A supreme safari destination where vast desert meets lush delta, Botswana is full to the brim with bucket-list landscapes and stop-and-stare scenery. From national parks where the wildlife will win your heart to surreal salt pans where you can slumber by starlight, landscapes in Botswana are once-in-a-lifetime wonders – until you plan your return visit, that is (it might be hard to resist). Read on for our round up of the most picturesque places in this gem of a country.
If elephants are top of your must-see list when planning a safari, Chobe National Park will deliver in droves. This remarkable park is home to a population of more than 50,000 (some estimates put the total closer to 120,000), which is the highest concentration of elephants anywhere in Africa. These majestic creatures live here all year round, enjoying the plentiful water and food provided by the Chobe River. But from late May to mid-November, when many of the surrounding water holes dry up, even more animals are drawn to the river, making the spectacle extra-special in summer. For a unique safari experience, take a river cruise to get up close with bathing elephants, basking hippos and crocodiles sunbathing on the sandy banks (cameras at the ready for some exceptionally epic shots). And while this wild habitat is best known for its elephants, it’s also home to big cats, giraffes, zebras and buffaloes. So, safari first-timers can soon tick off a long list of legendary beasts. The less-remote location of Chobe makes it easily accessible (and busier) than other national parks, but it’s an ideal introduction to the natural beauty of landscapes in Botswana.
As bucket list experiences go, sleeping in the open air beneath a blanket of stars is a popular pick. And in Botswana, there’s one place where that starlit snooze is spectacularly scenic. The Makgadikgadi Pans are a textbook location for stargazing: zero light pollution, an expansive desert setting devoid of distractions and no wildlife to worry about (during the dry season animals aren’t attracted to the arid salt pan). It’s just you, your sleeping bag and the Milky Way – with not even the canvas of a tent between you and the celestial show. During the daytime, the pans are a place of stark beauty, glistening with salt crystals as far as the eye can see. At the edge of the salt pan, the grasslands are home to a colony of wild meerkats, who are accustomed to human company. Spend an hour observing these curious creatures who are lucky enough to live in one of the most captivating landscapes in Botswana. Then it’s back on your quad bike to explore more of the lunar-like scenery.
This UNESCO-listed landscape is known as ‘the Louvre of the desert’. That name seems particularly apt when you consider that the Tsodilo Hills are home to more rock art than anywhere else in the world. Over 4,500 paintings by Botswana’s indigenous San people are preserved here, documenting human life as far back as 100,000 years ago. There are four main hills, each with their own mesmerising medley of red, finger-painted forms, including animals, human figures and geometric shapes. Explore alongside a local guide, who will share the secrets of this sacred site as you follow the walking trails through the ancient, open-air galleries. Rising majestically from the flat Kalahari Desert, these hills are the highest point in Botswana. And at sunset, the cliffs glow gorgeously in the golden light; a spectacle seen for miles around that the locals lovingly call ‘the Copper Bracelet of the Evening’.
Africa’s second-largest reserve, comprising almost 70% of the country, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of the best-loved landscapes in Botswana. At the heart of the Kalahari Desert, it’s a vast vision of ancient river valleys, gorgeous grassland, shimmering salt pans and big, big skies. Both its size and its sparse population make the reserve feel delightfully remote. And wildlife-wise, you won’t be disappointed. Black-maned Kalahari lions are the star attraction, along with leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs. The vastness of the region (for perspective, it’s bigger than the Netherlands) means you might have to wait a little longer when creature counting, as the reserve is less densely populated. However, your patience will pay off when one of the local inhabitants prowls past your camera lens. There’s no denying it’s a stunning spot to savour the desert silence and wow-factor wilderness.
Picture the scene. You’re serenely sailing through a pristine waterway in the comfort of a mokoro, a traditional Botswanan canoe. The setting is the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’, or the Okavango Delta – the world’s largest inland delta, where a labyrinth of channels and lagoons cover more than 7,000 square miles. From your position on the water, you might spot elephants splashing in the shallows, lions swimming from island to island and more than 500 species of birds swooping overhead. This watery wonderland is one of the more extraordinary landscapes in Botswana, a lush sanctuary for the superstars of any safari including the Big Five.