Beyond the Okavango – best places to visit in Botswana

The Okavango Delta is the most famous safari destination in Botswana. And with good reason. It offers a truly unique African safari experience. It is rich in wildlife, boasts diverse eco-systems and is home to some of the best camps in Africa. But the Okavango Delta often overshadows many of the surrounding safari destinations in Botswana which offer equally interesting safari experiences. And of course Cape Town and Victoria Falls are easily incorporated into a travel itinerary as well.

Those who take the time to safari beyond the Okavango will be rewarded with a more diverse safari experience. And to explore beyond the Okavango also creates a better appreciation of the Delta itself. Much of what makes the Okavango so unique is the extraordinary environment in which it exists – the Kalahari desert.

Consider the context in which the Okavango Delta lies and you soon see the wealth of safari experiences on offer to enhance your itinerary. Here we provide a snapshot of the what lies beyond the Okavango, the best places to visit in Botswana along with your Delta safari.

To the south are the vast plains of the Kalahari desert and striking makgadikgadi salt flats while to the north east is the mighty Linyanti and Kwando river system. To the east lies Chobe National Park, well established as a safari destination particularly the riverfront, though less people make it as far south as Savute which offers some of the most dramatic game viewing in the country. And in the eastern corner of Botswana lies a true hidden gem, the Tuli Block and Mashatu Game Reserve where a collection of off-the-beaten-track camps offer superb game viewing in striking environments and unique activities – at more affordable rates.

In short northern Botswana offers an amazing range of different safari opportunities which complement your Okavango safari, and indeed many areas have similar eco-systems and support similar wildlife and so build on your delta experience. Others are vastly different and offer an interest contrast to your safari experience.

We understand most visitors to the Okavango have travelled great distances to reach its rich reserves and are interested in exploring more of the wider region as part of the same trip. We can advise how best to maximise your time in Botswana depending on your particular interests.

A summary of some of the best places to visit as part of your trip to the Okavango Delta is found below.

The Kwando-Linyanti-Selinda Reserve

Very similar eco-systems to the Okavango are found in other areas of northern Botswana, these also feature rich river systems similar in appearance and experience the Delta. Indeed many visitors to certain camps would not be able to tell the difference between these regions. The differences are subtle and interesting, and exploring both areas can really enhance a safari itinerary for those with the time (and budget) to explore both areas.

Immediately to the north east of the Okavango lie the Selinda, Kwando and Linyanti Reserves. These areas offer a similar safari experience – though often on a greater scale of exclusivity – with vast reserves home to only a couple of camps. Indeed, some of Botswana’s top camps are found in these  regions.

The Kwando Reserve lies in the far north of Botswana, directly north of the Okavango Delta. The Kwando river forms the natural boundary between Botswana and Namibia, this vast reserve is 232,000 hectares (that’s 30 times the size of Manhattan) with only 2 safari camps – Lagoon Camp and Lebala Camp. People are rare here, animals are not.

The Kwando River flows east and becomes the Linyanti River (and eventually the Chobe River). The Linyanti Reserve is an astounding 1,250km² and features just 5 camps. Some of these camps are set along the river (such as the luxurious camps of Kings Pool, Duma Tau and Little Duma) and offer a similar Okavango experience, others are set further south (such as Savuti Camp) and offer a drier safari experience similar to that of the Savuti region.

The Selinda Reserve lies between the Okavango and Kwando Reserve- the Selinda Spillway, when flowing, links the Okavango and Kwando-Linyanti river systems. This vast 130 000 hectares reserve is extremely pretty and rich in wildlife and offers an excellent safari in the dry season. It is home to three varied lodges- the luxurious Selinda Camp and Zarafa Camp and the more rustic Selinda Explorers and Selinda Pioneers.

These wild, remote and incredibly exclusive reserves are often considered by many experienced safari goers to be some of best places to visit in Botswana.

The Kalahari

The Kalahari dominates most of Botswana. It is into the soft Kalahari sands that the Okavango waters flow and it is these sands which filter the waters resulting in its crystal clear appearance.

A safari to the harsh Kalahari desert offers an amazing contrast to the lush Okavango Delta. Not simply in terms of landscapes but in the varied game viewing opportunities and activities offered – this is also the best place for the most authentic cultural bushman experience for example. For those wishing to really get off the beaten track and away from the crowds…or indeed anyone, the Kalahari offers some of the most exclusive and remote safari experiences.

The Kalahari desert in Botswana is not formed of soaring dunes and the kind of desert landscapes found in neighbouring Namibia. Instead it is made up of grasslands, pans, scrublands and salt pans- these areas can support much more life than the corners of the Kalahari found in Namibia and as such offer a very interesting safari experience rich in animals and birdlife.

These landscapes are home to very different desert adapted species not often found in the Okavango, such as the Kalahari black maned lion, brown hyena, gemsbok (oryx), springbok, cheetah, bat-eared fox as well as many animals also found in the Okavango such as giraffe, zebra, impala, elephants and more.

Camps include Tau Pan and Dinaka Camp. Further to the west is Feline Fields, a luxury lodge with less focus on wildlife and more on a semi-desert experience offering one of the most authentic bushman experiences.

The harsh landscapes of the Kalahari, with it’s huge skies and rich, unusual wildlife are not visited by many. This is a wild, remote area but those who do venture this far are richly rewarded. The Kalahari is one of the best places to visit in Botswana for those looking to get off the beaten track.

