Botswana Travel Guide
Botswana Travel Guide
Planning & preparation
Maps & navigation

Botswana Travel Guide

Maps & navigation

Finding the right map

Botswana has an excellent range of detailed 'Ordnance Survey' type maps available cheaply in Maun and Gaborone. However, many were made many years ago, and tracks have changed since. Thus unless you have a lot of time to interpret them, and can afford to carry around lots of maps, they're of limited use.

There are several very good maps designed specifically for visitors, but unfortunately these are very rarely available outside southern Africa. The ones that you're most likely to find in bookshops and map-stores outside Africa are generally fine if you're visiting the towns and simply want to know roughly where the parks are.

Amongst these is the Botswana Traveller's Map (by Macmillan Education Ltd, ISBN: 0333492641). This is certainly easy on the eye, with colour photographs, descriptions, mini street plans, and even a list of lodges and hotels, places of interest, a wildlife identification chart and a calendar of festivals.

In a similar vein is the Globetrotter Travel Map of Botswana (by New Holland Publishers UK, ISBN: 1853686468). Again this has clear colouring, showing all the tarred roads and parks beautifully, and includes town plans of Francistown, Gaborone and Maun, and even distance and climate charts.

Similarly, the ITMB map of Botswana (aka the International Traveller Map) includes sections on the history, geography and people of Botswana, plus a small street plan of Gaborone and paragraphs on each of the main national parks.

Lonely Planet's Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia Travel Atlas (ISBN: 0-86442-274-1) – which has its vague travel information translated into five languages – gives a similarly general overview.

However, I view all the above as useless – or worse – if you actually plan to head anywhere remote in the bush. The locations of their tracks and camps are mostly out of date, and the idea of using them to navigate anywhere off the tar is completely fanciful.

The alternatives, which stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, are the Shell maps and the ContiMap. The first of the these was the ground-breaking Shell Tourist Guide to Botswana, which incorporated a short but very informative 60-page booklet on the country – effectively an impressive mini guidebook – and a serious, well-researched, original map. These were produced by Veronica Roodt, an expert on the flora and fauna of the area.

Originally this was published in 1998, and what really made the difference was that, on the reverse, were smaller, inset maps of all the main parks, complete with a number of GPS waypoints. It was this information which revolutionised independent trips around Botswana, and effectively opened the doors for more travellers into some of the country's less-known areas like the Central Kalahari. (Note that by 2003 a new edition of the main map, considerably enhanced, should be in publication.)

Since then Shell have also published more detailed Chobe and Moremi maps. These have much more detailed coverage of the game-viewing tracks in the park – utilising satellite images, and including bird and animal checklists. Both are worth having, in addition to the main Botswana map, if you're visiting these parks.

The ContiMap (so-called because of its sponsorship from Continental tyres) is the second map that you ought to consider getting. It covers half of the country on each of its sides, with no insets. It's been researched primarily by Mike Main – a very knowledgeable and experienced Botswana traveller – and has an extensive range of reliable GPS points. These include some of the more offbeat roads outside the parks, and are especially good on areas like the Makgadikgadi Pans and south of Ghanzi.

So if you're going into the bush in Botswana, best to take both the Shell maps, and the ContiMap. Between them you'll have the best information available.

In the UK
Because of the general lack of availability of the Shell and ContiMaps in the UK, Sunvil Africa has brought stocks of all three Shell maps and also the ContiMap to the UK. These are available to anyone with a UK postal address – even if you're not travelling with Sunvil Africa to Botswana. Just send a cheque payable to Sunvil Africa and your address to them, and they will send you the maps that you want, normally by return. Currently the costs are:

• £10 for the Shell Guide to Botswana (map and booklet)
• £5 each for the Shell maps to Moremi and Chobe
• £5 for the ContiMap map of Botswana

See their website page for more details of this offer, and please add £2 per order for postage and packing.

GPS systems

If you are heading into one of the more remote parks in your own vehicle, then you really should invest in a hand-held GPS: a Global Positioning System. Under an open, unobstructed sky, these can fix your latitude, longitude and elevation to within about 100m, using 24 American military satellites that constantly pass in the skies overhead. They will work anywhere on the globe.

What to buy
Commercial GPS units now cost from around US$160/£100 in Europe or the USA. As is usual with high-tech equipment, their prices are falling and their features are expanding as time progresses.

I used one of the older, less expensive models, the Garmin GPS 38, for many years. It was invaluable, but ate batteries at a great rate and sometimes took ages to 'fix' my position. More recently I've bought as new model, a Garmin II+, and the difference is startling. It uses far fewer batteries, fixes positions much more quickly, and even works when sitting on the car's dashboard.

Whatever make you buy, you don't need a top-of-the-range machine. Pre-loaded maps are a waste of time in Africa, as none of them have the detail that you need.

What a GPS can do
A GPS should enable you to store 'waypoints' and build a simple electronic picture of an area, as well as working out basic latitude, longitude and elevation. So, for example, you can store the position of your campsite and the nearest road, making it much easier to be reasonably sure of navigating back without simply re-tracing your steps.

It will also enable you to programme in points, using the co-ordinates given throughout this book and by the Shell and ContiMaps, and use these for navigation. See page viii for important comment on datums. Thus you should be able to get an idea of whether or not you're going in the right direction, and how far away your destination is.

What a GPS can't do
A GPS isn't a compass, and when you're standing still, it can't tell you which direction is which. It can only tell you a direction if you're moving.

Secondly, it can give you a distance and a bearing for where you might want to go … but it can't tell you how to get there. You'll still need to find a track. You should NEVER just set out across the bush following a bearing; that's a recipe for disaster.
Thirdly, it can't replace a good navigator. You still need to be able to navigate and think to use a GPS effectively. If you're clueless on navigation then driving around the bush in Botswana will get you into a mess with or without a GPS.

Most GPS units use quite a lot of battery power, so bring plenty of spare batteries with you. Also get hold of a cigarette lighter adapter for your GPS when you buy it. This will enable you to power it from the car whilst you're driving, and thus save batteries.

Finally, if you want to use the information in any way when you're back home, or store logs of various trips, then I can recommend Fugawi's moving map software (see – which I found invaluable whilst compiling this book. This allows you to exchange information between your GPS and computer, and plot points on top of scanned-in maps – or indeed to make your own maps.

Although a GPS may help you to recognise your minor errors before they are amplified into major problems, note that such a gadget is no substitute for good map work and navigation. They're great fun to use, but shouldn't be relied upon as a sole means of navigation. You MUST always have a back-up plan – and an understanding of where you are – or you will be unable to cope if your GPS fails.

^ Top of page