Lonely Planet, best known for large selection of travel guide books, has released its “Best in Travel in 2016” lists. Botswana was named the number one country to be visited. This is a great recognition to Botswana that has steadily improved its popularity among tourists over years.
Botswana businesses and industries, driven by mining, concentrate in southwestern parts of the country. In contrast, major tourist attractions – game parks and Okavango Delta – are mostly located in northern Botswana. Maun is the local tourism capital. It is a relatively small town, without much to do in itself, but is considerably more pleasant than big congested cities in other countries. Another small touristy town is Kasane, in the northeastern corner of the country. Both towns are connected to Johannesburg by direct flights.
Botswana is known for its game parks, where all major African wildlife can be spotted. Main parks are Chobe, Makgadikgadi Pan, Central Kalahari and Kgalagadi parks. The last mentioned is the only major park in southern Botswana.
Okavango wetlands is a unique example of inland delta, which dries out into Kalahari desert, instead of reaching the ocean. Depending on the season and location, Okavango Delta can be good for wildlife viewing, the best place arguably being the Moremi National Reserve within the delta. Okavango region is also a birdwatchers’ paradise. The delta was recently given a World Heritage Site status, becoming the 1000th such site by UNESCO.
The other World Heritage site in Botswana is Tsodilo Hills, notable for its ancient rock art. Being so remote, and neglected by tourism stakeholders, Tsodilo does not get many visitors, but would deserve many more.
Botswana will celebrate its 50th year of independence in 2016. Compared to most other countries in the region, Botswana is a relatively peaceful and hassle-free country, it is politically stable and crime rate is fairly low. Botswana has benefited much from diamond mining, although poverty is still a major problem.
Visitors from most European countries, Americas, and Southern and Eastern Africa do not need a visa to visit Botswana. This is a relief when other countries in the region, including South Africa, are imposing more restrictions and raising fees.
Not so enchanting, Botswana tends to be among the most expensive destinations in Africa. Even mediocre lodges tend to charge sky-high prices. Park fees are not cheap either but still fairly reasonable. Finding a budget safari can still be a challenging task.
Transport can be a problem in African countries, and Botswana makes no difference. The condition of highways varies a lot, but fortunately there is no too much traffic, thanks to sparse population. Game parks are served by various tour companies., while lodges in the Okavango Delta can usually only be reached by charter planes. Independent travelling is really possible only by renting a 4×4 vehicle. Local public transport of little use for tourists, it consists of not-so comfortable buses plying between main town and won’t reach any tourist attractions. Air Botswana offers domestic flights from Gaborone to Maun, Kasane and Francistown, do not expect frequent and cheap services.
Maun has daily flights to Johannesburg and less frequent, seasonally variable services to Windhoek and Cape Town and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe side). Unfortunately travelling to many regional tourist destinations, most notably Victoria Falls, is difficult and costly due to limited transport options. Similarly beach destinations in neighboring countries are not easy to reach from Botswana.
Botswana is a great destination in itself, but cannot offer everything. To enjoy comprehensive holidays, travellers may want to visit several destinations like Okavango, Cape Town, Swakopmund, Victoria Falls, Mozambique beaches…all in different countries. Such trips are only possible if good transport connections are in place and visa policies are flexible enough. This would help not only tourism, but also local people and businesses.