Botswana

Botswana is the success story of African independence. Since being granted independence in 1966, Botswana has been the only African country to enjoy a continuous, multi-party, democratic existence. Crime rates are low and the population appears, on the whole, to be happy.

What is now Botswana was for centuries contested by indigenous San and Bantu groups, including the Tswana people after whom the country is named. However, during the 19th Century, Zulus and Boers invaded various parts of the territory, along with many British Missionaries, including Dr David Livingstone. The newly converted indigenous leaders asked Britain to protect them from these invaders, leading to the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, which was home for several years to British über-colonialist, Cecil Rhodes. British dominion continued until after WWII, when Botswana’s natives began to seek independence.

Botswana is a flat, landlocked country dominated by the Kalahari Desert. This does not, however, stop it from being very diverse in terms of flora and fauna. As per neighbouring Namibia, diamond mining is vital to Botswana’s economy, although the country is also very friendly to tourists.

Language

English is the official language of Botswana. The major indigenous language is Setswana.

(Locals appreciate tourists who can manage greetings in Setswana: dumela means hello (you say dumela rra to a man; dumela mma to a woman); Ke itumetse means thank you; Sala sentle roughly means have a good day.)

Currency

Batswana pula (BWP):100thebe. (Pula means rain; thebe means shield). GBP1.00:BWP11.55. USD1.00 : BWP6.08. Note: the South African rand is accepted for almost all transactions in Botswana – although the pula is not accepted in South Africa.

Weather

Botswana is predominantly an arid country. In the summer months (November-March), temperatures can reach 40°C, with very high humidity in the north-east of the country. During winter (May-August), temperatures average around 25°C, but can drop to below zero at night, with frost common in the northern humid region.

The summer also enjoys the ' pula season' – in which precious rain falls on Botswana, a rain so precious that they named their currency after it. Thunderstorms and showers generally fall in the mid- to late afternoon.

Attractions

Forty years ago, Botswana's capital, Gaborone, was little more than a village. Now it is a fairly vibrant city – although perhaps not up to Western standards. Among the visitor attractions are the National Museum and Art Gallery, Orapa House, where the nation’s diamond reserve is kept, and the Gaborone and Mokolodi Game Reserves.

Botswana boasts a large number of other game reserve, includng the Chobe National Park, the Khutse Game Reserve, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the Sua Pan, the Makgadikgadi, and others. The most spectacular place in which you can observe wildlife, however, is in the verdant Okavango Delta.

Situated near Maun, the Okavango is teeming with life, including elephants, hippos, giraffes, buffalo, crocodiles, lions, monkeys and much, much more. Best of all, one can canoe through the Okavango on board a local punt-like craft, the makoro, and hop off for a walking safari. The Moremi Reserve, which lies to the north of the Okavango Delta, is thought to be Botswana's most beautiful game reserve.

Shopping

Traditional bush arts and crafts abound throughout Botswana, particularly near Ghanzi in the east of the country. Also recommended are the traditional baskets of the Okavango Delta. The major towns will supply most other goods – although these are often imported from, and therefore more expensive than in, South Africa.

Nightlife

If you want to go out in Gaborone, then the Bull & Bush and O’Hagan’s, the Irish pub, come as the recommended watering holes, with Satchmo’s proving to be a popular late night jazz club.

Outside of Gaborone, there is little to do in Botswana, although the Cresta Thapama Hotel in Francistown, has, like the Sun Hotel in Gaborone itself, a popular. The best place to drink in Maun is at Riley’s Hotel.

Driving

Drivers are required to have an international driving permit for their first sixth months’ driving in Botswana. If you stay for longer, you need a domestic license. Traffic drives on the left. Speed limits, unless otherwise stated, are 37km/h in built-up areas, 75km/h outside built-up areas, and 120km/h on open roads. Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Drink-driving is illegal; the limit is 0.08g/100ml. Many road surfaces are gravel; four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Avoid driving out of town at night, since wildlife tends to stray on to the roads. Since Botswana has a low crime rate (though it is not perfect), you can park safely on the roadside, but most hotels also offer secure overnight parking.

Food and Drink

Gaborone offers all sorts of international cuisine, including Indian (Taj), Chinese (Mandarin), French (Le Bougainville), Italian (Da Alfredo) and fast food. Other recommended eateries include Reflections, La Pergola and Kgotla. Elsewhere, good restaurants are rare – although one can enjoy a traditional Batswana meal at Riley's in Maun.

Traditional Batswana food consists of sorghum, a maize dish called shadza, and various game meats. A wide range of fruit and vegetables are in plentiful supply. Note that in Botswana it is considered rude to sniff one's food. Although locals are used to Western ways now, it is thought that to do so is to suggest that the food has gone off.

Local beers include Castle, Black Label and Lion. Traditional Batswana drinks, such as kgadi are also readily available, as are South African wines. Botswana's water supply is safe to drink, except where otherwise stated.

Tourist Information

Tourism of Botswanawww.botswana-tourism.gov.bw

Department of Tourism, GaboroneT: +267 353-024Department of Wildlife and National ParksT: +267 371-405Hotel & Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB)T: +267 357-144

All car hire locations in Botswana