Cost of living
Like anywhere else, the cost of visiting Botswana varies with the style in which you travel, and the places where you spend your time.
If you plan to get the most from what Botswana has to offer, you will probably need an average of US$450/£300 per day. This is high by African standards, but what you get for it is high quality, and includes everything: your activities, food, drinks, accommodation, and even the odd charter flight between camps. You'll then be staying at a handful of small safari camps, each of which is situated in a different, but often stunning, corner of a pristine wilderness. This is one of the world's top wildlife experiences – the kind of magical trip at which Botswana excels.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you travel through Botswana on local buses, camping and staying near the towns, then the country isn't too expensive. A budget of US$60–90/£40–60 per day for food, accommodation and transport would suffice. However, most backpackers who undertake such trips won't be able to afford to visit any of the camps or more remote wildlife locations – which I think means that it's scarcely worth visiting Botswana.
Between these two extremes, at around US$120–180/£80–120, you'll find some relatively basic budget-style safaris run out of Maun which will give you a real experience of the national parks and the Okavango Delta. They won't match what you'd find in the private concession areas, or further into the Delta, but they will make you glad you came to Botswana and probably harden your determination to return when you've a lot more money!
One of these mid-range options, though only one for those with substantial African experience, is to hire a fully equipped 4WD. Such a choice enables you to camp, buy food, and drive yourself around. This requires driving ability and planning, and isn't something to undertake lightly. But then four people in a decent vehicle (a slight squash, unless you're very well organised) would cost around US$120/£80 per person per day, including the vehicle, camping kit, equipment, park fees and food. Such trips are really much better for two people per vehicle, but in that case the daily costs would work out nearer US$180/£120 each.
Currency and inflation
Botswana's unit of currency is the pula – a word that also means 'rain' in Setswana, and hence tells you something about the importance of water in this country. Theoretically each pula is divided into 100 thebe, although one thebe isn't worth that much, so most prices are rounded to the nearest ten thebe. The pula's exchange rate is free-floating on the world market, so there is no black market for the currency.
As a result, US dollars, euros and UK pounds sterling are easily changed – and most of the more international businesses in the tourism sector set their prices in US dollars.
On October 22 2002 the exchange rates
were £1=P9.50; US$1=P6.33; Œ1=P6. I've used roughly about this level (US$1=P6) as a convenient round-number value for converting prices in this book between pula and US dollars – when helpful for ease of reference. I've assumed an average £/US$ rate of 1:1.5.Inflation
has generally been relatively modest in Botswana. Between 1993 and 1998 the rate of inflation averaged 10.2%, but since then it has subsided and in June 2002 the rate (based on a Consumer Price Index) was 5.9%. More up-to-date statistics can be found on the Bank of Botswana's website: http://bankofbotswana.bw/.
The rough trends (showing the lowest/highest interbank rates during each period) have been as follows: Rate of exchange/pula
Date To US$ To British To SA rand
1998 Jan–Jun 3.64/4.49 6.22/7.35 0.72/0.78
1998 Jul–Dec 4.21/4.93 7.18/8.21 0.79/0.79
1999 Jan–Jun 4.30/4.75 7.27/7.68 0.74/0.78
1999 Jul–Dec 4.50/4.73 7.26/7.70 0.74/0.78
2000 Jan–Jun 4.55/5.33 7.50/8.04 0.74/0.76
2000 Jul–Dec 5.04/5.56 7.34/8.04 0.68/0.76
2001 Jan–Jun 5.13/5.80 7.31/8.28 0.69/0.71
2001 Jul–Dec 5.61/6.31 7.96/9.20 0.47/0.71
2002 Jan–Jun 5.93/6.94 8.66/10.07 0.51/0.63
As can be seen from the table of historical exchange rates, Botswana's currency has gradually declined in value against the US dollar and the British pound over the last four years. By comparison, it broadly held its value against the South African rand in the late 1990s, and then strengthened against it in the early years of the new century (as the rand declined quite abruptly).
Given the strength of Botswana's economy, this pattern seems likely to continue in the foreseeable future: with the pula strengthening relative to the rand, but gently declining relative to the world's major currencies.
If you need to change foreign currency, receive bank drafts, or do any other relatively complex financial transactions, then the banks here are perfectly capable and efficient. Their opening times vary, but expect them to start around 08.00 and finish by 14.30 during the week. Some may close a few hours earlier than this on Wednesday. On Saturday, only the bigger banks open, typically 08.00–11.00.
Cashpoint (ATM) machines can be found in most large towns, including Maun and Kasane – and they work with foreign credit cards.