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Epic Guide To Backpacking In Botswana

Backpacking in Botswana is one of the best experiences you can have in southern Africa, with its diverse landscapes ranging from the arid plains of the Kalahari Desert to the lush waterways of the Okavango Delta, Botswana offers a unique and thrilling experience for those who seek to immerse themselves in nature’s raw beauty.


Backpacking In Botswana

One of the main “routes” for seeing some of the highlights of the country is in the north where you can visit the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.

Also, if you happen to be backpacking in Zambia and on the way to Botswana and then to Namibia, or vice versa, then most backpackers will come across this northern route. This is what I did.


Okavango Delta

Out of all the places to visit when backpacking in Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a must-visit destination.

The Okavango Delta is a vast inland delta that is formed by the Okavango River, which originates in Angola and then flows into Botswana where it fans out into a labyrinth of channels, lagoons, and islands.

The delta covers an area of approximately 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 square miles) during the peak flood season, making it one of the largest inland deltas in the world.

One of the more unique ways to see the delta is by small aeroplane. This will give you a great aerial overview of just how large the place is and you may be lucky and see herds of elephants from above.

Taking a flight over the Okavango Delta is something I really enjoyed and can highly recommend doing if you have the budget for it.

A herd of elephants is seen from the plane.

The Okavango Delta is known for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity. It supports a diverse array of wildlife, including large populations of elephants, buffalo, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, and numerous species of birds.

The delta’s floodplains, grasslands, and waterways provide crucial habitat for these animals, particularly during the dry season when much of the surrounding area becomes arid.

The delta is a popular destination for seeking safari experiences and wildlife viewing. You can explore the delta’s waterways by boat, mokoro (traditional dugout canoe), or on foot during guided walking safaris.

I took a mokoro safari into the delta for two days and was a more unique way of seeing the area.

Mokoro canoe.

There are also several luxury lodges and camps scattered throughout the delta, offering a range of accommodation options for travellers if you want to treat yourself when there. Otherwise, budget safaris will have a tent for you to use which is what I did and was great being so close to nature.

The main base to get out exploring the Okavango Delta is from the city of Maun which is nearby and where you can organise different safari options and is also one of the main backpacker hubs when backpacking in Botswana. This is where I stayed, except for the one-night camping in the delta on the makoro canoe safari.


Moremi Game Reserve

Moremi Game Reserve is another iconic wildlife destination in Botswana, known for its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife populations. It is situated in the eastern part of the Okavango Delta, covering approximately 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 square miles).

Established in 1963, Moremi Game Reserve is the first reserve in Africa to be established by local residents. It was named after Chief Moremi III of the Batawana people, who played a crucial role in the creation of the reserve to protect the Okavango Delta’s ecosystem.

The reserve encompasses a variety of habitats, including floodplains, woodlands, lagoons, and savannas, offering a rich diversity of wildlife. You can expect to encounter a wide range of animals, including elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hippos, crocodiles, and an abundance of bird species.

One of the unique features of Moremi Game Reserve is its location within the Okavango Delta, one of the world’s largest inland deltas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The delta’s seasonal flooding creates a dynamic landscape that supports an incredible array of wildlife throughout the year.

Activities in Moremi Game Reserve typically include game drives, guided bush walks, and mokoro (traditional dugout canoe) excursions, allowing you to explore the diverse ecosystems and observe wildlife up close.

Due to its pristine wilderness and exceptional biodiversity, Moremi Game Reserve is considered one of the top safari destinations in Africa.


Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park is one of Botswana’s premier wildlife destinations, renowned for its abundant wildlife and diverse ecosystems. It is located in the northern part of Botswana, near the town of Kasane. Covering an area of approximately 11,700 square kilometres (4,517 square miles), Chobe is Botswana’s first national park, established in 1968.

The park is named after the Chobe River, which flows along its northern boundary, forming a natural border with Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. The Chobe River serves as a vital water source, attracting large numbers of animals, especially during the dry season (May to October).

You can expect to see a wide variety of wildlife, including elephants (which are particularly abundant), buffalo, lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, and numerous bird species.

One of the park’s highlights is the Chobe Riverfront area, where you can embark on boat safaris to observe animals gathering along the riverbanks to drink and cool off. The park also offers excellent opportunities for traditional game drives, providing close encounters with its diverse wildlife.

Chobe National Park is a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers seeking an authentic African safari experience. It’s one of the main destinations to visit when backpacking in Botswana.


Makgadikgadi Pans

Quad biking on the Makgadikgadi Pans.

The Makgadikgadi Pans are one of Botswana’s most distinctive geographical features, comprising a vast network of salt pans in the northeastern part of the country. This expansive area, covering approximately 12,000 square kilometres (4,600 square miles), is one of the largest salt flats in the world.

