Botswana’s second largest city and “capital of the North” is a bustling little city that is growing in popularity as both a tourist hotspot and as a retail paradise. The town benefits from both its position as the ‘gateway to the north’ and its proximity to the Zimbabwean border, and offers a great stopover to the Makgadigadi Salt Pans and the Okavango Delta. Mining and agriculture are also important to the local economy. As such, the city is a centre of industrial development but is also surrounded by many beautiful nature reserves.
Getting there and away
Francistown is situated on Botswana’s main air and road transport routes and has a small international airport. While currently only served by Air Botswana, there are two daily flights to Gaborone, and flights to Johannesburg several times a week. The airport is a few kilometres southeast of the city and, as there is currently no public transport, it will be necessary to hire a car or catch a taxi. Both Avis and Imperial have offices at Francistown airport, and taxis are easy to come by but prices should be negotiated beforehand.
Roads are in good condition and an international drivers’ licence is required if driving privately. If you have not hired a car, the city’s bus system is fairly extensive but the schedules are unreliable. Direct buses travel to tourist destinations like Maun and Kasane but most sights within the city are within easy walking distance. Many visitors opt to take a taxi to the Victoria Falls in neighbouring Zimbabwe. The 70km road from Botswana to Victoria Falls is roughly a 45-minute drive and taxi drivers will likely ask for US $30-$40 to get there. Botswana’s railway is also functioning.
Where to stay
Just five minutes outside of Francistown, located on the banks of the Tati River, the Cresta Marang Hotel is a large, modern edifice set among beautiful gardens. While it is a pricey option, the service, food and amenities are unmatched in the city. For a more affordable option, Nata Lodge or the Peermont Metcourt in Francistown has a great location (in the heart of the central business district) and caters to the overnight business person. There are conference and banqueting facilities and a high speed internet (Wi-Fi) service. For something more intimate, Emoyo Villa Guesthouse is a quiet home away from home.
Barbara’s Bistro at the sports club is considered one of Francistown’s best offerings for continental European cuisine, made by Barbara herself, while Merilicious offers salads grown on the property, delicious vegetarian lasagne, burgers and chips while ice cold smoothies or freshly made filter coffee is also available, all in the surrounds of green gardens. The Calabash Coffee Shop and Espresso Café have great menus for lighter eating, and the Thorn Tree is a great place to have a breakfast on the terrace.
Francistown is not known for its nightlife but there are plenty of options to fill an evening nonetheless. There is a cinema and several jazz clubs, which are a popular option for a night of live music. Several of the larger hotels, like the Maranga and the Thapama Hotels, have sophisticated bars and restaurants. Forever an attraction for fortune hunters, Francistown also has a number of casinos throughout the city, with many attached to the major hotels. The local gaming industry has been growing steadily over the last decade so try your luck here.
In the city
Francistown, while expanding rapidly, is still relatively small and tourist attractions within the city itself are few. However, the Supa Ngwao Museum charts the history of Francistown and Botswana and contains several exhibitions on the culture and history of the Kalanga people. The Tachila Nature Reserve is just outside the city and provides an excellent opportunity for game drives, while also within easy distance is an animal orphanage that rehabilitates animals for release back into the wild. Well worth a visit.
Francistown is becoming somewhat of a shopping mecca for travellers and visitors from across the border. As a result, there are rather a lot of shopping centres that have sprung up in the last few years, housing many brands and franchises that are well-known in South Africa. If crafts are more your style, Afri-Kraft, located across the railway line near the Tati Hotel, has a good selection, as does the museum, but doesn’t compare to the craft markets that can be found in the towns of Maun and Ghanzi. Major credit cards are accepted throughout the city.
Out of the city
Less than 120km from town, the Domboshaba ruins are a fascinating glimpse into the region’s Iron Age history. Built during the Great Zimbabwe era in 1450 AD, it functioned as the capital of the Bakalanga tribal state, and the Kalanga culture is celebrated here every October in a three-day festival. Nata Bird Sanctuary is a bit more of a drive from Francistown but is well worth it. The reserve is situated on the Sowa salt pan, which forms part of the spectacular Makgadikgadi Pans, and is one of the largest breeding grounds for flamingos. With over 150 other bird species to be seen, it’s a bird lover’s paradise.
History and culture
Francistown is Botswana’s second oldest town has an interesting history as the centre of Africa’s first gold rush. It started life as an outpost of Cecil Rhodes’ railway connecting the Cape in South Africa to Zimbabwe and, when gold was discovered along the Tati river, the town was official established by Daniel Francis, hence the name. The Bakalanga people, belonging to the second largest ethnic group in Botswana, make up a large part of the varied population and there are many places of worship including Christian, Muslim and traditional African. Tswana and English are the major languages.
Health and safety
Depending on where you will be during your stay in Botswana, it is advisable to take a prescribed course of anti-malaria medication, especially if you plan to spend extended time in the outdoors. Yellow fever vaccination certificates are only required if you are arriving in the country from a high-risk country. Botswana is a relatively trouble-free region but it is wise to take the usual safety precautions: theft does occur so avoid carrying valuables, do not travel alone at night and carry identification on you at all time.