Think Botswana, think iconic safari, complete with wildlife-packed landscapes, game drives and plenty of expert guides to show you around. But, if you’ve followed us for a while, you’ll know that we at Timbuktu are always on the lookout for quirky and unusual activities – and Botswana ticks many a box in that respect too. From desert quad biking to venturing into far-away lands on a mobile safari, meeting the meerkats of the Kalahari and walking with the indigenous Bushmen, there are plenty of things to do in Botswana beyond the norm. Below, we’ve rounded up our favourites in one handy guide, as well as some useful accommodation info. For a more detailed run down on Botswana’s lodges, have a look here, and if you’d like to read up on the regions, this one’s for you. Otherwise, read on…
Embark on a mobile safari
Botswana might not be King of the walking safari (we’ll save that accolade for Zambia), but it’s certainly famous for its mobile safaris, most of which contain a good deal of time on foot. In Botswana, a mobile safari usually comprises a mix of walking and canoeing (in a traditional mokoro) and the time of year you visit and floodwaters will determine how much of each you do. The Okavango Delta is prime real estate for a mobile safari: hundreds of the palm-fringed islands are only accessible by foot or boat and once you’re there, it really is just you and the wilderness. This is your chance to float past elephants as they wander across the clear channels, follow herds of red lechwe on foot as they navigate the ancient pathways, and catch glimpses of the famous predators as you (and they!) try to stay hidden. If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Botswana, add a mobile safari to the list, pronto.
Accommodation on a mobile safari will be in a simple tent that either moves with you, or stays in a semi-permanent location and acts as a base to return to in the evenings. Check out either the private Uncharted Expedition Camp in the northern reaches of the Delta, or book a spot on the Footsteps Across the Delta expedition. We also like Letaka Mobile Safaris for their range of options to suit everyone and the Golden Africa mobiles for their pure, unadulterated authenticity.
Explore the desert
Seemingly devoid of all life, the thirsty deserts are actually home to some of the best things to do in Botswana. The areas in question are the Central Kalahari, five-million hectares of endless fossil dunes, and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, the remnants of a prehistoric super lake. And what exactly is there to do in this lunar land? In the Makgadikgadi, top choices include quad biking across the salt flats with only nothingness stretching ahead of you, and meeting the habituated meerkats. The cheeky critters aren’t tame, simply used to a human presence, and a visit early in the morning might find one using your head as a lookout post! In both areas, walking with the San Bushmen is inspiring and humbling in equal measures, as is game driving in search of the unique, desert-adapted species. If wildlife is your thing, time your visit for early in the year. This is the green season in the desert and as well as plenty of new life springing around the sand, you’ll encounter the zebra of Africa’s second largest mammal migration.
The most iconic camp in the Makgadikgadi is Jack’s Camp (as well as sister San Camp, only open in the dry season). Both camps are pioneers of experiential travel and all the above activities are available – plus a few more. Meeting the bushmen at Meno a Kwena, a quirky camp on the edge of the Makgadikgadi, is a special experience, and in the Kalahari, try Tau Pan or Deception Valley Lodge for the best pick of activities.
Ride out on horseback
Next on our list of things to do in Botswana is a horseback safari and we couldn’t think of a landscape more suited to long canters, splashy gallops, and meandering rides through shady woodlands. Horseback safaris in Botswana are usually combined with a multi-day mobile expedition and you may also choose to sandwich it with a couple of nights in a lodge on either side – perfect for soaking weary limbs in a hot bath and enjoying a classic 4×4 game drive. On safari, you’ll have maximum time atop your stead and the days are the perfect mix of full-day rides, morning and afternoon explorations, and even some time on foot or in a mokoro, depending on where you are in the country. Most people remember their first encounter with an elephant, and their first predator hunt and kill – but to view either on horseback will add a whole host of new memories to the bank…
David Foot and Ride Botswana are the only names you’ll need when it comes to horse riding in Botswana. With 45 years of experience in the equestrian world, you couldn’t be in safer hands, and their horseback safaris range from three to seven night mobile expeditions through the desert, the Delta and everything in between. Alternatively, book a couple of nights at Camp Kalahari and head out for a one- or two-hour meander across the Makgadikgadi.
