Everything you need to know about your self-drive Botswana holiday
Welcome to Drive South Africa's ultimate self-drive Botswana holiday guide.
Botswana’s primary attraction is its vast wilderness. From the endless palm-covered
islands of the Okavango Delta, to the moonscape saltpans of the Makgadikgadi region,
it’s the perfect destination for anyone seeking pristine, unfenced surroundings.
In Botswana’s southwestern corner you’ll find the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a huge cross-border
wildlife reserve that combines land in both South Africa and Botswana. Covering a total area of over 37,000km2,
this magnificent park is famous for its vast Kalahari grassland, seasonal pans and low, red-ochre dunes.
… There are four entrance gates into the park, including an international border post at the
South African Two Rivers Gate (Twee Rivieren Hek) and a border crossing between South Africa and Namibia at Mata
Mata. On the Botswanan side, there’s Kaa Gate in the north and Mabuasehube Gate in the east.
The Botswanan side of the park is known for excellent sightings of Kalahari black-maned lions.
They’re especially active around Kaa Gate in winter, where there’s a permanent water hole, and in the
Mabuasehube region in summer, when the seasonal pans attract game into the area.
March to May are the best months to visit, when temperatures are at their mildest (roughly 10°C to 30°C)
and large herds of springbok,
oryx and eland can be seen around the pans. The late summer storms are particularly spectacular, as
lightening cracks through the thunderclouds above the red Kalahari plains.
All visitors wishing to cross the Kgalagadi into Botswana or South Africa must go through the international
border post at Two Rivers Gate. And you may not transit through the park without spending at least two
nights somewhere inside. If you’re arriving from Namibia, you can cross into the park at Mata Mata,
but you’ll then need to go through the Two Rivers border post before continuing into South Africa or Botswana.
The quickest route from South Africa to the northern Botswanan section is to enter Botswana at Bokspits,
Middelputs or McCarthy's Rest and drive north via Tshabong to Mabuasehube. Border fees are about P150/R200
per vehicle for road taxes and insurance.
Perhaps the most common route from South Africa to Botswana is northwest from
Johannesburg and across the Limpopo River. The Limpopo forms a 400km border between
the two countries, starting near Gaborone and running up towards the Tuli Block.
There are a number of border posts to choose from and it’s generally quick and easy to cross.
Those up near Tuli are particularly special because once through you’re in wild country
immediately, and right away it feels like the safari has started. The Tuli region also
has a few campsites to break the journey. Limpopo River Lodge is a good option for self-drivers.
The Limpopo is one of Southern Africa’s most famous rivers and the second largest in East Africa, after the
Zambezi. It runs for over 1,700km before emptying into the Indian Ocean, although the upper reaches that form the
South Africa-Botswana border are seasonal and flow mainly in summer. It’s still a very wild river, especially up
around the Tuli region, where crocodiles are common in the deeper pools. Elephant, giraffe and zebra also frequent
the north banks, and there’s the outside chance of spotting a leopard too.
It’s about a five-hour drive from Johannesburg to the border, depending on which border post you use. There are plenty of
options, but the ones towards Tuli tend to be quieter. Border times vary, with the earliest closing at 4pm and the latest at 6pm.
South Africans, North Americans and most Europeans can get a free, single-entry visa at the border, but you’ll need about
P150/R200 for Botswanan road taxes and mandatory insurance. On the north bank, the road through the Tuli region is rough
and bumpy and not recommended for low-clearance vehicles.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are one of Botswana’s most extraordinary destinations. Stretching over 16,000km2,
they form a network of inter-connected saltpans which are all that’s left of a huge inland lake that covered
the centre of Botswana many thousands of years ago. The two largest pans are Sua Pan on the east and Ntwetwe
Pan to the west. During winter, when the pans are dry, you can drive across them from Orapa to Gweta,
stopping on the way for a memorable night at the magical baobab forest on Lekhubu Island.
