The wild heart of Africa.
That’s what they call Botswana, one of Africa’s most alluring and mesmerising places. I’m going there for two weeks to glide on its waterways, encounter its wildlife, and meet its people. And I’d like you to join me on this expedition as I share stories, photos and videos along the way.
Botswana is the safari purist’s paradise. It’s home to one third of Africa’s elephants and the second largest mammal migration in the world consisting of over 300,000 zebras. What’s even more impressive is that almost 40% of its land is dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife management areas, which is one of the highest rates in the world. It’s more authentic, more wild, and more remote than any other region in Africa. Back when European powers were scrambling for minerals and strategic locations, Botswana went ignored – it was landlocked, offered few riches and was impenetrable due to the Kalahari Desert and wetlands of the Okavango Delta.
And it’s a good thing it did, too, because it remained wholly untouched.
The only difference today is that it’s possible to catch an international flight into Maun, as I will shortly do, hop on board a 12-seater bush plane and within 30 minutes be dropped off in the middle of the lush wetlands and islands of the Okavango Delta, the world’s biggest inland delta. I’ll take a trip on one of its iconic mokoros, cruise on small boats as I’m transported between lodges, go on a bushwalk on an island teeming with elephants and take guided game drives to find its famous big cats, wild dogs and other animals.
It’s this mixture of land and water-based activities that sets Botswana apart as does their policy of ‘high quality, low impact.’ This means that when I’m there, I won’t find myself amidst hundreds of other tourists, instead, I will share the tranquil space with but a few other travellers, enjoying a feeling of complete exclusivity.
After the Delta, I’ll fly into Savute, home to a mysterious channel, which inexplicably flows and dries up in a manner seemingly unrelated to rainfall patterns. The green marsh, thick with herds of wildlife, is reminiscent of East Africa and its game-viewing is just as famous. Savute is part of Chobe National Park, where I’ll also visit Chobe Safari Lodge, home to the famous sunset Chobe boat cruises, which normally pass by hundreds of elephants on the river’s edge. It’s considered one of Africa’s best wildlife experiences.
From there, I’m off to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, home to one of the largest salt pans in the world, where, “the silence is so complete that you can hear the blood circulating through your ears.”
Once there, I will be greeted by glittering, star-loaded night skies, stories of legendary adventurers, and intimate experiences with wild meerkats and Kalahari Bushmen.
Beyond the wildlife and natural splendour, Botswana also has a fascinating story.
Britain was never interested in colonising Botswana (then known as Bechuanaland) because it was dismissed as infertile and poor with “lands of dubious profitability.” But, in 1950, Botswana was cast into the spotlight when Seretse Khama, heir to a local kingdom, married a British woman, Ruth Williams, while studying at Oxford.
Under South African pressure the British banned Khama and his wife from Botswana and it was another six years before he was allowed to return, but only as a private citizen forbidden from inheriting the tribal chiefdom. When independence came in 1966 and the new republic took the name of Botswana, this changed and Seretse Khama became its first president.
When Khama came to power in 1966, Botswana had only 22 university graduates and only 100 secondary school graduates. It was the world’s third poorest country and had just 12 kilometres of paved road – in a country bigger than Spain! Khama recognised the importance of tourism in the country and set up rules that protected conservation from the beginning.
In 1967, Botswana discovered diamonds. A lot of them. This enabled them to achieve the fastest rate of economic growth in the world between 1966 and 1980. It also supported their conservation and tourism models.
Today, Botswana is a world leader in environmental policies and sustainable tourism and has the second highest per capita income in Africa. The country is very safe and stable, and is seen as a model state in an Africa still emerging from the problems of colonialism and its aftermath.
With Botswana’s history acting as a captivating backstory, I’ll be exploring the country’s incredible wilderness that’s untouched and bursting with life. I’ll be sharing photos, stories and videos of my experience along the way so stop by again over the coming weeks to find out more about the magnificent wilderness, people and stories of Botswana.