Luxury Safaris to Botswana
Botswana is renowned as one of the best countries in Africa to go on a luxury safari where The Okavango Delta and northern Linyanti are divided into extensive private wildlife concessions with just a handful of luxury safari camps and lodges, and some of the best wildlife sightings on earth to match, means you’ll find the very best in exclusive, luxury safaris.
A luxury safari to Botswana means staying in small, exquisite safari camps and lodges which are situated in the best wildlife reserves and are the base from which expert guides take guests out on daily safari activities including game drives, night drives, mokoro (traditional dugout canoe) safaris, walking safaris and helicopter safaris, to name a few.
Most safaris to Botswana include a visit to the world famous Okavango Delta where the Kavingo River enters Botswana from the north-west and hits the deep sands of the Kalahari Desert, starting to get absorbed into the fine sand, but there is so much water, it forms a massive inland delta. There are huge islands within the delta, and animals travel from far and wide, sometimes travelling for thousands of miles to enjoy the permanent fresh water. This is what makes the Okavango Delta such an incredible wildlife destination and a must for any Botswana safari.
North of the Okavango Delta is the Linyanti region which is made up of massive private wildlife concessions offering some of the most exclusive safaris in Africa. The wildlife here relies on permanent waters, this time from the Chobe River, Kwando River and the Selinda Spillway. This region is renowned for its large herds of buffalo and elephants as well as impressive predator sightings.
To the south and east of Maun are the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pans which offer completely different experiences to those in the north. A lot drier, the animals here have adapted to living in harsh environments. A safari to these regions is definitely worth it, when combined with the Okavango Delta and Linyanti regions.
Luxury, Tailor-made Safari Ideas to Botswana
Botswana is one of Africa’s most iconic safari destinations, boasting incredible wildlife and diverse landscapes, from the wetlands of the Okavango Delta to deserts of the Kalahari and Makgadikgadi. Luxury safaris to Botswana offer exclusivity in some of the most pristine wildlife reserves in Africa. All our luxury safaris to Botswana are tailor-made to suit your individual interests and budgets. Have a look through some of our suggested safari itineraries to get an idea of what is possible, before chatting to us tailor-make your dream safari to Botswana.
As the Kavingo River enters Botswana, the waters hit the deep sands of the Kalahari Desert which causes the water to fan out, creating one of the world’s biggest inland deltas, known as the Okavango Delta. This huge wetland is what supports most of the wildlife in northern Botswana and is the reason Botswana is such an incredible safari destination.
The Okavango Delta is made up of wetlands, channels, rivers, lagoons and floodplains with islands that range in size from little mounds to massive wildlife havens that support thousands of animals. Knowing where to stay at different times of the year is key to maximizing your safari to the Okavango Delta. During the peak rains, many of the floodplains and islands are flooded, forcing the animals to dry land.
North of the Okavango Delta between Namibia, the delta and Chobe National Park is one of Botswana’s most prolific wildlife areas – the Linyanti. Consisting of massive private concessions teeming with wildlife, a stay in one of the exclusive safari camps here offers sightings of incredible herds of elephants and buffalo, as well as some of the best predator sightings in Botswana.
As the dry season kicks in and the surface water starts to dry up, elephants and buffalo migrate towards the Kwando River, Chobe River, Linyanti Marsh and Selinda Spillway. These permanent waters attract huge herds of animals from across northern Botswana to sustain them during the dry season. Because of thevast tracts of private reserves and large numbers of antelope found here, the Linyanti is one of the best places in Africa to see highly endangered African wild dogs.
Our top camps in the Linyanti region include Kwando Lagoon, Kwando Lebala, Selinda Camp, Selinda Explorers, Zarafa Camp, Duma Tau, Linyanti Bush Camp, Linyanti Ebony and Linyanti Expeditions.
Moremi and Khwai
South of Savute and on the edge of the Okavango Delta are two of Botswana’s most prolific wildlife areas. The Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai Reserve offer mixed habitats and a wildlife corridor which offers some of the best animal sightings in Africa.
In particular, leopards and wild dog thrive here because of the numerous prey animals and mixed habitats. The Moremi is a government run reserve which means there are some restrictions in terms of activities. No night drives or walking safaris and no off-road driving are permitted here, so we would always recommend the Khwai area instead.
Khwai is a community run reserve and borders the Moremi Game Reserve, so offers exactly the same wildlife (no fences so the animals move freely between the areas), but with the ability to enjoy night game drives, walking safaris and off-road game drives.
Neither of these areas are private concessions and so can get busy with vehicles, making the choice of camp very important. In the Khwai area we would only use Khwai Leadwood or Machaba Camps.
The Makgadikgadi Pans spans an area of over 10,000 square kilometers, making them some of the world’s largest salt pans. The pans span out in every direction only dotted with the occasional baobab. So why would you come here during your Botswana safari?
