Quick Guide to Botswana: Visa-free travel for South Africans

2018-06-27 13:48
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Ngoma Safari Lodge - Kavitha Pillay

We often take our neighbouring countries for granted.

Perhaps it's because these countries are just a drive away and we procrastinate our visits in favour of exotic destinations in other continents, or maybe we assume that they offer very similar attractions, cultures and natural heritage?

The latter couldn't be further from the truth, and if you're looking for a starting point to explore our neighbouring countries, then make Botswana your first destination. Best of all, the country is only a 4 to 7 hours drive from Johannesburg, depending which of the 17 border crossings you choose.

SEE: #AfriTravel: Why Botswana is the ultimate getaway for nature lovers

But first, like many good adventure-loving South Africans, there are a few things you’ll need to get together before you go.

While Botswana is an extension of the iconic Kruger self-drives you may know and love so well, this is a border-crossing break that requires a certain amount of preparation and planning if you want to make the most of it.

Here's what you need to know before you go:

Travel documents: Visa-free for South Africans with a valid passport. If you travel with an emergency travel document, other than your SA passport, you will need to get a visa.

Medical requirements: If you’re travelling to the north of Botswana or find yourself in Limpopo, you should take malaria medication well in advance and after your trip – in accordance with your doctor’s prescriptions. The risk is higher in the north according to authorities. Chobe National Park is included in the risk area. Yellow fever certificate will be needed if coming from an endemic area. Bilharzia is present as well as sleeping sickness.

ALSO SEE: 45 Practical tips for South Africans planning their first 4x4 Botswana trip

Currency: Pula (P) at about R1.27/P. Dollars are also widely accepted and keep in mind the various park access fees as well as conservation fees as you plan your itinerary - also often charged in dollars.

National Language: Setswana or Tswana (Note, there is an abundance of languages spoken in Botswana, with Setswana being the most prominent). 

Useful Phrases: Although English is widely spoken in Botswana, it's important to know a few basic words and phrases in the country's official and most common language, Setswana.

Here are some key phrases to learn:

  • Yes – Ea
  • No – Aua
  • Hello – Hallo
  • Good morning/afternoon/evening – Dumela (to one person), Dumelang (to a group)
  • How are you? – O Kae?
  • I am well – Ke teng
  • Stay well – Sala sentle
  • Go well – Tsamaya sentle
  • Please – Ka kopo
  • Thank you – Ke a leboga
  • How much does it cost? – Ke bokae?
  • Excuse me – Ntshwarele
  • Do you speak English? – O bua Sekhowa?

National Carrier: Air Botswana.

Airport Hub: Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.

Flight Routes: Fly direct from Johannesburg to Gaborone (Botswana's capital) with multiple airlines, or from Johannesburg to Maun, Kasane or Francistown with Air Botswana. You can also fly direct from Cape Town to Gaborone with SAA.

Time Zone: Same as South Africa - (GMT+2).

Travel adapter: Type D, G and M.

Public Transport: Similar to South Africa, a popular and inexpensive mode of transport to get to major cities is via minibus - however it can be a bit dangerous.

Taxis and buses are the next best option travel to all major towns throughout Botswana. In most cases, transport can be arranged with the hotel where you are staying - or through tour companies such as Wild Horizons and Ngoma Safari Lodge - to drop and pick you up from your desired destinations.

SEE: Border Crossing into Botswana – everything you need to know

Climate: Semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional.

Best time to visit: May to September - during the dry season and winter.

Must-try food: The national dish of Botswana is called Seswaa. Meat stew served over thick polenta or pap. The stew is made by boiling meat with onion and pepper. Adding anything else is considered an infringement. 

SEE: The Complete ‘Bundu-Bashing’ Menu for the serious adventure-loving family

Must-visit places:

- The Okavango Delta

- Chobe National Park

- Makgadikgadi Salt Pan (Makgadikgadi Pans National Park) 

- Kubu Island (Makgadikgadi Pans National Park)

- Kalahari Desert 

Where to Stay

Some of the top camps to check into in Botswana include:

Central Botswana: Kalahari Plains Camp

Located in the Central Kalahari area of Botswana, Kalalhari Plains Camp is said to be two high-quality options within the enormous Central Kalahari Reserve. Activities are centred on vehicle safaris and bush walks. It is well-suited to the type of guests who tend to be attracted to this relatively unusual location. The sleep-out decks above the rooms are a particular highlight.

Northern: Linyanti Tented Camp

Located Linyanti East in the Linyanti area of northern Botswana is a small, simple permanent tented camp in a pretty waterfront position on the superb Linyanti East Concession, which offers very strong wildlife viewing during May - October dry season, particularly notable for elephants, lions, wild dogs and leopards.

City Stay: Peermont

The Peermont has an 11-star presence in the capital city, Gaborone, with the Peermont Walmont and Peermont Metcourt Inn situated within the award winning Grand Palm Hotel Casino Convention Resort and the 4-star boutique Peermont Mondior hotel closer to the city center.

Border-crossing breaks to plan: