On the edge of the Kalahari Desert, between Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, and its second-largest city, Francistown, lies the little-known town of Mahalapye. Often overlooked as simply a convenient stopover on the way to and from Botswana’s larger cities, Mahalapye, in fact, has more to offer than initially meets the eye.
The town is the headquarters of Botswana Railways, and the railway line running through the town forms an important part of Mahalapye’s history. The line, which transverses Botswana from Ramatlabama in the south, to Bakaranga in the north, was originally part of Bechuanaland Railway Company’s line from Vryburg to Bulawayo (later to become Rhodesia Railways), and was an important section of the unrealised vision of a ‘Cape to Cairo’ railway. The railway line currently forms a direct link between South Africa, and the countries lying to the north, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Mozambique.
As a result of the development of the Botswana railway system, the town of Mahalapye came into being in around the 1920s, attracting construction workers from far and wide.
The town also became an important stopover point, both to restock on coal and as a changeover for traffic and train crew of South African Railways and Rhodesia Railways. The Tswana people from surrounding areas used this stopover as a chance to trade, and eventually set up temporary and then permanent homes in the area. The town grew, and, interestingly, some of the first electric lights to flicker in Botswana were in this town, earning it the nickname of ‘Ko Diponeng’ – the place of lights.
The result of all the construction and trading that took place in the area is that today, Mahalapye is an ethnically diverse area, with many Xhosas from South Africa, Bahereros from Namibia, and Tswana, and Lozi people from Zambia.
The modern village, while not front of mind as a tourist destination, certainly has a few noteworthy attractions that are worth a visit. To the south of the village, just off the A1 highway you will find the southern-most naturally occurring baobab tree in Africa, an immense and long-standing specimen that has been declared a national monument.
More natural beauty can be found along the dried-up Mahalapye River, where you can take a walk among the impressive granite boulders. It may also be a good idea to take your bird books and binoculars along, as the bush is home to many species of birds. Alternatively, arrange a picnic to experience a uniquely African alfresco dining experience.
About 45km from the town are the Shoshong Hills, where some of Botswana’s richest history can be discovered. These hills were home to mineworkers as far back as the 8th century, and today feature stone-walled ruins from early tribes.
Only two hours’ drive north of Mahlalapye is the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a community-based wildlife project established in 1992 to help save the vanishing rhinoceros and restore an area formerly teeming with wildlife to its previous natural state. Visit for the day or take more time by spending a night or two at one of the campsites or chalets. The park is home to white and black rhinos, giraffe, zebra, various antelope, ostrich, black-backed jackals, warthogs and more, as well as a plethora of birds.
Where to stay
Mahalapye has a history of being a stopover village, and even today, it is a convenient refreshment stop between Gaborone and Palapye, or Francistown further north. Whatever your reason for visiting Mahalapye, whether you are simply stopping over, in town for business, or staying a bit longer to see the sites, Cresta Mahalapye has you covered.
The hotel, one of very few in the village, started up in February 2013.
“We saw the a huge potential for an upmarket hotel to be built in Mahalapye, as most accommodation facilities are small lodges or bed and breakfast outlets,” said Jonathan Cox, Cresta Hotels’ group operations manager.
The hotel is fully licensed, and has 64 fully-equipped rooms, including two presidential suites, four junior suites, two paraplegic rooms and 56 standard rooms.
For holidaymakers, a restaurant and cocktail bar, lush gardens, a swimming pool and a children’s playground with splash pool promise good times. For the business person, the hotel offers state-of-the-art conference and banqueting facilities, which can accommodate up to 200 people, as well as several meeting rooms. The hotel’s business centre and free Wi-Fi ensure that you can carry on with your business without a hitch.
Article by: Loren Shirley-Carr