Botswana is a land-locked country located in Southern Africa and bordering on Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name upon independence in 1966. Its economy, one of the most robust on the continent, is dominated by diamond mining and tourism.
Botswana is famous for its wildlife, and areas like Chobe National Park, Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have a very high concentration of game. The bulk of the Kalahari desert falls within Botswana's borders and Botswana is home to most of the world's San (Bushman) population.
The sparsely populated Kalahari Desert and its fringe.
The northern part of the country with the Okavango Delta and good game reserves like Chobe National Park and Moremi National Park
Home to the capital, Gaborone, and most of the country's population
- Gaborone or Gabs is a neat and tidy little capital with rapidly growing shantytowns on the periphery
- Okavango Delta - A unique geological formation where a delta is formed by a river (the Okavango) flowing into the Kalahari desert instead of the ocean. Part of the Delta is designated as Moremi National Park
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve
- Chobe National Park - a great place to see wildlife, and a good point from which to move on to Victoria Falls.
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- Nxai Pan National Park
- Northern Tuli Game Reserve - a unique corner of Africa where nature & culture combine in spectacular wildlife, stunning scenery and fascinating history
See also African National Parks
Botswana was never colonized by Europeans. Instead, the Three Chiefs went to the Queen of England to ask for protection from Boers to the south and Ndebele tribes from the north-east. The Boers were (to them) the white people that had invaded and were taking over South Africa. The Queen obliged. In 1964 the Three Chiefs went back to England and told the Queen that they did not need the protection any more. The Queen did away with the protection, and the Chiefs went back to Botswana. Botswana discovered diamonds in 1965. They produce 65% of the world diamonds today. In 1969 DeBeers created a partnership with the Botswana government to create the company Debswana.
Botswana has been a stable representative democracy since independence and has been largely devoid of the racial and ethnic conflict some of its neighbours have suffered from — perhaps due in part to the relative dominance of its majority Tswana ethnic group. Since the turn of the century, thousands of Zimbabweans have sought sanctuary and economic betterment.
One of the poorest countries at independence, Botswana transformed itself into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about USD14,000 per annum. In contrast to the sad situation of its eastern neighbour, Zimbabwe, kleptocracy has been absent and Botswana now also has the second highest Human Development Index of all continental Sub-Saharan African countries.
The public holidays in Botswana are:
- 1 January. New Year's Day
- Easter weekend. ("Good Friday", "Easter Saturday", "Easter Sunday" and "Easter Monday"): a four day long weekend in March or April set according to the Western Christian dates.
- 1 May. Workers Day
- 1 July. Sir Seretse Khama Day
- Mid July. President's Day
- 31 September. Botswana Day
- 25 December. Christmas Day
- 26 December. Day of Goodwill
The first Monday after Christmas is also a Public Holiday.
The Tswana, for whom Botswana is named, comprise 79% of the population.
Unlike more stiff necked administrations such as India, Pakistan, Nigeria, China the Botswana government has not erected high bureaucratic barriers to enrichment from tourism.
Citizens of Argentina, Angola, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Oman, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, South Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe do not require a visa to visit.
For citizens of other nations, a visa must be obtained prior to arrival and this usually takes about a week to process.
If you require a visa to enter Botswana, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Botswana diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies/consulates in Amman, Belgrade, Damascus, Geneva, Guatemala City, Jakarta, Jeddah, Kiev, Pristina, Rabat, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia and Zurich accept Botswana visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge GBP50 to process a Botswana visa application and an extra GBP70 if the authorities in Botswana require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Botswana can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
Botswana's main airport is Sir Seretse Khama in Gaborone. International flights are to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Ethiopia. The airport in Maun can also be reached via Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Gaborone and, once a day (in summer 2009), from Windhoek, Namibia. The distance between Gaborone and Maun is more than 1,000 km. Maun is very much a tourist attraction spot.
Airlines that fly to Gaborone are.
- Air Botswana. Harare, Victoria Falls, Lusaka, Johannesburg, Cape Town.
