key stakeholders; alongside this, Botswana also contains well-managed national parks and game reserves which have non-exclusive public access. These areas are generally the preserve of those who are well-equipped – private overlanders, safari companies offering mobile trips and lodge vehicles on game drives. Consequently, very little of Botswana feels over-run or spoiled.

If Botswana wears the safari crown then its central jewel is the Okavango Delta, which is totally unique and quite unlike any other safari destination in Africa. If you intend to visit just one wildlife park in Botswana, then this should most likely be it. However, Chobe (including the Linyanti and Kwando river systems north-west of Chobe), the Central Kalahari and the Great Salt Pans that lie to the east, should not be overlooked. In south east Botswana, the less well-known yet up-and-coming Tuli area is a hidden gem and can be entered very easily from South Africa.

Victoria Falls is a short travel distance from the eastern border town of Kasane and can be visited very easily before or after a safari – it also provides a stepping-stone to head into Zambia or Zimbabwe, which many do on a single trip. South Africa and Namibia also combine very easily too.

Walking Safaris in Botswana

Although Botswana contains fewer walking safaris than Zambia, it has some excellent walking options. Although you can fly in to Botswana just to do a walking safari – it’s easy to transfer across from neighbouring Zambia, or fly up from Johannesburg or Cape Town for a few days – we recommend that you meld a walking safari in Botswana with at least one other safari experience. See the Itinerary Ideas Tab for inspiration.

We’ve hand-picked walking safaris in the Okavango Delta and also the lesser-known Mashatu Game Reserve.

Complete Itinerary Ideas

Botswana is primarily a safari destination and itineraries usually entail visiting one or more of the country’s major wildlife areas, particularly the Okavango Delta, including the Linyanti and Kwando River systems to the north-east, Chobe National Park, the Central Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi Pans. Common extensions are east to Victoria Falls, possibly going into Zambia or Zimbabwe. It’s worth noting that there is a direct flight link between the Okavango (Maun Airport) and Cape Town. The itineraries below are just suggestions that we think work well and will hopefully provide inspiration.

As with its neighbour Zambia on the same latitude, Botswana’s climate can be divided into two main seasons – a summer rainy season between December and April, with January and February being the wettest months, and a dry season between May and November. The latter is when most people will travel to Botswana as it’s characterised by the prevalence of endless blue skies and you can expect to see wildlife more readily at its compelled to concentrate around ever diminishing sources of water.

However, that’s not to say one should limit ones focus to this period – there are reasons to visit Botswana at all times of year, particularly if you have been on safari before and are less needy of experiencing wildlife densities such as the dry season virtually guarantees. Much will depend upon where you want to go as much as what you wish to see. For instance, game densities may be higher in the Okavango during the dry season, but the opposite is true of the Central Kalahari. The green season in general is a wonderful time to experience renewal and birth in the bush even if you might have to be a little more patient when trying to spot things.


Dry-season months (May to November) are usually characterised by perfect, clear skies, whereas wet season days are much more mixed and variable. In summer, it’s not uncommon for days to start out hot and sunny, which can then be interrupted by cloud build-up during the early afternoon, followed by sudden, isolated, heavy outbursts of rain. At other times it can remain overcast all day. Many summer days have a bit of everything.


May through to July are good months to go; although wildlife is not as prolific as it is in August and September, as it’s more spread out, you’ll still see a lot and, if you are planning on a walking safari, you will have the advantage of being able to walk for longer owing to the lower temperatures; be prepared for cool, verging on “cold” evenings through June and July and into August, and maximum temperatures of around 25 deg. C.


From then onwards the heat builds up, culminating in very high temperatures by the end of October, particularly in more arid areas such and the Central Kalahari and Chobe. The Okavango suffers less from extremes of temperature thanks to the moderating effect of the large bodies of water and swathes of green vegetation it possesses; it does not get as cold on winter nights, nor as hot during the summer as the central areas of Botswana. One can still go on safari during October and early November, and wildlife viewing is good owing to animals’ dependency on perennial rivers during this period, but do be prepared for high temperatures in the middle of the day.


The source of the Okavango River is in the Angolan highlands and it’s waters travel some 1,000 miles before they enter northern Botswana and spill into the natural phenomenon known as the Okavango Delta, a vast, landlocked drainage system which blocks and completely absorbs the water which flows into it. The Delta’s sands, along with those of the Kalahari beyond, its complex mesh of sub-terranean fault lines, overlain with papyrus swamps, palm groves and wooded islands, all conspire to spread, slow and absorb the water that flows into it.


The trajectory, timing and extent of the flood are determined by a complex set of factors, including tectonic shift, which is a long term effect (there is a progressive tilting away from western areas, which are tending to become drier), but in simplistic terms, water levels are determined by the timing and extent of both rainfall in the Angolan Highlands and local rainfall in Botswana; the interaction of these two variables determines the pattern of flow through the Delta, and varies from year to year. Very broadly, the peak flow into the entry point – the “Pan Handle” at the top end – occurs between mid-March and mid-May, around the time when local summer rains are tailing off. Another key effect is that the water entering the Delta through the Pan Handle then takes as long as 6 months to flow through to the system’s extremities.


