Francistown

As one of the oldest towns in Botswana and site of southern Africa's first gold rush, Francistown, is a typical frontier town, strategically placed as the gateway to the north, with all the main roads to Gaborone, Zimbabwe, Maun and Kazungula passing through it.

Evidence of human habitation goes back for 80,000 years. In the 1820s, the Ndebele stormed through before coming to rest near Bulawayo, bringing their influences and taxation to the Kalanga territory of north-eastern Botswana. The first European to visit Nyangabgwe (the nearest village to present-day Francistown) was missionary Robert Moffat.

Francistown was the site of southern Africa's first "gold-rush". Area hailed as the Ophir of Africa, was rushed by prospectors and adventurers alike to stake their claim of fame and fortune, many coming from as far as Australia and America. With the rapid influx of people, Daniel Francis - after who Francistown was named - organised the establishment of the town. Initially the town consisted of just one main street lined with bustling western-style saloons and supply stores running parallel to the "Cape to Cairo" railway line.

But today more fortunes are found in Francistown's couple of casinos than in the shallow shafts, and the real buzz is in the city's nightlife. The city boasts a range of good restaurants, sophisticated shopping malls, cinema, night clubs (jazz club called New Yorker), a couple of excellent hotels which offer fully equipped conference facilities, one of the largest referral hospitals in Botswana, an extensive library, sports facilities, well-kept parks and colourful markets.

Nowadays, the city is experiencing an economic boom. In the last few years Francistown has had a near total facelift - to the point that much of its original dusty frontier town atmosphere has disappeared.