Botswana

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Introduction to Botswana

Beyond the narrow eastern corridor where the majority of the population is concentrated, Botswana is a largely roadless wilderness of savannas, deserts, wetlands and salt pans. Skinflints and softies beware: This remains a destination for the intrepid, well-heeled traveller.

Botswana is an African success story. It achieved independence from Britain in 1966 and in a mad stroke of luck then unearthed three of the world's richest diamond mines. Though suffering from a high HIV rate, it enjoys relatively stable governence and good educational and economic standards.

To ensure the country's natural assets are preserved, Botswana's government has embraced a policy of courting primarily high-cost, low-impact tourism, although recent years have seen options for independent, budget-minded travellers grow.

Full country name: Republic of Botswana

Area: 600,370 sq km

Population: 1.6 million

Capital City: Gaborone

People: Tswana (60%), Bakalanga, Basarwa, Bakgalagadi

Language: English, Setswana

Religion: indigenous beliefs (over 50%), Christian (30%), other

Government: parliamentary republic

Head of Government: President Festus Mogae

GDP: US$5.25 billion

GDP per capita: US$3,300

Annual Growth: 6%

Inflation: 9%

Major Industries: diamonds, copper, nickel, coal, salt, soda ash, potash, livestock processing, sorghum, maize, millet, pulses, groundnuts (peanuts), beans, cowpeas, sunflower seed, livestock

Major Trading Partners: EU, Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Zimbabwe

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Traveler Facts

Visas: No visa is required for visits of up to 90 days for citizens of most Commonwealth countries, most European countries and the USA. Passengers must hold a return/onward ticket and sufficient funds.

Health risks: malaria, HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 267

Electricity: 220-240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Botswanans enjoy public holidays on New Year's Day and the day after, at Easter, Ascension Day (in April or May), and Labor Day (1 May), as well as a two-day sleep-in around President's Day in July. Independence Day is celebrated on 30 September and the day following, and there are three public holidays over Christmas: Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after Boxing Day, on 25, 26 and 27 December, respectively.

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Best time to Visit

Winter (April through August) is a good time to visit Botswana, as the days are generally pleasant and the wildlife never wanders far from water sources. Bear in mind, however, that this is also the time of European, North American and South African school holidays, so things can get a bit crowded. In general, June, early July and mid to late September are the least crowded times to visit. Summer isn't the best time to hit the back roads, enjoy wildlife viewing or explore the Okavango, as prolonged rains may render sandy roads uncrossable, and animals disperse when water is abundant.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: pula

Meals

Budget: US$1-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-15

Deluxe: US$15+

Lodging

Budget: US$7-30

Mid-range: US$30-40

High: US$40-65

Deluxe: US$65+

With hopes of preserving the country's natural assets while deriving the benefits of tourism, the government has instituted a policy of courting primarily high-cost, low-volume tourism. Finding budget accommodation and transport is getting easier, but remains so difficult that the best of Botswana is almost inaccessible to the shoestring traveller. Even mid-range budgets will be stretched. There are a few inexpensive camp sites and some reasonably priced trips through the country's main tourist draw, the Okavango Delta. If you eschew the national parks (and you'd be mad to), self-cater and camp out, you can probably get by on US$30 a day. A more realistic budget, including a wildlife tour or two, will start at around US$75 a day and only go upwards. Double that figure at least for high-end safaris.

Full banking services are available in major towns, and there's no trouble exchanging traveller's checks, particularly those issued in US, UK and South African currencies. In remote towns and villages where there are no established banks, travelling banks are available weekly or monthly. These rural banking services may change foreign traveller's checks but are unlikely to deal with cash. To exchange money at a roving bank, it's vital that you queue early and set aside the entire morning for the task. Most major credit cards are accepted at tourist hotels and restaurants in the larger cities and towns.

While tipping isn't exactly required, it's now expected in many tourist hotels and restaurants. In most places a service charge is added as a matter of course, so if you feel the urge to augment that, about 10% should suffice. Taxi drivers generally aren't tipped.

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Attractions

Gaborone

Gaborone is a sprawling village suffering from the growing pains, drabness and lack of definition that accompany an abrupt transition from rural settlement to modern city. Although it has a few interesting sights, it is certainly nothing to go out of your way for.

Gaborone's premier attraction is the National Museum & Art Gallery, offering the usual collection of historic artefacts and stuffed animals. The small national gallery is a repository for both traditional and modern African and European pieces, including some San artwork.

Chobe National Park

Chobe covers 11,000 sq km (4300 sq mi) and has a greater variety of wildlife than anywhere else in Botswana. Kasane, at the northern tip of the park, is the park's gateway and administrative centre. The town itself doesn't offer much, but it's a good place to base yourself for visits to the park.

Elephants - 70,000 of them in herds of up to 500 - are the main attraction at the park, closely followed by lions, cheetahs, hippos, buffaloes, giraffes, antelope, jackals, warthogs, hyena, crocodile, otter, zebra and any number of bird species.

Okavango Delta

Described as 'the river which never finds the sea', the Okavango disappears into a 15,000 sq km (5850 sq mi) maze of lagoons, channels and islands in north-western Botswana. It's the largest inland delta in the world, and it teems with wildlife.

Most obvious are the birds - thousands upon thousands of them - but there are also elephant, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, giraffe, hippo and kudu. In the centre of the delta, the Moremi Wildlife Reserve totals around 3000 sq km (1170 sq mi) and is officially cordoned off for wildlife preservation.

Serowe

With around 90,000 people, sprawling Serowe, is the country's largest village. It has been the capital of the Ngwato people since King Khama moved here in 1902. Serowe is also home to the Botswana Brigades, a movement that, since 1965, has brought vocational education to remote parts of the country.

The Khama III Memorial Museum tells the story of the chiefs of the Ngwato people. Displays include personal effects of King Khama III and artefacts illustrating the history of Serowe. There is also a natural history display featuring a collection of African insects and snakes of the region.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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