Botswana is an African success story. After achieving independence, three of the world’s richest diamond-bearing formations were discovered. Today, the country enjoys a high standard of economic stability, education and health care, which apart from South Africa is unequalled elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst the economy is dominated by diamond mining and tourism, other key exports are copper, nickel, beef and textiles.
Botswana is one of Southern Africa's leading tourist destinations and yet remains relatively unspoiled. Its modern veneer belies the fact that much of the country remains for the intrepid traveller. This, largely road-less, wilderness of vast spaces requires time and effort to enjoy it to its fullest. Most people follow their traditional pattern of life, so visitors should be sensitive to customs which are unfamiliar to them. Outside urban areas and safari destinations, people may well not be used to visitors.
The most popular tourist attractions in Botswana are without question the wildlife. Areas like the Chobe and Moremi National Parks in the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have a high concentration of game, not to mention the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, which ranges across the borders of Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. Winter is the best time to visit in terms of weather, game viewing and malarial risk. The vegetation thins and wildlife is at its most visible. Once the rains begin in September/October, the animals disperse and the sand roads in the parks become difficult to navigate.
Beef and goat are very popular meats, together with millet and sorghum porridge as the local staples. Regional specialities are Morama (an underground tuber), the Kalahari truffle, Mopane worms (served boiled, cooked or deep-fried), cow peas, ditloo (jugo beans) and letlhodi (china beans), dried bean leaves, peanuts and groundnuts and Morogo (wild spinach). If this doesn’t take your fancy safari lodges and camps serve international-style cuisine of a high standard, with local beer and imported wine and spirits. Good restaurants and bars can be found in main towns, often within hotels.
What should tourists bring?
- Passport with no less than 30-days remaining validity, two blank pages and visa if necessary (see section below)
- Driving licence – both card & paper parts (where issued)
- Medical insurance documents – (see section below)
- Photocopies of the above – separate from the originals, which should be kept with you at all times.
- Some local currency and bank debit / credit cards
- If you are taking a safari flight - soft carry-all (instead of a suitcase) with maximum dimensions of 80 cm long by 35 cm wide - baggage compartments on light aircraft are only 25 cm high
- Adapter plugs – sockets take the 3 rectangular-pronged, British type plugs or the Indian type 3 round-pin plug. These are different from the sockets of USA, Europe, South Africa & Australia
- Torch – always useful when on safari or other rural retreats
- Binoculars – essential for game viewing
- Neutral coloured clothing for safaris. Long-sleeves and long trousers are advisable for evenings, together with a fleece jacket. Evening game drives can get chilly.
- Light, loose-fitting cotton clothing - cooler and more absorbent than synthetic materials.
- Lightweight suits should be worn for business meetings
- Whilst the safari dress code is casual some hotels and lodges discourage the wearing of jeans in the evening. For men shorts are fine in the bush, but long trousers are more socially acceptable in the towns and rural villages. For women Botswana's dress code is generally conservative, so no shorter than knee length shorts and skirts are advisable.
- Camouflage clothing is not permitted
- Insect repellent – in the summer mosquitoes and other biting insects are common, even in the cities. In non-malarial areas it’s still best to avoid being bitten
- Anti-malarial tablets, if travelling to malarial areas (see section below)
- Other medication – bring a spare prescription just in case you need extra supplies
- Suntan cream, sunglasses and a hat for the summer months – temperatures are typically over 30 degrees and the sun is intense
Location & Climate
Land-locked Botswana extends 1100km from north to south and 960km from east to west; the same size as Kenya or France. South Africa borders to the south and east, Namibia to the west, Zambia to the north and Zimbabwe to the north-east. Most of the country lies at an average elevation of 1000m, consisting of a vast and nearly level sand-filled basin, characterised by scrub-covered savannah. The Kalahari Desert covers nearly 85% of the country, including the entire central and southwestern regions. In Northern Botswana, the Okavango River flows in from Namibia, and soaks into the sands to form the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. National parks cover 17% of the country, with 38% of the country dedicated to wildlife areas.
