There are many places to see wildlife in Botswana. Rumor has it that this is one of the best countries on the continent to observe animals in their natural environment, and to do so in a completely responsible manner. I was curious about it, but knew nothing about this country nestled between Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
People who had been to Southern Africa before me suggested that I should visit Botswana. It made sense to insert it in my itinerary, since I would be going to South Africa and to Namibia already. I did a bit of research then, and that’s how I concluded that my friends were right: Botswana national parks looked like the perfect places to see Botswana wildlife, and I surely was up for that. That’s why I went camping in Botswana.
To read more about my experience camping in Botswana, check this post.
Is Botswana The Ultimate Ecotourism Destination?
But you know me. For as interested as I may be in Botswana animals, I tend to be wary when animals are involved in the tourism industry. I am afraid that they may be exploited or that they may be endangered, just for the sake of my entertainment, much like I saw happening in some places in India and Sri Lanka. Rather than be the cause of animals’ suffering, I’d go out of my way to seek alternative places where I can see animals in a responsible way (so I went all the way to Gal Oya, in Sri Lanka, to see elephants).
Read more about the use of animals in tourist attractions on this post.
Upon further readings, I learned that the local authorities in Botswana have been making a serious commitment to protect and conserve the country’s natural environment and its wildlife. This is a country that has been successfully implementing anti-poaching measures, where trophy hunting has been completely banned, and where a whopping 38% of the territory is protected. Botswana national parks are many, they are huge and Botswana wildlife is thriving.
Ecotourism is the second biggest source of revenue in Botswana. Ecotourism attracts increasing numbers of travelers to Botswana each year. This kind of approach to tourism has been so successful there, that the country went from being one of the poorest in Africa, to having a growing middle class and an ever increasing GDP. All the more reasons for me to visit Botswana.
Joining A Wilderness Safari in Botswana
So, I decided I’d go on a wilderness safari in Botswana. The safari I went on was my first ever. This is to say, I do have a limited experience in Africa. But I doubt that it can get any better than that. Because really, I saw many more animals than I had hoped for! Visiting Botswana national parks and going on a safari with And Beyond was an incredible experience.
I spent 9 full days traveling across the country – mostly overland, but I also took a couple of those tiny planes to reach the most remote places to visit in Botswana. Trying to write down my experience isn’t easy, because for as many words as I may use, there’s certain things that simply don’t translate well on paper, things that are too amazing for me to express properly.
Words simply can’t describe how thrilling it is to hear lions call in the middle of the night; or what it is to listen to a hyena walk around the campsite, calling. For as much as I write, I will never be able to explain what the air feels and smells like in Botswana – the mixture of bush, wild basil and sage, and the smell of the carcass of an animal that’s been killed a few days prior. Words can hardly describe the starry sky, or the thrill when spotting a leopard for the first time. One really has to visit Botswana to understand!
One thing is for sure, though: I will do my best to show the beauty of the country and all that it has to offer. This post will focus on the top places to see wildlife in Botswana, with a few insights on the animals that are typically spotted.
Where To See Wildlife In Botswana
Chobe National Park
Chobe is the third biggest of Botswana national parks, but the one that is most biologically diverse. The Chobe river marks the border between Botswana and Namibia on the north, on what is known to be Namibia Caprivi Strip. Among the species to be seen in Chobe there are: crocodiles, hippos, elephants, impalas and kudus, spotted hyenas, lions, leopards and cheetahs. No doubt this is one of the nicest places to see wildlife in Botswana.
Botswana wildlife in Chobe
Chobe may not be the biggest among Botswana national parks, but it’s the first that the country ever recognized, and it definitely is one of the best places to see wildlife in Botswana, hence why I recommend doing a safari in Chobe. It was the first stop on my Botswana itinerary – I arrived from Kasane, after crossing the border from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and had I stopped right there, I would have still been pleased with my trip.
My exploration of Chobe started with a boat ride on the river. The slow moving boat proved to be an excellent vantage point to admire some of the best Botswana wildlife. On any given day, along the Chobe, a great variety of animals can be spotted. The bird life along the river is thriving; and it’s easy to come across crocodiles laying in the sun. But there’s more.
There’s many hippos on the Chobe, though during the day they typically lay under the surface of the water, only their ears, eyes and nose sticking out, and only come out of water at night. They make the funniest of sounds – almost pig-like. It’s interesting to know that these seemingly peaceful animals are actually quite aggressive and among the most dangerous wildlife in Botswana (actually, they are among the most dangerous animals in Africa, killing each year an average of 2900 people).
Yet, one of the most impressive Botswana animals sighting in Chobe is elephants. There are so many that it is easy to see why this is thought to be the best of Botswana national parks. These are truly impressive creatures, not only for their size (they are the biggest mammal on land) but also for their very interesting social structures.
Elephants can be spotted at any time of day living either in large groups – females and the cubs; small bachelor groups; or lone males. They are generally peaceful, though it can happen that, if they feel threatened, they charge against a jeep. Elephants love and need water – that’s why Chobe is a great place to spot this and other wildlife in Botswana.
Indeed, elephants can be seen pretty much in any place where there is water. Along the banks of the Chobe, they can be seen drinking and, more interestingly so, bathing – either rolling on the mud and then getting in the water, or walking along the river in and out of the water. Seeing them in large groups, playing, eating and drinking is impressive.
As if this is not enough to make Chobe one of the top Botswana national parks, there’s other species that can be seen in the area. Antelopes such as impalas and kudus are common; there’s buffalos and then there’s the lions.
Lions definitely are among the most impressive wildlife in Botswana. These big cats are night creatures. That’s when they go hunting, or roam around, roaring: this is a way to mark their territory by signaling their presence. Their very deep call can be heard for up to an 8 km radius. Hearing their call in the middle of the night is a thrilling experience. The best time to actually see lions is either in the early morning hours, before they look for a spot in the shade to rest and stay away from the heat, or right around sunset, before they set to hunt.
If lions have a prey that they have been feeding on for a day or more, the smell in the air is quite distinctive – that of rotting meat. If the meat is rotting, chances are there will be more Botswana animals around, typically scavengers such as hyenas, but also jackals and vultures.
Savute (Chobe National Park)
Savute is a remote corner of Chobe, going from the northern boundaries of the park to the Linyanti river. Here, the Savute Channel flows and dries up regardless of rainfall. What makes Savute one of the top places to see wildlife in Botswana is the variety of animals to be seen. Here, there’s lions and hyenas, but there’s also massive, old bull elephants, giraffes and thousands of zebra.
Botswana wildlife in Savute
Savute is actually a part of Chobe, one of the top Botswana national parks, and a great place to see Botswana wildlife. For around 30 years the area was mostly dry – to the point that animals were sustained by artificial waterholes and lions resolved to hunting elephants (which they wouldn’t normally do!). However, in the last few years the Savute Channel has started flowing again: the nature is as lush as it could be here, and there are a lot of animals, to the point that it is thought to be wilderness heaven.
Aside from the many lone elephant bulls that are easy to come across in this part of Chobe; there’s various lion prides, a result of the split of the larger prides that used to live in the area during the dry years. But lions are not the only Botswana wildlife that can be spotted in Savute.
Indeed, Savute now proves to be one of the nicest places to visit in Botswana to spot zebra, who come here during their annual migration in the rainy season, between January and February, and can be seen roaming around at any time of day. There’s also large amounts of wildebeest, impalas, kudu, buffalos, lots of birdlife such as the kori bustards and the large batelieur eagle, and there’s the beautiful giraffes.
Giraffes can reach 5 meters in height, and they are among the most beautiful wildlife in Botswana. I saw my first one in Savute. Seeing their heads peak through the thick vegetation (by the way, those that most people think are horns are actually part of the skull and not made by keratin); observing them walking ever so slowly; admiring them while they graze on the tallest branches and watching them bending down to drink from the river is a fabulous experience. Giraffes can be spotted at any time of day.
