Botswana's deserts, pans and deltas are home to some of the last great, untouched wildernesses in Southern Africa. Here's our top tips for a self-drive safari
Operations & Marketing Development
27 May 2021
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What's the appeal?
Botswana's deserts, pans and deltas are home to some of the last great, untouched wildernesses in Southern Africa. Vast expanses, diverse terrains and flourishing ecosystems dominate like no other on earth, Botswana is undoubtedly one of the greatest safari locations you can find.
A self-drive safari through the vast and varied landscapes, combined with an awe-inspiring spectacle of wildlife, is an unbeatable experience. THE ultimate wildlife adventure.
Over the last few years, self-driving Botswana safaris have become increasingly popular compared to countries such as Namibia which have always been a go-to destination for self-drive trip. But with its vast and varied landscapes combined with phenomenal wildlife its no wonder more and more safari lovers are wanting to explore remote areas of Botswana with the freedom that a self-drive holiday offers. From the unforgiving Kalahari Desert and the extensive Makgadikgadi salt pans to the riverbanks of Chobe National Park, nature lovers will be spoilt for choice.
Whether camping with your vehicle in the midst of the Makgadikgadi under an ocean stars, or staying in the luxury lodges of the Okavango Delta, be prepared to be simply amazed.
Honest and accurate
With enquiries for Botswana self-drive safaris ever increasing, it is imperative to provide as much honest and accurate information as possible, so people know all the facts before planning and undertaking what is for the majority of the time, an incredibly eye opening and rewarding trip. However, if you don’t go fully prepared and confident in your abilities or with an inadequate vehicle, it has the potential to be stressful, uncomfortable, tiring, frustrating and potentially dangerous.
Roads – Botswana has over 18,000km of roads, only about 4,300kms of these are tarred.
Although in the main, roads between the towns are tarred, however signage is not always as clearly marked as many other African countries, which can make driving an interesting experience and keeps you on your toes.
Traversing the gravel tracks found in National Parks and in more remote wilderness areas can and will be difficult to negotiate, requiring an equipped Botswana 4x4 vehicle.
Whether you are driving the tarred roads to reach Kasane from Nata or through Moremi, the Central Kalahari or Chobe, the biggest danger you will come across is wildlife. You would be hard pressed to drive more than 10 kilometres without having to stop for a donkey, goat, cow, elephant or other wildlife. This makes driving during the day more dangerous than usual and driving at night a strict no go.
Not only is driving riskier on roads and in areas such as these, but so is camping. It is often advisable to only really consider undertaking a camping/self-drive when you have already been on two or three safaris, whether you have stayed at camps, lodges or have self-driven before. This will give you the confidence, experience, and an insight of how guides approach wildlife, driving speeds and techniques used when driving off-road.
A reliable and 4x4 rental operator will usually insist on someone undertaking a self-drive safari to have some off-road driving experience or at least complete a short introductory course to make sure you’re capable of changing a wheel using high lift jacks and have a basic understanding of driving on less than favourable road conditions.
It all may sound daunting and complicated but a self-drive safari in Botswana can be exceptionally rewarding – below is a list of some top tips
Top tips for Self-Driving Safaris in Botswana
1. Be prepared - Probably the number 1 top tip. Self-drive safaris are not for the faint-hearted. You are travelling on your own so need to be able to deal with wildlife encounters without a guide’s soothing baritone.
2. Use an experienced travel operator. The will help you get as much information about your self-drive safari so there are no unnecessary and unpleasant surprises. They will be able to arrange most, if not everything well in advance for you such as booking campsites, lodges, 4x4 vehicles, an itinerary and a whole host of local knowledge to help make your journey as smooth as possible.
3. Plan, plan, plan as far in advance as possible. Many camping sites have limited space and you want to spend as much time researching driving times and road conditions as well as any potential hazards as early as possible. A good travel consultant will be able to help you with this.
4. Know your route, stock up on supplies and let someone know where you are going. Carry an excess of everything from spare tyres and wheels, to medication, water, food, clothes and any potential vehicle parts which are easily fixed. It is incredible how vital things can go missing which have the potential of changing your whole trip. You could misplace something, forget to pack an item after an overnight stop… or a troop of baboons could also run away with it – cheeky monkeys.
