Botswana is a country of wide-open spaces, herds of big game, spectacular scenery and relatively few people. There is no doubt that this is one of Africa’s top safari destinations; its shimmering salt pans and emerald-green waterways hold the promise of days filled with unforgettable activities and nights cocooned in remote yet luxurious lodges
Nearly 40% of Botswana is protected by national parks and private game reserves - an impressive yet somewhat daunting figure when it comes to planning your African safari. Should you stick with the big names (the Okavango Delta and Chobe) or opt instead for lesser-known private concessions? Where is the best game viewing? Which areas work well together?
I answer these and other frequently asked questions in this breakdown of Botswana’s top reserves.
Okavango Delta: an oasis of islands & waterways
Peaceful mokoro safari on the clear waterways of the Okovango Delta.
A magical oasis of clear streams, deep lagoons, floodplains and green islands; the Okavango Delta is a phenomenal destination and a must-visit on any Botswana safari.
The best way to explore this, the world’s biggest inland delta, is to be poled along the papyrus-lined waterways in a mokoro or traditional dugout canoe. Relax into the calm of the Okavango as you listen to the soundtrack of chattering bee-eaters and the grunt and splash of hippo; the green around you occasionally broken by the brilliant flash of a kingfisher or a delicately patterned reed frog.
There’s plenty of big game too, but for this you’ll need to set out on drives on the forested islands - particularly in the Moremi Game Reserve, a region that has earned its reputation as the “predator capital of Africa”.
Baines' Camp's beautiful setting and one of the luxurious suites at Xugana Island Lodge.
Best Time to Go: The winter months of June to September offer good game viewing and high water levels for mokoro and river safaris. If you’re a keen birder, travel between November and March for exceptional bird watching.
Top Places to Stay: Small and romantic Baines’ Camp is known for its star beds and unique "living with elephants" activity, while Xugana Island Lodge is a fantastic water-based camp where you can explore the delta by motorboat and mokoro, or take leisurely walks on surrounding islands.
Moremi Game Reserve: big cats & wild dogs
Moremi Game Reserve protects almost a third of the delta, covering the central and eastern reaches up to the border of Chobe National Park. A patchwork of lily-covered lagoons and dry land, Moremi includes the legendary Chiefs Island – the largest expanse of solid ground within the Okavango.
Game drives take you across grassy plains - the hunting ground of lion, cheetah and packs of wild dogs - leopard stalk the woodlands, herds of elephant gather on sunny river banks, and this is the only region of the delta where you have a chance of seeing rhino, making Moremi a Big 5 destination! As for the birdlife, it’s nothing short of spectacular with nearly 500 species recorded.
Look forward to frequent big cat sightings on game drives in Moremi.
Most land-based camps offer mokoro safaris as a seasonal activity, although many travellers choose to combine Moremi’s phenomenal game viewing with a few peaceful days at a water-based camp in a private Okavango concession (for year-round mokoro trips and motor boating).
Best Time to Go: The best time to visit is from June to September when the rest of Botswana is drying up, and herds leave the Kalahari to gather at Moremi’s permanent rivers and life-giving lagoons.
Top Places to Stay: Stay on Chief’s Island at the award-winning Chief’s Camp or in one of only nine luxurious tents in Mombo Camp, or opt instead for stylish and contemporary Vumbura Plains Lodge set in a private concession bordering Moremi Game Reserve.
Chobe National Park: Africa's highest concentration of elephant
A Chobe River cruise is a fantastic chance to get close to elephant gathered at the water's edge.
One of the most rewarding activities on safari is watching a herd of elephant (the protective matriarch and inquisitive youngsters), and one of the best places to do that is in Chobe National Park. During Botswana’s long, dry winter months herds of up to 100 elephant gather on the floodplains lining Chobe River, along with waterbuck, lechwe, impala, fat-bellied hippos and knobbly Nile crocodiles.
The intense concentration of wildlife around Chobe River is best seen on river cruises; sunset cruises are particularly popular, the chilled drinks and blood-red sun marking the end of another exciting day on safari. Along with river cruises, game drives take you deeper into the park and south onto the wildlife-rich plains of Savuti, an area famous for its large prides of lion and packs of spotted hyena.
Chobe lies within easy driving distance of Victoria Falls and the two regions work well together. This does, however, mean that parts of the river can get busy with boats and people so you won’t have the wildlife all to yourself.
The Zambezi Queen on the Chobe River (photo by Sameh and Melanie Ghobrial).
Best Time to Go: The best time to see herds in the hundred is during the dry season months of August to October – although it can be unbearably hot. The months of May to July are also excellent for game viewing, and temperatures are somewhat cooler.
Top Places to Stay: Stay in a luxurious thatched chalet at Chobe Chilwero, a riverside lodge on the edge of Chobe National Park, or stay actually on the river itself on the Zambezi Queen luxury houseboat.
Linyanti & Selinda: remote & exclusive
The Linyanti region borders Chobe National Park so you can look forward to excellent dry-season sightings of large herds of elephant and plenty of predators too. Unlike Chobe, however, Linyanti is a private concession with just a handful of luxury lodges and camps allowing for a remote and exclusive safari experience.
Game drives take you along the Savute Channel, which has once again become a deep, clear waterway; its open grasslands and waterholes attracting an abundance of big game. Another top region for big game viewing is the Selinda Spillway – a seasonal waterway linking the Okavango Delta with the Linyanti marshes.
The Linyanti region delivers fantastic game viewing and - best of all - there's hardly anyone else around.
Since both the Linyanti and Selinda regions are private concessions, guides are permitted to drive off road for close-up wildlife sightings. Also, along with game drives and river cruises, most lodges and camps offer guided walking safaris and night drives - activities which are not allowed in national parks.
Best Time to Go: During the months of June to September the game viewing is at its peak, as wildlife gathers at the rivers and animal numbers swell to include migratory herds of zebra and elephant.
Top Places to Stay: Enjoy a classic tented camp safari experience at Savuti Camp, right on the Savute Channel, or stay at Kings Pool Camp and be treated to the luxury of your own private deck and plunge pool overlooking the river.
Combine a dip in the pool with a bit of hippo watching at King's Pool Camp.
Kalahari Salt Pans: unique desert experience
The Makgadikgadi are the world’s largest salt pans. Lying in the eastern Kalahari, this lunar landscape covers an area roughly the size of Switzerland, the vast salt-encrusted pans a dazzling white punctuated by occasional grassy islands or clusters of palm trees.
This is a destination like no other. Visit during the winter months and you’ll be met by oven-lie heat and magical mirages, the wildlife seemingly hovering about the shimmering pans. A dramatic change is brought about by the summer rains as grass covers the land, the fresh grazing attracting large herds of zebra and wildebeest with predators including lion, jackal and brown hyena hot on their hooves.
Things to do at Makgadikgadi include game drives in search of rare and elusive desert species, guided walks led by Kalahari bushmen and interacting with habituated meerkats who clamber onto you for a better view of their surroundings. Another don’t-miss activity is quad biking out into the middle of nowhere to watch the sunset over the pans, and as for the night sky – it’s simply incredible!
Jack's Camp has a unique location on a small palm island in the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Best Time to Go: The rainy months of December to April bring better game viewing, cooler temperatures and clouds of pink flamingos. Or, if you want to experience a stark and ethereal moonscape then visit during the dry season.
Top Place to Stay: Set on a small palm island, Jack’s Camp has a traditional East African 1940’s safari style with Persian rugs, antique furniture and comfortable four-poster beds.