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Self Drive Botswana
While Botswana has a reputation for stunning high-end luxury lodges, many adventurous travelers choose to rent a 4x4 and explore the country on their own, visiting the locations they want and setting their own schedule. This is probably the cheapest way to vacation in Botswana as camping is relatively inexpensive and the only other costs will be food and fuel. Some of the most beautiful locations in the country, such as Moremi’s Third Bridge, the Chobe Riverfront, and the Makgadigadi Pans, are accessible by private vehicle, but be warned, road conditions are often treacherous and the campsites remote. The self-drive tourist in Botswana must truly be prepared for anything and totally self-sufficient.
For a traveler wanting the essence of a self-drive safari, but wishing to avoid the hassle of camp setup and breakdown, food preparation, and long hours behind the wheel, I recommend a mobile safari. Mobile safaris can be tailored to almost any schedule and will often cost only marginally more than driving yourself. Plus, you will have the services of a professional guide ensuring you get the maximum out of your trip, making a mobile safari the best option for many travelers.
Botswana Car Hire - Hiring a 4x4
A 4x4 off-road vehicle is absolutely essential to reach most tourist destinations in Botswana. In addition, one must be fully equipped with all of the camping gear, food, water, and extra fuel for extended trips into the bush. Fortunately, there are a number of companies that will rent fully equipped 4x4s complete with tents, cookware, bedding, off-roading equipment, long-range fuel tanks, and will even plan your trip for you, providing a detailed itinerary and making reservations before you even arrive! In addition, most companies will require you to take a thorough 4x4 driving course with one of their instructors before heading into the wilderness, allowing any level of driver to embark with confidence on a self-drive vacation.
Many people choose to take advantage of the numerous 4x4 hire companies in South Africa or Namibia and include Botswana in a 2 to 6 week loop of Southern Africa. Vehicles from these companies are a common sight exploring the National Parks and Game Reserves of Botswana:
- Self Drive Adventures (Maun, Botswana)
- AJC 4x4 Hire (South Africa)
- Britz (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe)
- Bushlore (Botswana, South Africa, Namibia)
- Savanna (Namibia)
- Maun Self Drive 4x4 (Maun, Botswana)
There are numerous others and it is good to shop around and find the company that offers the best vehicle for your adventure. Be sure to enquire about insurance and recovery policies should there be trouble far from civilization.
For the truly adventurous, I recommend heading to the 4x4 Café and viewing the 4x4s for sale and hire. These are a good option if you are planning a lengthy trip and want the freedom owning a vehicle affords. The rates on 4x4s for hire are also very good.
Driving in Botswana
The main roads in Botswana are tarmac and very good and make it possible to cover large distances in a single day. Livestock are a constant hazard to drivers and one must always be alert for cows, donkeys, or goats to be in the road. It is therefore inadvisable to drive after dark as it can be very stressful and dangerous. While most stretches of road are immaculate, some, like the Kasane to Nata stretch, can be in bad condition with numerous tyre-destroying potholes.
While the main roads are tarmac, most secondary roads are a combination of sand and gravel and it is advisable to ask often about road conditions on the way to your destination. Depending on rains, some areas can become inaccessible due to very deep and slippery mud or simply water that is covering the road. This is especially the case in National Parks and Game Reserves. Because of the constantly changing conditions on these roads, it may be difficult to predict the time needed to transit between points and it is a good habit to ask passing motorists or park officials to help you estimate. This is also why allowing a professional to schedule your itinerary is important – there is no way for you as a traveler to know what a reasonable speed is until you are there!
Any official driver’s license will be honored in Botswana for 90 days. This is the amount of days tourists are allowed in the country without a visa or special permission, so it will likely cover most travelers. If you will be in Botswana for longer than 90 days, you are required to get a Botswana drivers license.
Botswana Road Maps and GPS
Botswana is notably devoid of informative road signs and one can easily become lost, especially when exploring the remote National Parks and Game Reserves. For this reason, I highly recommend a GPS unit loaded with a quality basemap of Southern Africa. Tracks4Africa is said to be one of the best.
For paper maps, there are many options available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore, and I recommend picking one of these up before your trip. Once in Botswana, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Shell Tourist Guide and map as it has the best local information for Botswana and is updated yearly. It is difficult to get outside of Botswana (although omnimap.com seems to have one available), but should be easy to find once you are in the country at souvenir (curios) shops, bookstores, or Shell gas stations. I have found it is best to travel with 2 different maps as none have been entirely accurate for all locations.
Prices for petrol and diesel in Botswana are similar to prices in Europe and the Americas and fuel availability is reasonably reliable in the larger villages and cities (the notable exception being Kasane which seems to be out of fuel every time I visit). However, keep in mind that Botswana is a sparsely populated country and it can be hundreds of kilometers between fuel stations. Therefore, it is important to fill up with a full tank every time you come across a fuel station. When traveling in the bush, remember to take a few jerry-cans full of fuel to prevent being stranded with an empty tank. Also keep in mind that fuel consumption while driving off-road can be double that of on-road travel, especially when driving through thick sand.
