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Flat, dry, and scorching hot for most of the year, Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa encircled by Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Yet surprisingly, a precious jewel sits in the midst of this vast, stark land:  The Okavango Delta. A year-round wetland, the Okavango Delta is among the largest inland water systems in the world.  The contrast between the arid desert and lush oasis creates a balanced duet of roughness and beauty.

With Safari game rides offered both on land and in the waterways, Botswana is now one of the most enjoyable Safari destinations in Africa. With a recently-turned focus on outstanding quality instead of mass-tourism, this is one of those rare gems that is void of long lines of tourists in 4x4 vehicles.  There is a more personal, exclusive element offered instead, which showcases close sightings of unbelievably huge herds of elephants and zebras both on land and in the rivers.  The dry season is between July and October, which is prime time for game viewing.  I traveled to Botswana in September, when the weather was absolutely pleasant.

While natural beauty abounds in Botswana, there are also plenty of restrictions for even the most prepared traveler.  Electricity is a luxury, with many places shutting it off completely by 9pm.  Cell phone reception and internet connections are just distant memories, since the only communication with the outside world is by radio.  Almost the entire Okavango Delta is only accessible by light charter aircraft, with most lodges and campsites equipped with airstrips.  Flying in a tiny plane over the vastness of the Kalahari Desert makes you forget all about the lack of bars on your cell phone.

In Botswana, fear takes excitement to a whole new level. I’ll never forget the thrill of my walking safari.  Every footstep I took was a chance to witness a lion swagger across the savanna land. These majestic creatures owned the land as they stalked in the shadows, occasionally stirring up thick clouds of sunlit dust. Even a peaceful canoe ride becomes a spine-tingling adventure when it’s through the Okavango River.  As I rode in a canoe down the crocodile-filled river, it was impossible not to wonder if each and every paddle that dipped into the water would rouse a crocodile to jump the boat.

In Botswana, much of the beauty is in the detail:  the labyrinth of spots on the leopard lounging in a tree; the elegant bend in the giraffe’s neck; and even the fragile lotus petal floating between ominous ripples of the Okavango River.  Beauty also lies in numbers, whether it’s a herd of elephants aligned in a massive row of gray curves; or a dozen zebras creating optical illusions with their parallel stripes as they drink in unison.

Sunset is the most dramatic event of all in Botswana.  The sun sets very quickly near the equator and so the change is striking: the sun can turn from a simple white disk to a red-hot rubber ball that sinks into the horizon in what seems like a blink of an eye.  As the light fades, dead trees transform into timeless silhouettes that sweep against the backlit African sky.