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Botswana

Key facts

  • Capital city: Gaborone
  • Languages: English, Setswana, Sekalanga
  • Time difference: Summer (from October to April) = GMT+2
  • Entry formalities: You must be in possession of a valid passport, but you do not need a visa. You will be issued a residence permit of 30 days which can be extended to 3 months
  • Electricity: The electrical current is 220V and the plug prongs are round
  • Area code: + 267
  • Health: In northern districts, malaria is reaching endemic proportions. 80% of the cases of contamination were observed in the north of the country. The risk of transmission of malaria is considered low in central districts and null in southern and southeastern districts. Risks of contamination are very high in March/April because of the rains. If you are travelling in those districts, do take a preventative medication. Insect repellent and a mosquito net should also be considered. Furthermore, the threat of drug resistant Tuberculosis is increasing. Routine vaccination is recommended for children. Botswana is the second highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world

Money

Local currency is the Pula and Thebe. Pula means “rain” and thebe means “shield”. The Botswanan currency “pula” is stronger than South African” rand”. Large cities provide the full range of financial services. Major credit cards are accepted by the hotels and restaurants in the tourist areas. Accommodation (except camping) is taxed 10%. Tipping is not customary but is becoming usual practice in high end hotels and restaurants. It’s recommended to tip when the service is excellent.

Currency: Pula (BWP)

Daily budget:  You will need an important budget. Public transport will not take you the important tourist places. Car rental is expensive and food price is like US or Canada. However, “food halls” serve cheap meals like “bogobe

When to go and climate

When to go: Summer (October-April) is not great. Very humid and the heat is suffocating (up to 40°C). During rains roads are flooded and impassable. In consequence national parks are closed. During winter (end of May – August), rain becomes rare. The days are generally clear, hot and sunny. But nights are cold. Wild animals stay close to water points and are easy to see. Don’t forget that this period coincides with school holidays in Europe, North America, and South Africa. In general, there is not many people in June, early July, and the second half of September.

Holidays and festivals: Western countries holidays (Christmas, New Year, Easter, and Ascension Day) are celebrated as well as President day (July) and National Day (30 September)

Climate: Although Botswana is located on the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate is changeable. During winter (from the end of May to august), days are generally clear, hot and sunny whereas nights are very cold. This country, largely covered by deserts, hopefully has a rainy season starting November till March. Showers and thunderstorms bring a very precious rain. That’s why the local currency is called “pula” which means “rain”.

Transportation

How to reach Botswana: International airport Sir Seretse-Khama of Gaborone city is 14km far from town. Flights going to Botswana are generally more expensive than neighboring countries. Gaborone city is connected to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa. Entering the country by land is very easy. At frontier posts customs control are not strict. Trans-Namib bus connects Ghanzi and Gobabis (Namibia). Minibuses connect Gaborone to Johannesburg. Buses pass Francistown and Bulawayo. There is also bus service between Kasane and Victoria Falls serves Kasane. You can also reach Zambia via Kazungula (crossing the Zambezi River via the ferry)

Getting around: At national level, public transportation is poor. Air Botswana domestic flights serve all cities, but fares are expensive. Buses serve 6 major cities. The unique railway line (reliable and inexpensive) crosses the whole country from Zimbabwe border to South-African border (Francistown-Gaborone-Lobatse). You won’t go fast but you will be marveled at the vastness of the great African bush. By car you can travel across the country quickly on the excellent tarmacked road, but secondary roads are in poor condition. Be aware: aside from it is a left-hand-drive country, wild animals frequently cross the roads and cause many accidents. Hitch-hiking is very common in Botswana to a point where there is a fixed fare (0,005 $US per 10 km). If you are Hitch-hiking on secondary roads, make sure to bring with you water, food and camping equipment in case of long wait.

