Botswana has probably Africa's strongest and most stable currency, underpinned by the huge annual earnings of its diamond industry.
There is no 'black market' in foreign currency in Botswana, as the Pula floats freely on the international money markets. Thus don't expect to see any shady characters on the street hissing 'change money' as you pass; I never have. (If you do, then assume they're con-men trying to dupe visitors who don't know any better!)
Budgeting for safaris
Botswana isn't a cheap country to visit. This is due to a combination of the high costs of the logistics needed to operate in remote areas, plus the deliberate policy of the government to maximise revenues from tourism, whilst preserving the pristine nature of the country by using high costs to limit the number of visitors. That said, different kinds of trips need very different budgeting…For backpackers
Camping at organised sites is by far your cheapest way to stay in most areas of Botswana, and always a good bet if you're relatively self-sufficient and have the equipment with you. If you do then expect to pay around US$2.50–3/£1.50–2.50 per person camping per night.
Restaurant meals in the towns are cheap compared with Europe or America: expect to pay US$6–10/£4–6 for a good evening meal, including a local beer or two. Imported drinks are always more expensive than those from southern Africa – but as southern Africa has some first-class breweries and wineries, this really is seldom an issue. European wines and spirits, as you might expect, are ridiculously priced (and so make excellent gifts if you are visiting someone here). You will pay well over US$100/£65 for a bottle of decent French champagne!For self-drivers
If you have your own rugged 4WD with equipment and the experience to use it and survive safely in the bush, then you will be able to camp and cook for yourself. This is then an affordable way to travel and see those remote areas of Botswana which are open to the public.
Your largest expense will be the hire of a decent and well-equipped vehicle. (Taking anything less into remote areas of wild bush is really very foolish.)
Your next largest expense will probably be park and camping fees in the national parks. These can be substantial: expect a total of about P175 (US$29/£19) per person per day for both park entry and camping fees. Note, however, that there are still many interesting areas outside of the national parks – including parts of Makgadikgadi, the Tsodilo Hills, Aha Hills, Gcwihaba Caves and various offbeat areas of the Kalahari.
The cost of food depends heavily on where you buy it, as well as what you buy – but most people will probably do one large shop in Maun or Kasane at the start of their trip, topping up on perishables as they progress. If you are sensible then US$10–16/£7–10 per day would provide the supplies for a good, varied diet without having to be at all stingy.For mobile safaris
The question 'how much are mobile safaris?' is as tricky to answer as 'how long is a piece of string?' It depends on where your trip is visiting, what the equipment, staff and guides are like, and how big the group is. In short, these trips vary greatly. To choose you must carefully prioritise what you want, what will suit you, and what you can afford to pay. Note also that prices for higher-end trips are heavily dependent upon the time of year that you travel.
On a bargain-basement trip for backpackers you will put up your tent, do the camp chores and even supply your own sleeping bag and drinks. On this you can expect to visit the parks, but not to have your time there maximised (parks are costly relative to staying outside them!). This would cost you around US$120–150/£80–100 per day per person sharing.
By contrast, a luxurious mobile safari, visiting pristine areas in the company of a small group with a top professional guide might cost up to US$350–450/
£200–300 per person per day, including superb meals and all your drinks.
Between these two extremes, you ought to be able to get a trip of a decent quality for something around US$200–250/£140–170 per person per night sharing. Then expect to be camping in comfortable tents, with a small camp staff who will organise them, cook your meals and do all the chores.
As a final thought, if you value having a really comfortable bed at night, but still want the continuity of a good professional guide to stay with your group throughout the trip; if you like the idea of putting in a lot of time and energy game viewing in the parks, and don't mind a lot of time in a vehicle, then look at a mobile trip which moves between the lodges. These cost around US$400–500/£270–330 per person per day, including superb meals and all your drinks. For fly-in safaris to lodges and camps
Again, the prices for fly-in trips vary considerably – though they're never cheap, and there's relatively little difference between the few bottom-end camps, and the vast majority of middle-market camps that provide good experiences in good areas.
Expect the most basic camp which offers only mokoro activities (which are cheaper to run than vehicles or boats) to cost around US$180/£120 per person per night sharing.
Otherwise a mid-range camp in a good area will usually be around US$350–450/£230–300 per person per night sharing, all-inclusive. By going off-season, or to slightly more offbeat, marginal areas, this can be reduced. However, note that quality of accommodation is only one factor in the price: some of the smallest, simplest bushcamps are amongst the most expensive places to stay.
If money really is no object, then there are a few really top-end places that cost a lot more than this. Abu and Mombo spring to mind. For these, you'll pay double this or more. But then, some would argue, you're getting the pinnacle of what Africa has to offer.
Having said this, there are two obvious caveats. Firstly, none of the prices here include flight transfers. These probably average out at about US$90/£60 per person per transfer, though working them out precisely is a complex business.
Secondly, you will almost always be quoted a rate for a 'package' of camps and flights; that's normal and often cannot be broken into its components.
Thirdly, note that although the prices for camps given in this guide indicate what you can expect to pay (in 2002 though, the figures in US$/£ don't change much from year to year) if you book directly, this really should be a maximum figure. You will usually be able to get them a little cheaper – and this is especially applicable to the more costly lodges – if you book through a good tour operator.
How to take your money
If you are changing money at one of the main banks, then there is minimal difference in the rates between presenting a travellers' cheque, or presenting pounds sterling or US dollars in cash. This perhaps makes travellers' cheques preferable from a security point of view, as they are refundable if stolen. (AMEX travellers' cheques are probably the most widely recognised.)
However, outside of the banks you really need to have Pula to use, especially for smaller transactions and anything bought by the roadside. In the more rural locations, nobody will accept anything else. Petrol stations only accept cash in Pula; they do not usually accept credit cards.
In the towns you'll find people who, if pressed, will accept small denominations of US dollars. Because of the risk of forgeries, people are suspicious of larger denomination notes. US$100 and even US$50 bills are often rejected in shops and even banks. So always bring a mixture of US$5, US$10 and US$20 notes. US$1 notes make useful (generous) tips for porters.
South African rand are sometimes accepted, though not as widely as dollars or pounds – and they're not very popular. Most hotels, restaurants and safari camps will accept credit cards, pounds sterling, US dollars, or travellers' cheques.