- Airlink. Johannesburg.
- Ethiopian airlines. via Addis Ababa. to Europe, Asia, Africa.
- Kenya airways. Via Nairobi to Europe. Asia, Africa.
- TAAG Angola airlines. Luanda.
- South African express. Johannesburg.
Trains to/from South Africa have been withdrawn since 1999. A rail link from Francistown Bulawayo, Zimbabwe was started in June 2006. Note that all domestic passenger services have been suspended indefinitely as of April 2009.
There are several entry points by road to Botswana: In the south at Gaborone, providing access from Johannesburg; in the west providing access from Namibia; the north providing access from Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and at Francistown in the east, providing access from Harare. All road access is good and the primary roads within Botswana are paved and well maintained.
Possibly the busiest border crossing from South Africa is the Kopfontein/Tlokweng border crossing, as it is only a few minutes from the capital of Botswana. As a result, it is open for a long period of time, and has a large amount of trucks travelling through.
There is regular bus service from Johannesburg to Gaborone, which takes six hours. There is also service from Windhoek, Namibia via the Caprivi Strip which will drop you in Chobe National Park, in northern Botswana. There is also bus service from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. See Intercape Mainliner for information on service from Namibia and Zimbabwe. Private shuttles ran until 2004 from Windhoek directly to Maun and in late 2005, such a service was starting up again.
From Kazungula in Zambia you can cross the Zambezi River with ferry to the eponymous town in Botswana.
Very few locals know street names and addresses, and you are likely to have to get directions in terms of landmarks. Botswana doesn't have a postal delivery system to addresses (just to centralised mail collection points), so even when streets are well-marked, the names may be unfamiliar to residents.
Through a combination of coaches and combies (minivans), you can get anywhere in Botswana without any trouble, though public transport is spotty away from big cities and major routes but hitchhiking is popular and very easy. However, hitchhiking should only be done in desperate circumstances, as Botswana driving is often very erratic and it can be a harrowing experience to have a stranger drive you somewhere. It is advisable to arrive at the bus station quite early, as the buses do fill up quickly, and it is not uncommon to spend several hours standing in the aisle waiting for a seat to free up (remember to bring water, as the buses are often not air conditioned).
The roads are paved and well maintained, so travel by car is also not a problem, provided that one keeps a close eye out for the cows, donkeys and goats that spend much time in the middle of the road.
The Trans-Kalahari Highway is an old cattle route, now newly paved and easily drivable with a 2-wheel drive. It runs from Lobatse to Ghanzi in Botswana, making the connection from Windhoek, Namibia to Gaborone, Botswana. It is a long and uneventful drive, but you get a good feel for the Kalahari Desert. Fuel is available in Kang at the Kang Ultra Shop, which also offers a respectable selection of food, overnight chalets, and inexpensive camping.
There are many bus companies in Botswana. One of the biggest is Seabelo. From Gaborone you can travel by bus to any bigger city in Botswana.
Botswana Railways operates Botswana's railways. The main line goes from Lobatse, near the South African border, via Gaborone to Francistown at the Zimbabwean border. However, effective April 1, 2009, all passenger services have been withdrawn.
The official languages of Botswana are English and Tswana.
The language of business in Botswana is English and most people in urban areas speak it, although in the more rural areas many people do not speak English, particularly the older generations. The primary indigenous tongue is Tswana, and is the first language of the overwhelming majority of the population. It is not difficult to learn basic greetings and such, and using these in conversation will make people very happy.
Wildlife is Botswana's main draw. Wildlife parks compose nearly one-fifth of the country. In these parks you will find lions, cheetahs, crocodiles, hippos, elephants, antelope, wild dogs, and hundreds of species of birds. Visitors can take safaris and stay in lodges running the gamut from inexpensive dorms for backpackers with tour buses to $1,000+/night private lodges with your own maid & driver.
Among southern Africa's most impressive—and popular—wildlife destinations is the Okavango Delta where the Okavango River widens into the world's largest inland delta. Lying in the middle of the arid Kalahari, the swamps & water channels attract animals from thousands of kilometres around and triples in size (to 100 000 km2.!) during floods in July and August. Nearby Chobe National Park has a large population of elephants and it's also easy to spot many of Africa's well-known species, especially zebras and lions. The bleak salt pans of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park attract a large number and variety of birds year-round. Other great game parks include Nxai Pan National Park, Mokolodi Nature Reserve, & Gemsbok National Park.
Unfortunately, most of the native tribes in Botswana only dress in traditional outfits and perform rituals for tourists. Nevertheless, for the culture-vultures, the villages of D'Kar and Xai-Xai have many offerings, including arts, crafts, and the opportunity to participate in various rituals. Tsodilo Hills contain one of the largest collections of rock art on the continent.
Botswana's currency is the pula (ISO 4217 code: BWP) subdivided into 100 thebe. Pula literally means "rain" in Setswana (rain is very scarce in Botswana - home to much of the Kalahari Desert - and therefore valuable and a "blessing"). Thebe means "shield".
Banknotes of BWP10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 denomination circulate and the pula is one of the strongest, most stable currencies in Africa.
In August 2013, rough conversions were
- USD1 = BWP8.63
- €1 = BWP11.46
- GBP1 = BWP13.39
- ZAR1 = BWP0.84
The cuisine of Botswana is unique but also shares some characteristics with other cuisine of Southern Africa. Examples of Botswana food include Pap, Samp, Vetkoek and Mopane worms.
A food unique to Botswana includes Seswaa, a meat dish made of beef, goat or lamb meat. The fatty meat is generally boiled until tender in any pot, with "just enough salt", and shredded or pounded. It is often served with pap (maize meal) or sorghum meal porridge.
Many soft drinks and alcohol drinks are produced in factories in Botswana, including Fanta and Coca-Cola. Local brands are Castle and Lion beers. Milk is fermented to make madila (sour milk) which is eaten on its own or added to porridge. A favourite non alcoholic home made drink is ginger beer.
Most of the accommodation establishments in Botswana are located near the larger towns and cities, but there are also many secluded game lodges tucked away in the wilderness areas. Travellers can book their accommodation well in advance before travelling to Botswana. this can be done via travel agents that have knowledge of this country.
The University of Botswana is in Gaborone.
People in Botswana are very friendly and the crime rate is low. There isn't much to worry about on this front. Nevertheless, crime has been on the rise over the past several years, so always be aware of your surroundings. Basic common sense will keep you safe from the predatory wildlife in rural areas. Botswana happens to be one of the safest countries in Africa, no civil war, less corruption, more human rights, no natural disasters e.g. earthquakes or tsunamis.
Drug trafficking is punished by a mandatory death sentence. This is important for you to know because if you need to take prescription drugs into Botswana, you will have to show a prescription for each medication. Failing to do so will result in the medication being classified as a drug and can result in capital punishment if undeclared.
Botswana's HIV infection rate, estimated at 24.1%, is the 2nd highest reported in the world. Exercise regular universal precautions when dealing with any bodily fluid and remain aware of this high rate of infection. Take precautions accordingly. Wear rubber gloves when dressing someone else's cut, even if they are a child, and obviously absolutely never have unprotected sex. If you form a serious relationship, consider both getting an HIV test before taking things further.
The northern part of Botswana, including Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta is in a malaria zone, so it is advisable to take the relevant precautions. Seek medical advice before travelling to these areas; vaccines such as typhoid and hepatitis A+B (if not already immune) are usually recommended. Oral vaccines are also suggested for prevention of diarrhea and cholera.
Water in urban areas is chlorinated, and is drunk from the tap by the local population. Still, short term visitors should drink bottled water to avoid traveller's diarrhoea. Outside of urban areas, the water is contaminated, and should not be used for drinking, ice-cubes, teeth cleaning, or eating washed unpeeled fruits and vegetables.