Botswana experiences extremes of weather. In the winter (late May through August), days are clear, warm and sunny with an average temperature of 25 degrees, The nights are cool to cold and can be frosty, particularly in the Kalahari. Summer (October to April) is a time of high humidity and stifling heat; daytime temperatures of between 30 and 40°C are common. The rainy season lasts from January to March. The average annual rainfall decreases westwards and southwards.
Visas and passports
All nationalities require a passport valid for 30 days after the intended date of departure, with at least two blank pages
Nationals from the following countries are not required to hold a visa and will be issued with a Visitors Permit upon arrival, valid for up to 90 days:
- All Commonwealth countries (except Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda and Sri Lanka), but including Fiji and Zimbabwe
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- All EC (European Community) countries
- Hong Kong
- San Marico
- Scandinavian countries
- South Korea
Transit passengers do not require a visa - provided they continue their journey by the same or first connecting aircraft and do not leave the airport
Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the high commission / embassy to check visa requirements
Visitors can stay for a maximum of three months in a 12-month period. If your trip is longer than three months, apply to the Department of Immigration, PO Box 942, Gaborone; Tel: +267 374545 before entering Botswana
Work permits can be obtained from the Department of Labour, Private Bag 002, Gaborone; Tel: +267 360100. Botswana strictly grants work permits only for jobs for which a suitably qualified Botswana citizen is not available
People & Language
Botswana has a population of around 1.63 million. The main ethnic groups are Tswana 79%, Kalanga 11%, Basarwa 3%, and Kgalagadi 3%. Fewer than 10,000 Bushmen (San ) live in the traditional way, as hunter-gatherers. Whites and Indians are also native to Botswana and each account for 3% of the population. The Indian population consists of many Indian-Africans of several generations, from Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, South Africa, as well as first generation Indian immigrants. The white population is native to Botswana or other parts of Africa including Zimbabwe and South Africa and speaks either English or Afrikaans.]
72% of the population are Christian, 6% are Badimo, a traditional African religion. The majority of Botswanans follow at least some of the traditions deemed Badimo even if they are strong followers of another religion as well.
Whilst the language of business is English and in urban areas you will hear it widely spoken, in the more rural areas many people do not speak English, particularly the older generations. The primary indigenous tongue is Setswana, and is the first language of 78% of the population. Only 2% of the population speaks English as their first language, with 8% speaking Ikalanga, a language closely related to Shona and also spoken in neighboring Zimbabwe.
Currency and Exchange Rates
The currency in Botswana is the Pula (P), introduced in 1976, replacing the South African Rand.
It is the Setswana word for rain. 1 Pula (BWP) = 100 Thebe. Notes are in denominations of P100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of P5, 2 and 1, and 50, 25, 10 and 5 thebe.
Traveller's cheques (in USD or GBP) are accepted at the airport, banks and hotels in the large cities, but there is a high surcharge. Shops and restaurants generally accept major credit cards, although elsewhere you need to use Pula, especially for smaller transactions, roadside purchases, in rural locations and at petrol stations.
ATMs are only in main cities and only accept Visa. Most prompt for a PIN when withdrawing cash from a credit card. You should budget for a daily expense of US$40 to US$70. Banking hours are 09h00 - 15h30 week days and 09h00 - 11h30 Saturdays.
2010 typical exchange rates:
UK Sterling: £1 = 11P
US Dollar: $1 = 7P
Euro: €1 = 9.5P
South African Rand R1 = 1P
Australian Dollar: $1 = 6P
Japanese Yen: ¥1 = 0.1P
Airports & Attractions
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (GBE) in Gaborone is Botswana's main airport. It is located 15 kilometres north of Gaborone. Hotel minibuses and taxis provide a transfer service which takes about 15 minutes. There is no scheduled bus service. Car rental is available from either Avis or Imperial.
