Botswana general information
What is the dialing code for Botswana? What is Botswana's currency? What time is it in Botswana? These and other questions often occur when travelling to Botswana for the first time. Below we've gathered the most frequently asked questions, and tried to answer them for our travelers.
Time in Botswana
Botswana is always two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2); it doesn't operate daylight saving time, so there's no time difference between winter and summer months in Botswana.
Currency in Botswana
The pula (BWP) is Botswana's currency, and at the time of writing (June 2015) £1 = P15.32; also see www.oanda.com for the latest rate. Travellers' cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, although most camps here will take VISA and Mastercard credit cards, as well as US Dollars, Pounds, Euros and SA Rands. At most camps/lodges, there are no extras to pay.
Botswana's International Dialling Code
The International Dialling Code for Botswana is +267, followed by the city area code (e.g. (0)62 for Kasane, or (0)68 for Maun) and local number. Calling from Botswana, you need to dial 00 and the relevant country code (e.g. +44 for the UK, or +1 for the USA). International prepaid calls from Botswana to UK landlines with Botswana Telecommunication Corporation currently (Aug 09) cost P2.70 per minute, or P3.40 per minute to UK mobiles.
Food in Botswana
Botswana's safari camps provide very high-quality food and drink – most serve international-style cuisine, alongside the local lager St. Louis, imported beers (Amstel or Windhoek), wines and spirits.
In Botswana's villages and towns, meats, particularly beef and goat, are very popular; millet and sorghum porridge are staples. National specialities include Morama (an underground tuber), Morogo (wild spinach), Kalahari truffle, all sorts of beans, and Mophane worms – grubs, which are served boiled, deep-fried or cooked. Drinks include the cider-like bojalwa, or homemade ginger beer.
Driving in Botswana
For most visitors, necessary travel distances are often small, and Botswana's few tarred roads are excellent. Away from these, many roads are merely unmarked tracks in the sand.
Health in Botswana
Botswana is generally a healthy country to visit. Several vaccines are sensible (typhoid, polio and tetanus), though none are required. Anti-malarial tablets are usually recommended. Always check the latest recommendations with your doctor or clinic before travelling, and perhaps see the Scottish NHS site for useful travel info on Botswana.
In Botswana, HIV infection rates are high, and AIDS is prevalent. Generally, this isn't an issue for travellers, but you should be aware of the situation – take the same sensible precautions to avoid infection which are wise in most countries. We understand that blood supplies used by the private hospitals in Botswana have been carefully screened for a long time.
Language in Botswana
English is the official language of Botswana and widely spoken, although Setswana (also called 'Tswana') is spoken by almost everybody. Mother tongues include Birwa, Herero and Kagalagadi (languages of the Bantu family), Nama, Ganadi and Shua (languages of the Khoisan family), as well as Afrikaans of the European family.
Visas for Botswana
What is Visa?
A visa is the authority given to foreign nationals to enter Botswana.
Who is eligible to apply for this service?
All Citizens of Commonwealth countries do not require visa except those from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Foreign nationals whose countries have signed a Visa Abolition Agreement with Botswana are also not required to apply for a visa.
N.B. Those who have permits but decide to stay outside the country for more than six months are required to apply for a visa when they come back to Botswana.
What is required for application of this service?
- Covering letter from the host.
- Certified copies of permits (work and residence) from the host or the National Identity Card (Omang).
- Application form filled by the applicant.
- Itinerary or flight schedule
- Copies of business documents (if the host is running a business).
- Copies of marriage certificate, birth certificate, and ordination certificate (pastors)
- Bank statements and hotel bookings.
Where can I apply for a visa?
There are 20 diplomatic missions in 17 countries around the world where visa applications can also be made: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa (Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town), Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United Nations(New York), Zambia and Zimbabwe.
List of countries whose nationals/citizens do not require a visa for entry into Botswana.
- All Commonwealth countries (except for Bangaldesh,Cameroon,Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).
- Czech Republic
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- Federal Republic of Germany
- Holy See
- Norway and Colonies
- Republic of Ireland
- Russian Federation
- San Marino
- Slovak Republic
- South Arabia
- South Korea
- South Sudan
- United Arab Emirates
- United States of America
NB: All countries that are not listed require visa for entry into Botswana
Weather and climate in Botswana
Botswana is landlocked and has a subtropical desert climate characterized by great differences in day and night temperatures, virtually no rainfall and overall low humidity.
Dry season - May to October - Winter
There is little to no rain during the entire winter and humidity is low, typically 20-40%. Animals will concentrate around waterholes and rivers when other water resources dry up.
May - The temperatures are relatively cool, typically 10°C/50°F in the morning and 28°C/80°F in the afternoon.
