20 Things To Know Before Camping In Botswana
Going camping in Botswana with And Beyond is a once in a lifetime experience.
My first safari ever was in Botswana. Though I had read a lot about safaris, and a few of my friends had been on one before me, I didn’t know what to expect before going. All I knew was that there is a lot of wildlife in Botswana, and that in order to raise the (already very high) chances of seeing animals, it would be better to go camping in Botswana.
I surely didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see all the animals. Thus, for my Botswana holidays I decided to opt for a mobile safari, where I stayed in tents and as close to nature as it gets. It was a fantastic experience, during which I discovered the gorgeous, untouched landscape of this country; I had the opportunity of meeting new people that became friends for life; I got to admire the starry African sky every night; and I learned heaps about the mighty animals that populate Botswana.
Yes, I wholeheartedly recommend going camping in Botswana for a once in a lifetime experience.
This post sums up 20 things to know before camping in Botswana. The list is – quite evidently – not exhaustive.
20 Things To Know Before Camping In Botswana
There is a constant change of scenery
Camping in Botswana means moving around the National Parks and the game reserves. This means that there is a regular change in the scenery, with views that go from the lush landscape around Chobe, to sweet hills of Savute, to the floodplains of the Okavango Delta. The change in landscape means a change in the wildlife that can be admired. All for the best, in my opinion!
A good guide is everything
Driving through national parks it is common to come across other vehicles whose passengers are enjoying their Botswana holidays. Some of them are self-drives – people who rent fully equipped cars and go around in search of animals by themselves. I appreciate the adventure aspect of this, and I am sure it is a fun experience, but on a Botswana safari, having a good guide is everything, and I wholeheartedly recommend joining a guided safari rather than traveling independently.
Driving a 4×4 is only one of the skills a good guide on any Botswana safari should have. While this is an easy (well, sort of) enough skill to match for any traveler, there is no way that just anybody can be as trained as a guide into recognizing the signs of animals, knowing when and where to find them (and despite this, not finding them!), following their tracks, listening to their sounds, and explaining about their lives.
I was fortunate enough to have KD as my guide during my And Beyond safari when I went camping in Botswana, and he proved to be a great source of information, a fantastic leader and a great friend.
And so is a good car
A 4×4 vehicle is a requirement when driving around the bush in Botswana. Roads are little more than tracks on the uneven sandy terrain, and a day on the road means being bumped around. More importantly so, it is fundamental during a Botswana safari that the vehicle is functioning perfectly, and starts promptly when needed (in case running from a charging elephant is needed!).
It is a fully sensorial experience
Camping in Botswana means staying as close to nature as it gets. Driving around the bush in search of animals, sitting at the camp in the hottest hours of the day, or during the night, alert all human senses.
While camping in Botswana, seeing animals in their natural environment is only one of the experiences. Animals make their presence very clear also with their smell – either that of a putrefying carcass that is being eaten by a big cat; or that of elephant droppings (just to give an example).
The smell of the bush during a Botswana safari is very peculiar. It is a mixture of moist air, wild basil and savage, so unique that it stays with whoever ventures in the savana.
Yet, my favorite thing about camping in Botswana is actually hearing the animals. While on my Botswana safari, under the guidance of my excellent And Beyond guide, I learned to recognize the distinctive, deep sound that lions make – so loud that I was convinced the lion was close to the camp, though the guide explained that in fact, a lion calling can be heard for up to an 8 km radius.
Among other animals whose sound can be enjoyed while camping in Botswana are the baboons, who roam around the parks during the day; vervet monkeys, who live up in the trees and make themselves heard at sunrise and sunset; elephants, who can be heard sweeping the bush in search of their favorite leaves and grass; and hippos, who enjoy chit-chatting at night.
Animals do roam freely
Camps are typically set up in areas of the park deemed suitable by the park authorities; and are not fixed. One thing that those who intend to go camping in Botswana should know is that the camps are not enclosed. This means that animals can actually go near or even through the camp if they wish; and sure enough they do so.
