Safari Eden from Kalahari Desert to Okavango Delta
Situated in southern Africa, Botswana is considered one of the World’s premier safari destinations. This gem of Africa offers incredible wildlife sightings, camps in beautifully remote locations, and very high standards of both guiding and service.
Botswana is known for its low-density tourism model, which is made possible by private concessions. This model offers travelers a feel of exclusivity (often just two or three camps will have access to tens of thousands of acres of untouched wildlife habitat) as well as the freedom of off-road driving and night drives, which are not typically allowed in national parks. Many camps also offer activities such as walking, boating, ‘mokoro’ (traditional canoeing), and cultural visits.
This low-density model has led to many high luxury options. As a result, Botswana is easily the most expensive safari destination in its peak season (July through October). However, Botswana becomes one of the most affordable safari destinations during the Green Season from November through March. With a properly-planned itinerary, Botswana can offer the best value-for-quality safari in Africa at that time.
As a staff, we have visited Botswana every month of the year. Additionally, our founder, Bill, has conducted lion research there. This depth of experience allows us to plan appropriately for the seasonal nuances and strategies, rather than offering the same ‘off the rack’ itinerary year-round.
Botswana Sample Safaris
This safari is customized to take advantage of the best opportunities for the green season in Botswana to observe diverse wildlife.
Top Botswana Safari Locations
Botswana Safari Regions
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a national park in the Kalahari Desert, situated in the center of Botswana. At 52,800km² (20,400mi²), it is the second largest game reserve in the world. It was established in 1961 to ensure the survival of the local Bushmen.
The land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is characterized by mostly flat, open plains; salt pans; and ancient river beds with grasses covering the sand dunes. Many species of trees and shrubs grow in the north, and the central region is a flat bushveld area.
Mopane forests dominate in the south and east. Peculiar to this area are the fossil river valleys that contain numerous salt pans. Four of these fossil rivers meander through the reserve including into Deception Valley. This is where the aptly-named Deception Pan began to form around 16,000 years ago. The dry surface of the pan can cause a mirage, which sometimes makes it appear convincingly full of water until one gets right to the edge. Rainfall is sparse and intermittent, consistent with a desert environment.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a national park in the Kalahari Desert. It is situated in the center of Botswana, south of Maun and the Okavango Delta.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve becomes one of Botswana’s prime game viewing destinations after the summer rains and is famous for the Kalahari black-maned lion. The northern region from Deception Valley to Piper Pans is dominated by huge plains of sweet grasses that attract thousands of oryx, springbok and wildebeest.
Predators such as lion, cheetah, and jackal follow in anticipation of finding their next meal. Giraffe, brown hyena, warthog, leopard, eland, oryx, kudu, and red hartebeest can be observed between December and April when the animals tend to congregate at the pans and valleys.
Best Times to Go
The Green Season (January through March) is the prime time for wildlife in the Kalahari Desert. Rain in the Kalahari triggers an eruption of rich grasses combined with surface water to drink, which causes a multitude of animals to parade into the desert park. This is in stark contrast to virtually all other safari areas, where the rains disperse wildlife.
Chobe National Park
Chobe is Botswana’s premier National Park. Within the park there are two major safari areas, the Chobe Riverfront and Savute. Savute is distinct enough that it is described in a separate section further down the page. Chobe is loaded with wildlife, including over 65,000 elephants, making it the most densely populated area in all of Africa. The Riverfront area is famed for amazing concentrations of elephants and buffalo drawn to the Chobe River in the dry season.
The area in recent times has been very good for leopards and wild dogs. Historically the area is legendary for lions and spotted hyenas.
Safari within the national park is a very different experience to the private concession area of the Okavango Delta and other non-public areas. In the national parks, vehicles must remain on roads (there is often some vehicle crowding) and return to camp prior to dark. The wildlife quantities are excellent and there is more variation in accommodation than the private concessions, but the overall quality of experience does not match the exclusive wilderness of the private areas.
Chobe National Park lies to the west of the gateway town of Kasane. The entrance gate to the Chobe Riverfront is at Kasane and there are flights between Johannesburg and Kasane many days of the week.