Must See

Gaborone: The capital city, which changed straight from being a rural community to a modern city, lacks style and uniformity. The city has started growing uncontrollably which led to heavy traffic and long transportation distances.  Except for the Mall, Gaborone doesn’t have a central market place. Kgale Hill or “The sleeping giant” which is easy to climb will offer you a beautiful view of the city. Cultural exhibitions and museums will give you the opportunity to familiarize with the past and present history of the country. During your stay in Gaborone you will have a chance to visit the Gaborone Game Reserve where you will see many antelope species, and white rhinoceros. Going 12km south, the 3,000 hectares Mokolodi Nature Reserve is the unique protected habitat for the mountain reduncas, zebras, baboons, warthogs, hippos, and leopards. You will have the opportunity to experience the joy of horseback riding in the northwest of the city. Apart from the campsites, Gaborone doesn’t have much to offer to visitors with small budget. Visitors with higher budget will have access to comfortable hotels. The Mall has small restaurants where you can eat corn porridge. The capital has numerous cultural distractions (theater, movies, night-clubs) and sport activities (tennis, cycling, golf, squash, cricket)

Serowe: With a population of 90 000 habitants, Serowe is a big city. Thanks to the king Khama III, chief of Ngwato, Serowe has a fascinating historical past. Khama III museum goes through the entire history of Khama family; you will see the personal belongings of the king and an important collection of rare and precious items illustrating the history of Serowe. At the top of the hill Thathaganyana, in the middle of the city, is located the royal cemetery ruins of an eleventh century village, proving that the village was occupied before the arrival of Ngwato people and the Khama dynasty. You must go 20km northwest to visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary created in 1992 to save from extinction the white rhinos

North West: This region is home to some of the continents’ more spectacular wildlife with numerous national parks and natural reserves. The Chobe National Park, which covers 11,000 km2, is the most visited in the country. In the north, the banks of the river are the site of many wild animals. The beautiful Savuti swamps in the west are also wildlife habitats of prime importance. The third biggest area of the park is represented by the pans and Mopane forests of Ngwezumba and the Linyanti wetlands which form a fantastic ecosystem. The Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park provide many areas of exceptional natural beauty. Sua and Ntwetwe Pans which form 12000km2 of the Makgadikgadi Pans are unique in the world. During winter, the ethereal veil covering the pans creates stunning visual illusions like shimmering lakes, flying ostriches, and floating rocks in the sky…. while huge herds of wild animals are coming drink at the entrance of the Nata River. In the Nxai Pan area, the spectacle of wild animals grouping (wildebeest, zebra, giraffes, Bat-eared fox, hyenas, lions, gemsboks, antelopes etc….) in grassy fields is very impressive. This area is home for the biggest tree of Africa known as chapman’s baobab which has a circumference of 25m and was historically used as a navigation beacon.

The Okavango Delta: Shaped like an open hand in the northwest of the country, this magnificent delta is irresistibly appealing. The Okavango River, 1100 km long, and the third longest river in Southern Africa, originates from Angola and crosses Namibia bringing the Popa Falls. In Botswana, its annual 18 billion m3 of water get lost in the sands of the Kalahari. The Okavango River has often been described as the river which never reaches the sea because it gets lost in a labyrinth of picturesque creeks, lagoons, river channels, and islands. You cannot help to be fascinated by the magnificent and wild landscapes where congregate large buffalo, wildebeest, elephants, kudus, zebra herds and a large variety of birds. At the eastern end of the Delta enjoy the view of breathtaking landscapes of the Moremi Game Reserve considered as the most beautiful reserve of Southern Africa. Be aware that entrance fees to visit the reserve are exorbitant. Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS), consist of rock art, rock shelters, depressions, and caves. These hills reflect the evolving cultural identity of the people of the desert. They are one of the most beautiful destinations for trekking in the African bush. Gcwihaba Caves, and Aha Hills, which are more remote, are surrounded by silence and solitude.

Kalahari Desert: Covering seven African countries (Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Congo), the Kalahari Desert is not a typical desert but is rather formed by 1, 2 million km2 of sandy deposits covered by trees and crossed by seasonal rivers. Vast natural parks and wild animal reserves protect this incredible natural environment. The Central Kalahari Reserve covering a 52 000 km2 relief-free surface is a huge protected area of the African continent. Deception Pan one of travelers’ preferred destinations attract an infinite variety of wild animals during rainy season. The brown hyena appears during the night. To drive around you need a good car 4X4 with high ground clearance, professional compass, and provision of gas. The town of Jwaneng (averaging annual production of 9 million carats) is considered the richest in the world in terms of its content of gem-quality diamonds. The huge Mabuasehube-Gemsbok National Park located in the southwest, is the only place where you will see gemsboks, cape elands, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, and moving dunes

