Getting in and out of Botswana remains very easy, even with Covid-19 requirements around PCR and antigen tests. We have tested the system ourselves so can give you a full rundown of what to expect and what to bear in mind for a safe and seamless safari.
The Botswana government requires a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours from your arrival in the country. We will work with you to calculate the time and date by which you should undergo the test.
In my case, I was arriving from Cape Town in South Africa at midday on a Tuesday. This meant I had my PCR test at midday on the preceding Saturday. I was able to book a slot online with a private healthcare provider and paid via credit card at the testing site.
Depending on how reliable you believe your testing facilities to be in terms of delivering the necessary result in time, you could have the test 48 hours earlier. We suggest not leaving it until 24 hours before just in case you need to redo IT unless you have a long haul flight that takes over 24 hours to get to Botswana because of transit stops en route.
- Read your test requirements carefully and make a checklist. I forgot to print out and fill in the form they sent with my confirmation email and also forgot my passport at home. This meant a mad dash back home to collect these items.
- Take your own pen in case you have to fill in additional forms.
- Check in advance if your testing period falls over a weekend or public holiday – and whether your testing station is open.
- If you live in a small town, you may have to travel to a bigger centre for a PCR test. Factor this into your travel budget.
- Print out multiple copies of your negative PCR test results just in case you need to leave a copy with the authorities.
ANTIGEN TESTS AT BOTSWANA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS
When you arrive in Botswana, you will immediately be taken with your fellow passengers to a holding area where you are each given an individually numbered tag. Do not lose this tag. You will also be given a form to fill in asking about your contact details, health status, travel details such as your flight and seat numbers plus your onwards itinerary (ie which lodges you will be staying at and your departure date).
Once you have filled in this form, you will be called up to undergo a rapid results antigen test in a private tent. If you are negative, you will continue your journey to immigration.
Luckily Maun International was renovated over 2020 so there is shade in which to wait and sufficient chairs – gone are the days of standing in the sun! The entire process took about 25 minutes, from disembarking the plane to getting our results. Social distancing and hand sanitizing are required throughout, and couples and families are tested together.
- Comply with the requests of the health and immigration officials. Motswana are polite, non-confrontational people. If you have a question or concern, convey it in a calm way.
- If you are travelling with young children, have water and snacks for them.
- Keep your boarding pass and have a copy of your itinerary handy so you can easily fill in the required form.
- Again, travel with your own pens so you don’t have to borrow other people’s and risk passing on an infection.
IS A PCR TEST PAINFUL?
This is highly subjective and depends on your own sensitivity and the skill of the nurse. I was braced for the worst but found the discomfort was momentary for both my nasal and oral swabs. The nasal swab caused one of my eyes to run and the throat swab resulted in a short-lived ‘burning’ sensation. Within minutes, I was totally back to normal.
- If you have a low pain threshold, consider a mild painkiller beforehand.
- Take your own tissues in case your nose or eyes run.
- If you are prone to nosebleeds, tell the nurse so they can do a throat swab instead.
- Tilt your head back as far as you possibly can. The further back your head, the more horizontally the swabs can enter your nose and mouth, and the less discomfort you will experience.
To leave Botswana, you need a stamped, negative PCR test no older than 48 hours from your time of departure. There are two ways of going about this:
- Have the test in Maun. This means spending your last night in Maun (or adding a night if your flights are flexible). We can arrange a transfer to the private testing station and ensure that you are entered into the system. There is no need to make an appointment and payment can be made at the site via credit card. Then you are free to enjoy Maun: go for lunch on the river, take a cultural tour, perhaps be driven out of town for a horse ride – chat to us about how you want to spend your last day in Botswana and we’ll make it happen.
- Have the test at your lodge. This is a private service whereby a nurse flies in and conducts the tests, generally after your morning game drive. The benefit is that you can spend longer on safari but it is an additional cost. We will advise the pricing so you can compare options.
HOW TO ARRANGE A COVID-SAFE SAFARI AND WHAT TO EXPECT
There are lots of things to bear in mind:
- The more often you cross borders, the more PCR tests you have to pay for and the longer you have to spend in major centres like Maun, Kasane or Victoria Falls Town. It may make more sense to spend more time in one country rather than trying to do a multi-country trip at this stage.
- Because of government regulations, some aspects of safari will have changed slightly. For example, you may have to have a private vehicle depending on the size of your group as game drives are now limited to a maximum of six passengers. Lodges can no longer offer hot or cold towels when you return from a game drive – you have to sanitize your hands and use disposable paper towels. Your temperature will also be recorded twice daily.
- In the weeks running up to your safari, minimize contact with others, even if you have been vaccinated, to help ensure a negative PCR test. Cancelling or deferring your itinerary because of a positive test result could mean extra fees.
- Even if you have been vaccinated, adhere to the lodge’s requirements around wearing a mask. Remember that not all guests and staff have been lucky enough to be vaccinated.
- Wash your hands often and keep a good physical distance between yourself, staff and other guests – no hugging anyone but your own family! In Botswana, we greet with elbow bumps and a huge smile that reaches your eyes, even if it is covered by your mask.
- Bring reusable cloth masks and take them home with you. Disposable masks simply add to a lodge’s waste removal burden.
Above all, have fun! It has been a strange time across the world but once you’re back in unspoilt nature, you will truly begin to relax. The longer you can spend out in the bush, the more you will return feeling renewed and inspired.