Eco-Friendly Luxury in Botswana

 

Elephant spotting via mokoro
Elephant spotting via mokoro (canoe) in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

 

Safari fans should make a point of visiting Botswana, which has invested heavily in both developing high-end game reserves with luxury camps and in preserving the country’s wilderness and natural resources. 

The primary tourism regions have unpaved roads and little of the tourism infrastructure that is common to self-drive destinations. In addition, virtually all parks and game reserves are unfenced, so animals roam freely across these wilderness areas. 

And while the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari will always be popular attractions, Botswana is looking to promote some hidden gems as well. For example, the Makgadikgadi Pans in central Botswana are a prime viewing spot to watch zebra and wildebeest migrations or go walking among meerkats. Horseback and quad-bike safaris are preferred favorites, and outdoorsy types can go camping at Kubu Island

The Northern Tuli Game Reserve has some very impressive landscapes; a great variety of fauna; and a number of historical, cultural and natural history attractions. Mountain cycling, hiking, horseback riding and cultural activities can all be arranged here.

Agent Advice

Yvette De Vries, senior tour consultant for African Portfolio, says that most visitors to Botswana go for the camps and the wildlife, but there are plenty of hidden gems worth exploring too.

“Tuli Block, which is accessible from South Africa, [is] a beautiful area for game viewing.” (Keep an eye out for black-maned lions.)

A visit to the Chobe River is a must, De Vries says. “It’s a great destination for seeing elephants, and the boat cruises are some of the best game-viewing you’ll ever have.”

Another must? “Stay anywhere that offers sleepouts,” she says, referring to the outdoor sleeping facilities that some camps—such as Jao’s—offer.

 

New Hotels

Ta Shebube is scheduled to open three properties in Botswana this year. Rooiputs, a luxury desert camp along the Nossob River Valley on the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, comprises 11 thatched chalets (including one for families and one—with an outdoor bathtub—that is ideal for honeymooners). Chalets have a main sleeping area, a sitting area, en-suite bathrooms with his-and-hers sinks, outside showers and a large verandah. The open-fronted main lodge has a lounge (with a bar and dining area), a library, a plunge pool, and a Boma for preparing meals. 

Polentswa, another Ta Shebube property, has eight tents (and like Rooiputs, there is one for families and one with an outdoor bath) on wooden platforms with private verandahs and outdoor showers. Tents have a main sleeping area, a sitting area and en-suite bathroom. The open-fronted main building, which overlooks the Polentswa Pan with its waterhole and game, has the same amenities as Rooiputs. 

Union’s End, the company’s third camp, offers six tents with verandahs and a sleeping area, as well as a small sitting area, en-suite bathroom and an outside shower. 

Going Green

Botswana’s government is taking steps to preserve the country’s natural resources, wildlife, and cultural heritage through the National Ecotourism Strategy and the Botswana Ecotourism Certification System, a voluntary, tourism industry-wide program run by Botswana Tourism Organisation. The Certification System, which outlines more than 240 performance standards, is designed to encourage and support responsible environmental, social, and cultural behavior by tourism businesses. 

The three-tier system begins with “Green” certification and continues through “Green +” level and finally to the “Ecotourism” level of certification. This highest level of certification looks at a wide range of ecotourism efforts, including involvement with local communities in tourism development, nature conservation, environment management and interpretation of the surrounding environment to the guest. 

Botswana has 15 eco-certified camps and lodges, 12 of which have attained “Ecotourism” status.

While there is no nonstop or direct service between North America and Botswana—and, we hear, no plans to develop any—getting to Botswana from the U.S. or Canada is not hard. South African Airways offers daily service from Washington, D.C. and New York City to Botswana via its hub in Johannesburg, South Africa. South African Express flies between Johannesburg and Gaborone, and SA Airlink flies between Johannesburg and Maun. Beginning late March, Airlink will also fly between Johannesburg and Kasane. Delta Airlines also offers direct service into Johannesburg from Atlanta and New York.

The national airline, Air Botswana, provides international air services into Botswana (Gaborone, Kasane, Maun and Francistown) from Harare (Zimbabwe) and Johannesburg, and has recently launched nonstop flights between Maun and Cape Town.

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