The Makgadikgadi Pans are remnants of an ancient lake that once covered much of northern Botswana. Today, they consist of a series of salt pans, including Sua, Nwetwe, and Nxai Pans, among others. These pans are characterized by their stark, otherworldly landscapes, with shimmering white salt crusts stretching as far as the eye can see.

Despite the harsh and seemingly desolate environment, the Makgadikgadi Pans support a surprising diversity of wildlife, particularly during the wet season (November to April). When rains fall, the pans transform into temporary wetlands, attracting large herds of animals, including zebras, wildebeests, and other herbivores, as well as predators such as lions and cheetahs.

One of the highlights of visiting the Makgadikgadi Pans is the opportunity to witness the spectacular migration of zebras and wildebeests as they move across the pans in search of water and grazing land. This annual migration is one of Africa’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles.

In addition to wildlife viewing, the Makgadikgadi Pans offer unique experiences such as quad biking expeditions across the salt flats, guided walks with indigenous San Bushmen to learn about their traditional survival skills and cultural encounters with local communities.


Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is the largest game reserve in Botswana and one of the largest in the world, covering an area of over 52,000 square kilometres (20,000 square miles). It is situated in the central part of Botswana, within the vast expanse of the Kalahari Desert.

One of the unique features of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is its seasonal pans, which fill with water during the rainy season (November to April), attracting wildlife and providing essential water sources in this otherwise dry landscape. These pans are particularly popular spots for wildlife viewing during the wet season.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is also home to the San Bushmen, one of the oldest indigenous groups in Africa, who have inhabited the region for thousands of years. The San have a deep knowledge of the Kalahari Desert and its ecosystems, and visitors to the reserve can often arrange cultural experiences and guided walks with San guides to learn about their traditional hunting and gathering techniques, as well as their rich cultural heritage.

Due to its remote location and pristine wilderness, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve offers a unique and off-the-beaten-path safari experience for travellers seeking adventure and solitude in the heart of the Kalahari Desert.


Gaborone

If you’re coming into Botswana from South Africa then Gaborone will most likely be your first stopping point. It’s Botswana’s capital city and offers a blend of modern amenities and cultural attractions. Explore the National Museum and Art Gallery, visit the Three Chiefs’ Monument, and stroll through the Gaborone Game Reserve.

It’s best not to spend too much time in Gaborone (1-2 nights is the most that’s been recommended) as the main places to visit are elsewhere. Just use it as a transit point if you’re coming into Botswana from South Africa or if you’re leaving Botswana into South Africa.


Practical Information

This is some practical advice for backpacking in Botswana.

Visa Requirements

Check the visa requirements for your nationality before travelling to Botswana. Many nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival or get one in advance with an e-visa (check the link in this paragraph for that), but it’s always best to confirm beforehand.

Health Precautions

Make sure you have the necessary vaccinations before travelling to Botswana. Malaria is prevalent in certain areas, so consult with a healthcare professional about possible prevention and other health precautions.

Travel Insurance

It’s important to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies just in case. I use Safety Wing Travel Insurance when backpacking and can highly recommend them to you.

Packing Essentials

Pack lightweight clothing suitable for warm temperatures. Don’t forget essentials like a good-quality tent and a sleeping bag If you plan to go camping in the country, which, as a backpacker, is one of the best ways to save money.

If you do plan to go on a wildlife safari (you definitely should) then it’s best to bring some binoculars to view the wildlife better. If you’re on a budget you can still get a decent enough pair that will do the job for around $100-200.

Water

Always carry enough water, especially if you’re venturing into remote areas. Bottled water is widely available in towns, but it’s a good idea to bring a water filtration system for refilling along the way.

Guided Tours vs. Independent Travel

While it’s possible to backpack independently in Botswana, many backpackers opt for guided tours or organized safaris for convenience and safety, especially in remote areas. That’s what I did.

Responsible Travel

Practice responsible travel principles by minimizing your environmental impact, respecting local cultures and customs, and supporting local communities through responsible tourism initiatives.

Weather Conditions

Botswana experiences a hot and dry climate, with temperatures soaring during the summer months (October to April). Be prepared for fluctuating temperatures and occasional rain showers, especially if you’re travelling during the wet season.

Budgeting

Backpacking in Botswana can be relatively expensive for budget travellers, especially when visiting national parks and going on safaris. Plan your budget accordingly and look for affordable accommodation options, such as campsites and budget lodges.


Botswana

As you lace up your shoes and put on your backpack, you embark on a journey filled with encounters with majestic wildlife, encounters with ancient cultures, and moments of awe-inspiring solitude beneath the vast African sky.

If you have a big interest in doing more wildlife safaris then have a look at my guide to the top 10 safari destinations in southern and eastern Africa (Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta are on the list).

Welcome to Botswana, where every step is a discovery and every sunset paints a masterpiece on the canvas of the savannah. Backpacking in Botswana is one of the prime destinations in Africa to visit.

For more on the region have a look at my guide to backpacking in Zambia.


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