Culture

Local customs: It is imperative to greet people when entering or leaving a room. You must learn the rules of politeness and use them relentlessly. In rural areas, greetings are accompanied with clapping hands. If you are given a gift, take it with your right hand, while holding your right elbow with your left hand

Language: If English is the official language and taught to children in primary school, the national language is “Tswana” or “Setswana” which is a Bantu language spoken by 90% of the population. The second Bantu language spoken in Botswana is “Kalanga” or “Sekalanga”. “Tswana” people are the country’s ethnic majority, are also called “Batswana”. Local English is called “Seenglish”. “San” people speak “Khoisan” characterized by palatal clicks

Greeting people: 

“dumêla rra”, (when addressing men), and “dumêla mma “, (when addressing women), are compliments abundantly used by Batswanat people. When addressing to a group, you say “dumêlang “.

Useful expressions:

Go siame : when ending a conversation, meaning « ok…no problem »
Ko ko! : Good Day! (When entering a room)
Tsweetswee: Please
Kea itumetse: Thank you
Ee/nnyaa: yes/no
Ke kopa thuso: excuse me (I would like help)
O kae ? : Are you alright?
Ke teng: I am doing ok (familiar)
Re teng: I am doing good (polite)
A o tsogile ? : How are you? (litt. how did you wake up ?)
A o bua Sekgoa/Seenglish? : Do you speak English?
Borotho: bread
Dijo: food
Metsi: water
Leina la me ke…: my name is…
Pula: Cheers

Food: In the capital city you will have opportunities to enjoy international food (Chinese, Indian, French, Italian and Portuguese). Local meals are: “mabele” (millet porridge) “bogobe” (sorghum porridge) “phaletshe” (porridge made from ground maize) served with meat. « Vetkoek» (fried dough bread) is sold everywhere. If you find traditional food, you will make you experience strong sensations. In the Kalahari, you will find « morama » which is a useful plant because it contains water. Among best local delicacies, you will find « marula » fruits, « tsama » melons, wild cucumbers and desert truffles. « Mongongo »nuts (like cashew nuts) are very nutritive. Interesting food is the dried mopane worms (canned/packaged in tomato sauce or chili sauce to enhance the flavor). You can accompany these typical meals with local beers, red or white wines, or other traditional drinks. « Mokolane », a potent swill made from distilled palm sap (very strong palm wine), or « kgadi » (made from distilled brew of brown sugar and berries of fungus) are illegal. But « bojalwa » (sorghum beer marketed and labelled as « chibuku »), « mageu » (made from maize or sorghum), and « madila » (thick milk curd) is ok to drink.

Religion: First tribal religions consisted only of ancestor’s cults. The rituals included young men and women initiation ceremonies. The «gofethla pula» is a rain-making rite addressed to « Modimo », Supreme Being and Creator. The « san » mythology is rich in magical explanations of the natural phenomenons. In this mythology two supernatural beings intervene: (Nodima, the good guy, and Gcawama, the mischievous trickster). Early Christian missionaries, who appeared in the beginning of the 19th century, have destroyed all “Tswana” and other tribes’ traditions forbidding ancestors cults, polygamy and alcohol. Today, Christianity (with the « United Congregational Church of Southern Africa ») is the main religion.

Art: Batswana people have always decorated with originality their utilitarian objects. Basketry is the leading traditional art. Baskets are woven from the “mokolane” palm and dyed with natural colors. They have a surprising variety of patterns that are representative of different aspects of local life. The designs are given beautifully descriptive names such as Flight of the Swallow, Tears of the Giraffe, and The Running Ostrich. Woodcarvers use thick Mopane grains to make jewelry and animal figures. Typical Tswana architecture consists in round huts called « daga », « ntlo », or « rondavel ». Some of these huts are built with bricks made of anthill soil and covered with a cow dung (« boloko ») and anthill soil mixture. The poles (« maotwana ») coming from strong trees are tied together with flexible branches. Roofs made of thatch (« motshikiri ») is woven on top of the flexible branches, and covered with palm oil and wood ashes

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