Botswana takes a very strict approach to conservation. With 17% of the country in national parks and another 22% designated wildlife management areas, the unique ecosystems of the country are in good hands. Not all of these areas are open to the public, but those that are, offer visitors a chance to see the real Africa.
Moremi Game Reserve
Situated on the western side of the Okavango delta system, this reserve is a favourite destination for many visitors. Its combination of dry and wet environments encompasses mopane woodlands, acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons.
A diverse variety of animals call this place home. It offers some of the best savannah game viewing and in the wooded areas of the park, the lucky visitor might spot a leopard. While many different animals can seen in the 5 000 km² park, the park boasts 30% of Africa's wild dog population and these unmistakeably African animals are often seen.
The park can be seen from a 4x4 safari, on foot or from a the vast waterways in a mokoro, or traditional dugout canoe. There are only a few camping areas for visitors to minimise the impact of visitors on the area, but they offer at leas the basic amenities.
Chobe National Park
Located in the northwestern part of Botswana, this large area dominates a large part of the delta and is known to have one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in Africa; most famously the 60 000 elephants that roam throughout the park. The 10 698 km² area is usually divided into four broad zones.
The Serondela or river front area is made up of lush plains and dense forests. It includes the Chobe River that flows along the north eastern border of the park and is a famous spot for elephants and buffalo to congregate during the dry season. It is one of the most visited areas of the park due to the ease of spotting game and its proximity to the Victorian falls.
Now all that remains of a primordial lake, the Savuti marsh area is a fertile area where a large number of animals congregate to take advantage of the ample supply of water. Elephants, lions, leopards and cheetah are often seen along with many of the African wildlife in the rolling grasslands and savannah. One of the greatest attractions of this area is the migration of massive zebra herds that pass through the area annually.
Between the Linyati and Kwando Rivers lies the Linyati marsh. This area of riverine woodlands, open woodlands, lagoons and floodplains is home to huge elephant herds and large concentrations of lions, leopards and wild dogs.
The dry hinterlands that lie between the two marshes. This dry area of scrub and brush is a stark contrast to the wet areas in the rest of the park, but is home to large herds of eland and other herbivores.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
At 52 900 km², this is the largest game reserve in Botswana and one of the largest game reserves in the entire world. The remoteness of the reserve allows allows it to retain the sense of wild Africa that is sometimes hard to find in many of the more commercial reserves and parks of the continent.
The northern reaches of the park are mainly flat open plains of tough shrubs and grasses covering sandy dunes. As one heads into the central part of the park one finds an area more reminiscent of the bushveld with scattered trees and more diverse vegetation. Heading into the south, one reaches the mopane woodlands that stretch from the southern reaches to the eastern reaches of the park.
A wide variety of wildlife call the park their home and amongst the diversity of herbivores, predators like cheetah, wild dogs, leopards and lions are abundant. The park is dominated by animals suited for their desert environment such as the springbok, gemsbok and eland.
Due its remoteness, the park is relatively undeveloped as far as tourist amenities are concerned. The rest camps offer only very basic services and visitors are expected to bring their own drinking water, food and supplies. A visit to the park is best in the company of a safari tour group with experienced guides who can help one get the most out of the time spent here.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Stretching across South Africa and Botswana, three quarters of this 38 000 km² park is situated in Botswana. Locally this area is known as the Gemsbok park after the tough desert antelope that is found in great numbers throughout the area.
Kglalagadi means 'place of thirst' and, when one sees the endless red dunes of the Kalahari stretching out into the distance with only hardy sparse vegetation and the occasional spindly tree breaking the dunes, it is easy to understand why. Very little surface water exists in the park and the dry riverbeds only have a trickle of water when the rains for the year are particularly heavy. It is thanks to underground water that there is any life in this desert at all.
Yet, despite the desolate appearance of the the landscape, visitors will be surprised by the diverse amount of life that can be found here. Aside from the characteristic gemsbok, or oryx, many other African plain herbivores make their home here. Drawn by these game, black-mane Kalahari lions, cheetahs and leopards also inhabit this the desert.
The park offers three 'luxury' lodges for visitors with a variety of amenities to make their stay in this scorching environment more bearable. For the adventurous, there are six camps that provide only the very basic necessities for those who want the real African experience.
Khutse Game Reserve
With very low concentrations of game, this park seems to epitomise the the desolation of the dry desert surroundings. This 2 500 km² consists primarily of dry Kalahari bushes and grasses with very little ground water to go around.
Man-made boreholes offer respite for the animals that, amazingly, have been living in the area before man arrived. A great variety of herbivores make their home here and where there are prey, there are predators. Lions, cheetahs and leopards can also be spotted in the desolate environment, competing for precious water.
The park itself offers very little in the way of amenities for tourists. While the boreholes do make it easier for tourists to see the animals that are otherwise scarce, the area remains undeveloped. There are no lodges or rest camps, only camping areas that are offer, water for washing and pit latrines. The rest is up to you.
Covering an area of almost 16 000 km², the sun-scorched pans of Botswana are all that remains of an ancient lake or even lakes that drained millennia ago when tectonic forces changed the flow of rivers into the area. The largest of these pans is over 5 000 km² large and falls within the range of the reserve.
Throughout the year the area is a dry, dusty expanse with hardy shrubs and grasses clinging to life. When the rainy season starts, however, the area changes dramatically. The empty pans are filled with water, turning the parched landscape into a beautiful wonderland of mirror-glass lakes that attract large herds of animals and, most famously, massive herds of zebra.
Two camps are available for visitors. The one offers only the bare necessities, but the other offer some amenities to campers.