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Botswana

Botswana is a land-locked country located in Southern Africa and bordering on Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name upon independence in 1966. Its economy, one of the most robust on the continent, is dominated by diamond mining and tourism.

Botswana is famous for its wildlife, and areas like Chobe National Park, Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have a very high concentration of game. The bulk of the Kalahari desert falls within Botswana's borders and Botswana is home to most of the world's San (Bushman) population.

Regions

Cities

  • Gaborone or Gabs is a neat and tidy little capital with rapidly growing shantytowns on the periphery
  • Francistown
  • Ghanzi
  • Kasane
  • Maun
  • Mogapi
  • Nata
  • Palapye
  • Serowe

Other destinations

  • Okavango Delta - A unique geological formation where a delta is formed by a river (the Okavango) flowing into the Kalahari desert instead of the ocean. Part of the Delta is designated as Moremi National Park
  • Central Kalahari Game Reserve
  • Chobe National Park - a great place to see wildlife, and a good point from which to move on to Victoria Falls.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  • Nxai Pan National Park
  • Northern Tuli Game Reserve - a unique corner of Africa where nature & culture combine in spectacular wildlife, stunning scenery and fascinating history

See also African National Parks

Understand

History

Botswana was never colonized by Europeans. Instead, the Three Chiefs went to the Queen of England to ask for protection from Boers to the south and Ndebele tribes from the north-east. The Boers were (to them) the white people that had invaded and were taking over South Africa. The Queen obliged. In 1964 the Three Chiefs went back to England and told the Queen that they did not need the protection any more. The Queen did away with the protection, and the Chiefs went back to Botswana. Botswana discovered diamonds in 1965. They produce 65% of the world diamonds today. In 1969 DeBeers created a partnership with the Botswana government to create the company Debswana.

Climate

Government

Botswana has been a stable representative democracy since independence and has been largely devoid of the racial and ethnic conflict some of its neighbours have suffered from — perhaps due in part to the relative dominance of its majority Tswana ethnic group. Since the turn of the century, thousands of Zimbabweans have sought sanctuary and economic betterment.

One of the poorest countries at independence, Botswana transformed itself into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about USD14,000 per annum. In contrast to the sad situation of its eastern neighbour, Zimbabwe, kleptocracy has been absent and Botswana now also has the second highest Human Development Index of all continental Sub-Saharan African countries.

Public holidays

The public holidays in Botswana are:

  • 1 January. New Year's Day
  • Easter weekend. ("Good Friday", "Easter Saturday", "Easter Sunday" and "Easter Monday"): a four day long weekend in March or April set according to the Western Christian dates.
  • 1 May. Workers Day
  • 1 July. Sir Seretse Khama Day
  • Mid July. President's Day
  • 31 September. Botswana Day
  • 25 December. Christmas Day
  • 26 December. Day of Goodwill

The first Monday after Christmas is also a Public Holiday.

People

The Tswana, for whom Botswana is named, comprise 79% of the population.

Get in

Entry requirements

Unlike more stiff necked administrations such as India, Pakistan, Nigeria and China, the Botswana government has not erected high bureaucratic barriers to enrichment from tourism.

Citizens of Commonwealth countries do not need a visa to visit except those from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Citizens of EEA countries and Switzerland do not require a visa to visit.

Citizens of Argentina, Angola, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Oman, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, South Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe do not require a visa to visit.

For citizens of other nations, a visa must be obtained prior to arrival and this usually takes about a week to process.

Visas can be applied for at a Botswana embassy in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Zambia, Zimbabwe and at the United Nations in New York, USA.

If you require a visa to enter Botswana, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Botswana diplomatic post. The UK Government website lists UK embassies around the world where Commonwealth visas can be issued. British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Botswana visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in Botswana require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Botswana can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.

By plane

Botswana's main airport is Sir Seretse Khama in Gaborone. International flights are to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Ethiopia. The airport in Maun can also be reached via Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Gaborone and, once a day (in summer 2009), from Windhoek, Namibia. The distance between Gaborone and Maun is more than 1,000 km. Maun is very much a tourist attraction spot.

Airlines that fly to Gaborone are.