Kasane is also just an hour and a half road transfer to Victoria Falls, making it convenient to combine the Falls at the start or end of a Botswana safari. Savute is in the western portion of Chobe National Park. Bush flights connect Chobe Riverfront (via Kasane) and Savute with the Okavango and other safari regions.
Nowhere else can match Chobe for the quantity and quality of elephants. Buffalo and lions are plentiful, spectacular sable antelope are frequently seen. Along the Chobe Riverfront, boat cruises provide the best quality wildlife viewing and are a unique safari opportunity featuring elephants (often swimming), hippos, crocodiles, and spectacular birds.
Best Times to Go
Chobe Riverfront is at its prime during the dry season of June through October. During this time, huge quantities of wildlife are drawn to the permanent waters of the Chobe River. Savute is less seasonally dependent but also at its best in the dry season. Resident predators are excellent year round in the Savute area.
Linyanti / Selinda
There are three superb private concession areas, Kwando, Selinda, and Linyanti, that fill the area between the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. This area is the ideal complement to the Okavango as it delivers the same high-quality exclusive game viewing experience. Activities include off-road driving, night drives and walking and boating (depending on the camp and the water levels).
The area is well known for predator viewing which is amongst the best in Botswana.
This region is northeast of the Okavango Delta and west of Chobe National Park. The camps and game viewing are focused along the permanent waters of the Kwando River, Linyanti Marshes, Selinda Spillway, and the Savute Channel.
The private concessions in Linyanti are only accessibly by bush flight whereas the regions inside the national park can be reached by road (5+ hours from Maun). Flights take approximately 45 minutes from either Maun or Kasane, the town along the Chobe Riverfront. To reach camps within the Okavango from Linyanti, flight times can range from 20 minutes to an hour depending on the camp.
This region is well known for its African wild dog packs with three to four packs denning in these concessions each year. This area offers the best opportunity of finding them throughout the year. Outside of the denning season, the wild dogs are very wide-ranging.
This is also one of the better areas for overall predator diversity with lion, leopard, cheetah, and spotted hyena all seen with good frequency. In the dry season (July through October) enormous herds of buffalo and large numbers of elephants are found in this region as well. Overall, game viewing is diverse and excellent.
Best Times to Go
This region is at its best during the dry season (July through October) when large concentrations of wildlife gather near the permanent water sources. Late July through early September is typically prime time at wild dog dens. The pups can be seen, but they are not mobile enough to leave the den. This makes the wild dogs observable on a daily basis.
Outside of the dry season, predator viewing usually remains very good. General game viewing is more variable and can occasionally be quiet. For most visitors, this area still makes a good complement to camps in other regions.
Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is located to the south-east of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari Desert. Covering some 16,058km² (6,200mi²), these are widely believed to be one of the largest salt flats in the world. However, this unique area is one of Botswana’s lesser known tourist attractions. It is technically not a single pan, as its name suggests, but is made up of many pans interrupted with sandy desert in between. The pans are the Sua (Sowa), Ntwetwe and Nxai Pans. Baines’ Baobabs and Kudiakam Pan are also part of Makgadikgadi.
The name Makgadikgadi implies a ‘vast open lifeless land’. The pans are located in large areas in the southern, eastern and north-eastern regions of the park.
Widely believed to be one of the largest salt flats in the world, The Makgadikgadi is not always dry. Torrential rains fall from mid-November, filling the dry, salty, clay crust with water and grass. This water is retained until April or May. The ‘vast open lifeless land’ now becomes a fascinating refuge for birds and animals.
The national park is situated roughly halfway between the towns of Maun and Nata, on the Francistown road.
As the pans are nothing more than salty desert, plant life is restricted to a thin layer of blue-green algae. On the fringes of the pan, salt marshes appear and are surrounded further away by grassland and shrubby savannah.
Very little wildlife can exist at Makgadikgadi during an inhospitable dry season, delivering strong hot winds and only salt water to drink. Once the season changes, the dry lands are transformed into huge, flat sheets of water.
While the movements are difficult to predict, the Makgadikgadi Pans is part of an ancient migration path that is estimated to have once been larger than the Great Migration of East Africa. The remaining migration of tens of thousands of zebra is the longest known mammal movement in Africa at over 300 miles between Chobe and the Boteti River during the rainy season months of January to April.