Yet, it is big cats that I find the most attractive and one of the reasons I am glad that Savute was included in my Botswana itinerary with And Beyond is that this part of Chobe has quite a bit of them. Here it is possible to admire leopards: I saw a female one, who was up on a tree feasting on an impala (that’s the typical diet of leopards), and her cub, who later on joined the party. Much like lions, leopards are night creatures: hunting at night, resting in the shade, in the bushes or up a tree, during the warmest hours of the day.
But that isn’t all. Savute is also home to cheetahs, some of the most amazing wildlife in Botswana, the fastest animals on earth. Cheetahs are solitary animals. Females can typically be seen with their cubs; whereas when there’s two of them, these are typically male brothers. Contrary to other large cats, cheetahs don’t have night vision, and thus hunt during the day. The thick dark tear marks actually to protect them from the glare of the sun when they are out hunting.
The fact that cheetahs are day hunters doesn’t mean that they can be easily seen hunting. Much like other felines, they tend to hide from the sun during the warmest hours of the day, at most browsing around to see if there’s a prey in the vicinity. It’s easier to see them move around towards sunset. I suppose that the beauty of observing wildlife in Botswana is also knowing that animals live according to their rhythm!
Cheetahs are also observed in South Africa, especially at Phinda Game Reserve. To read more about it, check out this post.
Moremi Game Reserve (Okavango Delta)
Moremi Game Reserve is the only proclaimed reserve located on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta, and it is one of the nicest places to visit in Botswana. Here, the vegetation is rather thick and the presence of water (only 30% of the reserve is actually on land, most of it actually within the Okavango Delta, composed of lagoons, floodplains and islands) makes it a great place to observe wildlife in Botswana. Animals that can be spotted at Moremi include lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, zebra and much more.
Botswana wildlife in Moremi Game Reserve
The Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world, is one of the most amazing places in the world – so unique that is has been enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is by far one of the top places to see wildlife in Botswana. Known as “the river that never finds the sea,” Okavango is unique for it sinks into the Kalahari Desert, creating a series of oasis, floodplains, lagoons and small islands that are the perfect habitat for Botswana wildlife.
Moremi Game Reserve makes up for about a third of the Okavango Delta. Among Botswana national parks, this is an area of incredible contrasts: dry areas leave way to tall palm trees and permanent waterways to create a fantastic environment for Botswana wildlife. One can really appreciate these contrasts and the presence of animals on board of a small tourist plane. Needless to say, the views from the sky are fantastic.
This is one of the best places to visit in Botswana to spot hippos. There are several observation points from where it is possible to admire these huge animals as they play in the water while being very vocal and, once the sun sets, get out to feed, leaving their marks on the wet land. Accompanying the sound of hippos there’s also that of the many frogs that populate the region: bell frogs produce a constant, delicate and relaxing bell-like sound.
Other wildlife in Botswana that is best spotted at Moremi is large groups of elephants, especially bachelor heads or lone bachelors. With so much water year round, at Moremi it’s easy to find places where these majestic mammals stop to eat their favorite grass throughout the day, ripping it off the ground and shaking it intensely to clean it off earth before eating it. Just as it is not uncommon for them to get close to the campsites as they eat their way around the bush.
Giraffes are quite easy to spot at Moremi, making it one of the nicest Botswana national parks for that. Lions, spotted hyenas, cheetahs and leopards, as well as wild dogs live in the area too. I was not so lucky to see any during my two days in the area, but that’s part of the beauty of visiting a country where animals are protected.
Indeed, those who plan to visit Botswana should be aware that though wildlife in Botswana is easy to come across, animals won’t be chased or put under stress just so that visitors can leave the country with a full portfolio of pictures.
Last, but definitely not least, Moremi Game Reserve is birdwatchers’ paradise: around 500 species of birds live in the area, from water birds to forest dwellers. One more reason to include it among the top Botswana national parks.