June, July & August - Be sure to pack winter clothing because morning game drives in open vehicles will be cold. The average morning temperature is 6°C/42°F. Night temperatures can drop below freezing, especially in the dryer Kalahari areas. Afternoons will be more pleasant with temperatures around 25°C/78°F.
September & October - The heat gradually builds and it can get very hot in October (38°C/100°F), but the average temperature remains around 34°C/93°F in the afternoon.
Wet season - November to April - Summer
November & December - Clouds start to appear, bringing cooler temperatures and an occasional late afternoon shower. This pattern of change continues in December, with typical temperatures between 20°C/69°F in the morning and 33°C/91°F in the afternoon. The more extreme Kalahari areas can still have very hot days, and cold mornings. Humidity is typically between 50-60%.
January & February - These are the wettest months, characterized by torrential downpours in the afternoon and sometimes continuous rainfall for days. Daytime temperatures are around 32°C/90°F and the humidity is between 50-80%.
March & April - Rainfall decreases and it steadily cools. This trend continues through April, which has lovely, clear weather and few clouds. The nights tend to be cooler but the days are very temperate at 30°C/87°F.
Plant and animal life
The Kalahari sandveld has often been called “thirstland” to distinguish it from true desert. Even in its southwestern corner, where there are some bare sand dunes, the vegetation is more characteristic of dry steppe than desert. A look at the diversity of animal life at a single watering hole at the Mashatu Game Reserve
The general vegetation of the country is savanna grassland with yellow or light brown grass cover (turning green after rains) and woody plants. The savanna ranges from acacia shrub savanna in the southwest through acacia thornbush and tree savanna “parkland” into denser woodland and eventually forest as one moves north and east. Croton and Combretum tree savanna is found on the rocky hills of the eastern hardveld. Acacia tree savanna merges northward into mopane (African ironwood) savanna woodland. Mopane woodland covers most of the northern and eastern third of the country, with the exception of the open grasslands immediately surrounding the Okavango delta and Makgadikgadi Pans.
Animal life is extremely varied in a thirstland environment. About 150 species of mammals are found in Botswana. These range from 30 species of bats and 27 of rodents to more than 30 species of large mammals. Birdlife is prolific, with more than 460 species. Botswana has a great variety of reptiles and amphibians, of which more than 200 species have been described in detail. The principal fish, in the rivers of the north, are tilapia (African bream), catfish, and the tigerfish, which is famous for its ferocious resistance to being caught on a line.
The dominant ethnic identity in Botswana is Tswana, comprising some two-thirds of the population in the 21st century. The country’s whole population is characterized as Batswana (singular Motswana) whatever their ethnic origin. Tswana ethnic dominance (“Tswanadom”) in Botswana can be dated to the eight Tswana states, which ruled most of the area in the 19th century. Under British colonial rule, the populations of these states were given the official status of “tribes,” a term still used today.
Within southeastern Botswana the other main ethnic identity besides Tswana, that of the Khalagari (Western Sotho), has become so incorporated as to be almost indistinguishable from the Tswana. Even their name is now usually rendered in the Tswana form as “Kgalagadi.”
The Ngwato of east-central Botswana constitute the largest traditional “tribal” state but are probably less than one-fifth ethnic Tswana by origin. The major incorporated ethnic groups are Khalagari, Tswapong and Birwa (both Northern Sotho), and Kalanga (Western Shona). With larger numbers to the east in Zimbabwe, some Kalanga have resisted full incorporation.
The Tawana state of northwestern Botswana can be seen as the least successful in incorporating other ethnic groups. Most of its population is Yei and Mbukushu by origin, related to riverine peoples in the Caprivi Strip, Angola, and Zambia to the north. Smaller numbers of Mbanderu and Herero have greater numbers of close relatives across the border in Namibia. The Subiya along the Chobe, closely related to people in the Caprivi Strip and Zambia, were excluded from the Tawana “tribal” reserve by the British.
Small scattered groups of Khoisan people inhabit the southwestern districts of Botswana, as well as being incorporated with other ethnic groups. They include communities with their own headmen and livestock, as well as poorer groups employed by Tswana and white cattle farmers.
White settlement in Botswana, consisting of some Afrikaners and fewer English settled in border farms, totaled fewer than 3,000 people in the colonial period. The number of whites in Botswana, while showing some increase since independence, still accounts for only a very small portion of the total population. Botswana is also home to a small population of Asian or mixed ancestry.
The national language, Tswana (Setswana, Sechuana), is widely spoken. The official language is English. The Khoisan speak languages characterized as Khoe, or Khwe, and San. Several other languages are also spoken in the country, including Kalanga, Sekgalagadi, Herero, Mbukushu, and Yei.
