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The Safari Experience

A safari in Botswana is a magical experience. A feeling of extraordinary connectedness with Nature often occurs on safari -- a perfect blend of stunning and pristine landscapes, sky and water, the staggering abundance of wildlife that roams freely across the land... and you in the middle of it all.

Whether you choose to safari by boat, on foot, in an open rugged 4WD, on the back of a horse or an elephant, or maybe even a combination of these experiences, we want you to have an exciting, memorable, and most of all... safe... adventure of a lifetime -- again and again!

Keep these helpful suggestions and tips in mind when planning your safari experience


Best Times to Go on Safari

April through early November offer the best times to view large numbers of animals as they migrate towards the waterways of the Okavango Delta. It is during this dry season period that the big game, wildlife and birds congregate around water sources - the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams - and are at their most visible.

But Botswana is truly a year-round tourist destination. The landscapes change dramatically with the seasons, and wildlife roams freely across the game reserves and parks, providing unique safari experiences year-round.

November and December - the calving months - are an excellent time to witness nature's own timetable of regeneration.

December through February/March is the wet summer season. Temperatures during these months can be quite hot and rain may make some roads muddy and impassable. During the rainy summer season, animals in many game areas disperse, offering a different safari experience for the visitor.

The wet season, from January to March, sees the migration of large numbers of game into the summer grazing areas, while the delta comes alive with sounds of hundreds of bird species.

In March and April thousands of zebras and other animals migrate towards the Savuti area of Chobe National Park.


What to Bring

Clothing
Dress is casual in Botswana. Shorts and trousers are permissible for women. Most hotels have swimming pools, so remember to bring a bathing suit.
In summer, lightweight, light-colored cottons or materials that wick away moisture are preferable.

Avoid synthetic materials and black clothing, as they increase perspiration and discomfort.

In winter, bring a pair of trousers, long-sleeved shirts or blouses and pullovers. Make sure you have a very warm jacket for early mornings and evenings - it does get surprisingly cold at night but warms up during the day.

Particularly on safaris, wear neutral colors that allow you to blend in with the landscape and make you less visible to the wildlife.
It is always a good idea to bring a lightweight jacket and/or sweater for unexpected temperature changes. A lightweight packable rain poncho or umbrella is handy in the summer rainy season.

Footwear
Comfortable walking shoes are a must; supplement with sandals or flip-flops.

Sun protection
Special attention should be given to protecting yourself from the sun, particularly in the summer when the sun can be scorching. Bring sunhat, sunscreen, after-sun lotion and sunglasses.

Miscellaneous
Binoculars, camera, flashlight (with plenty of spare batteries and bulbs), water bottle, insect repellent, lip salve, sewing kit, safety-pins, and tweezers are all very useful. A basic first-aid kit is a must, as in many instances you will be traveling to areas far from health facilities. Camera film is available at most shops and petrol stations. Cosmetics, medications, cigarettes and imported liquors are all available in the major towns.


Self-Drive Camping

Most people choose to have a professional, experienced safari operator handle all the details of their safari trip. But if you're an intrepid traveler and self-drive camping enthusiast, you will be delighted with self-drive camping in Botswana - it is truly a campers' paradise.

Embarking on a camping trip into the bush requires a good deal of planning and preparation. You will be going to remote areas, accessible only by four-wheel drive, where water, petrol, or food, may not be available. You will often be driving on rough roads and under conditions which are very different from those you may be used to.

Centralized Pay Points
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks no longer accepts payment of park fees at the entrance gates of all national parks and game reserves. Instead, visitors may pay park fees on advance at centralized pay points for Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Khutse Game Reserve, and Kalahari Transfrontier Park as follows:

· Gaborone, Tsabong, Ghanzi, Kang, Letlhakane, and Francistown Wildlife Offices which are open from 0730 to1630 hrs (7:30 am - 4:30 pm) and are closed during lunch hour (1245 to 1345 / 12:45-1:45 pm), weekends and holidays.

· Maun Reservations Office which operates from 0730 to1630 hrs (7:30 am - 4:30 pm) Monday through Saturday; 0730-1200 hrs (7:30 am-noon) Sunday; and is open throughout the year except Christmas Day (December 25).

According to The Department of Wildlife and National Parks, as of April 2009 fee payments are still permitted at Sedudu Entrance Gate (Chobe National Park) and Two Rivers (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) and these offices operate within Park opening and closing times throughout the year.

Park and Game Reserve visitors have two payment options: cash or credit card. Visa and MasterCard are accepted all centralized payment points noted above and at Sedudu Entrance Gate (Chobe National Park). Sorry, but Diners Card and American Express cards are not accepted. Cash payment only is accepted at Two Rivers park entrance.

