Botswana

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, human rights, no natural disasters e.g earthquakes or tsunamis.

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 NEVER, EVER 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.

Water in urban areas is chlorinated, and is drunk from the tap by the local population. Still, short term visitors with sensitive stomachs may feel more secure drinking bottled water. Outside of urban areas, the water is untreated and straight from the borehole and poses a slightly higher risk to the traveller.

maps

Online maps for Botswana include Google Maps, Bing Maps, OpenStreetMap, Nokia Maps and Tracks4Africa. All of them have errors and omissions. Google is particularly worrisome in that it includes tracks that are actually fences, or are incomplete eg the bridges haven't been built - for example if you plot the route from Gaborone to Maun it will suggest you drive via the Central Kalagadi Games Reserve fence, hmmm. Untarred roads present the most uncertainty for the driver, a good option is to look on Google Earth and measure the width of the track, if it is 3 metres wide then it is likely to be a sandy track where you won't get above 20kph. If it is 15 metres wide it'll be a graded gravel road where you may get up to 100kph.Paper maps. A good wall map can be purchased from the Dept. of Surveys and Mapping in Gaborone near the train station for P80. Edition 6 2010 is the latest version.

Finally map reading skills are not high for the Batswana, navigation via landmarks is the norm.

talk

The official languages of Botswana are English and Tswana. Kalanga is spoken near the Zimbabwe border areas, and is similar to Shona.

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.

newspapers

Botswana has several English language daily and weekly newspapers. Mmegi, Botswana Gazette, Botswana Guardian and Sunday Standard being the most respected. The Government produces the Daily News, which is distributed free and invariably has a picture of the President on the front cover. For quality international news the South African Mail & Guardian is available in Gaborone, Pick'n'Pay sells this for a discounted P17, rather than the P24 cover price.

contact

Botswana uses GSM900 and has three mobile operators, Orange, Mascom an MTN offshoot, and BEMobile run by Botswana telecom. Mascom has the worse reputation for customer service. When topping up try and wait for the end of the month when all three operators offer top-up specials. Coverage is restricted to the towns and highways, out in the bush there is generally nothing.

For internet, internet cafes are present in most towns, and have useable speeds. Wifi is available in the pricier / expat orientated cafes and restaurants, but game lodges tend to be internetless. In general speeds are noticeably slower in Botswana than South Africa - do any serious downloading before you arrive.