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Botswana National Parks have some of the most beautiful and remote camping in Africa and often at shockingly reasonable prices. But there’s one big problem: figuring out how to book your camping in Botswana. Especially if you live overseas in another country like us! We’ve had some experience with it now, camping in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and in Mabuasehube, so we know it’s a pain. We just had to go through the whole process again to book some campsites in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park so I thought it would be a good time for me to share our experience and let you know what works for us and what doesn’t. Ready to reserve some camping in Botswana? Better put on your patience cap!
Why is it so Difficult to Book Camping in Botswana National Parks?
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to figure out how to book camping in Botswana is because it’s impossible to figure out the name of the department who handles it! If you search Botswana National Parks online, you’ll only get one official listing and it’s halfway down the page. It’s the page titled National Parks & Game Reserves – Republic of Botswana. But if you visit that page, you’ll find that most of the links are dead, including the link titled camping reservations.
But this is Botswana’s official government website. So what is the name of the department that handles camping reservations? It’s the Botswana Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism, Department of Wildlife and National Parks. (The DWNP is one department within the MEWT.) If you search for that you will indeed find the contact page for the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism (here it is). which lists only a PO Box, a phone and fax number. But this phone number won’t help you if you’re trying to make a reservation.
On top of all that, many of the campsites in Botswana National Parks have been privatized and the bookings are managed by multiple other private companies! For the purposes of this article, we are only going to explain how to book campsites that are managed by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (the government) not the ones managed by private companies. (that could be another article entirely.)
How to Book Camping in Botswana National Parks From Outside the Country
If you happen to be in Botswana, your best bet is to visit one of the DWNP offices. There is one in Gaborone which we visited many years ago to book our Central Kalahari camping, and we also stopped in a DWNP office in Kang and successfully made a change to our booking. There is another office in Maun and one in Kasane. (If you’ve ever visited one of these offices, please let us know in the comments below!)
However, if you’re trying to book camping in advance from another country, visiting an office is obviously not an option! Instead you have to work through the not-so-streamlined system. Here’s a quick rundown of how it’s done with detailed explanations below.
- Call the reservations number & book (+267-3180774)
- Wait for an email with a “Provisional Booking Report” & “Authority for Card Payment”
- Fax in the payment authorization (+267-3180775)
- Wait for an email with a “Confirmed Booking Report”
1) Call the Reservations Number
I hate to tell you, but there is no online booking system (unlike South Africa National Parks which has a really well-designed online booking system on the SANparks website.) Next up, don’t bother with email. Yes, they have an email address (it’s firstname.lastname@example.org) and this is where you’ll eventually receive your confirmation from. But you’re not likely to receive a speedy response. Over the last couple months while trying to book our camping in Botswana, we’ve found that the average response time to an email was about 2 weeks.
On top of that, you’re likely to get a blow-off message like, “we’re all booked on that day” even though you may call in later and successfully make a reservation for that same day. The lesson? Always call the office. You might see various phone numbers listed but there is only one where you’ll reliably get through to someone. Here it is:
Botswana Parks and Reserves Reservations PHONE: +267 318 o774
They are open regular office hours on weekdays so if you’re calling from the United States like me (6 hour time difference), you better wake up early. Sometimes they’ll “knock off” before 4:30! I always use Skype to make this international call and it works fine. (just choose Botswana as the country then enter the number 318-0774.) If you’re calling from a regular phone in the U.S. you’d need to dial 011 (for international calling) 267 (the Botswana country code) and 3180774 (the phone number). That’s 011-267-3180774.
Make sure you know the dates you want and the name of the camps you want to book (for example Lesholoago or Rooiputs). Also you can choose favorite sites within those camps if you have a good map (like the one we made for our Mabuasehube post). Maybe they’ll let you choose an individual site, maybe they won’t. I suppose it depends on who you get and the day they’re having. Keep it simple! They will only check the specific dates you give them. Don’t ask “what sites do have available in March in the Central Kalahari?” You’re likely to get a long silence in response.
To tightly-wound Europeans, or Americans like us, the laid-back Botswana attitude might be interpreted as them not giving a shit. And maybe they don’t? But better to chalk it up to a simple cultural difference and move on.