The answer is simple. The Makgadikgadi Pans offers some of the most diverse safari experiences in Botswana. Guests can enjoy interactions with habituated meerkats, sightings of brown hyenas and other desert adapted wildlife, and witness one of the largest zebra migrations in Africa. There are also some incredibly special activities, like sleeping under the stars in the desert, quad biking across the pans and getting to know the San Bushmen of Botswana, who have carved out a life for themselves in this unforgiving landscape for generations.
We love the Makgadikgadi Pans and always encourage our guests to include at least 3 nights on safari here combined with their safari to the Okavango Delta. There are only 3 camps we recommend here, all on a private concession on the edge of the pans. San Camp, Camp Kalahari and Jack’s Camp are the three best camps we would recommend for our guests.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a vast expanse of arid grasslands, saltpans, acacia scrubland and desert adapted wildlife. We love the desert, and the Central Kalahari Desert is no different. Even though it is a government run reserve, the sheer size of the park means guests rarely see any other tourist vehicle.
When planning a safari to Botswana, we would always include a safari in the Okavango Delta and we would always recommend including one of the desert landscape regions of Nxai Pan, Makgadikgadi Pans or the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The contrast between the wetlands of the Okavango Delta and the arid desert regions highlights the Botswana’s incredible variety.
Our top pick is the Makgadikgadi Pans as it offers wildlife as well as a variety of activities, but the Central Kalahari is a very close second. The area is great for cheetah and the famous black-maned lions of the Kalahari.
Chobe & Savute
The Chobe National Park is one of the Botswana’s most famous safari destinations and attracts thousands of tourists annually. For us, safaris in Chobe are not authentic and the Chobe River front is one of the busiest safari areas in Africa, often meaning vehicles have to queue at wildlife sightings which detracts from the safari experience we want to offer our guests. What we do recommend in the Chobe area are houseboats that operate from the Namibian side of the river and offer a couple of nights relaxing on the river watching the animals from the comfort of the boat.
The Savute area forms part of the Chobe National Park and is one of Botswana’s prime wildlife areas. Savute is a very arid region where the animals rely on pumped waterholes to survive. Large herds of elephants pass through Savute as they move from the Okavango Delta to the Linyanti and Chobe regions. Lion prides here are impressive with prides often numbering into the 20s or 30s. At one point the prides had learnt to hunt adolescent elephants as they came down to drink at the waterholes. This is an unusual activity that was made famous by the National Geographic documentary, Ultimate Enemies.
Being a national park, activities in Chobe and Savute are restricted to morning and afternoon game drives. Boating is allowed along the Chobe River, but guests are not allowed to go on walking safaris, night drives or off-road driving. For us at Stanley Safaris, we would rather recommend staying in one of the private concessions that border the Savute area and offer a much more exclusive safari experience.
Nxai Pan National Park
Directly north of the Makgadikgadi Pans is Nxai Pan National Park which is almost an extension to the Makgadikgadi Pans. The area is dominated by a waterhole in the central part of the park which attracts herds of elephants, zebra, springbok and giraffe. Nxai Pan is also home to one of Africa’s biggest zebra migrations. Thousands of zebras migrate from northern parts of Botswana during the rainy season to take advantage of the freshly sprouting grasses. Outside of the rainy season, we would not recommend visiting Nxai Pan.
Without doubt, the Okavango Delta is one of Africa prime wildlife safari destinations. Within the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta is an oasis for the wildlife, but knowing where to stay at different times of the year is key to maximizing your Okavango Delta safari experience.
How to choose your accommodation in the Okavango Delta
Staying at luxury safari camps in the middle of the Okavango Delta can mean limited wildlife viewing as the animals prefer areas where there is enough land for them to move easily. The animals of the Okavango Delta have adapted to living in a semi-aquatic landscape and so often have to cross rivers and floodplains to move between islands, but generally they prefer the edges of the Okavango Delta or the larger islands. If you choose a camp that is predominately focused on water activities, your game viewing will be limited.
The flood waters of the Okavango Delta also affect game viewing. Botswana’s rainy season starts in mid-November and lasts until the end of March. During this time, the Okavango Delta receives thunderstorms and downpours that last 30-45 minutes before the storm passes over. The rainwater from these storms is not responsible for fulling the delta though. Rather, the water from the storms fills the shallow pans and seasonal waterholes in the north of the country.
The Angolan Highlands (the catchment area for the Okavango Delta) experiences its rainy season at the same time as Botswana. Because the water has to travel some distance to reach the delta, these floods only begin around March/April time. For the next 4 months (March through to June) the floodwaters continue to push through from the delta before finally reaching their highest point around May/June. The rising waters push the animals to edges of the Okavango Delta where they can stay dry.
At this time of the year, water-based camps are only able to offer mokoro and speedboat activities and game viewing is at its lowest. During the Okavango Delta floods, it is best to stay in camps on the northern edge of the delta where the safari camps can still offer walking safaris and game drives as well as mokoros and speedboat activities.
From June the floodwaters start to soak into the desert sands and the floodplains start to recede, exposing fresh grazing for the wildlife. This draws animals back into the delta. As the floodwaters recede, some Okavango Delta Safari Camps are no longer able to offer water activities and then rely on game drives and walking safaris. At this time of the year, it is important to choose camps that can still offer mokoros and speedboat activities.
