Travel Destinations / Botswana
Botswana is one of the few destinations in Africa that provides a brilliant sense of the adventure of safari. Its expansive game parks and preserves, while offering wildlife as diverse and abundant as that found anywhere else, are still largely undeveloped and untamed. The country enjoys a high standard of economic stability, education and health care, which, with the exception of South Africa, is unequalled elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the north-west, the Okavango River flows in from the highlands of Angola and soaks into the sands, forming the 15,000 sq. km network of water channels, lagoons, swamps and islands. The Okavango is the largest inland delta system in the world a bit smaller than Isreal or half of Switzerland. While the Okavango Delta is home to relatively few large game animals in comparison to other areas of Botswana, its clear waters and myriad small islands are home to an astounding variety of birds, plants, and smaller species of animals.
The northeastern region of the Kalahari Basin contains the Makgadikgadi Pans - an extensive network of salt pans and ephemeral lakes. Nearby is Chobe National Park, a beautiful grassland reserve that has gained international fame for its abundant elephant population.
Almost the entire remaining portion of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert - a varied environment of sand, savanna, and grassland. Although this area of Botswana is only sparsely inhabited by humans, it is one of the richest wildlife regions in all of Africa. Botswana's two largest parks, the Central Kalahari Game reserve and Gemsbok National Park, are found in this region.
It is largely the culture of the Batswana that has dominated that of other minority groups. This is particularly evident with regard to cattle ownership. Cattle, the traditional Tswana source of wealth and status, are now desired by most, if not all groups of people in Botswana.
Recent years have seen the introduction of western culture in the form of western business, technology, consumer goods, tourism and the media. There is a rather circuitous route, which all this takes to get to Botswana. South Africa, heavily influenced by America, Europe and Japan, acquires the latest goods and media items from these countries first; Botswana, in turn, imports nearly all commodities from South Africa. Botswana can well afford to buy in such goods, but personal wealth on the scale that exists for the elite few in Botswana is a new phenomenon.
Life in the urban areas has been most affected by western culture and increasing modernity. In the rural areas many traditions persist and ways of life differ from region to region. Some of the more obvious physical aspects of the different cultures have disappeared (such as traditional clothing, arts and crafts, most ritual ceremonies and some tools and utensils). Others remain important, however, such as cattle ownership, music and dance and the consultation of traditional healers.
Indigenous crafts, newly introduced crafts or western art forms can be purchased in curio, craft, gift shops and malls in Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane and at safari camps in the Okavango and Chobe regions.
Botswana's best-known leather factory is located in Pilane, near Mochudi (see maps). High quality sandals, bags and cases are made, and marketed in the major towns. Ostrich and buffalo skin items are imported from neighbouring southern African countries and sold in the curio and craft shops around the country.
Tourism and tourists' fascination with the Bushmen have brought a revival of sorts to traditional Bushmen crafts. Bushmen now produce and sell hunting sets, fire-making sticks, beaded jewellery and belts, leather items and musical instruments. Authentic ostrich eggshell beadwork is still made, and the contrast of the creamy white beads on the brown and black leather string makes for very attractive items indeed.
There are many local artists - both citizens and expatriates. Paintings are sold in local curio shops, or may be displayed in the Gaborone or Francistown malls, but most artists prefer to stage exhibitions in the National Museum, or at their private homes.
Botswana's unit of currency is the Pula (P), which is divided into 100 Thebe (t). The word 'Pula' means rain and 'thebe' means shield.
Bank notes: P10, 20, 50 and 100
Coins: 5t, 10t, 25t, 50t, P1, P2 and P5.
Major credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club, are accepted widely. Most hotels and lodges accept foreign currency or travellers' cheques.
The national carrier, Air Botswana, operates scheduled domestic flights from Gaborone to several destinations, including Francistown, Maun, Kasane, while numerous other carriers operate services to the capital and private operators maintain links to a variety of tourist destinations. The air charter industry is well developed in Botswana, offering flights to the national airport network as well as private destinations. Maun Airport, which serves a huge tourist market, is one of the busiest in southern Africa.
All Botswanass population centres are connected by highways and very good tarmac roads. Other areas are being developed and road-tarring projects are moving ahead at a record pace. Off main routes, the roads range from good, high-speed gravel to deep, rutted sand.
There is a number of passenger transport companies in Botswana which offer services throughout the country. Daily routes include from Gaborone to: Selebi-Phikwe, Palapye, Mahalapye, Serowe, Francistown, Ghanzi, Tshabong, Hukuntsi, Orapa, Lobatse, Maun, Kasane, Ramotswa, and other routes.
Botswana Railways operates a good passenger rail service, with a variety of passenger accommodation from luxury private sleeper compartments on the overnight train to the modern well-serviced economy class on the day train. All coach classes are air conditioned and served with dining facilities, running water and toilets.
All vehicles licensed to carry passengers can be easily identified by their number plates, which have blue backgrounds. Taxis carry up to 5 passengers at a time. If however you would prefer not to share a taxi with other passengers, at an additional fee, this can be arranged with the taxi driver.
Botswana has endemic malarial areas particularly in northern Botswana during the warmer months from November to June. It's a good idea to consult a doctor at least two weeks prior to entering Botswana and to take every precaution advised.
Bilharzia is an ever-present threat in many African streams and rivers. To avoid contracting Bilharzia one should stay out of the water. The disease is easily cured and cannot be caught by drinking untreated water.
Even though tap water is thought to be safe to drink in Botswana's urban areas, drinking bottled water is always advised.
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Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks that precede the coming of the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to the 38°C mark and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Winters are clear-skied and bone-dry, the air seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, cold at night and in the early mornings. Sometimes bitterly so - frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze.
The summer rainy season runs (November - March), and 20 inches of total accumulation is the norm. Rainfall in the Kalahari Desert is very light and significant rain during other times of the year is rare.