Last updated: 09:11 AM ET, Fri May 15 2015

Dispatch: Why Botswana?

Tour Operator | South African Airways | David Cogswell | May 15, 2015

Dispatch: Why Botswana?

Many choose Botswana as their top choice for a safari and there are reasons for that. A large part of the country is open wilderness where the animals live in a natural state, and that includes all the Big Five and many more. Within that area, the populations are robust. The game viewing is rich and the land is quite pristine.

South Africa has everything: great cities, great safari country, the winelands, the Atlantic and Indian oceans, and a huge variety of terrain and weather. Kenya and Tanzania have superb open wilderness lands with rich wildlife and the Great Migration. Botswana is more of a newcomer on the tourism stage. It’s less discovered, less visited and more remote from civilization. There are fewer camps and they are smaller.

The geographical features vary among all the regions of Africa. Each of the safari countries has its own kinds of attractions, but Botswana is unique and rich. The Okavango Delta is in itself a bewilderingly unusual natural phenomenon. It is said to be the only river delta in the world that does not empty into a larger body of water. Instead, a huge volume of water flows into Botswana from Angola in the north through a small strip of Namibia via the Cubango River, and instead of rolling on to the sea as most rivers do, it spreads out into many branches and then just sinks into the desert sand.

Most of Botswana is desert. It’s not the kind of intense desert with miles upon miles of open, barren sand, such as the Sahara to the north. There is quite a lot of vegetation that grows in the sand, including grasses, bushes and trees, in varying amounts across its diverse landscape.

Instead of the iron-rich red earth you see in much of Southern and Eastern Africa, the land in most of this country is white sand. The Kalahari Desert covers most of Botswana, the eastern third of Namibia, and the northern part of Northern Cape province in South Africa.

A guide showed us a sand beach on the edge of one of the channels of the delta and he said the sand is hundreds of feet deep. The thick layer of sand acts as a buffer against tectonic shifts.

In some places in the world, sand is trucked in to create a sand beach. In other places there is concern because beaches have been wiped away by hurricanes. There is no such concern in Botswana. There the earth itself is sand. Botswana could surely supply sand for all the beaches that need it, if such a thing were possible.

Once it is in Botswana, the Cubango River is renamed the Okavango River, then it spreads into the Okavango Delta, producing an environment that is unlike anything else in the world.

To find out for myself I went on an exploration of Botswana organized by South African Airways Vacations, the trip packaging brand of South Africa’s national carrier. The itinerary was structured around two-night stays in three different safari camps spread across Botswana, all in strikingly different terrains.

Each camp is so nice you want to stay and live there. You hate to pack up and leave after staying only two days. The people have already become your friends and your cabin is a perfect home. But when you get to the next place it’s just as great in its own way.

The three camps I visited were Leroo La Tau, Savute Safari Lodge and Xugana Island Lodge. They are properties of Desert and Delta, a safari lodge operator that also runs five other camps in Botswana. Desert and Delta runs four star camps, its sister company Ker and Downey runs five star camps and their third sibling, Safari Air, runs a fleet of small aircraft for getting around in the bush where there are no highways.

The three camps were in widely different parts of Botswana with different kinds of terrain and biosystems. Leroo La Tau was built along the Boteti River in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, a salt bed in the heart of an ancient lake, long ago evaporated. Savute Safari Lodge is in game-rich Chobe National Park. And Xugana Island Lodge is on an island in the Okavango Delta, a marshy wonderland.

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