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University of Botswana History Department
Most tourists come to Botswana to see the wildlife and landscape of the north - Chobe, the Okavango Delta etc. This is indeed well worth seeing - Botswana's parks and reserves are truly spectacular. However, many tourists are also interested in the culture and history. (After all, tourists who go to North America visit not only the National Parks but also historic places, art galleries, etc. - Africa too offers both the natural and the human world.) However, unless they have local contacts, they are often not sure how to go about this. These pages are intended to offer some introductory information.
Firstly, see Neil Parson's notes in the Botswana History Pages: the page on Tourism and the itinerary for a historical road trip.
For many of the historical/cultural tourist sites, there is easy road access, although some require 4-wheel drive vehicles and may be better approached through organized excursions. On this page we are mainly discussing what is open to the independent tourist. Despite the impressions one gets in the west, it is possible to travel around Botswana on good roads and stay at pleasant and moderately-priced hotels. Do try some of these as well as the "luxury lodges"; they are often more interesting.
Gaborone itself is a new town, built in the 1960s, but there are some older buildings in the "Village" area, the site of the colonial Gaberones Camp. The old Gaberones graveyard, with many Boer War graves, is located in this area (see the page on the Boer War in Botswana for details including a picture of the site).
The National Museum, located on Independence Avenue opposite the Roman Catholic Cathedral, is of course an essential visit.
David Livingstone, when living with the Bakwena, built a house at Kolobeng, not far from modern Gaborone. The ruins are just off the main road from Gaborone to Thamaga. Heading out of Gaborone, look for the sign to the left reading (somewhat misleadingly) "Livingstone Memorial". The site is attended by a guide. The first few chapters of Livingstone's book Missionary Travels (the complete text is on-line at this site) describe his years at Kolobeng, before he set out on the trans-continental wanderings for which he is better remembered.
Formerly rather inaccessible, Ghanzi is now easily reached by the new Trans-Kalahari Highway from Jwaneng. The area is home to many of Botswana's Khoesan communities (variously known as San, Basarwa, or Bushmen - for the dispute over terminology, see our page on place names and historical terms). A few kilometres along the road from Ghanzi to Maun is D'Kar, the site of the well-known Kuru Development Trust. The distinctive art being produced by local artists is sold there, together with craftwork both traditional and modern.
At the nearby Dqae Qare farm, an innovative project in cultural tourism is being developed. The farm, which is owned and run by the local Ncoakhoe community, offers visitors a chance to learn about their culture. For example, guides take visitors on bush-walks on which they show how animals are tracked and how various plants are used. In the evening there may be dancing and story-telling. Visitors can stay either at a campsite or in comfort at the lodge. For any visitor interested in Khoesan culture this is something not to be missed. Address: P.O. Box 219, Ghanzi, Botswana. Tel/fax Botswana 596.574. Email: email@example.com
Mochudi, the capital of the Bakgatla, is an attractive village not far from Gaborone. The excellent Puthadikobo Museum is housed in the old Mochudi National School building - worth going to see in itself - atop the hill above the kgotla. This museum is notable for displays of the work of Isaac Schapera, the famous anthropologist who did much of his work in and around Mochudi.
Serowe is the capital of the Bangwato; notable in political history as the home of Tshekedi Khama and Seretse Khama, andin cultural history as the home of Bessie Head. The Khama royal graveyard may be visited: NB: call first at the Tribal Administration office at the kgotla (signposted from the main road) for permission. Not far from there is the Khama III Museum, with a number of interesting displays mainly on the history of Serowe.
From 1889 to 1902 the Bangwato capital was at Phalatswe (Old Palapye). (See Neil Parsons' paper on The Abandonment of Phalatswe.) The site is worth a visit, especially the visually stunning ruins of the church, now surrounded by the returning bush. The track to the site can be a bit rough and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is desirable (or at least a vehicle with high clearance).
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Copyright © 2001 University of Botswana History Department
Last updated 14 March 2002