From Concrete To Rhinos

Forbes Woman Africa
Published 8 years ago
From Concrete  To Rhinos

Botswana is no stranger to National Geographic photographers, but this is not the only reason why it is the third most-visited African country. In 2012, the number of annual tourists (2,337,998) surpassed the number of its citizens. While Kasane, Maun, and the Okavango Delta remain the country’s most visited regions, investors and entrepreneurs flock to the economic hub.

The country is the least corrupt on the continent and FORBES rated it as the fourth best in Africa in terms of doing business. In November 2013, De Beers relocated its sorting and marketing headquarters to Gaborone from London. The capital will also host the second Youth Africa Games in late May, thus bringing with it enterprises connected with the event. But business aside, from the moment tourists arrive at the newly renovated Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, they are met with modern and innovative architecture. Since independence in September 1966, Gaborone has transformed from a mostly dry shrubland with haphazard buildings, to a high-rise metropolis that is peppered with towering cranes and glass-faced skyscrapers.

Despite its altitude of 1,005 meters above sea level, the capital city is looking to further elevate itself to greater heights. The new central business district is a playground for architects, as key government ministries and the private sector play a friendly game of architectural one-upmanship along the stretch called Government Enclave.

iTowers, the city’s tallest building, is a recent addition to Gaborone’s skyline. This office and residential block is best known for Sky Lounge on its topmost floor. Businesspeople seal the deal over cocktails and Lebanese food on the 19th floor. While there, visit the Sophie Lalonde Art Gallery, which showcases African artists. But be warned, the 360 degree panoramic views of the burgeoning development below comes at a hefty price for non-members of this exclusive venue. The glass balustrades reveal the city’s blueprints for a second tower and similar feats of civil engineering.

The Botswana Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security evokes images of the hollow, cube-like La Grande Arche de la Defense in Paris with its mirror façades. The ministry can be seen from the city’s most visited attraction: the bronze Three Dikgosi Monument. It is a tribute to three tribal chiefs – Khama III, Sebele I and Bathoen I – who traveled to Great Britain to prevent the country from being incorporated into neighboring Rhodesia or South Africa. In the backdrop is Botswana’s new BWP500 million ($55.8 million) high court.

Down the road, the Masa Center – meaning a new dawn in Setswana – is more accessible, but just as trendy. Its two symmetrical towers are on either side of a piazza. It is home to the country’s first 3D cinema, boutiques, a luxurious hotel and spa, five restaurants, as well as the blue-themed Absolut Bar – a rooftop venue with a pool and five-a-side football pitch.

The dirt road away from the inner city towards Sanitas Tea Garden gives the impression that one is bundu bashing in Africa, but do not let that put you off. This idyllic eatery is located in the country’s oldest and largest nursery, and uses its own fruit, vegetables and herbs in its dishes. Birds rest in the immense fig tree that provides shade to its patrons in this sanctuary of calm. The nursery grows water-wise plants due to the ongoing drought.

And while in the area, the Gaborone Yacht Club (open Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays) is a must. During regattas it overflows with expatriates. This local watering hole offers splendid views of the sun sinking behind the horizon. Yet, these days it is also a stark reminder of the water shortage.


Go for an early morning hike up Kgale Hill, nicknamed the sleeping giant. At 1,287 meters above sea level, the rocky outcrop is the city’s natural observation deck. There are three one-hour hiking trails to the top. Rusty’s Route, from Lobster Road, is the most challenging, the easier two start at the quarry entrance. Whichever way you choose to ascend, the views are well worth the trek. And who knows, perhaps you will meet the resident baboons along the way.

Upon descending, it will be breakfast time. Tuck into an English or continental breakfast at Savuti Grill at the Gaborone Sun Hotel and lounge around the pool deck before meandering through nearby Main Mall. While there are many modern shopping malls scattered throughout the city – such as Riverwalk, South Ring, African, and others – one can buy just about anything along this commercial strip. It is lined with stores that sell clothing, shoes, music, and stationery. The headquarters and outlets of various organizations, banks and service providers also call this pedestrian shopping complex home.

Meet some of the capital’s most colorful characters here. From the 68-year-old seamstress, who manually pedals her Singer sewing machine and has called Main Mall her open-air office for decades, to the inviting photographer, who takes passport photographs against a red bed sheet that is hung against a building wall.

Vendors have makeshift stalls from which they sell a smorgasbord of curios and treasures, such as leather sandals made from buck, quirky bumper stickers, books and DVDs, and sports t-shirts. They gleefully wave for attention. If hunger sets in, countless mmas – a term of respect for an older Motswana woman – sell home-made meals, such as beef stews and roasted chicken with cooked vegetables. Do not leave without trying dried Mopani worms, a protein-rich and crunchy delicacy among the Batswana. Of course, there are numerous fast food outlets too, and the Cresta President Hotel never disappoints.

A mere 15 kilometers beyond the city center, Mokolodi Nature Reserve delights visitors with the prospect of a close encounter with nature and wildlife on a giraffe or rhino tracking expedition. Those that feel safer within the confines of a Jeep opt for a game drive, especially the night drive, which is followed by a barbecue in the bush. Otherwise, the seating outside the reserve’s restaurant draws large crowds as wildlife comes to find respite at the watering troughs positioned a few meters away.

No matter what experience you may be after, Gaborone is sure to deliver.