While camping in Botswana, it is not uncommon for vervet monkeys to jump around the tents, or even on the tents, while they play in the early hours of the day. Occasionally, hyenas get close to the camp at night – I thought I heard one, one night, and sure enough the day after we found her prints. And once, when my group and I went back to the camp for lunch, we found an elephant peacefully grazing at a mere 5 meters from the tents.
It was all part of the experience of a Botswana safari, and sure enough I found it very entertaining!
But at times they simply don’t show up
One thing that has to be clear before going on a Botswana safari is that seeing animals should not be taken for granted. They show up when and where they want, and sure enough not by appointment. Yes, the chances of spotting all cats are very high; but some animals can be very skittish, and despite the best efforts to follow their tracks by the guides, at times they are impossible to find. One example? I heard hyenas by the camp one night; the guide recognized the prints and followed the tracks, yet we were unable to find them. It’s the bush, baby!
There’s less bugs than one would expect
It may be because I visited in May, so during Botswana winter, but camping in Botswana doesn’t have to be a gross experience in terms of bugs. Perhaps, I was well trained after visiting Costa Rica, where cockroaches are literally everywhere; but the worst I saw in Botswana was a massive group of bees flying near the camp one afternoon, making a heck of a noise but nothing more.
With regards to mosquitoes, malaria can be an issue in Botswana. Yet, doing a Botswana safari in the winter means that the chances of being bitten are much lower. In any case, good practices to protect oneself from mosquitoes (other than taking malaria prevention medications) are: wearing long sleeves and pants after sunset thus leaving as little exposed skin as possible; applying a mosquito repellent (better if with DEET) in the exposed areas.
All meals are al fresco
Camping in Botswana means eating all meals al fresco. Whether it is a earthy breakfast eaten at the crack of down, a midmorning coffee (real coffee, by the way, and not the terrible instant stuff!) and snack lunch in the bush while moving from the Chobe to the Okavango Delta, or dinner at the campsite, meals are a great time to socialize with other members of the group and of staff.
Don’t think sandwiches, salads, and anything quick and basic! And Beyond chefs manage to put together the most incredible meals, even when they have to cater to dietary needs, like my lactose intolerance. My favorite? Fresh bread, which was never missing. I certainly wasn’t expecting this when I decided to go camping in Botswana.
And so are the drinks
Who said that while camping in Botswana one is unable to have a good drink? Sure enough, I enjoy a good glass of wine (I went all the way to Stellenbosch, in South Africa, to have some). Needless to say, I truly enjoyed each and every drink I had while on my Botswana safari: sipping a glass of wine while admiring a sunset in the Okavango Delta, or while observing a bull elephant eat from a tree, is a priceless experience!
Nights are for star gazing
As there is no electricity and hardly any light, whenever the sky is clear, star gazing becomes a must when camping in Botswana. I admit that most of the time I was so exhausted from the exciting day, that I would crash moments after dinner. But the times I stayed up a little longer, I sure enjoyed the show!
There is no such thing as sleeping in
Even though they are meant to be holidays, forget about sleeping in during Botswana safaris. The best chances to see animals, especially cats, are early in the morning before they hide from the heat of the day. The typical day when camping in Botswana actually starts well before the sun rises.
It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable
Who said that camping in Botswana isn’t comfortable? And Beyond camps and tents are actually much better than most hotel rooms. Tents are so large that they fit a king size bed (or twin beds); there’s shelfs and a bed side tables (where the light is powered by solar charged batteries). There’s an outside bathroom area, with a bucket shower that is filled with water dragged from the river and warmed up; there’s a basin and, separate from this area, a flush toilet.
The nicest touch? A hot water bottle placed under the covers, to keep it warm against the cold night. One certainly wouldn’t expect this level of comforts and attention when camping in Botswana.
It is eco-friendly
One of the good things about camping in Botswana is that there’s hardly any footprint left. And Beyond camps are run in a fully environmentally friendly way: there is no electricity other than the dim light produced by solar charged batteries; all beauty products used are eco-friendly and biodegradable; water consumption is kept very low as there is no running water.
