6 Reasons to Go to Botswana on Safari
We are fortunate to guide photographic tours and safaris in several countries within Africa and we are often asked by our guests which is our favourite. To be honest, it’s almost impossible to answer such a question as each country has its own unique advantages. Northern Botswana certainly ranks up there as one of our true favourites (to name but a few!). A location that continues to be very productive for photography and where we have shot many of our favourite images.
Here are just a handful of reasons why we think Northern Botswana is such a great destination for a wildlife photography safari.
1. Fewer vehicles
Wildlife photography adventures are increasing in popularity, and as such it can become harder each year to seek and enjoy those sightings without sharing them with lots of other vehicles. However, in Botswana, even in the popular national parks this is certainly still achievable. Especially in the larger national park/reserves, such as Moremi Game Reserve, and it’s not just something that is restricted to the expensive private concessions.
Take an example of our latest photo safari that we hosted in July 2018, and our first three days whilst in Moremi Game Reserve. Here we enjoyed three days of photographing a female leopard up a tree on a kill (located just 20 metres from the entrance to our mobile camp!). We watched her feed on the kill, descend up and down the tree several times, resting on the ground and drinking at a nearby waterhole. Then, whilst in the same area, there was the coalition of three male lions who we followed and photographed for over 2 hours. Later that same day we found another leopard: this time a magnificent male. With our guests enjoying all of these sightings in perfect solitude.
This not only enhances the overall experience but also provides an opportunity to observe and photograph natural and relaxed behaviour. In addition, more flexibility in positioning of the vehicles to get the best view and no fighting for ‘that spot’ to get a shot. Of course, not every sighting will be exclusive. However, in our experience the opportunity to share a sighting with less or sometimes even no vehicles is still easily achievable in many parts of Botswana.
2. Magical light & dust
In Botswana, the light is a photographer’s dream. The colours produced are sensational, with the rising and setting sun casting a beautiful orange glow over the vast tracts of wilderness. Add this golden light to the beautiful sage grass, widespread throughout many parts of Botswana and you have the perfect photographic recipe. As the sage grass dries during the dry season it becomes a sea of gold under the rising or setting sun.
Of course, this golden light is not just exclusive to Botswana. However, due to its geographical location further away from the equator, we find the period of time in which the golden light is experienced is longer than some other locations further north. This gives you that slightly wider window in which to shoot in such light.
In addition, during the peak of the dry season in Botswana the areas around the waterholes (in the more arid zones) have become well-trodden by thousands of passing elephants and other game, making the ground dusty and dry. As many animals congregate at these dwindling water resources you are presented with opportunities of getting some truly striking shots when combining your subject with the dust and the magical light.
Areas such as Savuti & Nxai Pan are great locations in Botswana for capturing such images and, if you don’t mind the heat, the period of September to early November is the generally the optimum time for the ‘dust’.
3. Land of the giants
For any elephant lover, Botswana represents the ultimate destination. Over a third of Africa’s elephant population is found in Botswana, providing endless photographic opportunities of these mighty pachyderms. Watching large breeding herds frolic in the water in areas such as Khwai, Moremi and the seasonal water holes of Savuti is such a wonderful sight, providing so many opportunities to photograph a myriad of behaviours and interactions.
Not only is this one of the best places on Earth for elephants, but also for viewing the huge old bulls that are often found congregating around the waterholes in large numbers. On many occasions we have counted upwards of 40+ (on one occasion a staggering 60!) bull elephants at a waterhole at any one time. This can be very common in Savuti during the hotter months.
Although elephants are encountered year-round in Botswana, a visit during the dry season (July – early November) is certainly the best time if you want to view such large numbers at the water holes.
Explore Botswana in the dry season
4. Varied terrain and topography
In Botswana you can certainly experience a wide variety of topography within just one trip. Providing a visual contrast and an array of different mammal and bird species to photograph in each area.
For example, you can start or finish with a visit to the beautiful Moremi Reserve, on the edge of the delta. It’s one of the richest eco-systems in Africa, featuring a mix of mopane woodland, stunning lagoons, winding rivers and beautiful savannah plains. It’s a haven for predators and a multitude of many other mammal species, including Lechwe antelope. Of course, there is also the abundant bird life of over 500 recorded species.
Visiting the Khwai concession, located on the northern boundary of Moremi Reserve, also provides a similar terrain but with the added benefit of off-roading being allowed.
As you start heading further north, and into areas such as Savuti (the location for the recent National Geographic documentary ‘Savage Kingdom”) the environment offers a stark contrast. A drier, more arid area with beautiful rock formations (a favourite look-out for the resident leopards) and where the famous Marsh lion pride resides. It is home to many mammal species living within a landscape that is dotted with Camelthorn Acacia trees. The area features several waterholes (some seasonal), where large numbers of elephants and other wildlife congregate daily; especially in the dry season.
5. Excellent viewing of wild dogs and other predators
There is no question that northern Botswana provides excellent opportunities to photograph a myriad of predators on safari, including lion, leopard and cheetah.
It is also one of the last remaining strongholds for the enigmatic and highly endangered wild dog. In areas such as Moremi and Khwai (and in more recent years also Savuti), wild dogs can be seen regularly and Botswana remains by far one of the best locations in Africa if you are looking for to capture these fascinating canids on camera.
Inspired? Join Andy and Sarah on safari in Botswana!
Whilst the wild dogs can be spotted year-round, the period of May through to July provides an increased chance of photographing the pups, as during this period the dogs are generally still denning. If you are fortunate to be able to find the den site (which has been the case for us the last 4 years running) this provides a great time of year to capture interaction between the adults and the youngsters.
6. Wilderness and adventure
It cannot be denied that Botswana offers an unsurpassed level of wilderness and adventure, with areas that feel untouched by human development and vast areas for wildlife to migrate freely. Imagine spending 10-days in the bush, traversing between different locations by vehicle, game-viewing on the way and yet never touching a tar road until the end of your trip. If this is something that whets your appetite, then a safari to Botswana is the one for you.
One of the best ways to experience Botswana is by mobile camping. If this conjures up concerns of putting up tents and cooking for yourself then fear not, as many photographic mobile camping trips provide beautifully located and fully-serviced private camps in the heart of pristine wilderness. There’s nothing more amazing than falling asleep to the magical sounds of the bush under a beautiful African sky; immersing yourself in nature, with photographic opportunities right on your doorstep. It is also one of the more economical ways (yet still a very comfortable experience) in which to enjoy a photo safari in Botswana.
We are delighted to be offering several Botswana photography safaris in 2019, with new locations in Botswana coming in 2020. Find out more information here if this interests you.
In our video below, you can also see just some of the wonderful encounters we had with our photo group in July 2018.