  • Air Botswana. Harare, Victoria Falls, Lusaka, Johannesburg, Cape Town.
  • Airlink. Johannesburg.
  • Ethiopian airlines. via Addis Ababa. to Europe, Asia, Africa.
  • Kenya airways. Via Nairobi to Europe. Asia, Africa.
  • TAAG Angola airlines. Luanda.
  • South African express. Johannesburg.

By train

Trains to/from South Africa have been withdrawn since 1999. For domestic train service, see #Get around.

By car

There are several entry points by road to Botswana: In the south at Gaborone, providing access from Johannesburg; in the west providing access from Namibia; the north providing access from Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and at Francistown in the east, providing access from Harare. All road access is good and the primary roads within Botswana are paved and well maintained.

Possibly the busiest border crossing from South Africa is the Kopfontein/Tlokweng border crossing, as it is only a few minutes from the capital of Botswana. As a result, it is open for a long period of time, and has a large amount of trucks travelling through.

Coming from Namibia, you can either go north to Maun, or south along the Trans-Kalahari Highway to Lobatse.

By international bus

There is regular bus service from Johannesburg to Gaborone, which takes six hours. Intercape Mainliner is one of the bus lines from Gaborone to Johannesburg.

there are also buses from Gaborone to Zimbabwe. and from Gaborone to Windhoek Namibia.

  • Monnakgotla travel have buses two times a week from Gaborone to Windhoek Namibia.
  • T J Motlogelwa Expess have buses from Gaborone to Johannesburg two times per day.

By ferry

From Kazungula in Zambia you can cross the Zambezi River with ferry to the eponymous town in Botswana.

Get around

Very few locals know street names and addresses, and you are likely to have to get directions in terms of landmarks. Botswana doesn't have a postal delivery system to addresses (just to centralised mail collection points), so even when streets are well-marked, the names may be unfamiliar to residents.

Through a combination of coaches and combies (minivans), you can get anywhere in Botswana without any trouble, though public transport is spotty away from big cities and major routes but hitchhiking is popular and very easy. However, hitchhiking should only be done in desperate circumstances, as Botswana driving is often very erratic and it can be a harrowing experience to have a stranger drive you somewhere. It is advisable to arrive at the bus station quite early, as the buses do fill up quickly, and it is not uncommon to spend several hours standing in the aisle waiting for a seat to free up (remember to bring water, as the buses are often not air conditioned).

By car

The roads are paved and well maintained, so travel by car is also not a problem, provided that one keeps a close eye out for the cows, donkeys and goats that spend much time in the middle of the road.

The Trans-Kalahari Highway is an old cattle route, now newly paved and easily drivable with a 2-wheel drive. It runs from Lobatse to Ghanzi in Botswana, making the connection from Windhoek, Namibia to Gaborone, Botswana. It is a long and uneventful drive, but you get a good feel for the Kalahari Desert. Fuel is available in Kang at the Kang Ultra Shop, which also offers a respectable selection of food, overnight chalets, and inexpensive camping.

By bus

There are many bus companies in Botswana. One of the biggest is Seabelo. From Gaborone you can travel by bus to any bigger city in Botswana.

By train

Botswana Railways operates all trains in the country. The main line goes from Lobatse, near the South African border, via Gaborone to Francistown at the Zimbabwean border. After having been canceled in 2009, train service was reintroduced in 2016.

Talk

The official languages of Botswana are English and Tswana.

The language of business in Botswana is English and most people in urban areas speak it, although in the more rural areas many people do not speak English, particularly the older generations. The primary indigenous tongue is Tswana, and is the first language of the overwhelming majority of the population. It is not difficult to learn basic greetings and such, and using these in conversation will make people very happy.

See

Wildlife is Botswana's main draw. Wildlife parks compose nearly one-fifth of the country. In these parks you will find lions, cheetahs, crocodiles, hippos, elephants, antelope, wild dogs, and hundreds of species of birds. Visitors can take safaris and stay in lodges running the gamut from inexpensive dorms for backpackers with tour buses to $1,000+/night private lodges with your own maid & driver.

Among southern Africa's most impressive—and popular—wildlife destinations is the Okavango Delta where the Okavango River widens into the world's largest inland delta. Lying in the middle of the arid Kalahari, the swamps & water channels attract animals from thousands of kilometres around and triples in size (to 100 000 km2.!) during floods in July and August. Nearby Chobe National Park has a large population of elephants and it's also easy to spot many of Africa's well-known species, especially zebras and lions. The bleak salt pans of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park attract a large number and variety of birds year-round. Other great game parks include Nxai Pan National Park, Mokolodi Nature Reserve, & Gemsbok National Park.

