Four decades of peaceful elections – and a plentiful supply of diamonds – have gifted Botswana a booming GDP, growing per-capita income and healthy export earnings. High-end luxury tourism also contributes considerably to the bottom line and – with diamond production expected to level off by 2030 – offers some of the country’s best long-term investment prospects.
Gaborone is Botswana’s economic and political capital, and the only major metropolitan area. ‘Gabs’, as the locals call it, is home to most of the country’s formal business sector, the Botswana Stock Exchange and the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community. Francistown, near the border with Zimbabwe, is billed as the ‘capital of the north’, and is an important centre for the mining and agricultural industries. Maun, on the fringes of the Okavango Delta, is the hub of Botswana’s lucrative safari tourism industry.
In summer (October to April) daytime temperatures of over 40°C are common, with high humidity making air-conditioning an essential in your hire car. Winter is somewhat milder, offering warm sunny days and nights that are cool in the north and close to freezing in the Kalahari Desert.
All visitors to Botswana require a valid passport, but visas are not required by citizens of the European Union, most Commonwealth countries, Israel, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. A 30-day entry stamp is issued on arrival. However, many citizens of north, west and central Africa will require a visa to enter Botswana. For further details, visit www.botswanaembassy.org.
The connection of Botswana to the East Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) has greatly improved Internet speeds in Botswana, although coverage is – understandably – limited once you move outside the major cities. In urban and tourists areas Internet access is common in hotels, and via cellular coverage (although often only EDGE or GPRS, not 3G). Botswana’s GSM network allows for international roaming, and pre-paid SIM cards are widely available for both voice and data connections.
Botswana enjoys a low crime rate when compared with much of Africa, although it always pays to be wary in urban areas. If you choose to self-drive, be alert for wildlife and domestic livestock on highways and avoid driving at night.
Although no long-haul international flights arrive at Gaborone’s Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, there are good regional air connections into Botswana. Taxis and shared shuttle vans are readily available for travelling from the airport into central Gaborone, about 30 minutes away. While taxis are readily available in urban areas, car hire is both safe and accessible. If you plan to drive between cities, expect long gaps between roadside services. An international driving licence is acceptable in Botswana for stays of up to 90 days. Central areas of Gaborone are generally safe to explore on foot, but be cautious at night – ask your hotel for local ‘no-go’ areas.
There are few health risks to be concerned about when visiting Botswana, although malaria is prevalent in the tourist-focused northern areas of the country. There is no malaria in Gaborone or Francistown. Travellers arriving from yellow fever regions will need to present a certificate of vaccination upon arrival.
Population: 2 million
Time zone: GMT +2
Plugs: Two and three-prong round socket
Dialling code: +267 + area code + number required
Currency: Pula. US$1=BWP7.2
GDP growth rate (2010): 8.6%
Language: Most of the population speak Setswana, but English is the official language of government and business, and is widely spoken.