By: Chris Davies Getaway Blog
15 November 2012
For the past few years – since the end of 2009 to be precise – all public campsites in Botswana’s national parks have been run by private operators, and visitors have been required to book camping accommodation separately from park entrance and conservation fees.
To make things a little more complicated, the various camps within a single park are usually run by completely separate operators, which means checking dates and availability with two or three independent companies before finally approaching the Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) for your park entry permit.
The private operators cannot issue entry permits and the DWNP cannot make camp bookings, so while you can pay your park entry fees in one of the offices in Maun or Gaborone, or at the park gate, you won’t be able to get more than a day pass unless you can produce a valid accommodation receipt from one of the camp operators. The one exception to this (that I know of) is Nxai Pan National Park, where it is possible to book camping for Baines’ Baobabs and the South Gate campsite at the park gate. Both camps are run by the Xomae Group and no pre-booking seems to be required, although you’ll still be taking a risk with availability if you leave things until the gate.
Not having been to Botswana before, I can’t compare this somewhat convoluted approach to the previous system. However, once we’d figured out what needed to happen and where we needed to go, it all actually worked quite well.
We decided to play it completely by ear and didn’t make a single advanced booking, instead spending a busy morning driving around Maun, gathering permits and receipts, and generally building up our itinerary as we went. Without exception, the people we dealt with at the private booking offices were friendly, efficient and helpful – offering to call other camp operators across town to check availability and advising us on road conditions.
By the end of October, Botswana’s main peak season rush has tailed off and we managed to get bookings at all our first choice public campsites in both Moremi and Chobe – not to mention bookings at the fantastic and highly recommended Baines’ Baobabs which we got at the park gate on arrival. If, however, you’re planning to visit during the middle of peak season (July to October), it’s probably best to book in advance and remember: the key is to get camp bookings first – DWNP permits can be picked up when you get there.
Here are the details you’ll need. I’ve copied them out verbatim from the booking agents themselves, from operators’ pamphlets and from photocopied pages on the wall of the DWNP pre-fab which serves as their booking office on a back street in Maun. I cannot guarantee any will still be correct by the time you read this, but hopefully it’ll be a good start.