During the dry winter months, the migrations head westward to the Boteti River to scoop up any remaining water, but many desert-adapted creatures remain resident. These include aardwolf, African wildcat, caracal, genet, honey badger, spring hare, jackal, kudu, meerkats, yellow mongoose, porcupine, ground squirrel, steenbok, and the occasional lion. The shy and elusive brown hyena, aardvarks, and small bustard species also stay.
Best Times to Go
The best time to go to the Makgadikgadi is between the Green Season months of December through March.
Moremi Game Reserve
Moremi Game Reserve is the major public land area within the Okavango Delta. The area is very game rich with the full diversity of Okavango species. Most camps are able to offer boating and mokoro activities in addition to game driving.
While the wildlife densities are excellent the quality is impacted by public park rules. Game drives must remain on-road and be completed before dark (no night drives).
Unlike most Botswana safari areas, Moremi has fairly high tourist volume. A large number of camps, mobile operations, and even self-drive visitors using the park often lead to crowds at major sightings. Because of these quality factors, we prefer to include Okavango Delta camps that are in private concession areas on our itineraries rather than Moremi.
There is one isolated area of Moremi, Chief’s Island, that is only accessible by bush plane and contains three of Botswana’s most exclusive camps — Mombo, Little Mombo, and Chief’s Camp. This area has exceptional wildlife quantities, as well as most of Botswana’s rhinos, and can be thought of as a private concession night drives are still not permitted.
Moremi Game Reserve forms much of the heart of the Okavango Delta, stretching far from east to west across the Delta. Moremi can be reached by short bush flights from Maun of just 20 to 25 minutes. It is also accessible by road and is commonly included on mobile safari circuits.
Moremi has the full diversity of Okavango Delta species with excellent quantities of lion, buffalo, giraffe, and impala.
Best Times to Go
Moremi is one of the rare safari destinations that delivers a great experience year round. This is because the Okavango has plentiful water year round. This means most wildlife is resident with very little seasonal movements, although there is still some dispersal of species when rains add surface water.
The dry season of August through October is the peak season for Moremi. Expect high temperatures in October. November through January is another great time to visit. Many species have their calves then, leading to active predators.
November through March is also a great value time of year when some of Africa’s most luxurious safari camps have special deals with costs that are from 30 to 60% less than the peak season accommodation rates. No matter what time of year you choose to travel, we will select the best camps for that time of year, keeping seasonal wildlife in mind.
Nxai Pan is an ancient fossilized lakebed in the Kalahari Desert. Comprising 40 km², it is the centerpiece of Nxai Pan National Park.
Nxai Pan is a large salt pan topographic depression, which is part of the larger Makgadikgadi Pans in northeastern Botswana. This landform is a major part of the Nxai Pan National Park, and it is a seasonal home to large herds of zebra. The Nxai Pan was added to the National Park System to augment the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, thus providing an enlarged contiguous area of natural protection.
Much of the habitat is open grassland with clusters of umbrella acacia trees and permanent herds of springbok. This provides ideal cheetah habitat and is one of the best locations in Botswana for spotting cheetah.
Giraffe often congregate in large numbers with journeys of more than 30 individuals common. This is also a dramatic place to witness bull elephants. Very occasionally white rhino are seen, a real rarity in Botswana.
Best Times to Go
May to November is ordinarily the long, dry season. In a very wet year, June could still provide rich grazing drawing larger herds of grazing animals. Hardy desert adapted animals somehow make a go of it throughout the year.
The springbok can survive the harsh conditions and are the key food source, enough to support cheetah and lion year round. As the dry season progresses, water in a vast area is reduced to a couple of small waterholes in Nxai Pan, and the stage is set for some of the most dramatic action on the continent.
The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s safari jewels. A-one-of-a-kind wilderness that is the world’s largest inland delta. This wetland area is fed by an annual flood of waters arriving by river from the Angola highlands and then fanning out in the Kalahari sands to form an amazing mosaic of wetland channels, flood plains, and dry game drive area.
