Insider’s Guide to Botswana

With its mix of national parks and private game reserves, Botswana offers visitors a range of experiences, from the Makgadikgadi salt pans (part of which is protected as Makgadikgadi Pans National Park) to the water-rich Okavango Delta.

> When to Go:

The salt pans are at their most evocative, with mirage-like conditions, in the dry season from June to September.

Rains begin in mid-November and stay into March, flooding the pans and hydrating nutritious grasses that attract thousands of zebras from Namibia, a 300-mile round-trip considered the longest of zebra migrations.

> What to Know:

Travelers to Botswana need a valid passport; currently visitors from the United States don’t need a visa.

Along with other African nations, Botswana is subject to malaria and other tropical diseases. For health precautions and travel updates, visit the U.S. State Department website.

First-time visitors should consider traveling with a safari outfitter; outfitters organize travel arrangements and tailor itineraries to your specifications.

> Getting There and Around:

No airlines currently fly directly from the U.S. to Botswana; a common route is via South Africa. From there, Air Botswana and South African Airways fly to Maun, the regional hub in Botswana.

Visitors not traveling with an outfitter can rent vehicles (four-wheel drives are best) in Maun, Kasane, and Francistown.

> Lodging in Makgadikgadi:

Four camps offer lodging in the Makgadikgadi salt pans: Jack’s Camp, in the central pans, with ten guest tents; sister site San Camp, just to the northwest, with 14 guest tents; nearby Camp Kalahari, with ten guest tents; and, on the other, western side of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the Meno A Kwena Tented Camp, with eight guest tents.

For lodging in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, try Leroo La Tau. All of the camps have a dining tent (Camp Kalahari has a dining lodge) and on-site guides, available for local or overnight sightseeing excursions.

> Other Sights:

Botswana is home to ten national parks and game reserves and the Okavango Delta World Heritage site.

National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Beverly and Dereck Joubert, who founded Great Plains Conservation, operate four camps around the Okavango, including the Zarafa and Selinda Camps.

Also operating camps and lodges in northern Botswana is Desert & Delta Safaris.

> Travel Trivia:

  • Botswana’s Jwaneng Mine is the world’s richest diamond mine by value, with up to 15 million carats dug annually.
  • One of Earth’s top concentrations of rock art—more than 4,500 drawings—lies in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert.
  • Botswana’s currency is the pula, also a local word for rain, which is critical to this often dry nation’s survival.

This piece, written by Todd Pitock and Megan Miner, appeared in the November 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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