… Lekhubu Island is an absolute must, a baobab-studded marvel on the western edge of Sua Pan.
There’s a small campsite there and not much else, just stars and trees and the vast horizon.
As you drive north, the boundless views continue, especially on the desolate track that heads northwest to Gweta.
This route crosses Ntwetwe Pan and is not possible during summer, but from June to November conditions should
be manageable. When the track is dry, it cuts directly across Ntwetwe’s immense expanse, with the unbroken
horizon in every direction.
Never try to cross the pans when wet and don’t drive off the main tracks unless you’re sure they’re bone dry.
It’s best not to take chances – even seemingly dry surfaces can hide thick mud underneath. In winter, however,
conditions are not too difficult and the Orapa to Lekhubu section only takes a couple of hours. On the Orapa side,
the tracks through the initial scrubland are confusing and south of Gweta it’s much the same. Multiple, dusty
tracks head in more-or-less the same direction and navigation can be very tricky without a GPS.
You can drive from Lekhubu to Gweta in about four hours, but give yourself a couple more for stops along the way.
Maun is known as the ‘gateway to the Okavango Delta’, the inevitable starting point for self-drive safaris heading
north. Moremi Game Reserve is the closest park to Maun and the only part of the delta that’s open to self-drive visitors.
Moremi has two access gates: Maqwee Gate in the south and Khwai Gate in the north. It’s possible to detour around Moremi
via Mababe, but the best safari route is through the reserve, with a few nights spent at Third Bridge and Xakanaxa
campsites on the way. Leaving through Khwai Gate you’ll pass the community-run Khwai Development Trust, before turning north
towards Savuti and into Chobe National Park. There are no fences throughout this region and although there are a
few scattered villages, the whole Moremi/Chobe area is essentially one, combined wildlife reserve.
… Moremi and Chobe are arguably Botswana’s most famous parks and Moremi is particularly special because it’s the only place
that self-drive visitors can access the delta. From about 50km north of Maun you’re essentially in one vast wildlife reserve that
extends 250km north to Kasane, and roughly 500km east-west, from across the delta all the away into Zimbabwe.
Moremi offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa, with all the Big Five (although rhinos are rare) and
four public campsites that are well-known for the wild dog, leopard and honey badgers that regularly pass through.
On its northern boundary, the Khwai Development Trust is another wonderful area for game and the campsites along the
Khwai River are famous for close-up encounters with inquisitive elephants.
In the centre of Chobe National Park lies Savuti Camp, a wild, sandy campsite on the banks of the mysterious Savuti Channel.
The channel’s flow is hard to predict, and it’s been known to dry up for decades then suddenly begin flowing again.
In wet years, the water pours in from the Zibadianja Lagoon in the west, flooding the Savuti Swamp and creating a
game-viewing paradise. Northwest of Savuti, along a bumpy, sandy track, Linyanti Camp is another excellent self-drive
destination. Linyanti Camp, and Ihaha Camp further north, both lie on the southern banks of the Chobe Linyanti
River System where there’s excellent game viewing during the dry winter months. The route ends in Kasane,
which has campsites, lodges and shops, and the first fuel since leaving Maun.
The Savuti region is known for some of the best game viewing in Southern Africa, but conditions vary depending on the amount
of water available. When the channel and the marsh are full, they attract huge herds of buffalo and zebra and an almost unbelievable
variety of plains game both large and small. Lion and wild dog are the most commonly seen predators, but hyena, leopard and cheetah
can also be spotted, and the wildlife photography opportunities are exceptional. Further north, elephant and buffalo congregate
in great numbers along the Linyanti and Chobe Rivers, especially in winter when there is less surface water inland. One of Botswana’s
great highlights is a sunset boat safari along the Chobe River and cruises can be booked on arrival in Kasane.
The tracks around Savuti, and north towards Kasane, are all very sandy and definitely 4x4 only. As well as sand, the Savuti Marsh area
can get very muddy, especially in summer when the tracks closest to the marsh may be impassable in places. If so, stick to the western
routes along the Magwikhwe Sand Ridge and from there it’s more-or-less unbroken deep sand all the way north to the Chobe River.
