25 More Secrets about Botswana

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Picture credit: Botswana Tourism

To celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary since independence, we asked experts to reveal their tips for planning the most extraordinary trip. Deciding which to publish in the magazine was very difficult, due to space restrictions, , so here are those that didn’t quite make the cut…

1 Stay at Jack’s Camp
In the bleached-out Makgadikgadi, where the silence is even stronger than the sun, there’s only one man to know: Ralph Bousfield. Out of nothing, Ralph has carved one of the most exquisite light-touch camps in Africa, named after his late father who used this locale on trapping expeditions. The look is derived from the classic East African camps of the 1940s: Persian rugs, campaign-style furniture, and green baize billiard tables. Guided tours by the Kalahari Bushmen take the guests to the heart of this ancient place. With quad bikes, you venture into the desert’s nothingness – flatlands where you watch the sun set as the full moon rises to deliver one of the most magical wilderness experiences left on Earth.
• Michael Poliza, photographer

2 Don’t skimp on time
Try and spend 8-12 days in Botswana and explore three completely different and diverse ecosystems in that time. The country offers you a once-in-a-lifetime experience so tread slowly.
• Dereck and Beverly Joubert, filmmakers

3  Watch out for maned female lions
They are rare, very unusual and unexplained. Very little is understood so far, other than it is likely to be caused by a genetic mutation. They can be found on Chief’s Island in the Mombo Concession of the famous Moremi Game Reserve, but are hard to spot. Look for a small male but missing the essential component! I know of just five in the entire Okavango.
• Simon Dures, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

Picture credit: Mike Main

4 See totems
Among people from Botswana, totems are a symbol of kinship and identify different tribes and clans. They are often taboos associated with particular animals and are sometimes derived by tribal choice to mark a special event. Such is the case with the Ngwato, the tribe of His Excellency The President of the Republic of Botswana, Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama, whose totem is the phuti (or duiker). It was chosen in the mid-19th Century when the then Chief, Khama III, sheltering in a bush from marauding invaders might have been killed had a duiker not run from the bush, convincing the enemy that there was no one there and saving his life. In fine tradition, the phuti is beautifully and appropriately depicted on his grave.
• Mike Main, writer

5 Visit Old Palapye Church
In 1891 Khama III, Chief of the Bamangwato – now known as Khama the Great – great grandfather of the current President, moved his capital from Shoshong to Phalatswe (now known as Old Palapye). He was forced there by unreliable water and environmental degradation. Driven by the combined determination of Khama and missionaries Hepburn followed by Willoughby, this church was constructed using local labour and materials. It cost about £4000 and was essentially completed by 1897, although never properly finished. By 1902, unreliable water supplies again forced Khama and some 30,000 followers to move to present-day Serowe. The church, and everything that could not be carried, was abandoned as it is today.
• Mike Main, writer

6 Watch sunset in the Makgadikgadi
Take a trip to the Makgadikgadi Pans at sunset – take a walk away from your companions and in silence watch the sun go down and the stars come up – no where I have visited is more magical and more SILENT!
• Dawn Wilson – Botswana Tourism

7 Research before you fly
Read – as much as you can before you go. Not only the guide books,but there are a lot of other books which will give a sense of the country including the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series; Colour Bar about the first President and Very Brave or Very Foolish which gives a great insight into the politics of the early Botswana after Independence.
• Dawn Wilson, Botswana Tourism

8 Combine desert and delta
The Okavango Delta is the 1000th World Heritage Site, so certainly no secret. But the trick is to combine it with contrasting landscape such as the Kalahari or Makgadikgadi.
• Dawn Wilson, Botswana Tourism

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9 Safari with kids
Ideally suited for families, this small rustic camp with just three en suite tents offers an affordable experience in a prime game-viewing area. Activities range from identifying spoor to making traditional bows and arrows, and are tailored around the whole family. After a busy morning, your specialist guide will happily entertain the kids while Mum and Dad can enjoy a welcome siesta.
• James Gifford, photographer

10 Travel in all seasons
You can visit Botswana at any time of the year. Every season has its appeal. After the rains, the calving begins. In the height of the dry season, herds of elephant migrate across the dusty landscape. Something breath-taking occurs every day of the year.
• Dereck and Beverly Joubert, filmmakers

11 Experience the floods
Botswana’s annual flooding system allows any visitor to witness some unique animal behaviour. You can see lion swimming, leopard fishing and more than 350 different bird species that come to the area during this rich and abundant time.
• Dereck and Beverly Joubert, filmmakers

12 Understand elephant behaviour
Botswana is home to a third of all the elephants in Africa, so spend as much time as possible with these majestic creatures and look for these five behaviours that will emerge like soap opera:
• Language  Elephants use a range of calls that all have a very specific meaning. If you spend time listening to them you will be able to differentiate the subtle changes.
• Mothering  Watch the teenage females look after the calves and learn to become future mothers.
• Altruism  If there is a disturbance or a sense of danger, watch: the elephants will all gather around the youngest to offer protection.
• Temporal seepage  This is very stress related.
• Must bulls  These also display temporal seepage and have very thick necks.
• Dereck and Beverly Joubert, filmmakers