2) Wait For an Email With a “Provisional Booking Report” & an “Authority for Card Payment”
We just booked some sites at Polentswa camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park by phone and received our follow-up email within a couple days. It was actually pretty efficient. It contains two attached documents, the Provisional Booking Report which lists the details of your reservation, and the Authority For Card Payment which is how you make the payment for the reservation.
But your booking isn’t complete until they receive payment and you only have a month to do it. Here’s what the second page of our provisional booking said:
I am pleased that you are planning to visit the National Parks and Game Reserves and I have accordingly provisionally made the above reservations. Our Camping sites are always in great demand and I can therefore only hold this reservation until 15-JUN-2019 [one month after the date we made the booking] by which time I know you will have confirmed it by forwarding the amount which has been indicated above. Please return this form with your remittance. Receipt and confirmation will then be forwarded.
Here’s where things get whackier. You can not email in the credit card authorization. When I emailed the office to ask if I could email the payment form, the response I received two weeks later said “Good day. Please send it by mail. Regards, Ruth”. As usual this was a sort of half-reply because actually you can fax it as well, which is exactly what we recommend you do.
3) Fax in the Payment Authorization Form
Now it’s time to make payment. Apparently you can’t give them credit card information over the phone. Truthfully I never thought to ask if this was an option, they just didn’t offer me that choice! Instead you need to mail or fax the credit card authorization form. If you really want to put your reservations in the hands of the international postal system then, sure, you could mail it to:
Parks and Reserves Reservation Office
PO Box 131
But personally I wanted to make sure it got done in time so I didn’t lose my reservation. So I recommend you fax in the payment authorization form. Here’s the fax number:
Botswana Parks and Reserves Reservations FAX: +267 318 0775
But then you run into a whole new set of problems! Number one, who the hell has a fax machine any more?
I tried to find an online fax website that I could use. Most wouldn’t send a fax to Botswana. One of them would for $12. But then I decided I didn’t want to be sending all my credit card information through an online fax service and it ending up who-knows-where. Then I decided to look for a business service provider in my town. I called multiple places (like the UPS shop) who couldn’t send international faxes. Finally I found one, the FedEx Office Print & Ship shop (formerly Kinkos) could send an international fax. Over the phone they told me it was $7 a page but I only got charged $10 for a 2-page fax in the shop. Only? Well yeah, that’s kind of expensive for a fax, but that’s what I had to do to get it done. Be sure to fax your “provisional booking” along with the payment authorization form.
4) Wait For an Email With a “Confirmed Booking Report”
I faxed the payment from on a Friday and lo and behold, the Confirmed Booking Report arrived by email early Monday morning! Woo hoo! You can now officially consider yourself booked to camp at a National Park in Botswana!
Be sure to print this Confirmed Booking Report and bring it with you camping! You’ll show it at the gate but you may also need it when you show up at your campsite and somebody is already in it. Unfortunately this is fairly common in Botswana campsites. Sometimes it may be an honest error (things do go wrong with this system) but sometimes it’s just a jerk who didn’t like their own spot or had no reservation at all. Ask to see their booking and show them yours. If they can’t supply one (and they are being obstinate assholes and won’t leave) then you may end up having to drive back to the gate office and getting the offender booted out. This is not fun, but carrying your booking with you (and maybe an extra copy) can help prevent this unpleasantness.
Is it Worth All the Trouble?
You may be asking yourself, why you would ever go to all this trouble for a camp site? Well, number one, the sites we just booked at the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (at Polentswa and Rooiputs) cost a total of 728 BWP (Botswana Pula) for 7 nights. At current exchange rates that comes out to just $9.54 US dollars per night! (Other Botswana campsites, like in the Central Kalahari may be substantially more expensive.) That is an awesome deal. But more importantly, you just won’t find places like this (unfenced wilderness camping in functioning ecosystems full of large predators) anywhere else in Southern Africa. If you’re the kind of person who wants to experience the thrill of a lion walking through your campsite, then yes, it is 100% worth the trouble. That is, if you have the time and the patience to pull it off. Sure you can risk it and show up at the gate and see what’s available. And often you’ll get lucky! But if you want to make sure you’re booked, this is the way to go.
If it doesn’t seem worth the trouble to you, you can always hire a third-party company to handle the booking for you. Although we’ve never used one personally, we’ve heard good things about Botswana Footprints. If you have had a good or bad experience with a Botswana safari booking agency that booked your camping please let us know in the comments below.