Accommodation in Botswana
Most self-drive trips will include a combination of camping and lodges for accommodations. Maun, Ghanzi, Kasane, and Gweta are all popular stop-overs for self-drivers exploring Moremi, Chobe, the Kalahari, and the Pans. They all offer numerous lodges and stores for recharging and restocking.
National Parks in Botswana
When exploring the National Parks and Game Reserves, the only option is camping and Botswana’s campsites and located in some of the most spectacular locations on earth. A few of the best include:
- Moremi - 3rd Bridge and Xakanaxa
- Chobe – Ihaha and Savuti
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve – Sunday Pan, Passarge Valley, and Tsau Pan
- Nxai Pan – Baines campsites
- Makgadigadi Pans – Lekhubu Island
Unlike parks in other South African countries, there are no restaurants or shops in the Botswana parks. These are truly wild places with very few amenities or structures. At some campsites in Nxai Pan and all campsites in the Kalahari, all that is provided is a long-drop toilet and a bucket shower.
Beware that a new central booking system means that travelers can no longer pay for camping and park fees at park entrance gates. Plan on stopping at one of the National Parks offices in Gaborone, Tsabong, Ghanzi, Kang, Letlhakane, Maun, Kasane or Francistown on the way to the park. This is very important as many tourists who arrive without reservations have been turned away at the gate!
Reservations can be made up to 1 year in advance. Campsites will fill up very quickly and it is advisable to book as early as possible. For example, for the peak tourist months of July, August, and September, the Moremi 3rd Bridge and Xakanaxa campsites are usually booked full the day they become available, a fully year ahead of time!
Department of Wildlife and National Parks Booking Office: +267 318-0774
Suggested Self-Drive Routes
It is important to plan your self-drive trip to allow enough time to get between destinations – nobody wants to zoom past a lion or herd of zebra to get to your campsite on time! The best choice is usually to ask the 4x4 hire company to plan an itinerary for you as they know the intimate details of the roads and can plan a trip accordingly. These are some popular routes that will showcase the best of Botswana:
Moremi, Chobe, and Victoria Falls
Start in Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Head northeast to the Moremi Game Reserve and spend 2 nights camping under the stars. Travel to the Khwai Community Trust campsites before entering Chobe National Park. Spend 2 nights in Savuti and one night at Ihaha. Tour the Chobe Riverfront on your way to Kasane where you’ll take a day-trip to Victoria Falls. Best if you can hire the vehicle in Maun and drop it at Kasane. If not, spend an extra 2 days driving back to Maun via the tar road stopping in Gweta on the way.
Gaborone, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Lekubu Island, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Maun, Ghanzi, Kang
This route will need a little more time, probably around 3 weeks. Start in Gaborone then drive north to Serowe and stay at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary for 2 nights where you have a unique opportunity to see the rhinoceros in Botswana. Continue on to Lekubu Island in the Pans, an amazing spot on the earth of desolation and beauty, staying 2 nights. Spend the next 4 nights in the Kalahari (be sure to bring enough water!), then drive to Maun for 4 nights. In Maun, take a day-trip to Moremi, hire a mokoro to pole you around the delta, and take a scenic flight. Head south to Ghanzi and stay at one of the wonderful lodges here while taking in cultural San bushman activities. Stay 2 to 3 nights then continue to Kang for a brief stop-over for 1 night. Tour the Jaweng Diamond mine on the way back to Gaborone.
About the Author
This Article was written by The BotswanaTraveler
The BotswanaTraveler is an American who has lived and worked in Botswana for the past 3 years. He has traveled extensively across the country, often on a shoestring budget, and gives advice to other travelers on his blog (www.botswanatraveler.com). While he has had the opportunity to visit some of the most exclusive lodges in the Okavango Delta, his main goal is to show that Botswana is not just a destination for the rich, it can be a rewarding vacation spot on almost any budget.
Botswana borders Zimbabwe in the northeast, South Africa in the south and southeast and Namibia in the west. A land of contrasts with the harsh dry environments of the Kalahari Desert & Makgadikgadi Salt Pans (Makarikari) and the wetland areas of the Okavango Swamps, Limpopo and Chobe Rivers and Lake Ngami. Botswana offers almost everything that you could want out of a true safari holiday destination.
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|The Safari Companion: Guide to Watching African Mammals||Botswana and Namibia (Lonely Planet Multi Country Guide)||Botswana: Okavango Delta - Chobe - Northern Kalahari (Bradt Safari Guide)|
An excellent book to take out on safari with you. Once you get back to your lodge from your game drive, with nothing to do but relax by the pool and read a book. What better than to look up all the interesting bits of information on all the wildlife you have just seen.
|This is the only guidebook to comprehensively cover both Botswana and Namibia. It contains special sections to get to know the people of Botswana and Namibia, and explore the striking national parks and reserves. It also features a 16-page colour wildlife section; and an extensive safari coverage.||1000's of adventure travel ideas around Chobe National Park in Botswana. Travel off the beaten track, sleep under a million stars and wish you never had to come home.|
|Buy this book on Amazon||Buy this book on Amazon||Buy this book on Amazon|
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