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.
Love it, can’t wait to read more.
I can’t wait to write more! 🙂
So interesting! Can’t wait for the rest of the journey!
Thanks, Claudia! I can’t wait either 🙂
Such a wonderful blog post. Can’t wait to see Matt’s travel through this country!
Matt, when will your next blog go live?
Hi Margaret! I’m excited for the journey, too. My next blog will be up tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it!
This is in my bucket list. I am saving up for it.
It was always on mine, too! I think it should be on everyone’s 🙂
Eagerly looking forward to following you. Did a day trip to Chobe some years ago while staying across the river near Livingstone
Hey Richard, that sounds like an amazing trip! Thanks for the support. My next chapter will be up tomorrow. I’m really excited to share it with you all 🙂
Yes, saw lots of elie s, a pride of lion giraffe ( my favourite) buffalo but have yet to see leopard though they were around having spoked the baboons
Leopards can be so tough to spot in the wild – they’re so sneaky! That said, they’re definitely one of my favourite animals to spot on safari.
Went out with a group at Pom Pom who were insistent they wanted to see Leopard. Guide made it absolutely clear that there was no guarantee. Despite even abandoning our coffee table with biscuits, coffee etc. to dive off in to the bush. No sightings. Saw Leopard the day before and after too. Luck of the draw. Good luck and fascinating blog of your travels
You can’t tame the wild, as they say! And that’s the beauty of it, really 🙂 No guarantees: just Mother Nature doing what she does best.
Love it. Can’t wait to read more. Botswana is so on my bucket list
It was always on mine, too, Lisa! My next chapter will be up tomorrow 🙂
These images and videos are incredible. In awe. Where do I sign up?
I’m so glad you like them, Murial! You can sign up to our Blog Newsletter and get all the latest on Africa delivered straight to your inbox. There is a registration form for it just below this post’s map of Botswana. Happy reading!
Thanks for gracing our eyes with your experiences!
It is truly my pleasure, Holdin. Looking forward to sharing more with you!
On Matt I am so looking forward to ‘my’ journey through Botswana. My sister and her family spent 3 weeks doing this with another family some years ago. She said it was the best holiday she had ever had. Enjoy! I know I am going to do so. Thank you.
Hi Lorraine. I’m so glad I get to take you all on this journey with me! Thanks for the support. I hope you like Chapter 2!
Wonderful information on Botswana, Matthew! My group just returned from our (hopefully first of a few more) photo safaris. Chobe National Park was amazing and outstanding!! Enjoy uour adventure! Looking forward to your story!
Thanks, Cory. It’s awesome to have you along for the ride. I hope you like Chapter 2!
It’s a feast for the eyes. Aren’t there problems with poachers killing and kidnapping animals for sale?
Hi Debra! The Okavango Delta is actually known for its low poaching levels 🙂 You can find out more about Botswana’s success story in Chapter 2.
I was in Botswana two years ago and it was such a wonderful experience that I will be returning summer 2018 with my husband . It was one of the most magical places I have ever been not just the incredible amount and variety of animals but the warmth of the people also!
Your amazing pictures and videos are just wetting my appetite for returning.
Wow! I’m thrilled to hear you’re going back, Janis. Hopefully my Botswana blogs will tide you over until your next exciting adventure.
Just returned from Botswana and it was magical. I returned to the US a different person. Hope I left enough magic for you! Lol
Hi Sandi! I think this country is home to an endless well of magic and there’s plenty more to go around 🙂 I hope you’re enjoying my journey so far and that you plan to come back!
Left part of my heart last month in Kruger National Park. I had the most incredible time and felt like I experienced several lifetimes while there.
Can’t wait to read and see pictures about your travels! You truly will never be the same!
Wow, Suzanne, it sounds like your Kruger trip was the one dreams are made of. I hope my Botswana journey inspires you to travel here, too!
I’ll gladly join the journey from my armchair, Matt! What do they call us? Armchair travelers? Thanks for a great blog!
That’s right, Ethne! Maybe one day soon you can visit Botswana for real 🙂
Beautiful pictures, I have never been to Botswana but I have visited Kenya and Seychelles . The wild-life and warm hospitality of Africa is legendary. Thanks Matt