For the most current payments information, please contact The Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Telephone: +(267) 3971405 / 3180774 or Fax: +(267) 3912354 / 3932205.

Credit Card machines have also been installed at these offices where tourists have an option of paying using Visa and MasterCard credit cards. Sorry, but Diners Card and American Express cards are not accepted. Preparations are ongoing to install another Point of Sales machine in Tsabong.

Provision of this service will in the near future lead to reduction of cash collection at Park Entry Gates of all our National Parks and Game Reserves. The system will enhance the Department of Wildlife & National Parks endeavor to improve customer satisfaction and efficient service delivery since campers will no longer have to carry large amounts of cash into our National Parks and Game Reserves.

As a general guideline self-drive campers are advised as follows;

  • Visitors to Kalahari Transfrontier Park can pay at Kang Wildlife office and Tsabong (once the machine has been installed).
  • Visitors to Central Kalahari and Khutse Game Reserves can pay in Kang, Gaborone, Letlhakane and Ghanzi Wildlife offices.
  • Visitors to Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks can pay in Gaborone, Francistown, Letlhakane, Maun and Kasane Wildlife offices.

Camping checklist
Camping gear - Tent, sleeping bag, extra blankets and jackets (in winter), camp-beds (if you find them more comfortable than sleeping on sand), axe, shovel, cooker, water bottles, pots, non-breakable dishes and cups, torches, matches, tin-opener, knife, batteries, bulbs for torches (a good supply), candles, gas lamp (gives lots of light), folding tables and chairs, a large cold-box, masking tape, cello tape, safety-pins, sewing kit, penknife, first-aid kit, buckets and basins, Thermos flask, mosquito coil and insect repellent, toilet paper and basic tools.

Keep your maps, bird and animal identification books, flashlights, toilet paper, binoculars, and camera within easy reach. Pack everything evenly, so as not to weigh down one side of the vehicle more than the other. Balance is important on sand roads where ruts may cause the vehicle to swerve around.

Food
All necessary food for your camping trip can be acquired from major towns and villages. Make sure that you bring more than you think you will use. Fresh produce or meats will last three to four days in a insulated cooler in summer, and a week or more in winter. Canned food is most practical, supplemented with fresh vegetables and fruits. Use plastic rather than glass containers.
If you have time, prepare two to four one-pot meals before departing. You will be grateful for having only to heat and serve a meal after long hours of driving and setting up camp.

Water
If you are traveling to Kutse Game Reserve, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans or other dry remote areas, carry at least 100 litres. In the Tuli, Okavango and Chobe areas, water is readily available. However, it is best to carry between 50 and 100 litres of drinking water with you. Remember to keep some water at hand in the car to avoid having to get out while on game drives.

Petrol
In the eastern part of the country and along the main roads, petrol is always available. However, in the remote areas, petrol stations sometimes run out of supplies, and there are no petrol stations in or at the entrance to the parks and reserves.
It is worthwhile taking the following precautions: estimate distances to be traveled, add on extra for four-wheel drive usage and extra for driving in the sand; add on extra again for game drives, and the possibility of getting lost - over-estimate, rather than under-estimate.

Carry at least 100 to 150 litres of petrol in long-range tanks, if you have them, or in approved-use gasoline cans (never use plastic containers). If you do not have a long-range tank, use a funnel or hand-pump to put petrol into the tank. Mouth siphoning petrol through a hosepipe can be highly dangerous.

Spare Car Parts
If you are going for a drive with 4WD, it is wise to take with you: two spare tires, spark plugs, jump leads, tow rope and cable, a few litres of oil, insulated wire, electrician's tape, lamp, fire extinguisher, wheel spanner and a complete tool-kit.


Driving Tips

Maneuvering the gravel roads and sand tracks of Botswana certainly requires some practice. Awareness of the common pitfalls - and what to do about them - can be of great help.

Driving on Gravel
Many people tend to over-estimate the speed they can travel on gravel roads. Do not exceed 80kph (50mph). You may be deceived by a good section of road, only to come up against a huge crater-like pothole, a rock, a boulder, a patch of heavy sand, or an animal. Wherever you are, always be on the lookout for domestic or wild animals suddenly darting across the road.

The dust raised by an on-coming vehicle, an over-taking vehicle, or cars or lorries moving slowly in front of you creates another potentially dangerous situation, as your vision is radically reduced. Put on your headlights, reduce your speed until you can see the road, or if necessary, pull over to the side of the road until the dust settles.