Note that there’s no fuel between Kasane and Maun so you’ll need to have adequate reserves for the entire journey. 4x4s are also much less
economical in sand and your fuel consumption can easily be 50% more than on paved roads. Distances are not great, but the going can be slow.
Each successive camp can be comfortably reached within a day’s drive.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddles the Botswana-South Africa border, a 37,000km2 wildlife reserve on the
south-eastern edge of the great Kalahari Desert. This huge, semi-arid savannah receives very little rain and from
May to September the park remains almost completely dry. Summer thunderstorms are short-lived, but fierce, suddenly
and rapidly filling the park’s many seasonal pans and restoring the landscape with fresh new grass. March to May are
the best months to visit, when large herds of oryx, eland and springbok are drawn into the region, and the Kalahari
plains are at their verdant best.
The tracks through the northern Kgalagadi are sandy and rough, with especially deep sand east of Kaa and on
the access road south of Mabuasehube Gate. Once inside the park, the tracks tend to be firmer, but be
careful of sudden deep holes dug by various burrowing animals. Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and
National Parks manages all the campsites on the Botswanan side of the Kgalagadi. Take everything you
need with you, including drinking water. There’s water and some rather rundown ablutions at the Kaa
and Mabuasehube Gates, but what’s available is limited and brackish. The other camps in the northwest
have no facilities at all and a day or two is probably enough to explore region. Make sure you have a
radiator seed net to protect it from tall grasses on the overgrown tracks.
The once-independent Mabuasehube Game Reserve is now managed as part of the broader Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Located on the Kgalagadi’s north-eastern corner, it covers roughly 2,000km2 of pristine Kalahari grassland
and scattered pans, all within the borders of Botswana. Although incorporated into the wider Kgalagadi,
this section remains relatively isolated with just four sandy tracks connecting it to the rest of the park.
One of these (the Mabua-Kaa track) is completely overgrown, and two others
(the Mabuasehube and Bosobogolo 4x4 trails) end at Nossob in South Africa.
That leaves only one sandy route between Mabuasehube and Kaa, and this runs outside the reserve itself,
along the park’s northern border.
Mabuasehube has some excellent individual campsites, distributed at discreet intervals around the reserve’s
larger pans. Mabuasehube and Mpayathutlwa pans both have permanent waterholes and the best chance of seeing
animals, although game is limited during the dry winter months. Despite this, the region is still famous for
its black-maned Kalahari lions and it’s not unknown for campers to wake in the morning and find lions lolling
around their vehicles. If you’re looking for a route back into South Africa from Botswana, then the Mabuasehube
Wilderness Trail is an excellent option. This one-way, overnight 4x4 trail can only be booked by one group at a
time and passes through miles of stunning Kalahari dunes and grassland on the way to Nossob.
The access roads into Mabuasehube Gate are all very sandy and strictly 4x4. Inside the park, there’s deep
sand along the trails heading west, but firmer ground in the Mabuasehube region itself. South of Mabuasehube,
Tsabong is the last stop for fuel and supplies, while to the north, Hukuntsi and Kang have fuel, but very limited
shopping options. It’s about 2.5 hours from Tsabong to Kaa Gate and about five hour’s driving from Mabuasehube to
Kaa. Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks manages all the campsites on the Botswanan side of the
Kgalagadi. Take everything you need with you, including drinking water. There are taps at some of the campsites
in Mabuasehube, but they don’t always work and the water is not suitable for drinking.
Khutse Game Reserve falls directly across the Tropic of Capricorn, a 2,500km2 bump that extends off the
southern border of the much larger Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It’s a little out of the way,
and often overlooked by self-drive visitors, but offers beautiful Kalahari grassland between a
handful of seasonal pans. The region is very similar to Mabuasehube further south, although here
the pans are further apart and there’s even less permanent water available. There are five main camping
areas inside the park, all operated by Bigfoot Tours. The largest is at Khutse Pan with 10 separate
campsites and the remaining camping areas are strung out along a single oval-shaped loop, which the
only game-drive route inside the reserve. Khutse is great for wild, isolated camping and as a staging
post for those braving the long track north into the Central Kalahari.
