Botswana Helpful Travel Information
Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name upon independence in 1966. The economy, one of the most robust on the continent, is dominated by diamond mining and tourism.
As a tourist destination, Botswana has traditionally opted for a high price / low numbers formula, in part as a conservation strategy, and also to differentiate itself from neighbouring tourist countries who follow a mass market tourism policy. However, that isn’t to say Botswana is an expensive high end destination. In many respects costs and quality compare to neighbouring South Africa. However the two jewels in Botswana tourism crown (the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park) are quite exclusive, although there are budget options.
Border and Entry Requirements
Citizens of 67 countries and territories, including Australia, Canada, most EU countries, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and United States do not require a visa when visiting Botswana.
Visitors to Botswana can arrive internationally from South Africa, Kenya or Zimbabwe to the Sir Seretse Khama airport in Gaborone. The airport in Maun can also be reached via Johannesburg or Gaborone and limited from Windhoek, Namibia. Maun is very much a central tourist attraction spot and also central to various flights to the Okavango Delta.
From outside Botswana you can import up to 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 250g of tobacco duty-free. Edible animal products such as untinned meat, milk and eggs are confiscated at the border (www.lonelyplanet.com).
Getting around – transport systems and fuel stations
Very few locals know street names and addresses, and you are likely to get directions in terms of landmarks.
Through a combination of coaches and combies, you can get anywhere in Botswana without any problem. Hitchhiking should only be done in desperate circumstances as Botswana driving is often erratic and it can be quite a harrowing experience. It is also advisable to arrive at the bus station quite early as the buses do fill up quite quickly.
When buying a map for areas in Botswana ensure that you buy a known and trusted brand’s map as other maps may have quite a few errors and omissions.
When traveling by car, the roads are paved and well maintained, so travel by car is also not a problem, provided you keep an eye out for cows, donkeys and goats that spend much of their time in the middle of the road and not much bothered by cars approaching.
You are also able to reach most destinations by bus or train.
Cultural and Language Considerations
The official languages are English and Tswana. Kalanga is spoken near the Zimbabwean borders, and is similar to Shona. In general the Botswana people are very friendly, but if you can learn the basic greetings in their own language you will immediately see how their smiles broaden!
Currencies and ways to pay
For the independent traveller prices in Botswana compare to neighbouring South Africa. Notable exceptions are petrol and diesel which are about a third cheaper in Botswana, and alcohol, which is about a third more expensive.
Botswana’s currency is the Pula; 100 Thebe = 1 Pula. In Setswana, pula means ‘rain’ and thebe means ‘shield’. Rough conversions are 8:1 USD; 10:1 EUR, 12:1 GBP and 1.1:1 ZAR.
Health, Safety and Emergency Information
People in Botswana are very friendly and the crime rate is low. Basic common sense will keep you safe from predatory wildlife in rural areas.
Botswana’s HIV infection rates is the 2nd highest reported in the world, estimated at 24.1%. Therefore it is advisable that you take the necessary precautions.
The northern part of Botswana, including Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, is in a malaria zone and therefore it is advisable to take the relevant medical precautions. Seek medical advise from your doctor before visiting these areas.
Water in urban areas is chlorinated, and is drunk by the local population. Still, short term visitors with sensitive stomachs may feel more secure drinking bottled water. In rural areas water is untreated and straight from a borehole and poses a slightly higher risk to the traveller.
Embassies and high commissions contacts (www.lonelyplanet.com):
Angola – Tel 390 0204, Plot 13232 Khama Crescent, Nelson Mandela Drive, Gaborone.
France – Tel 397 3863, www.ambafrance-bw.org, 761 Robinson Road, Gaborone
Germany – Tel 395 3143, www.gaborone.diplo.de; 3rd Floor, Professional House, Broadhurst Mall, Segodithsane Way, Gaborone
Namibia – Tel 390 2181, 2nd Floor, Debswana House, Gaborone
South Africa – Tel 390 4800/1/2/3; firstname.lastname@example.org; 29 Queens Road, Gaborone
UK – Tel 395 2841; www.britishhighcommission.gov.uk/botswana; Plot 1079-1084 Main Mall, Queens Road, Gaborone
USA – Te; 395 3982; http://gaborone.usembassy.gov/, Embassy Drive, Gaborone
Zambia – Tel 395 1951; Plot No 1118, Queens Road, Gaborone
Zimbabwe – Tel 391 4495, Government Enclave, Plot 8850, Gaborone.
Satellite and Mobile Networks
Botswana uses GSM900 and has three mobile operators. Coverage is restricted to the towns and highways, out in the bush there is generally nothing.
For the internet, internet cafes are present in most towns, and have useable speeds. Wifi is available in the pricier / expat oriented cafes and restaurants, but game lodges tend not to have these facilities.
Botswana is in general very hot and humid. To be safe it is recommended that you take with broad sunhats, sunscreen of minimum 30 SPF, as well as light shawls to cover your shoulders at peak times in the direct sun. There are also rain at times (thank goodness!) and for these times some rain gear is required.