Unfortunately, most of the native tribes in Botswana only dress in traditional outfits and perform rituals for tourists. Nevertheless, for the culture-vultures, the villages of D'Kar and Xai-Xai have many offerings, including arts, crafts, and the opportunity to participate in various rituals. Tsodilo Hills contain one of the largest collections of rock art on the continent.

Do

Buy

Money

Botswana's currency is the pula, denoted by the symbol "P" (ISO 4217 code: BWP). It is subdivided into 100 thebe. Pula means "rain" in Setswana (rain is very scarce in Botswana - home to much of the Kalahari Desert - and therefore valuable and a "blessing"). Thebe means "shield".

Banknotes of P10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 denomination circulate and the pula is one of the strongest, most stable currencies in Africa.

Eat

The cuisine of Botswana is unique but also shares some characteristics with other cuisine of Southern Africa. Examples of Botswana food include Pap, Samp, Vetkoek and Mopane worms.

A food unique to Botswana includes Seswaa, a meat dish made of beef, goat or lamb meat. The fatty meat is generally boiled until tender in any pot, with "just enough salt", and shredded or pounded. It is often served with pap (maize meal) or sorghum meal porridge.

Drink

Many soft drinks and alcohol drinks are produced in factories in Botswana, including Fanta and Coca-Cola. Local brands are Castle and Lion beers. Milk is fermented to make madila (sour milk) which is eaten on its own or added to porridge. A favourite non alcoholic home made drink is ginger beer.

Sleep

Most of the accommodation establishments in Botswana are located near the larger towns and cities, but there are also many secluded game lodges tucked away in the wilderness areas. Travellers can book their accommodation well in advance before travelling to Botswana. this can be done via travel agents that have knowledge of this country.

Learn

The University of Botswana is in Gaborone.

Stay safe

People in Botswana are very friendly and the crime rate is low. There isn't much to worry about on this front. Nevertheless, crime has been on the rise over the past several years, so always be aware of your surroundings. Basic common sense will keep you safe from the predatory wildlife in rural areas. Botswana happens to be one of the safest countries in Africa, no civil war, less corruption, more human rights, no natural disasters e.g. earthquakes or tsunamis.

Drugs

Drug trafficking is punished by a mandatory death sentence. This is important for you to know because if you need to take prescription drugs into Botswana, you will have to show a prescription for each medication. Failing to do so will result in the medication being classified as a drug and can result in capital punishment if undeclared.

Stay healthy

Botswana's HIV infection rate, estimated at 24.1% , is the 2nd highest reported in the world. Exercise regular universal precautions when dealing with any bodily fluid and remain aware of this high rate of infection. Take precautions accordingly. Wear rubber gloves when dressing someone else's cut, even if they are a child, and obviously absolutely never have unprotected sex. If you form a serious relationship, consider both getting an HIV test before taking things further.

The northern part of Botswana, including Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta is in a malaria zone, so it is advisable to take the relevant precautions. Seek medical advice before travelling to these areas; vaccines such as typhoid and hepatitis A+B (if not already immune) are usually recommended. Oral vaccines are also suggested for prevention of diarrhea and cholera.

Water in urban areas is chlorinated, and is drunk from the tap by the local population. Still, short term visitors should drink bottled water to avoid traveller's diarrhoea. Outside of urban areas, the water is contaminated, and should not be used for drinking, ice-cubes, teeth cleaning, or eating washed unpeeled fruits and vegetables.

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Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Most Canadian visitors to Botswana do not experience problems, as Botswana is politically and economically stable, with no recent violent civil disturbances.

Crime

Pickpocketing, thefts and “smash and grab” robberies are on the rise in the country. You should not show signs of affluence and should remain aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking alone after dark, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas.

Carry a photocopy of your passport with you at all times, and keep your original document in safekeeping facilities. It is also advisable to leave a photocopy of your travel documents with a relative or a friend at home.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Wild animals

Wild animals can pose risks. Observe all local or park regulations and instructions given by tour guides. Wildlife areas are not fenced and warning signs are few. Do not swim in rivers or lakes as wildlife attacks are possible, particularly from crocodiles and hippopotamus. Do not walk alone or unescorted after dark because of the threat from nocturnal predators, particularly lion, hyena or leopard.