From the perspective of the safari goer, the two key effects of this are that the Delta experiences a state of flood after local rains have finished (enabling you to enjoy it beneath the clear skies of the “dry” season”) and that flood conditions are felt sooner in the north than they are in the south.


The Okavango can be visited all year round according to preference. Although most choose to visit in the cooler months of the “dry” season, there is merit in wishing to enjoy wildlife in the green season, which is a time of rebirth and plenty. The central parts of the Delta have perennial water channels and swamps and there is a permanent population of wildlife. Camp prices are also low in the green season.


The peak season months of the Okavango, when camp prices rise noticeably, are during the dry season, particularly July to October, when game densities are at their highest; this is when the local wildlife population of the Delta is swelled by wildlife that migrates from surrounding territories – including the Kalahari to the south or the swathes of Mopane forest to the north east – all seeking access to water on the fringes of the Delta’s channels and flood plains as outlying sources of water dry up. As the dry season progresses and flood waters also seep away, so this effect increases and animal numbers become more and more concentrated around fewer sources of water.


If you are planning to visit the Okavango during the dry season, you should not dwell too long on how the movement of the flood might dictate the time that you should travel – predicting the flood with any fine degree of accuracy is largely academic. Suffice it to say that if you are visiting between May and October, you can ensure that you will be able to explore the Okavango as you choose, be it by mokoro, motor boat, 4×4 safari vehicle, on foot or even on horseback – our advice is to plan an itinerary that takes in a variety of camps positioned in different corners, habitats and latitudes within the Delta, so that you can maximise opportunities for enjoying wildlife, experience varied habitats and soak up the unique ambience of an inland system of water channels and floodplains beneath clear skies.


As a general rule, the best and safest time to walk is during the dry season, when the bush has minimal foliage and grass is low; lines of sight are greater, making spotting easier and walking safer, and skies will be clear without the threat of rain. May to October is considered to be the best period for walking, with wildlife densities increasing steadily around water channels as the dry season progresses; this coincides with rising temperatures and, if you visit earlier in the season, you can get out for longer in the mornings before heat persuades you to head back to camp. You will still have plenty to see early in the season and the air is generally clearer and less hazy.


The presence of swamp and flood waters naturally restrict the number of areas where walking is possible in the Okavango; however, there are areas that are well-suited to walking safaris and are geared up for it; Footsteps Across the Delta in the Shinde Concession is a notable walking safari which operates between March and November, enjoying a comparatively long walking season. In some areas, the presence of the flood introduces a walking concept which is unique to the Okavango – using mekoro to support multiday walking expeditions to the islands of the Delta; this is a wonderful twist on the idea of a walking safari, so many of which are run from semi-permanent camps. Being able to travel out to islands on a miniature expedition and walk and fly camp in the wild is a great thing to do. The David Foot Walking Safari is a recommended safari which adopts this approach. Beyond all this, quite a number of camps also offer walking in addition to game drives and excursions over water.


Usually, a visit to the Okavango involves visiting more than one camp; alternatively, you may decide to travel through areas which have public access on a mobile tented safari. Whichever way you decide to do it, there is huge variation in habitats and consequently camp settings, and how to work out a safari sequence, choosing which camps to combine or how to go about a mobile trip can seem baffling at first. A host of factors come in to play, such as what style of camp you are seeking and how big? Should you visit private concessions or try and visit public reserve areas, and what limitations might you face in the latter? What habitats are you interested in and what animals or birds are you hoping to catch sight of? How do you want to go on safari – out on water, on foot or in a vehicle? How important is the standard of guiding? What budget do you have? With a bit of careful planning and guidance, its usually possible to tick all the right boxes and ensure you get variety too.


Top of the list for many visitors to the Okavango is the chance to stay in a water-based camp – picture a small, intimate safari camp positioned on an isolated palm island, surrounded by shallow floodplains which can be explored in a traditional mokoro. Such camps do exist and are beautiful to visit, but one would not seek to spend one’s entire visit to the Okavango in camps such as these – you’d be missing out on a whole lot else. Being out on the water is great, and part of a classic Okavango experience, but camps that are dominated by water are limited in terms of wildlife experience and safari scope.


Although the Delta is thought of as a water system, some parts of it do not contain channels and do not flood. These areas become largely dry in peak season and have excellent land-based game-viewing. However, most camp experiences fall somewhere between these two extremes, enabling safari goers to mix some land-based game viewing with time spent next to or out on water, to a greater or lesser extent. Some camps give onto deep perennial water channels, which can be explored by motor-boat all year round, others (not all) are able to offer particularly good scope for exploring shallow floodplains and swamps during flood conditions, whilst at the same time offering the opportunity to do some walks or game drives.

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