Khutse is beautiful throughout the year, but game can be scarce during the long, dry winter.
The Kalahari’s black-maned lions do pass through the region, but sightings are rare compared
with the parks to the north and south. The best reason to visit Khutse Game Reserve is for
its wild isolation. The campsites are usually quiet, with plenty of space and privacy, and
nights are spectacular under the incredible Kalahari stars.
March to May are considered the best months in Khutse, when there’s still some surface water to
attract wildlife, but the roads around the pans are becoming less muddy. There’s just one gate
in the east and the access road is well-graded gravel. There’s also a trail heading north from
the park into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but it’s very overgrown and extremely sandy,
and not recommended unless you’re really looking for adventure. If you do take this route,
then make sure you have enough fuel. There are no fuel stations or supplies from Letlhakeng
to Ghanzi. That’s almost 600km, most of it deep sand, which will have a major impact on
your fuel consumption. It’s much quicker and easier to take the A2 highway north, but
either way you’re unlikely to need more than two or three days to get the most out of this park.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is enormous. At more than 52,000km2, it covers the entire central part
of Botswana – a vast, flat expanse of sandy scrubland and open savannah, sprinkled here and there with
seasonal pans. Most of the pans, and the wildlife, are in the north of the reserve and most of the
camping areas are concentrated there too. During the relatively wet summer months, from December to
April, the northern pans fill with water and attract large herds of oryx, springbok and wildebeest.
Cheetah, and the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lion are never far behind.
The Central Kalahari is known for its lion, cheetah and large herds of summer game, but also as a
great place to spot some of the savannah’s more unassuming creatures. Honey badgers, Southern African
wildcat and the Cape and bat-eared fox can all be found on the Kalahari plains, and there’s also
excellent birdlife, with over 250 species recorded.
The Central Kalahari is a year-round destination, but late summer is best, both for good wildlife and
better road conditions. During the height of the summer rains, the tracks around the pans can become
waterlogged and treacherous, but by March they begin to dry and for the rest of the year the going
isn’t challenging. There’s a wide selection of campsites to choose from, some managed by Botswana’s
Department of Wildlife and National Parks and some by Bigfoot Tours. They all have something to recommend them,
but there’s more wildlife around the permanent waterholes and the northern pans. The campsites at Deception,
Kori and Sunday Pan are some of the best.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary lies just north of Serowe and makes an excellent stopover between the
South African border and the Makgadikgadi Pans. It’s a community-based wildlife project,
dedicated to protecting the threatened African rhino and at the same time provides a welcome
economic boost to the local area. At just 85km2, it’s tiny compared with other Botswanan reserves,
but it plays a valuable role in black and white rhino conservation and is home to some 30 other
animal species and over 200 species of birds.
Rhino are not easy to find in Botswana and a visit to Khama Rhino Sanctuary is definitely your best chance
of seeing them. Guided rhino tracking walks are available, as well as guided game drives and more general
nature walks. Or, if you prefer, you can explore the park in your own vehicle. The reserve has a number
of beautiful campsites, each beneath the branches of an impressive mokongwa tree.
The park may be small, but it’s well worth staying a couple of nights and spending the day looking for
rhinos. There’s a compact network of game-drive tracks to scout out, but you’ll need a high-clearance
vehicle to negotiate a few sandy sections. There’s also a restaurant and bar if you don’t feel like cooking,
as well as basic, but clean camping ablutions with hot and cold running water.
The drive from Tuli should take about 3.5 hours, and it’s roughly 5 hours’ drive from Khama to Maun.