Driving on Sand
Before setting off, familiarize yourself with engaging four-wheel drive, experiment with various gears, and if possible, try out some sand patches to see how the vehicle handles them. Your type of vehicle will also affect how you drive. Land-Rovers and Land Cruisers are heavy, solid vehicles and less likely to turn over than lighter 4x4 vehicles. Always keep both hands on the wheel.

Driving on sand requires continual concentration, as conditions are constantly changing. When you see a rough patch ahead, slow down and change down a gear before you meet it but do not stop.

Many sand tracks are corrugated and driving along them is rather uncomfortable. Reduce your speed considerably, or you will find your head hitting the roof, your supplies bouncing up and down, the suspension on your vehicle damaged and your back aching.

Driving in deep sand can be made easier by lowering the air pressure in the tires to increase the gripping area.

Also if you get stuck in the sand and you can't get out using your driving expertise, a wrench would help. If there are no trees around, then take your spare wheel, dig a hole in the ground, put the spare wheel in the hole and hook the wrench to the wheel. Seal back the hole and you will have enough power to get out. (This is an interesting tip from an experienced bush-driver).

Driving in Mud
Do not over-estimate the power of four-wheel drive in mud - it is more difficult to extricate yourself from mud than sand.

Some areas have the infamous 'black cotton soil' which, when wet, is notorious for bogging vehicles down axle-deep in mud. One such area to be careful of is the stretch between Khwai River and Savuti. Be especially mindful during the rainy season. If the soil appears wet and black, try to go around it over a dry patch. You might even pre-test it by walking over a small stretch - the top may appear caked and dry while underneath the soil is wet and slippery.

Driving on Pans
Pans can be particularly deceiving. The surface may appear white, hard and dry, while underneath the soil is wet and muddy. It is best to drive only on existing tracks, or if this is not possible, stay close to the shore-lines.

If you do become stuck in sand or mud, first dig out from under the wheels with a shovel, then place sticks and logs under the wheels to give them traction. If necessary, jack the vehicle up to place sticks and logs further underneath the wheels. A hydraulic jack can be used to jack up the wheel itself by placing it in the rim of the wheel, but take care as the jack slips easily and the handle can suddenly fly up.

Driving in the Parks and Reserves
Perhaps the best frame of mind to cultivate in Botswana's parks and reserves is that you are now in the animals' territory and not your own. Respect for the animals is essential.

Allow a good distance between the animals and your vehicle. Do not get out of your vehicle when on game drives, unless it is absolutely necessary and do not go very far. The speed limit in Botswana's game parks is 40kph (25mph). Off-road driving is NOT allowed.


Nature and Wildlife -- Do's & Don'ts

It is essential to behave properly near wild animals, to respect the environment and avoid potentially dangerous situations. If you are camping on safari for the first time you may feel some anxiety by the possibility of elephants, lion, hyenas or other animals roaming freely around the campsite.

This does take some getting used to, and your first reaction may be to flee. It would be wise to discuss the best reaction response to an aggressive animal encounter with an experienced guide or animal expert -- preferably before you are out on safari. Different behavior is recommended for different animals, and it is important to get it right. However, in the unlikely event of an animal becoming aggressive towards you, do not panic, but stay calm and keep quiet. Whatever you do, don't run.

When visiting or staying in the animals' habitat, remember these rules:

  • Always sleep in your tent or vehicle. Make sure your tent zips up completely.
  • Do not sleep with legs or arms protruding from the tent.
  • Carry away or burn all rubbish. Many areas do not have rubbish disposal facilities.
  • Cigarette butts should be well extinguished and placed in a rubbish bag, not thrown out.
  • Make sure the campfire is well extinguished at the end of the evening, and cover it with sand.
  • Bury all fecal matter and burn all toilet paper.
  • In most parks and reserves you should camp in designated camping areas where basic amenities are provided. Outside the parks, reserves and wildlife management areas, you are free to camp anywhere you like.
  • Do not sleep on bridges or animal paths, particularly those of elephant or hippo.
  • Do not bathe in or drink from still bodies of water, as there is the danger of bilharzias.
  • In the Okavango, it is tempting to dive into a lagoon or stream, especially after a hot, dusty drive. This is forbidden. Not to mention there is the obvious danger of crocodiles or hippo.
  • Do not go near the water at night. If you want to wash or refresh yourself it is best to go to the water with another person. Have him or her stand near you and be on the lookout while you wash. Watch out for eyes or nostrils protruding from the water.
  • Be wary of animals with young. Never feed the animals or try to touch them. The feeding of monkeys, baboons and mongoose at various campsites has led to these animals' atrocious, and at times aggressive, harassing behavior.
  • In the Okavango and Chobe, where animal density is high, do not stray far from the campsite or walk in the bush, unless you are accompanying an experienced guide.

 

 

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