5. Download the Tracks4Africa App: Tracks4Africa is a GPS map for Africa that works offline on your mobile phone. It’s an essential if you’re planning a road trip through Botswana and even if you buy a local SIM card, you’re certainly not guaranteed signal. Your self-drive 4x4 will have satellite GPS in it but it’s worthwhile having this also, if not just as back up. Download the App here
6. Respect authorities – Unlike many other African countries, bribing and corruption is very much frowned upon in Botswana. If you are caught speeding then pay your fine. Respect in Botswana goes a long way. Botswana thrives on tourism and the Botswana people are extremely friendly, however be patient and courteous and you will notice how far it goes and how helpful they are.
7. Be prepared for last minute changes, break downs or getting stuck and avoid panicking when this happens. Life will be a lot easier if you have the correct equipment such as jacks, sand ladders and tow ropes and if all else fails then a satellite phone if there is no signal. All of which should be supplied by your self-drive 4x4 safari vehicle rental company.
8. Do not panic if you do get stuck. This often leads to silly and potentially dangerous mistakes, such as leaving your vehicle to find help. If you stay with your vehicle, the chances are you have enough food and water to stay safe until someone finds you.
9. Be a thoughtful, considerate and safe driver. Do not take your eyes of the road as tempting as it is. Do not off road in National Park or Reserves, in fact, try not off road anywhere as you may get stuck or damage flora and fauna. Following on from advice earlier, do not drive at night. This is one of the most important pieces of advice.
10. Do not get out of your vehicle and approach animals on foot. Rather stay in the vehicle and give them plenty of space to behave naturally.
Key areas to self-drive
The Delta is the world’s largest inland wetland delta, with a myriad of wildlife and many, many ecosystems. A place that makes you realise how truly remarkable the world is with its teeming populations of wildlife and diverse landscapes. The mosaic tapestry of water channels, grasslands, forests and lagoons are home and habitat to extremely rich populations of antelopes, hippo, crocodile and elephants with predators excellently represented in this wildlife paradise.
Moremi Game Reserve
Often referred to as the Heart of the Okavango Delta. The wildlife is so rich here, it’s quite simply a must to include on your Botswana journey, whether you’re self-driving or indulging in a luxury safari. Moremi is home to the Big Five and many more with over 500 bird species being recorded. The famed Chief’s Island has a predator population which is the envy of many parks and reserves across Africa.
This is the famous stage whereby mega-prides of lion compete with large clans of hyena for food and territory. The Savuti Channel which was dry for decades now flows again with crystal clear waters and the open woodlands where large herds of antelope and buffalo are hunted by big cats and wild dogs. Savuti is a long-favoured destination choice for safari aficionados.
Chobe National Park
One of the largest National Parks in Botswana and certainly one of the most impressive with its wealth of wildlife found throughout lush riverbanks, dense forests and grassland savannahs. Lion, cheetah, hippo, zebra and many others thrive here including Africa’s largest population of elephants. The floodplains around the Chobe River area are world-renowned for wildlife.
Deserts, salt pans, sweeping grasslands form one of the planet’s most striking wilderness areas and a stark contrast to the lush Okavango Delta. Well over 50,000 sqkm of wilderness commands central Botswana where desert adapted wildlife dominates such as springbok, eland and gemsbok all surviving in with a remarkable lack of water and evading the dense populations of lion and cheetah.
Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pans
A visit to this region is centric to visiting the largest salt pans in the world, which cover an area almost as large as Portugal. Remote, uninhabited spaces, endless horizons have a magnetic allure to this vast desert. However during wetter months the region is teeming with life; pink clouds of flamingos, the Botswana zebra migration which is followed by hungry predators.
Conclusion - Pass me the keys!
Botswana is a stunning country to explore under your own itinerary and timescale and there are several favoured routes to follow, staying at remote camps, in the midst of the African wilderness and allowing yourself to disconnect from the throngs of modern-day society. It’s also possible to self-drive through Botswana and stay at exclusive lodges along your route meaning you can have the best of both worlds. Would I recommend a self-drive Botswana safari… there’s only one answer... Pass me the keys!
How to arrange your Botswana self-drive safari
If self-driving through Botswana is a tantalising image that you can’t resist - all that’s left to do is to speak with our Botswana travel experts and start planning your brilliant, self-drive safari adventure.
The National Parks in Botswana are extremely protected and only permit a small number of lodges, tented camps, and campsites to be built, minimising the human impact on its remarkable wilderness. This means that there is huge demand for a small number of properties, so you need to plan and book early to get your first-choice properties – we advise a year in advance if possible.