Situated in the southern reaches of Africa, Botswana is renowned for its pristine wilderness areas characterised by deep lagoons, wetlands, lush palms, rugged hills and desert plains. The country’s primary tourist drawcard is undoubtedly the vast red expanse of the Kalahari Desert and its remarkably beautiful Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. These natural wonders provide a tranquil haven for an abundance of African wildlife to thrive. Other highlights include the impressive Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, where visitors are privy to massive zebra migrations during the flood season; the Savuti plains, which host a significant pride of lions; and the Tsodilo Hills, where 4500 rock paintings form a unique record of human settlement over many millennia.
Botswana’s currency is Pula (which means ‘rain’ in Setswana). It is divided into 100 thebe (which means ‘shield’ in Setswana). Travellers’ cheques and foreign currency may be changed at banks, bureaux de change and authorised hotels.
The US dollar, Euros, British Pound and the South African Rand are the most easily convertible currencies (and accepted by some estabishments – but, generally, then an inflated rate of exchange will be applied).
Seven main commercial banks, as well as a number of foregin exchange bureaux, operate in Botswana. Operating hours are Monday to Friday 08h30 to 15h30 and Saturday 08h30 to 10h45.
Full banking services are available in major towns, although ATMs are sprouting up all over the country. Most credit cards are accepted at hotels and restaurants. Cultural sites and community art and craft outlets usually only accept cash.
Botswana’s climatic pattern is typical of southern Africa, although its rainfall is less than countries further east. The rains in Botswana come mostly between December and March, when average minimum temperatures are in the low 20°s. Some days will be bright and sunny, some will have afternoon thunderstorms, and some will just be grey.
As with Namibia, April and May in Botswana are generally lovely, with the sky clear and the landscape green. Night temperatures start to drop during these months, especially in the Kalahari. Note that places in and around the Okavango tend to have less extreme, more moderate temperatures than the drier areas of the Kalahari.
From June to August the night-time temperatures in drier areas can be close to freezing, but it warms up rapidly during the day, when the sky is usually clear and blue. It’s now very much ‘peak season’ for most safari areas: the land is dry in most areas so the animals congregate around the few available water sources.
This continues into September and October, when temperatures climb again, drying the landscapes and concentrating the game even more. This is the best time for big game safaris – although October can feel very hot, with maximum temperatures sometimes approaching 40°C.
November is difficult to predict, as it can sometimes be a continuation of October’s heat, whilst sometimes it’s cooled by the first rains; it’s always an interesting month.
Safari lodges and camps serve international-style cuisine, generally of an extremely high standard, along with local beer and imported wine and spirits. Good restaurants and bars can be found in main towns, often within hotels. Beef and goat are very popular meats. Elsewhere, food is more basic: millet and sorghum porridge are the local staples.
Tap water is considered safe to drink, although outside main cities and towns, visitors are advised to check first and sterilise water if in any doubt. Bottled water is available in most tourist centres. Filtered water is available at most camps and shops offer bottled water – it is advised to be well stocked of bottled water if you are travelling off the beaten track. Milk is pasteurised, and dairy products, local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are generally safe.
A discretionary five-to-ten-percent tip is typical for restaurant bills. In many places, a service charge is automatically added. It is customary to tip the game guide and lodge staff while on safari.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Botswana are the ‘Type M’ South African SABS1661 (‘Large’ 15 amp BS-546) sockets. This is actually an old British standard. The ‘Type M’ South African plug and socket is not to be confused with the ‘Type D’ Indian plug and socket. In pictures, they look very similar, but the South African type is much larger than the Indian type, and they are physically incompatible. If your appliance’s plug doesn’t match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance’s plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Botswana usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you’re plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. If you need to use appliances that are not compatible with 220-240 volt electrical input, you will need a voltage converter.