Road travel

Road conditions are generally good in major towns, but overland travel outside major centres can be dangerous. Driving standards, high speed limits, long stretches of highway and poor lighting pose hazards, particularly at night. A reliable private roadside assistance service called Medical Rescue International is available by calling 390-1601.

Failure to obey traffic signs, driving while intoxicated or not being in possession of a valid driver’s licence may result in arrest and heavy fines.

Pedestrians and roaming livestock or wild animals may pose a hazard on rural roadways, particularly in the Okavango, Chobe, Savuti, Pandamatenga and Ghanzi districts.

Desert conditions and conditions in remote areas are harsh. Travel to these areas should not be undertaken without a guide if possible nor without serious planning in advance, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle well equipped with provisions, fuel and water.

When you travel by road, for example, if you have hired an Avis 4 x 4 vehicle, you will be entirely responsible for your safety as there are generally no guides provided then or when you enter the parks. You should ensure that friends or relatives are aware of your travel itinerary so that they can keep in contact with you.  Guides are provided by private camps or mobile safaris when you fly directly into the Delta or similar conservancy areas, as they are part of the commercial or guided safari packages. This is not necessarily the case with self-drive travel.

Some hotels operate a minibus service between the airport and Gaborone. You should verify whether your hotel provides this service and reserve the transfer in advance. Vehicles can be rented at the airport in Gaborone. In major towns, taxis are generally safe, but the fare should be determined before departure.

Public transportation

Domestic air services are available. Consult our Transportation FAQ in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards. Passenger train service in Botswana has been discontinued. There are reliable buses for long distance journeys to Johannesburg, Lusaka, Harare, which can be found at the main Bus Rank in Gaborone. Mini buses leave at hourly intervals to Johannesburg from the main Bus Rank in Gaborone. Long distance buses normally leave in the early hours, around 6 a.m.  For reliable transportation to Johannesburg from Gaborone, you must book at least one day before the travel date. Reliable operators used for the Johannesburg-Gaborone/Gaborone-Johannesburg Routes are:

InterCape Bus Service – telephone +267 3974294

T. J. Motlogelwa’s Express – telephone +267 3190395

Emergency assistance

In case of an emergency, dial 999 for police, 998 for fire, and 997 for ambulance services.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Southern Africa, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southern Africa. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Southern Africa, certain insects carry and spread diseases like African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, chikungunya, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Southern Africa, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Outside major centres, medical facilities and supplies are limited.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws and illegal activities

Persons convicted of unlawful dealing or possession of illegal drugs such as cannabis (known locally as motokwane or dagga) are subject to harsh punishments.

Prior permission is required to import firearms and munitions.

Possession of pornographic material is illegal.

Homosexuality is still an offence under law in Botswana, but is seldom pursued by the police or prosecuted in court anymore.

It is prohibited to take photographs of military and government installations. Always ask permission before photographing individuals.

Traffic drives on the left.

An International Driving Permit is recommended.

Animal “trophies’’

Botswana law strictly regulates the sale, possession or removal of animal “trophies”. Any animal, dead or alive, or trophy from an animal such as a horn, tooth, tusk, bone, claw, hoof, hide, skin, hair, feather, egg or other durable portion of an animal, whether it has been processed or not, cannot be owned or removed from the country without a government permit or a receipt from a licensed shop. All souvenirs are subject to the National Trophy Law, and travellers must present a receipt from a licensed store upon departure. It is strictly prohibited to remove elephant hair, ivory and rhinoceros horn products.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized in Botswana, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Money

The currency is the pula (P). There are no import or export restrictions on foreign currency, provided it is declared upon arrival. A maximum of P1,000 in cash can be carried into or out of the country. Credit cards are not widely accepted. Many hotels and lodges accept major foreign currencies and traveller’s cheques, but a high surcharge may be applied. Automated banking machines in Botswana work well, are reliable, and are easily accessible across the country.

Climate

There are two seasons in Botswana: summer (September to April), with frequent rains and thunderstorms; and winter (May to August), with cold and dry days and nights.