Allegiance to the old state churches, notably those of the Congregationalists (London Missionary Society), has declined since the 1950s. There are numerous Anglican and United Reformed (Congregational and Methodist) churches; other Christian denominations represented in the country include Dutch Reformed, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran. There are also a small number of Muslim, Quaker, Hindu, and Bahāʿī congregations, which are predominantly expatriate.
Botswana has a free market economy with a strong tradition of central government planning to provide infrastructure for private investment. The economy has grown rapidly since the mid-1960s, with the gross domestic product per capita increasing more than a hundredfold.
Relatively few rural households benefit from cattle sales: almost half of them have no cattle, and less than one-tenth own about half of the country’s cattle (averaging 100 head each). Few households produce enough crops to cover even their own subsistence, let alone to sell on the market. Many rural households survive on the income of a family member in town or abroad. That still leaves a significant number of rural households, usually female-headed, with no source of income known to statisticians.
State revenues reaped from mining development have been spent on basic rural infrastructure and welfare services and on schemes to subsidize the development of cattle and crop production, which have in general benefited the richer rural households. Trade unions have had limited success penetrating the paid employment sector in Botswana.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Very little of Botswana’s land is suitable for productive cultivation. Agricultural output constitutes less than one-tenth of the gross national product, and most of that is in the form of livestock production for urban and export markets. Grain production (mostly sorghum, millet, and corn [maize]) fell short of national consumption for most of the 20th century, and foodstuffs from South Africa and Zimbabwe are some of Botswana’s major import commodities. Fishing and forestry production are limited and largely confined to the extreme north.
Botswana is traditionally seen as cattle country. Given sufficient water and pasture and controls on the spread of foot-and-mouth disease from wetland buffalo, it is a healthy environment for raising high-bulk, high-quality indigenous beef cattle. The government has invested heavily in disease prevention, modern slaughterhouses, and support services for cattle producers. Various schemes—so far unsuccessful—have been attempted to improve range management. Meanwhile, access to Botswana’s main export market for beef, the European Union, improved with the reduction of levies and tariffs in the early 21st century.
Resources and power
Diamonds, the major economic resource of the country, have been exploited on a large scale since 1970. They are mined from some of the world’s largest diamond pipes at Orapa and Letlhakane, south of the Makgadikgadi Pans, and at Jwaneng in the southeastern sandveld. Nickel and copper have been mined at Selebi-Phikwe near the Motloutse River since 1974. Coal is mined for power generation at Morupule near Palapye. Botswana’s other major proven mineral resources are salt and soda ash, which was fully exploited at Sua on the eastern Makgadikgadi Pans from 1991.
Surface water resources are limited to the wetlands and perennial rivers in the north and three major dam lakes at Gaborone, Shashe, and Mopipi (serving Orapa). Underground water is tapped in large quantities near Palapye and south of Gaborone.
The national electric power grid, serving mines and eastern towns, is based on a large coal-powered generating station at Morupule near Palapye, supplemented by connections to the Zimbabwean and South African national grids.
Industrial development in Botswana has been limited by the high costs of power and water, the lack of appropriate management and labour skills, and the small domestic market. Manufacturing activity up to the 1980s largely consisted of meat processing at Lobatse in the south. In the early 1980s capital and textile production were transferred from Zimbabwe to nearby Francistown in Botswana, and diamond sorting and service industries grew in the booming capital city, Gaborone. The growth of the diamond industry continued in the following decades, and in 2008 De Beers S.A. established a sophisticated diamond-sorting and valuing facility in Gaborone, which at the time of its opening was the world’s largest and most sophisticated plant of its kind.
Finance and services
The Bank of Botswana is the central bank and issues the national currency, the pula. The Botswana economy is regulated by the central bank and a strong Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. There are multinational commercial banks, with branch operations that extend to the village level. Botswana has had the unusual problems, for a developing country, of a government budget surplus running into billions of dollars and excess capital lying unutilized in private banks. The budget surplus and bank liquidity were partially depleted by diversion into a construction boom in the late 1980s and early ’90s, including infrastructure for new mining operations and military airports. A small stock exchange has been set up. The economy, from diamonds to nickel-copper to soda ash and construction, remains dominated by De Beers S.A.
Tourists are attracted to Botswana by relatively unpopulated and “remote” wetland and thirstland environments. Government policy is to limit the density and environmental impact of tourism through licensing of a limited number of high-cost safari companies.
Domestic trade patterns within Botswana are dominated by large, mostly foreign-owned wholesale operations and large foreign retailers in urban areas, though there is also an increasing proliferation of small stores owned by citizens.
Botswana, along with South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia, belongs to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which allows for the free exchange of goods between member countries. Botswana is also a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional organization focused on economic cooperation and integration.