Photograph by Cory Richards, National Geographic Creative
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Elephants wade through a floodplain in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta and a refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals.

Photograph by Cory Richards, National Geographic Creative

See Maun, Botswana, like a Nat Geo Explorer

Explore the thriving safari industry with these insider tips.

Maun is a former dusty outpost for intrepid travelers and old-school hunting outfits. Today Maun is the center of Botswana’s thriving safari industry. It’s where tourists begin their trips south to the Kalahari Desert or north to the Okavango Delta. To me, Maun is the place where I get supplies and catch up with friends between trips to the field.

About my work

In 2013, a series of devastating poisoning events killed half the lions in the northern Okavango Delta. We started our program to promote coexistence between people and lions. Communities name individual lions, then we fit the lions with satellite collars that send phone alerts to villagers when the lions approach. With National Geographic’s support, we have stopped poison use and seen 20 cubs born since 2016! (Read about the explorers who journeyed the Okavango from end to end.)

Travel for good

There are not many organized ways of contributing to local communities in Maun, but you can choose to visit Wildlife Management Areas run by communities instead of joining the increasing crowds in the national parks. Khwai Development Trust offers exceptional riverfront drives with a community guide. Kaziikini Campsite supports the Sankuyo village and offers guides to border regions with the Moremi Game Reserve. Otherwise, support small village shops in Shorobe by buying baskets and artwork.

What’s in my bag

The most important item I carry with me is a Leatherman multi-tool. It’s got a nice pair of pliers, screwdrivers, and even a ruler on the side. If all else fails and you are stranded for a bit, the bottle opener will help you crack open a beer while you wait!

Traditional crafts

Maun has a variety of traditional artisans. Along the roads and in small markets you can find wood carvings, wall hangings, and metalwork, but what Botswana is known for is weaving. These intricately woven baskets are strikingly beautiful and range in size from as small as a dinner plate to as large as a piece of luggage.

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Edible mopane worms, an iconic local dish, rest in a handwoven bowl. Travelers can take a class to learn how to weave traditional baskets, or sample mopane worms from a street vendor.

Local etiquette

Maun is a tourism hub, so wearing T-shirts and shorts is acceptable. This is particularly helpful in October when the temperatures reach 110°F. When visiting villages, it is respectful for men to wear long pants and for women to wear long skirts. Remove your hat when meeting with a kgosi (chief), and know that it is disrespectful to speak or sit before he has invited you to do so.

Must-read book

Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens gives an old-school view of Maun. Many of the characters are still around. Another popular book is The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. General travel guides are helpful too.

Take a class

You can spend a day learning traditional weaving skills at Botswana Quality Baskets. You may not finish a whole basket during your class, but you will have the materials to continue weaving after the lesson is over.

Savor the flavors

There are two main dishes that are considered local. Seswaa is meat (beef, mutton, or game) that is boiled for hours until tender, then served with maize meal (called pap) and greens. For the more adventurous there are mopane worms, which are pinky-size caterpillars of the mopane moth. Mopane worms are boiled then fried and taste, at least to me, like dirty leaves. You can find them from street vendors that sell food under small canopies.

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Xonte, a San guide, stands at a rock art panel in Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Head off the beaten path

Since Maun is crawling with adventure tourists, it is difficult to say what is not on the typical circuit. Tsodilo Hills is a five- or six-hour drive from Maun and has ancient cave paintings that are thousands of years old. Some of the most spectacular game viewing is in communal areas like those along the Khwai River.

Cultural heritage

Visit the Nhabe Museum to learn about the history of the region. The museum has poetry slams once a week where local artists share spoken word and songs.

Explore the outdoors

The Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta is one of the most spectacular game-viewing areas in southern Africa, with large herds of elephants, zebras, giraffes, and chances to see lions and wild dogs. For a drier experience, head to Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, where you can see meerkats and other desert-adapted wildlife.

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Take a community-led tour to see wildlife in the stunningly beautiful Okavango Delta.

Must-see spots

In addition to the Okavango Delta and Tsodilo Hills, which cannot be missed, visit the salt pans of the Kalahari. There are many pans, but Nxai Pan or Kubu Island are remote and desolate.

Dr. Andrew Stein is a National Geographic explorer and founder of the CLAWS Conservancy, a nonprofit promoting human-wildlife coexistence. He is an associate professor of natural sciences at Landmark College. Follow his work on Facebook and Instagram.