Deltas and deserts, grassy savannahs and crusty salt pans, Botswana is a land of astounding beauty, incredible vastness and an isolation that renders the place an aura of extra-worldliness. A land where the excitement of wildlife and big-game spotting is tempered by the serenity of vast savannahs; a land where the ephemeral landscape transforms seasonally, from dry deltas and crusty salt pans to powdery blue lakes, lagoons and waterways dotted with islands and shorelines teeming with wildlife.
Botswana is a land unlike any other. More than thirty times the size of Kuwait and with a population of a little over two million, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries on this planet. At the time of its independence from Great Britain in 1966, Botswana was among the poorest countries in Africa with a GDP of less the USD 70; today it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a GDP in excess of USD 14,000 and a gross national income that is among the highest in Africa. Underlining this phenomenal economic growth is a tradition seeped in representative democracy and respect for laws that helped rank the country as the least corrupt in Africa.
Landlocked Botswana is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, Zimbabwe to the northeast and to the north, a hundred odd meters of poorly defined border with Zambia. Nearly 70 percent of the 581,730 sq km that make up Botswana is covered by the Kalahari Desert, a semi-arid savannah that stretches over 900,000sq km and extends into neighboring Namibia and South Africa. However, refuting the traditional concept of desert as a vast terrain of sand and more sand, the Kalahari is grassland that gets dramatically transformed by summer rainfall and by floods in winter. Following seasonal rains and floods, large tracts of the immense savannah change to wet marshy deltas covered in a variety of vegetation that provides food and shelter to hordes of mammals, birds and other fauna.
Okavango Delta: The only permanent river in the Kalahari, the Okavango, which begins in the highlands of neighboring Angola following torrential rains there in January and February, traverses over 1,200km eventually draining into the swampy Okavango Delta in Botswana. Considered one of the largest inland deltas in the world, the 11 trillion liters of water that flows into the Okavango Delta from June to August, swells its area to three times its original size and creates an environment that becomes home to Africa’s greatest concentration of wildlife. Of the 200,000 large mammals that frequent the area, most are migratory that arrive in the area during the winter and leave as the summer rains begin to fall.
During winter months, the Okavango Delta, with its maze of waterways, lakes and islands during the winter, provides seasonal home to a wide variety of wildlife, including large African Bush elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses to fleet-footed cheetahs, lions and leopards. Besides being home to the largest pack of endangered African Wild Dog, the Delta also attracts the rare Blue wildebeest and the dainty lechwe antelope. From giraffes and zebras on its plains to large Nile crocodiles in its waters and over 400 varieties of bird life hovering around the area, the Okavango Delta is one of Botswana’s major tourism attractions.
Makgadikgadi Pans: In the rainy season, water from the Okavango Delta overflows into the Boteti River which then discharges into the Makgadikgadi Pans. Eventually covering an area of over 16,000sq km the Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the largest salt pans in the world, transforms an extensive area into rainy season wetlands. The pans are all that remain today of the once enormous Lake Makgadikgadi that covered an area of approximately 275,000sq km, and which dried up several thousand years ago.
Today, seasonal rains turn the dry, salty blue-green algae covered clay crust of the Pan, into salty marshes fringed by wet grassy land that become a haven for thousands of birds and animals. Some of the wide variety of migratory animals and birds that make the Makgadikgadi Pans their temporary home include the wildebeest and Africa’s biggest Zebra population, as well as ostriches, ducks, geese and the Great White Pelicans. The pan is also habitat to the only breeding population of Greater Flamingos in southern Africa. The colony of flamingos, which at times can grow to over tens of thousands, is just another of the amazing sights one can witness in Botswana. Another characteristic sight on the Kalahari plains are the majestic baobab trees which form iconic landmarks in this desolate landscape.
Moremi Game Reserve: Voted ‘Best Game Reserve in Africa’ this wildlife reservation is unique in that it was the first one to be established through an initiative by local residents. Fifty years ago, in 1963, the local Batawana people, worried about the rapid depletion of wildlife in their ancestral land, decided to proclaim the nearly 4000sq km area as a separate game reserve. Today, it is the only officially protected area in the vast Okavango Delta and has become one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the African continent.
Chobe National Park: Established in 1968, the 11,700 sq km Chobe National Park that lies adjacent to the town of Kasane, is demarcated in the north by blue waters of the winding Chobe River. The most accessible big-game territory in Botswana, the Chobe Waterfront is where the largest herds of African elephant and Cape buffalo can be seen as they converge to drink and bathe in the river. A boat trip on the river will introduce visitors up close with other river denizens, including hippopotamuses, crocodiles and a wide array of beautiful water birds.
Gcwihaba Caves: A fascinating subterranean labyrinth of caves and pits, the Gcwihaba caves in Northern Botswana offer awe-inspiring views of stalagmites, stalactites and flowstones that appear as a waterfall of rocks. Situated on a sand ridge amongst the undulating dunes of the Kalahari Desert, the caves have been part of the desert ecosystem for over three million years. Stone-Age artifacts and other archeological evidence found in and around the caves point to prehistoric people related to their environment. Central Kalahari
Game Reserve: Prepare to be awed by the immensity of this vast game reserve that stretches across nearly 53,000 sq km of flat Kalahari grasslands dotted with dwarfed trees and scrubs. The largest and most remotely set wildlife reservation in southern Africa, and the second largest game reserve in the world, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) teems with wildlife, both big and small. Established in 1961, the CKGR originally served as a sanctuary for the San, the native tribe of the Kalahari, where that they could continue their ancestral huntinggathering lifestyle unhindered by intrusion or influence from the modern world. It was eventually transformed into a wildlife reservation when the Botswana government decided to promote and develop tourism in the country.