Botswana has 4 national parks and 2 (main) game reserves. However, the first question to ask about Botswana's national parks and game reserves is... when is it the best time to visit?
First and foremost (generally) figure out what you want to see and do. Knowing your proposed list will give you better options will help you determine if what you want to see will be available as well as work as a guide for your events.
Wildlife viewing and bird watching is good all year round. October and November are considered the best time for wildlife viewing because it is generally considered to be the dry season when the most concentration of animals along the riverfront increases daily. The animals congregate along the River to make use of the life-giving waters in a barren wilderness. For sun-worshippers (such as myself) October is the hottest month and is probably the best time for you. You'll appreciate the option to view wildlife via jeep, horseback, ATV or even walking tours. October also provides a wonderful time to sleep under the stars or take a night swim in your camp's pool if you wish. If you're not afraid of getting a little wet, the peak raining season is during January and February.
All four national parks in Botswana – Chobe, Gemsbok, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Nxai Pan – are run by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) based in Gaborone. Below are Botswana parks and game reserve(s) info:
1. Chobe National Park:
Lying in the north of the country, this is park is named for the Chobe river that borders with Namibia and is inland on the Okavango Delta. It is the lifeblood of the area and feeds adjacent flood plains. It's also known for its large herds of elephants and Cape buffalo, which converge along the Chobe Riverfront in the dry months. Lions, antelopes and hippos inhabit the woods and lagoons around Linyanti Marsh. Additionally, the floodable grasslands of the Savuti Marsh attract numerous bird species, plus migrating zebras. Last, if you can manage and will not be staying at a safari camp inside the park it is a day trip from Victoria Falls. Having the opportunity to do both a river and land safari on the same day at one of the top parks would be incredible. he park has the most varied wildlife of all of Botswana's parks with one of the highest populations of Elephant to be found here.
2. Kgalagadi National Park
Through a cooperation between the Botswana and South African Governments, the Kgalagadi National Park is the first official Transfrontier and it managed jointly by both countries. The Botswana section covers an area of about 28, 105 sq.km with plenty of wild animals, including wildebeest, eland, hartebeest, gemsbok and springbok. Super predators like lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena can also be viewed. It is said that most tourism happens on the South Africa side, which has excellent facilities. The Botswana side only has very basic campsites. A bonus is the red sand dunes in the inhospitable desert form a magnificent backdrop for wildlife viewing and photography. The Kgalagadi is not a big 5 destination. Animal numbers are lower than in more classic safari destinations, but the open terrain makes for very good viewing.
Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, situated south of the Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana, is part of the Kalahari Basin and has some of the largest salt pans in the world creating an impressive and surreal landscape. The name Makgadikgadi means „vast, lifeless land”. For those who prefer solitude and silence this is paradise, as even during the high season people are scarce here. The Makgadikgadi National Park is not visited so much because of its fauna, but rather its solitude, remoteness and its harsh beauty. Nonetheless, depending on the season, impressive animal populations can be viewed. The pans are surrounded by open grasslands, which attract the largest zebra migration after Tanzania. During the rainy season from December to March, large herds of zebras, oryx, wildebeests, impalas and springbuck roam the northern part of the Nxai Pan National Park. They then trek south into the Makgadikgadi National Park where they feed on green pastures and make use of the many small water holes from June to November. In December the animals move along the Boteti River back north into the Nxai National Park. Elephants can be found along the Boteti River and there are waterholes big enough for hippos to stay in. After the first rains a lot of aquatic birds – especially flamingos – breed along the pans.
The Nxai Pans National Park is situated north of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. The park is also dominated by large salt pans, which attract large herds of animals especially during and after the rainy season. The fascinating landscapes, a group of seven mighty baobab trees – the famous Baines Baobabs – as well as a waterhole frequently visited by a pride of lions are the main highlights of the Nxai Pans National Park. The park derives its name from a curved stick ‘Nxa’, which the San used to dig out springhares and which the form of the park resembles. The area of the park belongs to the settlement area of the San (Bushmen).
5. Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Situated in the center of the country, one of the five largest nature reserves in the world. The best time to visit is November to March - when it may rain. May to October is hot, dry and dusty in the Kalahari with little water and limited animals. Home to a wide variety of antelopes including eland, gemsbok, kudu, red hartebeest and springbok and also has a number of wildebeest, giraffe, lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog and brown hyena. The majority of the park is flat, vast open plains. Deception Pan is the parks most popular spot because it attracts large numbers of game after the rains from February to April.
Botswana and especially the Central Kalahari are still an insider tip for individual travellers. As the CKGR is a fairly new touristic destination the infrastructure still has lots of room for improvement and there is a lot of information to be taken into account, which we will just shortly touch upon here.
Game viewing is best during the rainy season from November to April, especially in the northern part, the Deception Valley. Predators can hunt easily at the waterholes as high grass gives them perfect cover.
6. Moremi Game Reserve
Located on the eastern corner of the Okavango Delta in the north west of Botswana, is Moremi Game Reserve. Described as one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Africa, the best time to visit is between July and October. It combines mopane woodland and acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons.
Its location is unique being situated in the so-called Okavango Panhandle, consisting of a network of 5 main river arms, lakes, reeds, islands and forests. The park is only accessible from the east and only has 300 km of roads. Only 20% of the area of the park consists of land surface.
It is the great diversity of plant and animal life that makes Moremi so well known. It is one of the few places where you may be lucky to see a Red Lechwe antelope. An astonishing amount of game is found here. Elephants are numerous, especially during the dry season, as are many others: buffaloes, giraffes, lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas, jackals and all kinds of antelope species, large and small. Aquatic birds are also found in abundance, Especially herons and egrets. Over 500 species are found here.
Mokoro-canoe excursions can be one way of exploring the park. Excursions with a knowledgeable guide are advisable. Exploring the complete Moremi – and Delta - area is only possible by plane. Lodges and Camps are mostly reached by plane from Maun. Guests as well as supplies are transported like this. Individual travelers have to present a reservation to be able to enter at the park gates.
7. Khutse Game Reserve
The Khutse Game Reserve is an area only sparsely visited during the dry season. The KGR borders the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to the north and is one of the lesser visited reserves of Botswana. It forms part of an old river system that stretched north-east all the way to the Makgadikgadi Lake. There are no lodges to be found within the KGR. The Khutse Kalahari Lodge, 10 km outside the entrance gate into the Khutse Game Reserve, has partly burned down and is currently closed. The KGR hosts 25 campsites, all of them offering only very little shade and no water. The Khutse, Molose and Moreswe Pans have basic latrines and shower facilities without water though. Visitors have to bring water, fuel, etc. as there is no possibility to buy supplies in the reserve.
During and right after the rainy season herds of kudus and hartebeest can be seen on the bush savanna. The pans are mainly frequented by springboks, oryx and wildebeests as well as ground squirrels. Cheetahs and giraffe are rare, more often one can find leopards, brown hyenas and prides of lions and of course an abundance of birds.
The KGR is a rather arid area. As rainfalls appear quite late in the year the landscape only becomes green in January / February. This is also the time for the heavy Kalahari thunderstorms. During the months of April until July wildlife numbers are the highest. Large herds only arrive after intensive rains to graze on the wide grass plains. It is during these months that most tourists visit the reserve, but it remains less travelled than other parks and reserves.
During the later dry season wildlife numbers are low and far spread. From September to December it is hot, dry, dusty and often very windy.
8. Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta is situated in the north-west of the country. Game viewing is good all year round, but the best months are May to November. It is home to an abundance of wildlife including crocodile, hippo, water bucks and various fish species which can be seen from safari vehicles and boats. The delta waters meet the sands of the Kalahari desert making the whole area very beautiful and scenic which is why it is referred to as the 'Jewel of the Kalahari'.