Botswana Travel Etiquette—What You Need To Know Before Your Safari

Burchell’s Zebra on Hunda Island, Botswana. Photo (c) Dana Allen

Botswana safaris are evocative of a bygone era, when the African wilderness was uncrowded and synonymous with exhilarating adventure. If you are thinking of heading to this incredible land of wildness and adventure, including the chance to witness the vulnerable African elephant, then here are a few travel etiquette tips for visiting Botswana.

The local language is Setswana. It’s a Bantu language for the Tswana people, so while it’s spoken throughout Southern Africa, it’s one of Botswana’s national languages. Below are some basic phrases that may, at the very least, evoke smiles of appreciation that you are trying to learn their mother tongue. Our friend Wazha Dube is from Botswana and helped us out with the proper phonetic pronunciation for each phrase:

Hello Dumela (Doo-Mela)
How are you O tsogile (Ooh so-heel-ay)
Please Tsweetswee (tsway tsway)
Thank you Ke a leboga (kay a lebo-ha)
Goodbye Go siame (ho-si-a-may)
Yes Ee (Ehh)
No  Nnyaa (n-yaa)

If you’re keen to learn even more Setswana phrases, here are a couple helpful websites:
http://www.setswana.info/wiki/index.php?title=Simple_phrases
http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/tswana.php

When greeting locals, it is respectful to greet everyone there, starting with the elders first and using the above local greeting phrase. You may see locals bowing their heads and grasping and elders right wrist with their left hand when shaking. A kiss on the cheek is not uncommon but not expected as a foreign traveler.

Pointing and in general using one’s left hand is generally frowned upon (sorry lefties!), and you may often see an avoidance of direct eye contact. Other than that, do what your guides suggest and take the lead from any local hosts, for example, if your host is not wearing shoes inside, do the same.

However, if you are going on a life-changing Botswana safari, while staying in luxury safari tent camps with a world class company like Natural Habitat Adventures, you’ll likely be spending very little time inside!

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