13 Riding in the Delta
Don’t miss a horseback safari with PJ Bestelink of Okavango Horse Safaris. The man is a legend. Enough said.
• Ryan Green, photographer

14 Support an initiative
If you want to support an amazing conservation initiative, look up Rhino Conservation Botswana. They have reintroduced rhino to the Okavango after its long absence and the population is healthy and increasing. They do not have a glamorous website or glitzy advertising because everything they do goes into conservation. The organisation is run by Botswana people and needs support to help fund anti-poaching, monitoring and the introduction of more animals. This is probably one of the most successful rhino initiatives in the world, but mostly unheard of.
• Simon Dures, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

15 Spot the Little Five
Don’t just look for the Big Five (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino). Watch for the Little Five, which includes: the elephant shrew, ant lion, red-billed buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise and rhinoceros beetle.
• Simon Dures, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

16 See urban elephants
There are ‘urban’ elephants in the northern towns of Kasane and Kazungula. Gentle giants pass through the villages, using established wildlife corridors. Activity appears to peak with the high floods of the Chobe River in April and May, but is not uncommon throughout the year. Nowhere else in the world do you have elephant and human lives in such close proximity. Other commonly seen species in the township include buffalo, warthog, baboon and banded mongoose.
• Kelly Landen, Elephants Without Borders

17 Tour Gaborone
Take a city tour and visit the Three Chiefs’ Statues and museum to get a real sense of the country’s history.
• Dawn Wilson, Botswana Tourism

18 Read about Botswana
You must read Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens. It is their beautiful, if upsetting, account of the early days of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. If you want to know what it is like to live as a guide in the Okavango, read Don’t Run, Whatever You Do by Peter Allison. Heed the advice on the cover as well!
• Simon Dures, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

19 Sit around the campfire
It is not a secret, but no matter how smart the lodge you are staying in, nothing can beat the experience of sitting around a fire, miles from anyone listening to lions roar and hyenas cry – everyone should do a self-drive at some point. Wrap a potato in foil and throw it on the coals, pop a steak on the grill and open your cooler of cold beer. Use a rooftop tent if you are nervous.
• Simon Dures, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

20 Feel the heat
The Makgadikgadi can reach temperatures of 52°C. Try and spot desert-adapted animals here, for instance the gemsbok, which recycles blood through its nasal cavity to keep cool. This allows it to drink water in the middle of the day when the majority of its predators are too hot to move.
• Dereck and Beverly Joubert, filmmakers

21 Meet Map
Go on a safari with Map Ives, one of the most amazing naturalists I have ever met. He has spent three decades living and working in the Okavango, and has a vast store of knowledge, insight, stories, mischief and humour.
• Ryan Green, photographer

Picture credit: Botswana Tourism

Picture credit: Botswana Tourism

22 Mix it up
Try a different activity from the simple game drive. In Botswana you can do many activities, such as helicopter flights, horseback safaris, camel rides, quad biking, hot-air ballooning and canoe trips.
• Dawn Wilson, Botswana Tourism

23 Visit the Mmamagwa Ruins
The ruins are an extension of the Mapungubwe people from South Africa, one of Africa’s most civilised cultures 750 years ago and responsible for the construction of Great Zimbabwe. When San people occupied the settlement 120,000 years ago and Bantu-speaking people from the north, serious changes took place, which affected both the land and its people. They brought with them the ability to make pottery, smelt iron, copper and gold. They were highly successful traders, selling their goods to Arab sailors from the east coast. In the 18th century, the Sotho and Venda people, who had been driven north by the conflicts between the Zulu and the Ndebele people in South Africa, arrived. The last inhabitants left in the 1940s, but today, you can find beads, pot fragments and remnants of grinding stones. There is also a century-old baobab tree on the hill, onto which the colonialist Cecil John Rhodes carved his name during his journey to establish the Cape-to-Cairo railway.
• Laura Dowington, Limpopo Horse Safaris

24 Look, listen and learn
If you are searching for leopard, listen out for bird alarm calls. Spotting them is difficult, so let the birds find them for you. The same works for snakes.
• Simon Dures, ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

25 Stop by Bryce’s Store
This tiny stone area, which appears to only be rubble, holds a quaint history. It was built by an enterprising British citizen named Bryce, and consists of three buildings: the store, Bryce’s hut and a small circular hut. It served as a staging post for the Zeederberg Coach, which ran over four days from Pretoria to Bulawayo. In 1888 the Boers (originally European farmers who settled in South Africa) attacked the British, who held the only reliable water source in the area and the store. Old bullets, buckles and food tins can be seen.
• Laura Dowington, Limpopo Horse Safaris

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed their ‘secrets’ to this article.

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