Our top Luxury Okavango Delta Safari camps include Jao Camp, Vumbura Plains, Shinde, Kanana, Duba Plains, Gomoti Plains, Splash Camp and Kwara Camp. Most of these camps are located on the edge of the Okavango Delta and are able to offer year-round land and water activities.
When is the best time of year to go on safari to Botswana
When to visit Botswana is a challenging question to answer because each season offers something completely different.
Traditionally the rainy season starts in November and increases from December through to March. April and May are considered the shoulder seasons as things start to dry up. June through to October are considered the peak of the dry season and this is reflected in the rates charged by the safari camps.
Weather aside, there are pros and cons to travelling to Botswana for a safari at different times of the year.
During the summer months from September to March, temperatures can exceed 100 Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius. If it rains (November to March), these temperature can drop so significantly that visitors require the use of a jacket or fleece.
October is considered the hottest and most uncomfortable time of the year to travel as there is no wind to cool things down and temperatures can exceed 120 Fahrenheit or 48 degrees Celsius. This is however the best time of the year for game viewing as there is little water for the animals and so they congregate in large numbers around the permanent waters of the Linyanti and Okavango Delta regions.
During the dry winter months from May to July/August, daytime temperatures are comfortable, averaging around 70-80 Fahrenheit or 21-31 degrees Celsius. Because Botswana is predominantly made up of the sands of the Kalahari Desert, night time temperatures can drop as low as 25 Fahrenheit or -3 degrees Celsius. It is a dry cold and so requires warm clothing, hats and gloves for the morning game drives. Safari camps often supply warm blankets and hot-water bottles for the morning game drives. As the sun rises things quickly warm up and the days become comfortable enough for shirts and shorts.
Best time to Safari in Botswana
The rainy season (December to the end of March) turns everything green and there is a feeling of new life in the bush. Many of the antelope have their young a couple of weeks after the first rains and so there are lots of baby animals around which in turn attracts predators. Migrant birds have flown to Botswana to breed and so are in their colorful breeding plumage. The rains that fall wash all the dust and smog out of the air, making the skies bright and vivid blue. When it does rain, it is often just a burst of heavy rain that last 30 minutes before clearing up to bright blue skies again. The storms can be dramatic and put on quite a show.
Being the “low season” there are often fewer people in the camps which means you can get a much more personalized safari experience. The rates and special offers at the camps can be up to 3 times cheaper during these months, when compared to the peak season. It is also often considered to be the best time for photography because the air is clear and the colors are vivid.
The rains bring life to the Botswana bush and this means it is thicker, making it harder to spot the animals. Predators are territorial and so do not move out of the area, whereas buffalo, elephant and other herbivores migrate to areas where there is less competition. So game viewing can be rewarding, but generally when you find something of interest, you spend more time with those animals, as opposed to driving around ticking boxes of different animal sightings.
Down in the Makgadikgadi Pans, the raining season means new grasses sprout which attracts large herds of zebra that migrate from as far as Chobe in the north of Botswana. Up to 60,000 zebra move into the Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pans National Parks.
The rainy season is good for people interested in birding, as well as wildlife photographers and people who have been on safari several times before and aren’t looking to tick off many species of animals. It is also the perfect season for people who want to experience the luxury of Botswana, but can’t afford the price tag that comes with the peak season.
During the shoulder seasons of April and May you have less chance of getting rained on as Botswana heads into the dry season. The bush is still thick and green and there is still lots of surface water around, so the number of animals in the herds is still not as impressive as during the dry season, but the later in May you travel, the better your game viewing opportunities are as the surface water pans start to dry up and the animals start moving towards the permanent water sources. The rates at the safari camps increase to around 60% of the peak season and so still offer better value for money, but you will have to work harder to find the animals. This is the start of winter and because Botswana is predominantly made up of Kalahari Sand, temperatures can plummet in the evenings and mornings for your game drives, so very warm clothes are required.
From around April, the Okavango Delta floods start to push south towards Maun, reaching it’s highest level around May/June time before it starts to recede again. Peak season generally starts in June when the pans have started to dry and the animals that relied on them have to move to the permanent waters of the Linyanti and Okavango regions. The later into the dry season you travel, the larger herds of animals become. Along the fringes of the Okavango Delta and along the Linyanti where there is permanent waters, the herds of buffalo, sable and elephants can be extremely impressive. If you can stand the heats of October, you will be rewarded with incredible game viewing. This is the season when the camp rates are at their highest.
During the busy months of July, August and September, availability in Botswana can be extremely tough to find and some of the best lodges get booked out a year in advance.
November is the start of the rainy season and is also the shoulder season when it comes to rates. For us, early November is the best time to travel as you are able to take advantage of shoulder season rates, yet the bush is still dry to offer incredible game viewing. It is risky though because as soon as the first rains start, the large herds of animals almost disappear overnight.