Finding a city’s secret spots can only really happen at human speed. In this series, World Running Guide, we’ll provide information to help you discover your next destination through the eyes (or rather, feet) of a runner.
Whether you’re running alongside a smiling villager or trying to outrun a lioness (we don’t recommend that), an adrenaline sparks within as you finally discover a side of Africa you’ve always wanted to see. Welcome to Botswana, where endless horizons, clear blue skies, and the dirt beneath your feet combine to create one of the world’s great, if under-the-radar, running locales.
Photo courtesy of Mario Micklisch, CC-BY
Even though many consider South Africa as the chief running hub of the continent, at least one Botswana local thinks his small, landlocked country is finally gaining competitive ground.
“Social Running in Botswana has recently picked up and gained so much momentum as we see more and more people taking their health seriously,” said Leatile Bakwena, the PR Officer for the Gaborone Striders Running Club over Facebook.
In Africa’s southern region, Botswana lies sandwiched between Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Perhaps more than most, this country’s atmosphere and mood change depending on the region and season. During the wet months, the lush, green northeast can see up to 23 inches of rainfall; in the dry months, nights can get into the 40s. One minute you could be rowing beside the tall grass along the Okavango Delta, the next you might be strolling down a dirt road, laughing with villagers in Ramotswa. Long story short: Botswana is full of surprises.
If you’ve seen pictures of lions and zebras and giraffes (oh my!) in Africa, there’s a good possibility they were taken in Botswana. The landscape (particularly the northern region) is crawling with some of the world’s most fascinating and dangerous creatures. The best time to see these animals is between April and October. Since it’s the dry season and water supply is lower, the animals will gather around the nearest water source. If you’re not a fan of humidity, this is the best season to go for a run, too.
Kgale Hill, photo courtesy of Athena Lao, CC-BY
Since Botswana is mostly flat, runners need a little creativity to form an intense training plan. Even so, Bakwena doesn’t seemed phased by the monotonous terrain.
“Although we do not have the most challenging training routes, runners tend to fair well in marathons,” he said.
If you’re looking for a short run to acclimate to Africa’s intense climate, try the 1.8 mile route in Francistown, located in Botswana’s eastern region. The city was home to southern Africa’s first gold rush. After you catch your breath, learn more about the Kalanga people at the Supa Ngwao Museum or go support environmental protection at the Tachila Nature Reserve.
Two intermediate runs in northern Botswana are the Kasane loop (6.54 miles) and the Maun route (4.04 miles). Kasane is the gateway to the Chobe National Park, and this loop skirts beside the Chobe River. The Maun route goes around the city’s stadium and along the Thamalakane River. This northwestern city is considered a main entry point into the Okavango Delta.
For endurance runners who need something a little longer, the southeastern city of Ramotsa has a half marathon loop that stretches alongside the A1 Highway and starts and end near the Notwane River.
Photo courtesy of Mokgweetsi Phetabosigo
As previously said, Botswana is slowly but surely gaining traction when it comes to running. One of the leading clubs is the Gaborone Striders based out of the country’s capital.
This group of locals is always ready to hit the trails, so they meet five days out of the week. They start off with an easy 5-10K run on Mondays, longer runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (with a minimum distance of seven miles), and then work speed on Wednesdays.
Bakwena believes the positive impact of running will only continue to grow within his small country.
“Due to Botswana having a small population you find a lot of running groups mushrooming all over creating a really good vibe of both health and camaraderie,” Bakwena said. “Employers are now even sponsoring corporate running clubs for their staff. It has been taken seriously as more and more local marathons have been organized around the country.”
Gaborone 5K Fun Run
Run21 Trail Run
Diacore Gaborone Marathon
Horseback riding in Tuli, going on a safari (of course), or the view from Kgale Hill in Gaborone.
Michael Jansen, CC-BY-ND
McGee Nall is a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia. She was probably eating Nilla wafers and Nutella while writing this.