Botswana is renowned for the density of its safari wildlife with the lush Okavango Delta able to support large numbers of both prey species and predators year round. It is still the only place I’ve seen three different leopards on a morning wildlife drive and then watched wild dog hunt from the deck outside my room.
It’s also a country with an enviable wildlife conservation record. The safari companies’ private conservancies are leased from the government under a tender process that requires income to be maximised alongside community benefits, whilst impact on the land and wildlife is minimised. With stable politics and income from mineral wealth, hunting was outlawed in 2014, and the country has seen rhinos relocated from South Africa for more than ten years. Initially this was a reintroduction programme and more recently to save them from the poaching currently rife within that country’s national parks.
Superb wildlife, and a limit on the number of visitors in many areas, means demand for space in safari camps outstrips supply in most years, leading to Botswana’s other reputation: high prices. Many safari camps cost in excess of £1,000 per person per night in the high season between July and October, with two of the most famous, Mombo Camp and Abu Camp, tipping the scales at around £2,000 per person per night.
So with this level of demand how are there any secret areas left in Botswana? With the Okavango Delta’s strong reputation for wildlife many generalists overlook other areas whose wildlife would be considered superb anywhere else in the world. Many of these areas offer things the Delta can’t, making them well worth a visit, whether it’s in combination with a few nights in the Okavango Delta or standing on their own.
1. Tuli Block
Typically accessed via South Africa, the Tuli Block is squeezed between Zimbabwe to its north and east, and South Africa across the Limpopo River to its south. It’s across this river from Pont Drift that most visitors enter by cablecar when the waters are high, or by fording the stream when it is low enough.
The area enjoys superb scenery with rocky kopjes and huge baobabs, and is home to good quantities of wildlife including lion, leopard, cheetah, and big herds of elephant. Combined with these is the opportunity to explore by vehicle, mountain bike, on foot or on horseback.
2. Khwai Community Area
With the shallow channels of the Okavango reaching into the Khwai Community Area before their waters disappear into the Kalahari’s sands, this area should be better known than it is. With the Khwai River at its heart, visitors enjoy great wildlife viewing but as it’s neither the public Moremi Game Reserve (just next door), nor a private area into which one might fly, it’s overlooked by the majority.
One of the best ways to explore this area is on a private mobile safari where your camp team sets up on an exclusive campsite. With your own guide and safari vehicle your days are completely flexible on both timings and activities; exploring by dug-out canoe is possible alongside wildlife drives.
3. Nxai Pan
This national park sits to the south east of the Okavango Delta alongside the more famous Makgadikgadi Pans. Like its ‘noisy neighbour’ its formation is through the fossilisation of a lakebed and it comes to life during the euphemistically named ‘green season’. These rainy months of Botswana’s summer between December and March turn the vegetation lush attracting numerous herbivores to this mineral rich area, which in turn encourages predators such as lion, hyena and cheetah.
4. Linyanti Area
Sandwiched between the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, the Linyanti area offers wildlife viewing similar to both without some of the restrictions. Night drives are possible within Linyanti making nocturnal species more visible, while nature walks allow smaller things, that can be missed on a drive, to be observed.
5. Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Despite being the world’s second largest game reserve, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is definitely the triangle player in the Botswana orchestra, struggling to make itself heard and with few visitors to the country acknowledging its presence.
It comes into its own for wildlife between December and March in Botswana’s summer months. Huge numbers of antelopes such as springbok and gemsbok are attracted by the lush vegetation which attracts predators such as cheetah, hyena and the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lions.
Botswana’s safari areas don’t have crowds; even in high season numbers are low in huge tracts of wildlife-rich land. However for those seeking an alternative to the most obvious areas, whether that is parts of the country with different habitats, or reserves pumping with wildlife at times of year when animals in the main areas are dispersed, any of these options will offer something different and rewarding.
Richard Smith is Operations Director at Aardvark Safaris.