Gap Year in Botswana

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Landlocked Botswana is known for its varied wildlife and breathtaking natural scenery, like the Okavango Delta. The country has enjoyed peace since its independence in 1966, a strong economy, and nearly unrivaled natural beauty.

Though not quite as well known as neighboring Kenya or South Africa, Botswana is no less of a gap year destination for adventurous travelers.

Whether you want to spend your time volunteering, exploring the nation's wildlife, or getting your adrenaline pumping with some adventure travel, Botswana is a wonderful gap year destination just waiting to be explored.

Photo credit: Ian N. White via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Volunteering

Despite the calmness, relative wealth and development, and natural beauty of Botswana, there are still many areas that require volunteers, especially in education, wildlife conservation, health, child care and community development.

Projects will often be around improving local living standards, provide due medical and educational care to local communities, raise awareness about illnesses and their consequences (mainly HIV/AIDS), educate and care for underprivileged children, and are located mainly in the small rural areas and/or game reserves.

Wildlife Conservation

Botswana has one of the most varied wildlife in the world; at the same time, being a relative popular destination for safaris means that Botswana is very well prepared for any activity relating to wildlife conservation. Botswana also offers a unique combination of real and unspoiled bush experience with diverse wildlife, something difficult to match in any other location on the planet.

Adventure Travel

If adventure is what you are looking for, Botswana will not disappoint. From deserts to wetlands, islands, lakes and lagoons, vibrant cities and isolated communities, finishing in beautiful game reserves, vast wildlife, and camping nights under the starry African sky, there is a bit of everything for every type of adventurer. Several programs exist that will provide you with a taster of each of the above, but tailored itineraries are also possible to suit your adventure needs.

Cost of Living in Botswana

As a generalisation, Botswana is a cheap country compared to western standards. As with any country, urban areas have a higher cost of living, both in terms of rents as well as amenities and leisure. Rural areas tend to offer more of a quiet life and there are very cheap places to live in with lots of space. Another great alternative is bush camping, as it can be quite cheap, it's safe as a lot of tourists tend to do it, and it's a great experience to have in Botswana. The cost of goods and food products cost only half or less of those found in supermarkets in the Western world. For more info, visit Numbeo or the Expat Blog.

Culture and Etiquette in Botswana

The culture and etiquette rules in Botswana are very much in line with all other Southern African countries: politeness and genuine interest in the people you interact with will get you a long way. Handshakes with eye contact, a smile, and a genuine polite exchange of pleasantries is the usual way to greet someone you just met. Some women do not shake hands and merely nod their head, so it is best to wait for a woman to extend her hand. When saying hellos, add the appropriate pronouns (sir, ma'am, etc.).

Hand gestures are also quite important when saying thank you when someone gives you something; if you hold your hand a certain way, or if you old both hands, you are saying "thank you". Elderly people are fundamental in the culture of Botswana, so make sure you always show respect (e.g., waiting for them to be seated, asking for their advice, etc.). Early starts and several daily breaks are normal as well, so make sure you account for those when planning your day and activities.

Be careful of local dress codes, as revealing clothes may not be entirely appropriate. Shorts are fine for walking safaris, otherwise dress conservatively and avoid short shorts or skirts, especially in the more rural areas. Most people will be more than happy and keen of having you taking pictures of them, provided you ask them beforehand, have a short conversation afterwards and show them your pictures.

Visa Requirements for Taking a Gap Year in Botswana

Up to 90 days, a visa is not required for most Commonwealth (exceptions being Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), Latin American, North American, and European countries. Upon your arrival at the airport, your passport will be stamped with the entry and limit exit dates. If you wish to stay more than 90 days during any one calendar year, you will need to obtain a visa prior to arrival in Botswana in your local Botswana embassy/consulate; bear in mind that paperwork and time requirements vary between embassies/consulates (allow yourself at least three months prior to departure). Check out the US Department of State and the Embassy of Botswana for more details.

While there is no specific requirement in Botswana that visitors have a certain number of blank pages in their passport, most flights in and out of Botswana transit through South Africa, which has a strictly enforced policy requiring at least one completely blank visa page and frequently insists on travelers having two completely blank visa pages. Please note that these pages are in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages at the back of your passport. Without a sufficient number of blank pages, you may be refused entry into South Africa, fined, and returned to your point of origin at your own expense.

Contributed by Tiago Oliveira

The recommended vaccinations to travel to Botswana are hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, rabies, and typhoid. It is also suggested to bring pain relievers and diarrhea medicines. Double-check with your medical provider the kind of vaccinations and other medical care that you will need prior to departure. Well equipped and staffed private medical facilities exist in Gaborone, but beyond the capital medical care is very sparse and usually inadequate; all medical care will only be provided once you prove your ability to pay for it.

Unlike some African countries, Botswana is a relatively safe country, especially towards tourists. However, cases of pity crime occur, and in very sporadic instances theft, armed assault, and carjacking can occur in the major cities. Try to leave any valuables (such as cameras, phones, jewelry, laptops, tablets, etc.) and your passport safely in your accommodation, and if do take them with you, avoid displaying them. Do not carry too much money with you.

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