Travelling around Botswana

There are not many who travel to Botswana who don't ultimately visit the Okavango Delta. There are five major road routes criss-crossing the country, some with by-roads and side-roads, and others that demand diversions. Whichever you choose, each has its own distinctive appeal and will deliver you to Maun, the 'Gateway to the Okavango'.

By Ian Michler

Once the Quintessential African Frontier Town...

... this gateway to the Okavango has long since outgrown its famed status of yester-year. Based on a thriving hunting and adventure safari industry that got going in the '60s, the town had three decades of wild times that gave it its regional reputation.

But, with those heady days now mere folklore, Maun's residents have to cope with humdrum living in what has become a dull and dusty boomtown. It was clear that it would head that way once the roads started to be paved and commercial tourism came along.

First the Duck Inn closed down, then Woolworths opened its doors and traffic congestion set in - all sure signs that real change was on its way. Confirmation of that came recently with the symbolic ending of two separate eras: Lionel Palmer, the doyen of Maun's hunting heyday and master of some of the town's wildest times, sadly passed away, leaving few of the old school behind; and Alistair Rankin, the embodiment of the '90s photographic safari revolution, left town for greener pastures.

Despite the dust, dirt and donkeys disliked so much by the expats, most of the 30 000-plus citizens of Maun seem to flourish here. For them, Maun is still full of promise, as the wildlife-based tourism industry continues to fuel an economic growth rate averaging over 10 percent.

And, with every chance of a career or a job at the very least, why not? Maun will become even bigger, dirtier and more prosperous in the future.

Being the last stop before the Okavango and the national parks, Maun is well supplied and visitors should be able to find most things here. If you do happen to find yourself in town for a night or two, you will be able to keep yourself busy.

While the General Trading Company in town and the Bushman Craft Shop outside the airport offer the best general shopping, don't overlook the ever-growing number of roadside vendors hawking anything from tin trinkets to cane furniture.

For art lovers, the Nhabe Museum often has a great selection of work by local artists at affordable prices. African Art and Images, right outside the airport, has a more pricey collection of art and jewellery, and the Craft Centre in the Power Station and Okavango Ceramics near Maun offer pottery and general arts and crafts.

The Maun Sanctuary set along the banks of the Thamalakane River makes for a pleasant late-afternoon stroll away from the bustle of town. To swop safari stories with the ex-pat community, try lunch at the Power Station or the Bull & Bush.

Find the best dinner menus at the Sports Bar, Audi Camp, Crocodile Camp and Riley's Hotel. Hilary's and the French Connection offer healthy and wholesome breakfast and lunch menus.

Riley's Hotel is perfect for Sunday lunch and a boozy afternoon of live jazz. For the hottest kwaito vibe in town, drink and play pool with the locals at Bar 2000, Mmaleselo Bar or the BP Bar.

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