The Makgadikgadi salt pans

The Makgadikgadi salt pans have an other-worldly, almost lunar like, appearance and offer perhaps the most striking contrast to the Okavango Delta. Lying just south east of the Okavango these are some of the largest salt pans in the world – rivalled only by the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. The salt crusts are home to some of Botswana’s most unique and exciting safari experiences, and some of its best camps too. Here visitors can enjoy a number of original safari experiences alongside traditional game drives, such as quad biking safaris, horse safaris and visiting habituated meerkats and authentic Sab Bushman experiences. Camps offering these experiences include Jack’s Camp, San Camp, Camp Kalahari, Meno o Kwena and Planet Baobab. More traditional safaris are offered at Leroo la Tau, Nxai Pan Camp and Migration Camps.

At first glance these pans may appear as completely barren, lacking in life – but look closer and a fascinating environment is revealed that attracts adventure and animals.

The Makgadikgadi pans are the remnants of an ancient superlake. Now the flats are rich in minerals which give rise to nutritious grasses when the rains fall and prompt the longest zebra migration in Africa, as tens of thousands of Zebra descent on the pans from December-March. During this time of year the Makgadikgadi pans offer some of the best game viewing in the country and are one of the best places to visit in Botswana. Other animals follow such as wildebeest. And of course where there are large number of plains game the predators will follow.  As the pans fill with water they also come alive with birds, flamingos, pelicans, ducks and geese and many more descend on these pans in the summer.

The pans are home to a number of interesting desert adapted species which are not usually seen in the lush Okavango and other areas of northern Botswana- such as the Kalahari black maned lion, the brown hyena, cheetah, springbok, gemsbok (oryx), ostrich, bat-eared foxes and more. Many species will be found in both regions, such as elephant, impala, giraffe, zebra, and more.

The safari experience and activities on offer in and around the Makgadikgadi pans will vary with the seasons, but this is always a fascinating area to visit and well worth exploring during your planning.

While the amazing array of unique activities on offer are becoming increasingly popular, especially to those looking to visit the meerkats, this remains a quiet and often overlooked area – though many consider it one of the best places to visit in Botswana.


Chobe National Park

One of Botswana’s most famous attractions perhaps needs no introduction. Chobe National Park lies in the farther north eastern corner of the country and is home to huge concentrations of wildlife.

Think of Chobe, and you will surely think of elephants. Botswana is home to Africa’s largest population of elephants – a third of the world’s African elephants are found here – and in the dry season many of them are found along the Chobe riverfront arriving in truly staggering numbers at sunset each day. Truly a sight to behold. Chobe Game Lodge offers perhaps the finest views of these crossings from its excellent location within the park itself. Alternatively houseboats, such as the Zambezi Queen, Chobe Princess or Pangolin Voyager offer another unique vantage point.

It is not all elephants though – this is Big Five country with wonderfully varied game viewing. Chobe National Park is vast and stretches from the famous riverfront in the north to the fringes of the Okavango in the south. In central Chobe, the Savute marsh area offers some of the best game viewing in Botswana – and some of the most explosive. The is a harsh region and the predators here have developed ferocious hunting techniques which have seen elephant and hippos brought down regularly by the famous marsh pride. Leopard have learnt to hunt cat fish in the muddy waters. Lion, leopard, wild dog, hyena and sometimes even cheetah are found here.  Savute Safari Lodge and Savute Elephant Camp are excellent camps to explore this region.

Chobe is Botswana’s most visited region, and the area around the riverfront can be crowded with day trippers from Kasane and Victoria Falls, however this is a vast area and with careful planning quieter corners can be reached for a more peaceful safari experience.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is just 1.5 hours drives from Kasane, in Chobe, the north eastern corner of Botswana. It is remarkably easy to visit from Chobe, indeed it can even be visited on a day trip from Chobe though this is a full day out with border formalities to cross to Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls can be seen from Zimbabwe (where the town is named Victoria Falls) and Zambia (where the local town is Livingstone). Both offer a wonderful range of accommodation options to suit all travellers, from family friendly establishments to romantic boutique hotels and safari style lodges on the river. A superb start or end to a safari. Victoria Falls Airport and Livingstone Airport are increasingly well served by a number of large international airlines.

Victoria Falls offers a fantastic array of activities beyond simply visiting the falls themselves- from adrenaline filled sports like rafting and zip wiring to more sedate sunset cruises on the Zambezi and safaris in nearby parks. Somewhere it is possible to do as much or little as you wish at your own pace.

Victoria Falls enjoys the same weather as the rest of the region however the view and experience of the falls will depend on the amount of rain received in the areas upstream and therefore fluctuates. See our seasonal considerations page for more information. In brief, high water levels are traditionally around March and low water levels around October.

Cape Town and the Winelands

Cape Town and the surrounding winelands may feel another world away from the Okavango wilderness but with daily direct flights of just 2 hours duration between Maun and Cape Town, it is remarkably easy to combine these areas. Cape Town adds a fantastically different element to your itinerary, there is something for everyone here. Stunning scenery, excellent restaurants, cultural activities and beaches. Rich marine life offers the chance to do a marina safari as well as a traditional safari. It makes an superb spot to begin or end your safari.

It is worth noting that unlike Botswana and most of the region, the Western Cape has wet winters (June-September) which is worth bearing in mind. So a peak season safari in Botswana (and the whole region including Kruger) which takes place around June-September) would be low season in the Cape – and visitors should be prepared for cold and possible wet weather. Conversely, those who plan a low season safari (taking advantage of the favourable rates) will enjoy warm dry summers in the Cape.

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