Maun - A view from our expert author

Though the town straddles the Thamalakane River, most places of interest are on the north bank.

This once-dusty, sprawling town has been the start of expeditions into the wilds since the turn of the century, and it is now the safari capital of the country. Maun’s elongated centre is dotted with modern shops and offices, and its suburbs – until recently dominated by traditionally built, thatched rondavels – glint in the sun reflecting off tin-roofed houses.

In the 1980s everywhere and everything here seemed geared towards the tourism bonanza. Maun had a rough-and-ready frontier feel, as contemporary cowboys rode into town from the bush in battered 4x4s. Its focal points were the camps north of town – Island Safari Lodge, Crocodile Camp, Okavango River Lodge – and the old Duck Inn opposite the airport.

Then, as Maun became the administrative centre for the northern and western parts of Botswana, government departments moved here en masse. The town’s roads became sealed tar, rather than pot-holed gravel tracks, which opened the door to an influx of saloon cars from the rest of the country. Finally the tourism product itself changed. The pendulum swung away from last-minute budget trips bought in Maun, to upmarket safaris bought in advance from overseas. The new breed of visitors just change planes here; they seldom spend more than a few hours at Maun Airport.

However, for those who are driving themselves, Maun remains a centre to get organised, and perhaps a place to look at what cheaper safari options are available. It also offers an increasing number of activities to interest those who may find themselves with time on their hands between flights, or who are stopping over here before or after a safari.

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