Most flights arriving in Gaborone are from Johannesburg. Air Botswana flies 3-5 times a day and South African Airways 5-6-times a day. There are also daily flights by Air Botswana to Francistown, Maun, Harare and Kasane 3-times a week and flights to Lusaka on Friday and Saturdays. Kenya Airways runs a scheduled service, 3-times a week, to Nairobi.
From Gaborone visit:
- Gaborone Game Reserve – right in the heart of the city
- Mokolodi Nature Reserve and Crafts - just 15 kilometres south of the city
- St Claire Lion Park
- National Museum
- Gaborone Dam - home to fresh water fish like the famous bream
- Orapa House - owned by Debswana diamond company for the purpose of sorting and grading diamonds from the world's largest diamond mine at Jwanen
- The old "Village" – for colonial history, particularly the old fort
- Mochudi village - roughly 40kms away - the older part of the village surrounds the kgotla (the tribal meeting place) and traditional houses and courtyards
- Rock engravings at Matsieng - mostly of human feet and animal tracks
- Mochudi's Phuthadikobo Museum - a fascinating collection of old photographs and artefacts relating to the Bakgatlu tribe
Maun International Airport (MUB) is located about 5km from the town centre and is accessible by shuttle bus or taxi. Maun is more than 1000km away from Gaborone, so taking a flight is the only sensible option. There are only a few scheduled daily flights to Gaborone and Johannesburg and flights 3-times a week to Kasane by Air Botswana. Air Namibia flies to Windhoek and Victoria Falls four times a week.
From Maun visit:
Okavango Delta - many tour operators offer chartered sightseeing flights
Moremi Game Reserve - because the Okavango Delta and the Chobe River provide a year-round water supply, nearly all southern African mammal species are present in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve and Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park – within driving distance
Makgadikgadi Pans - within driving distance or take one of a number of chartered flights to one of the largest seasonal wetlands in Africa
Kasane Airport (BBK) is located approximately 7 km southeast of the town. Most lodges in the Kasane area provide shuttles to and from the airport. A bus shuttle is available for travel to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Air Botswana provides scheduled flights to Gaborone, Maun and Johannesburg 3-times a week and an additional flight to Lusaka on a Monday and Wednesday.
From Kasane visit:
- Chobe National Park - from the northern side - numerous charter flights on offer
- About 8 kilometres to the east of Kasane - Botswana has 1.6kms of frontage to the Zambezi River, immediately below its confluence with the Chobe River - here the Kasane border post serves the Kazungula Ferry crossing to Zambia on the north bank of the Zambezi
- Victoria Falls - a second border post serves the road into Zimbabwe which runs 80kms along the south bank of the Zambezi
- Africa's 'Four Corners' - where the four countries of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe almost meet
Medical & Health
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Typhoid - especially if travelling to areas outside major cities
- Polio, tetanus and diphtheria immunisations should be up-to-date
- Tuberculosis – especially if crossing land borders or in other crowded areas
- Rabies - if you plan to spend a lot of time in rural areas i.e. on safari
- Measles vaccine - whilst Botswana has not been affected, outbreaks have been common during 2010 in all bordering countries – (single vaccine available to babies from 9-months old)
- Malaria prevention medicine, particularly for travel between November to April, for all areas in the northern provinces of:
- Okavango Delta
- Gaborone is not a malarial area.
- Chloroquine is NOT an effective anti-malarial drug in Botswana
There are sporadic cases of anthrax in wild animals
Take care to prevent tick bites
Drink only bottled or boiled water, canned or bottled drinks - avoid tap water and ice cubes
Bilharzia is endemic - avoid swimming in fresh water
Yellow fever vaccine is not recommended for travel to Botswana. However, the government requires travellers arriving from countries where yellow fever is present (for example: Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania) to show proof of yellow fever vaccination
Medical services in Gaborone are good, but only basic elsewhere. Proof of payment capability is required before treatment take place. Serious cases may require costly evacuation to SA. The medical emergency number is 997.