Here the safari experience is of the highest quality because of the extremely low density of tourists, meaning most wildlife sightings are all your own. Off road driving and night drives are usually allowed and walking and boating activities add to the diversity of the experience.
The Okavango Delta is the heart of Northern Botswana. The safari frontier town of Maun sits on the edge of the Okavango and is the gateway to Botswana safaris. Some of the best Okavango camps are just a 15 minute bush flight from Maun.
The Okavango Delta is a wilderness paradise for wildlife. The environment is pristine and a full diversity of species are observed. Four of the Big 5 are commonly seen (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo) with only the rhino being a rarity.
Rhino had been extirpated but have been reintroduced. They are limited to very specific areas and not seen by most on a Botswana safari. The Okavango is particularly great for elephants, lions, and has some sensational areas for leopards.
Botswana is a stronghold for the endangered African wild dog and seeing them run through the Delta flood waters is pure magic. In fact the Okavango is a stunning setting for all wildlife viewing as elephants often frolic in the water and even lions can be seen sometimes wading or swimming through the wetland channels — it is viewing like nowhere else.
Wetland adapted antelope like red lechwe and sitatunga are other specialties of the Okavango. All the camps we most recommend in Okavango are in private concession areas where off road driving allows for the highest quality game viewing, and night drives increase the diversity of species that can be seen.
Best Times to Go
The Okavango Delta is one of the rare safari destinations that delivers a great experience year round. The Okavango has plentiful water year round so most wildlife is resident with very little seasonal movements, although there is still some dispersal of species when rains add surface water.
The absolute peak game viewing is late in the dry season of August through October. However, October gets quite hot. November through January is another outstanding time when many species have their calves. This also leads to active predators; it is a time of plenty when all the species look their best. November through March is also a great time of year value-wise. At this time, some of Africa’s most luxurious safari camps have special deals with accommodation rates 30 to 60% less than the peak season.
We always consider the seasonal wildlife and select the best camps for each time of year.
Savuti / Chobe
Located in Chobe National Park, Savute (also Savuti) is arguably one of the most beautiful areas of Botswana. While Savute is technically part of the national park, it is truly its own, distinct region. Chobe and Savute each offer different landscapes and wildlife sightings. In particular, Savute is known for high concentrations of animals and unique sightings.
Savute’s main feature is a channel of the same name. Deriving from the Chobe and Linyanti River systems, the Savute Channel runs through a dry landscape to the Mababe Depression. Here the water pools on the open plain to create the Savute Marsh. This marsh creates an oasis that draws wildlife in from a vast, dry area.
Savute actually means “mystery,” a fitting name for the puzzling channel. Over the years, the Savute Channel has mysteriously dried up or inexplicably begun to flow again, seemingly unaffected by the surrounding area’s rain and water levels. At times, the channel has remained dry for decades at a time. The channel’s fickle flow is now believed to be caused by tectonic movement underneath the Kalahari Desert. Even when the channel is dry, rain water creates isolated watering holes. Wildlife congregate around these life-giving pools, creating great wildlife sighting opportunities.
Since it is within Chobe National Park, game driving vehicles must remain on road and no night drives are allowed.
Savute is located in the western portion of Chobe National Park and can be accessed by bush flight from Kasane or by road transfer if traveling on self drive or with a mobile safari. Savute can be combined with time in the Okavango, Chobe, and other safari regions.
Savute boasts very large concentrations of wildlife. The region is known for elephant sightings, including huge, solitary bull elephants. The area is home to many resident grazers and also attracts the annual zebra migration. The presence of this prey makes it possible to see a great diversity of predators. Lion, leopard, cheetah, and spotted hyena all occur here. Some unique behaviors have been observed in this region. Savute lions have been known to hunt sub-adult elephants, a behavior not commonly seen elsewhere. The area is also host to a dazzling array of birds.
Savute has hosted several documentary films over the years, most notably, Africa’s Fishing Leopards and Africa’s Giant Killers. The area offers good chance to view wild dogs as well, however the on-road rules reduce the ability to keep up with dogs as they are on the move.
Best Times to Go
Savute is less seasonally dependent than neighboring Chobe National Park, but this area is also at its best in the dry season of June through October. Resident predators are excellent year-round in the Savute area.