Nxabega Concession (Okavango Delta)
The Nxabega Concession is a small area located at the center of the south-western area of the Okavango Delta. It’s one of the best places to see wildlife in Botswana, and the presence of open floodplains makes it a wonderful place to explore on boat. The area is rich with lion prides, leopards and cheetahs, as well as wild dogs.
Botswana wildlife in Nxabega Concession
Nxabega may well be one of the nicest places to visit in Botswana. Floodplains are typically flooded between May and September, and they are dotted with small islands that are fun to travel across on a mokoro boat (one of the traditional modes of transportation in the region) – this is a great way to observe elephants from a different point of view, as well as other small animals, like tiny frogs hanging on grass in the water.
Waterways are lined with miscanthus grass and papyrus; water lilies can be seen on the clear waters, and a sunset boat ride along them is an excellent opportunity not only to enjoy the beautiful light at that time of day, but also to admire some of the most unique bird species in the country. It’s easy to see why Nxabega is one of the nicest places to visit in Botswana.
Among the Botswana wildlife that it is possible to come across in Nxabega, there are giraffes and zebras, elephants, hippos (whose loud sounds provide great company at night), impalas and kudus, wildebeest, baboons and vervet monkeys (who love hanging out around the tented camps and causing a bit of a commotion especially around sunrise). As in other parts of the country, there’s several bird species too.
However, what makes Nxabega one of the top places to admire wildlife in Botswana is the presence of several lion prides, hyenas, leopards and even wild dogs. Leopards and their cubs can be seen feeding on impalas right under or up a tree at sunset time; female lions face a challenge to protect their cubs from the spotted hyenas that roam around the area; and male lions make their presence loud and clear at night with their roars.
Yet, the cherry on the cake at Nxabega is seeing one of the most endangered species in the world: wild dogs. These animals live in small prides (typically a female and two males, and sometimes their puppies) and are some of the fiercest hunters in Africa, managing to run very fast for a long time when they are chasing their preys and literally biting them off while they are still running. They are absolutely fascinating animals. It was one of my best spotting of wildlife in Botswana, one I wasn’t even hoping for!
Best Time To Go To Botswana
I visited Botswana in May, when I did a 9 days / 8 nights mobile safari with And Beyond. The best time to go to Botswana is between May and September, during Botswana winter. This is the dry season: the temperatures are milder during the day (it is chilly at night, though, so pack some warm clothes); there’s less mosquitoes (and thus there’s a much lesser risk of getting malaria); rain is rare; and the sky is mostly clear. Dry weather also means that it is much easier to spot Botswana wildlife around the waterholes and rivers.
Most people visit Botswana during the dry season, but Botswana national parks are so vast that they never feel crowded. The only one where there may be more visitors is Chobe.
How To Visit Botswana
I went to Botswana on a guided safari with And Beyond, and I am glad I did so. Though it is possible to go on a self-drive, renting a 4×4 and sleeping in assigned camping areas within Botswana national parks, this is a country where having a good guide does make a difference. My And Beyond guide, KD, made the difference during my safari, so knowledgeable he is about Botswana wildlife.
Guides typically know where to find wildlife in Botswana; they can recognize the sounds they make and where they are coming from; they know how to follow animal tracks and they communicate among each other via radio to give tips and clues on animal sightings; they know their way around and provide reliable safety advice too. Those who plan to visit Botswana are better off investing a bit more money to join a guided safari and get more out of their time there.
How To Get To Botswana
The 3 main airports in Botswana are those of Gaborone, the capital; Kasane, near the border with Zimbabwe, and Maun, in the Okavango region. Although all of them are international airports, they only offer flights to other African countries. Those who want to visit Botswana typically fly through Johannesburg, where they may have a long layover.
Check out my post on the things to do in Johannesburg on a layover.
People holding passports from one of the countries of the European Union, Australian, the United States and Canada can get a visa on arrival when they visit Botswana.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of And Beyond during my trip to Botswana, and I wish to thank them for the incredible experience. Needless to say, all the views expressed in this post are mine and unbiased.