Take to the skies on a helicopter flight
We extoll the virtues of Botswana’s handsome landscapes to anyone who will listen and from the moment you land in the country, all will become clear. But perhaps the very best way to appreciate the mind-boggling vastness and the sheer diversity of the country is from above, so if you’re looking for things to do in Botswana, how about a helicopter flight? From high up in the air, you’ll appreciate the intricate patchwork of the Okavango Delta, spot lion lazing on the sands of the Kalahari, and swoop over the rivers of the Linyanti. Photographers can choose to have a ‘doors off’ experience, allowing for maximum visibility and photo-taking capabilities (tighten those seatbelts) and many camps also allow a great deal of flexibility in timings, from the length of the flight to the time of day you take flight.
Most helicopter flights last between 30 and 60 minutes (the choice is yours) and more and more camps are starting to offer the experience. Try Mapula Lodge and swoop over the remote islands in the northern Delta, or board from Chief’s Camp and head west to the permanent enclave for year-round excellent views. In the Makgadikgadi, there’s a helicopter based at Jack’s Camp for part of the year too.
Float through the reeds on a mokoro safari
We couldn’t talk about things to do in Botswana without mentioning a mokoro safari. Unique to Botswana, mokoros are wooden, dug-out canoes and the traditional mode of transport for the BaYei or ‘river bushmen’, who are often to be seen zooming up and down the channels, especially during the high floodwaters in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti regions. There’s not an engine in sight and once in your mokoro, you’ll glide silently along the lily-filled waterways of the Delta, poled expertly by a guide – or perhaps that should be captain? Down here, you’ll have a unique, eye-level perspective of the wildlife and with the absence of a buzzing engine, you can often pole safely up to the biggest animals in the kingdom. It’s a quiet, peaceful way to travel and with the birds fluttering around and the shy sitatunga appearing through the reeds, you’ll wonder why you ever chose anything else…
Mokoro safaris in the Okavango Delta are always dependent on the water levels and high-water time, which begins in June and lasts until around September or October, is the best time to visit to ensure you have some time on the water. Most water-based camps in the area offer mokoro trips, but top of our list are probably Little Machaba Camp, Xigera, Jao Camp or Kwara.
Sleep under the stars
Sleeping under the stars of the African sky with only a mosquito not and fat-as-pancake duvet between you and the night stirs something in our souls. Not only does it score highly in the adventure stakes, it’s also undeniably romantic (honeymooners looking for things to do in Botswana, take note – and for more ideas, have a look here) and incredibly thrilling. Handily, Botswana knows a trick or two when it comes to alfresco bedrooms and if you decide to venture out, you’ll have everything from double-storey, ensuite platforms with private butlers and champagne on tap, to romantically-draped bed rolls in more rustic settings to choose from. There are some things that are always guaranteed, however, and here that’s the snufflings and gruntings of the wildlife and the twinkling of the stars. Magic.
Go all out and book at night at the Skybeds in the Khwai Private Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. Specifically designed to maximise the sleep out experience, the treehouse-style platforms are cool, comfortable and generally fabulous. Other options in the Delta include the elevated star platforms at Abu Camp or Little Tubu, whilst the outdoor rooms at Kalahari Plains are the perfect spot from which to enjoy the vast, star-filled Kalahari skies.
Cruise the Chobe River
We haven’t yet mentioned Chobe on our list of things to do in Botswana, and if there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss out when visiting the northerly park, it’s a boat cruise down the mighty Chobe River. The area is famous for its enormous herds of elephant and they are frequently to be found on the river banks, drinking and splashing in the shallows, making a boat trip the perfect way to watch, listen and capture their antics on film. Other wildlife highlights include plenty of snorting hippos and crocs in the water, and a veritable parade of antelope and smaller plains game on the banks. And of course, there’s cruising, and then there’s cruising Africa-style – imagine a billowing sunset and an ice-cold G&T, and you’ve got the idea…
The lodges along the Chobe River can be on the larger side, so our top tip is head to further away from the banks to somewhere like Chobe Under Canvas. Access to the water is still easy and the boat trips on offer are private affairs. Otherwise, how about doing something totally different and spending three nights aboard the Zambezi Queen, Botswana’s very own river houseboat?