There are two ways to fly within Botswana: on scheduled airlines or using small charter flights. The national carrier, Air Botswana, operates the scheduled network. This is limited in scope, but generally very efficient and reliable.
Air Botswana links Maun directly with Kasane, Gaborone, Windhoek and Johannesburg. In addition, Kasane is linked to Victoria Falls and there is a new service to Johannesburg, which also stops in the Tuli Block area, in the east of the country.
The small charter flights operate out of the hub of Maun, with Kasane as a secondary focus, and ferry travellers around all the camps of northern Botswana like a fleet of taxis. They use 6- to 12-seater planes which criss-cross the region between a plethora of small bush runways. Flights are usually organised by the operator who arranges your camps as an integral part of your trip; there's no other way to reach most camps, and you'll never need to worry about arranging these flights for yourself.
Several people usually end up sharing these small flights, and the flight companies schedule the timings a few days beforehand. Expect them to take under about an hour, during which you may stop at one or two other airstrips before reaching your destination.
There is a railway that links South Africa with Lobatse, Gaborone, Palapye, Francistown and Bulawayo (in Zimbabwe) – but that's the only railway in the country. It's reliable, but rarely used by travellers coming to northern Botswana.
Botswana has a variety of local buses which link the main towns togather along the tarred roads. They're cheap, frequent and a good way to meet local people, although they can also be crowded, uncomfortable and noisy. In short, they are similar to any other local buses in Africa, and travel on them has both its joys and its frustrations.
There are two different kinds: the smaller minibuses, often VW combies, and the longer, larger, 'normal' buses. Both will serve the same destinations, but the smaller ones go faster and stop less. Their larger relatives will take longer to fill up before they leave the bus station (because few buses ever leave before they are full), and then go slower and stop at more places. For the smaller, faster buses there is a premium of about 20% on top of the price.
Driving in Botswana is on the left, based on the UK's model. The standard of driving is reasonably good. Most roads in the towns, and the major arteries connecting these, are tarred and are usually in superb condition. Note that Botswana's police have radar equipment, and do actively set up radar traps, especially just outside the towns.
Away from the main arteries, and throughout virtually all of the wild areas covered by this guide, the roads are simply tracks through the bush made by whatever vehicles have passed that way. They are almost never maintained, and usually require at least a high-clearance vehicle – although often a 4WD is essential. During the wet season some of these tracks can be less forgiving, and become virtually impassable. Travelling on these bush tracks at any time of year is slow and time consuming – but very much one of the joys of an adventurous trip to Botswana.
Hitchhiking around Botswana is a practical way to get around the main towns – but very, very difficult as a means of getting around the national parks.
Hitching on the tarred roads has the great advantage of allowing you to talk one-to-one with a whole variety of people, from local business-people and expats, to truck-drivers and farmers. Sometimes you will be crammed in the back of a windy pick-up with a dozen people and as many animals. Occasionally you will be comfortably seated in the back of a plush Mercedes, satisfying the driver's curiosity as to why you were standing beside a road in Botswana at all. It can be a great way to get to know the country, through the eyes of its people, though it is not for the lazy or those pressed for time.
Waiting times can be long, even on the main routes, and getting a good lift can take many hours. If you are in a hurry then combining hitchhiking with taking the odd bus can be a quicker and more pragmatic way to travel.
The essentials for successful hitching in Botswana include a relatively neat set of clothes, without which you will be ignored by some of the more comfortable lifts available. A good ear for listening and a relaxed line in conversation are also assets, which spring naturally from taking an interest in the lives of the people that you meet. Finally, you must always carry a few litres of water and some food with you, both for standing beside the road and for lifts where you can't stop to eat.Dangers of drunk driving
Unfortunately, drinking and driving is relatively common in Botswana. It is more frequent in the afternoon/evening, and towards the end of the month when people are paid. Accepting a lift with someone who is drunk, or drinking and (simultaneously) driving, is foolish. Occasionally your driver will start drinking on the way, in which case you would be wise to start working out how to disembark politely.
An excuse for an exit, which I used on one occasion, was to claim that some close family member was killed whilst being driven by someone who had been drinking. Thus I had a real problem with the whole idea, and had even promised a surviving relative that I would never do the same... hence my overriding need to leave at the next reasonable town/village/stop. This gave me an opportunity to encourage the driver not to drink any more, and when that failed (which it did), it provided an excuse for me to disembark swiftly. Putting the blame on my own psychological problems avoided blaming the driver too much, which might have caused a difficult scene.Safety of hitchhiking
Not withstanding the occasional drunk driver, Botswana is generally a safe place to hitchhike for a robust male traveller, or a couple travelling together. Dressing neatly and conservatively is a very good idea. Although safer than in the UK, and considerably safer than in the USA, hitchhiking still cannot be recommended for single women, or even two women travelling together. This is not because of any known horror stories, but because women from outside of Botswana, and especially white women hitching, would evoke great curiosity amongst the local people, who might view their hitching as asking for trouble, whilst some would associate them with the 'promiscuous' behaviour of white women seen on imported films and TV programmes. The risk seems too high. Stick to buses.