By Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack, Borderjumpers
For those in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup or those headed here for the final games, you may have noticed that prices are at least double what they normally are — whether that’s a hotel room, a tour, a rental car, or basically anything for sale here.
With that said, Botswana is a friendly, accessible, and affordable pre- and post-World Cup destination (and comparatively cheap year round). While flying is a faster option, you might consider taking an Intercape bus direct from Johannesburg to Gabarone. Intercape tickets are purchasable online and the company offers safe, reliable, and on-time bus service. To give you a sense of Botswana prices compared to their more expensive neighbor: a beer costs roughly $1 USD, a taxi anywhere in the city costs $3, a nice dinner for two costs around $15, and a bird watching/walking tour with a private guide for two, around $25 per hour.
For those hoping to catch more wildlife after the World Cup, Mokolodi Nature Reserve, right outside Gabarone is the most affordable way to get your fix of elephants, hippos, zebras, kudus, giraffes, and so much more. For less than 30$, you can book a two hour guided ride, day or night. You can also hire a guide for a “walking safari” that allows you to stand in elephant footprints, observe local bird species, and beautiful flowers. They also offer all kinds of extra tours from observing elephant baths, safaris via horseback, and even rhinotracking. The great thing about this place is that it is funded by private organizations who protect injured animals and birds, operates a terrific restaurant, and has a really cool permaculture garden used to teach school children about local indigenous foods.
When in the capital we stayed at the Gabarone Hotel, largely out of laziness because of the hotel’s proximity to the train and bus station (across the street). The hotel is clean, with air-con, cable TV, and the cost often lower if your stay longer than three nights. It’s in walking distance from a few restaurants, but we recommend jumping in a cab to grab a meal at Bull & Bush bar or at the Riverwalk mall. The National Museum & Art Gallery is a pleasant surprise for those with an afternoon to kill.
Alternatively, you might want to visit Chobe National Park. Unless you are camping, Chobe hotels can vary dramatically in price (so be careful and reserve ahead). Booking a safari once you arrive is relatively easy (usually offered by your hotel) and also affordable (except to pay approx $20 per person excluding park fees). You can fly near Chobe Park from Gabarone for approx $340USD R/T and then bus to Victoria Falls from Kasane (the ride lasts about three hours).
Botswana is home not only the most beautiful wildlife we’ve seen yet (and yes, we’ve been to Kruger), including elephants, giraffes, impala, kudu, and warthogs, but also to the friendliest people. It was one of the most vibrant political democracies we’ve seen so far, a nation proud of its peace and stability.
We were also impressed with how serious they are about protecting their national resources and the environment. In addition to dynamic efforts to conserve water on this landlocked country, they are instituting basic measure to reduce waste. For example, all the electrical outlets — from the cities to the countryside — come with an on/off switch (so there’s no need to unplug everything). While this switch might sound simple, its something rarely seen in the United States. Most importantly, people really use them, and all electronics from televisions to alarm clocks are programmed to withstand these power shifts so they don’t have to be reset when the power is turned back on. Another example is how they are making it very costly to waste plastic bags by implementing a surprisingly high (by local stands) national fee of their use or purchase. As a result, people bring their own bags to the grocery or use no bag at all.
BorderJumpers Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack will be blogging here as part of a weekly series documenting their travels around the world. In every country starting with Africa, they’re highlighting innovations working to alleviate hunger and poverty.