Botswana is home to some of the most uniquely beautiful landscapes. It’s a diamond-studded land of contrasts, blessed with some of the greatest natural spectacles on Earth.
From vast stretches of golden desert to flooding rivers, parched salt pans, and sprawling savannahs teeming with migrating mammals – this landlocked country is an awe-inspiring safari destination.
Here you will get your fill of the Big Five, travel back in time when viewing ancient rock art, and experience captivating boat trips that go beyond the storybook version of Africa. Botswana has a lot packed in and, thanks to some admirable tourism practices, it can be hard to get around on your own.
Luckily, you’ll have an expert overland guide to help navigate your way to the region’s highlights. But, to help pump up your wanderlust here’s 7 of the most beautiful places to travel in Botswana.
1. Okavango Delta
As much as we love going off the beaten track, a trip to Botswana would be incomplete without visiting the Okavango Delta. This emerald oasis in the middle of the Kalahari is the most beautiful destination to safari in Africa.
Nowhere else on Earth captivates quite like this World Heritage Site. The labyrinth of lagoons, lakes, and hidden channels offer visitors an insight into one of Africa’s most unique wildernesses. While most river deltas usually lead to an ocean, the Okavango River empties onto open land, flooding the savanna and creating an ever-changing inland delta. But this isn’t the only fascinating fact about the Okavango.
Although it sounds contradictory, the annual flooding of the delta happens during Botswana’s dry winter season. The summer rains first seep into the parched ground before the rivers start flowing. It takes months for the flow of water to reach the Okavango Delta, but by August the region comes alive with wildlife in biblical proportions. This is the best time of year to visit the Okavango Delta and the safari possibilities are as endless as the waters themselves.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of Southern Africa’s premier wildlife watching destinations. During the dry winter months, approximately 260,000 mammals congregate around the delta. On a safari in the Okavango region you’ll spot plenty of big cats and even bigger elephants along with some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal – cheetah, rhinoceros, and African wild dog.
2. Kalahari Game Reserve
Think ‘Kalahari’ and images of a desert wasteland spring to mind. But there is more to the region than sand dunes. Forget the copy paste travel influencer snapshots you see on Instagram. A safari in one of Botswana’s three Kalahari parks is ideal for seasoned explorers looking for a unique safari experience.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the second largest nature reserve in the world and probably the least visited in Botswana. A far cry from the popular imagery of a sandy wasteland, this behemoth region is a nature enthusiast’s dream complete with endless horizons, blood red sunsets, and an abundance of wildlife.
After the wet season, the reserve becomes a hive of activity for large herds of game such as springbok and gemsbok. And, where there is prey, there are plenty of predators. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve offers exclusive sightings of the legendary black-maned lion as well as the critically endangered cheetah. But the incredible sightings don’t stop here. As the sun dips behind the vast open plains, the night sky offers an awe-inspiring star gazing experience.
3. Tsodilo Hills
Botswana is renowned for its abundance of wildlife, but the plethora of animals that roam the region were not alone. While it is estimated that the Bantu people arrived as early as 500 AD, layers of ancient rock art suggest that the San people used the Tsodilo Hills for paintings and rituals long before this.
Jutting out of the flush terrain of the northwest Kalahari, these ancient rock formations have a huge spiritual significance for the region’s original inhabitants. Consisting of four large pieces of rock, the Tsodilo Hills are believed to be the site of first creation by the Bushmen who referred to them as male, female, and child.
According to legend, the fourth hill was the male hill’s first wife, whom he left for a younger woman. The Bushmen believe the hills are a resting place for the spirits of the deceased and that their gods live in grottos within the Female Hill, from where they rule the world. The most sacred place is near the top of the Male Hill.
These ancient rocks hold stories that date back more than 20 000 years. And, the area is home to plenty of whimsically named landmarks such as the Tree of True Knowledge, the Horned Serpent Natural Cistern, and Dancing Penises (That’s the name of a cave painting not a Freudian slip).
4. Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
The Kgalagadi National Park is a place of awe-inspiring scenery, frequent droughts, and unspoiled ecosystems. Although it’s remote, this region of harsh extremes is an ideal location for budding photographers looking for that perfect shot of the wild.
From otherworldly landscapes of desolate red dunes to silhouetted camel thorn trees and black-velvet night skies studded with twinkling stars, Kgalagadi is the Africa of storybooks. Best of all, it sure does not disappoint on the wildlife front despite the desolate landscape.
The behemoth park is home to an exhilarating ecosystem, but you should probably leave your Big Five expectations at the door. Although there are no elephants, rhinos or buffalo here, you can expect to see large predators, migratory herbivores, and more than 200 species of bird.
With over 3.6 million hectares of remote wilderness to explore and great wildlife viewing year-round, you won’t be left wanting. That said, Kagaladi is at its best at the end of the rainy season between March and May. During this time of year, the animals congregate around the riverbed which makes for easier sightings.
5. Chobe River
More than any other African safari destination, the Chobe River is the land of giants. Famed for some of the world’s largest herds of massive elephants, Chobe National Park is one of the great wildlife destinations of Africa.
Not only is it one of Botswana’s original national parks, but it’s also the most biologically diverse. In addition to the large number of elephants around, the region is also home to a full suite of predators, plenty of antelope, and more than 440 recorded bird species. The Chobe River truly is Southern Africa’s wildlife mecca and is one of the most accessible safari destinations.
The river forms part of the park boundary as well as Botswana’s border with Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. This makes traveling to the Chobe River easy to combine with trips to the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari while on a Southern Africa overland tour.
6. Khama Rhino Sanctuary
There are plenty of gram-worthy photo opportunities in Botswana but none as rare and beautiful as a shot of a rhino in the wild. With these critically endangered animals all but gone from the world, The Khama Rhino Sanctuary is one of the most important conservation spaces in Botswana.
In the early 1990’s the residents of Serowe banded together to create this haven for the rhinos. Since then, the sanctuary has helped reestablish the once populous wildlife area and provide a home to more than 30 other game animals and a staggering 230 bird species.
Although it is smaller than other game reserves, this 4300-hectare sanctuary has well maintained roads that are perfect for game drives and offers rhino trail walks with well-trained rangers.
The prime location of the sanctuary is also perfect for those on a Southern Africa overland tour. Located just a few hours away from Francistown, Khama Rhino Sanctuary is often used as a route through to other areas in Botswana including the Okavango Delta, Gaborone, Maun, and even into Zimbabwe.
7. Kubu Island
Just a stone’s throw away from the water-filled Okavango Delta and Chobe River lies the largest network of salt pans in the world. The Makgadikgadi Pans terrain is a vision of shimmering white sand and appears to be as empty as it is large.
But, in the middle of a sea of salt lies an island that was once a life-giving oasis. The Kubu Island, situated in Makgadigadi’s Sua Pan, was once a real island on a real lake. In another lifetime, the waters surrounding this baobab-laden rock were teeming with hippos and water birds.
The waters began evaporating millennia ago, but before then the San mined the pan to sell salt to the Bakalanga. Archaeological recovery in the Makgadikgadi has revealed an abundance of stone tools; some of which have been dated earlier than the era of Homo sapiens.
Today the Sua Pan is mined by the Sua Pan Soda Ash Company, but the Kubu Island is considered a sacred site by the indigenous people of the area and remains untouched – save for the basic camping facilities which is run for the benefit of the local community.
Botswana is waiting. Ready? Let’s Go!