Botswana’s tourism model is simple. High value, low volume. In other words, if we charge enough, we restrict the number of people who can visit. The more the prices go up, the fewer the people. It’s all in the interests of minimising the damage done to the delicate ecosystem by tourists. You only have to read about the protests in Europe – trying to ban cruise liners in Venice, or issuing tickets to visit Cinque Terre. Even in the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales the National Parks are paving old ancient footpaths to stop erosion caused by heavy walking traffic, turning them into motorways. Well, perhaps not quite – it’s still true that 98.7% of visitors don’t stray further than the nearest tea room. That’s a post truth statistic, by the way, but we must be close.
What made Botswana affordable for us was (1) tagging it on the back of our Namibia trip, so we could discount the flight price and (2) staying at a very acceptable couple of lodges run by Ker and Downey that are sensibly priced. You can (and we met people who did) pay £2,000 a night…or more for an “opulent” rated camp. That’s a grade above “deluxe”, which is above “first class”. You pays your money…
We reckon we got the timing about right – early October – though you can visit right through the year. A few weeks earlier (the U.K. summer holidays, of course) is probably ideal when the water levels are higher from the earlier rains as the water washes through from Angola, but we certainly didn’t miss out. It still couldn’t be described as cheap, especially as you have to fly in and out, and between lodges by small plane, but the lodges were “all inclusive”, including a choice of perfectly acceptable red and white wines, as well as unlimited supplies of Amarula. Ok, so Singita in South Africa let’s you loose in their well stocked wine cellar, but that’s not really what it’s all about here. You can see perhaps the widest variety of wildlife here in the Okavango – both land and water based. It’s simply fabulous.
Highlights (and there were many) included avoiding an elephant charge in the waterways, walking safaris getting really close to zebras, visiting the roosting birds at sunset at Kanana, and being at Shinde when they celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of independence. We had a very old friend who worked in Botswana for ten years, helping map water resources. We never did get to visit and she died too young in her early sixties; this was a sentimental journey in many ways.
They say Africa gets under your skin. Well, that’s certainly true of Botswana. We’ll be back.