There is no phone reception, and no wi-fi
As an internet junkie, I must admit that the complete lack of phone reception and wi-fi when camping in Botswana is a welcome, and in fact blissful change. This is the time to put aside any work-related worry; to take that much needed nap in the middle of the afternoon; to go to bed early and actually talk to your neighbor at the dining table, instead of staring at the screen of a smartphone.
It’s a chance of making new friends
Speaking of talking at the dinner table, in fact simply taking any opportunity to talk to other members of the group, is one of the best things when on a Botswana safari. I was very fortunate to meet other like minded travelers, and we filled every moment with chats and anecdotes. On long days when we over-landed from one camp to the other, it distracted us from the bumpy road.
The average airport staff is an impala
Most of the transfers on a Botswana safari are on wheels. Flights are occasionally needed to move the the most remote parts of the country. However, do not think of airport, security checks and baggage allowance. Small (up to 12 seater) planes take off from airstrips in the middle of the bush. The only security check needed is done to make sure that there are no animals on the strip (impalas, warthogs, kudus and occasionally lions love hanging out there), so that the plane can land and then take off safely.
Tipping is recommended
Most Botswana safaris are all inclusive, so the only cash one needs is for tipping the staff. There are no ATMs in the bush (ahem!!), so make sure to carry enough change for the duration of the trip. Operators typically give recommendations on how much their crew should be tipped.
What to pack when camping in Botswana
I went camping in Botswana at the end of May, so my packing list is applicable to anybody traveling there in the winter. In general, I recommend keeping luggage to a minimum. There are no laundry services in the camps, but some basic washing (which will be necessary as it is very dusty!) can be done on a daily basis on the basins and using the ecological laundry soap provided.
Here’s what I recommend packing for a Botswana safari:
- 3 pairs of khaki pants. I wore my Kuhl Kliffside Air Cargo and my Kliffside Convertible pants. I also brought my Mova Zip pants, to wear during the night ie when having dinner.
- A pair of shorts. Mine are the Kontra.
- 4 cotton t-shirts, preferably in light colors. My favorites are Kuhl Tate, Inara and Sona.
- A couple of long sleeves shirts, to wear at night. I have Kuhl Trista Hoody and Alva Thermal. I also took my Kinsley Flanner.
- 2 sweaters, to wear at night and to layer up against the chill in the morning. I took my Lea Pullover and my Nova.
- A light yet warm jacket. I had the Firefly Hoody.
- A scarfand a hat, because it is really chilly in the morning.
- A good pair of walking shoes, and a pair of sandals or flip flops to rest your feet during the day.
- Eco-friendly toiletries and mosquito repellent
- A torch or headlight to go around the camp at night
- A good sunblock
- A day pack to carry a good camera – I shot with my Nikon D3300 – and all the necessary lenses. I recommend taking at least a 70-300 mm. I also took my iPhone with me, which I used to shoot short videos. Carrying binoculars may be a good idea, especially if you are into bird watching.
When To Go Camping In Botswana
I went on my Botswana safari in May, at the very beginning of winter in the Southern hemisphere, which goes from May to September. This is the dry season, when temperatures are mild during the day and it gets quite chilly at night. The good thing is that there are less mosquitoes; there’s much less chances of rain; and it is easier to spot wildlife around waterholes and rivers.
Getting To Botswana
Botswana has 3 main airports: Gaborone, the capital; Kasane, which is near the border with Zimbabwe; and Maun, which is in the Okavango region. All of them are international airports, but not intercontinental ones. Most people who go on Botswana holidays fly into Johannesburg and then take another flight to Kasane, which usually is the starting point for safaris.
There are various border posts between Botswana and Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, which typically open between 6:00 and 8:00 am and close between 4:00 and 6:00 pm, with some of them closing a bit later.
People holding passports from Australia, the United States, Canada and one of the countries of the European Union can get a visa on arrival.
Have you ever been camping in Botswana? What did you like the most about it?