Squeezed into Botswana’s far eastern corner is a narrow wedge of land known as the Tuli Block. It’s a particularly
wild and beautiful area, with spectacular rocky outcrops, game-rich plains and towering baobabs. To the north and
east, the Shashe River forms the border with Zimbabwe and to the south the Limpopo River marks the border with
South Africa. Wildlife wanders freely through the region, but is more concentrated on the Botswanan side where
the majority of the land is managed by private game reserves.
Most of Tuli’s private game reserves don’t allow self-drive access so to see the area properly you’ll need to
stay at one of their camps and book a guided game drive from there. Self-drive visitors can still get a good
feeling for the area on the transit road west of the Pont Drift border post. The road passes ‘Solomon’s Wall’
as it crosses the Motloutse River. These 30m basalt cliffs rise up from the river bank and are all that’s left
of a much larger buttress that once formed natural dam. There’s an excellent chance of spotting zebra, kudu and
elephant from the road.
The Tuli Block makes a good overnight stop for journeys between Botswana and South Africa. The transit road is
rough gravel and prone to washouts after heavy rain. During the dry winter months, it’s manageable in a sedan,
but a high-clearance or 4x4 is recommended at all times of the year. Self-drive camping is available at Molema
Bush Camp and Limpopo River Lodge, among others, but most of the area is privately run and self-drive exploration
is limited. Lodges and tented safari camps are also available.
Lekhubu, or simply ‘Kubu’ Island is one of Botswana’s most well-known attractions. Located on the western
edge of the vast Sua saltpan, this remarkable, baobab-studded outcrop is a wonderful addition to any
self-drive itinerary. More peninsula than island, it commands breath-taking views across Sua Pan, with
low scrubland to the west and nothing but the endless horizon to the north, east and south. There’s a small,
very basic campsite run by the Gaing O Community Trust and in winter, when the pans are dry, it makes an excellent
overnight stop for journeys across the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Lekhubu Island itself is the only feature for miles, a pincushion of baobabs against the boundless expanse
of Sua Pan. Sunrise and sunset are particularly magical, when the soft light frames the trees in delicate
purples and pinks. Driving onto the pan is prohibited, but the island and surrounds can be explored on foot.
One of the most memorable experiences you can have in Botswana is walking out onto the dry pan before dawn and
watching the sunrise as it ever-so-gradually lights up the trees.
From May to November the pans are usually dry and Lekhubu Island is accessible via 4x4 tracks to the north and
south. During the wet summer months, the southern route can flood completely, turning the track to sticky mud,
which is very often impassable. The northern route from Mabole is generally drier, but steer clear of the pan’s
edges if there’s even a little water about. There’s absolutely nothing to do at Lekhubu except relax and take in the stunning scenery. Most people stay for one or two nights before moving on.
In north-eastern Botswana, a collection of enormous saltpans is all that remains of what was once a huge
inland lake. Collectively, these are known as the Makgadikgadi Pans, a 16,000km2 expanse which now floods
only briefly in summer. The largest individual pans are Sua and Ntwetwe and for the most part they’re not
officially protected within any national park boundaries. The exception to this is the north-western corner
of Ntwetwe Pan, which marks the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. This roughly 4,700km2 reserve
extends from Ntwetwe in the east to the Boteti River in the west and is an important region for seasonal
The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is not known as a prolific wildlife destination, except for the
impressive herds of zebra and wildebeest which congregate along the Boteti River in winter, and migrate
towards the pans in summer. These do attract predators, but sightings are much less common than in nearby
Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. The Makgadikgadi is best visited for its mix of stunning
saltpans and vast Kalahari plains, which, especially in winter, seem to stretch out to the horizon like
an endless, golden sea.
The tracks along the Boteti River are very sandy in places, and strictly 4x4. They’re firmer through the
central grasslands, but can get muddy around the pans in summer. There are two very wild, isolated camping
areas in the east of the park – Njuca Hills and Tree Island. Both of these are managed by Botswana’s
Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Khumaga Camp is the park’s main campsite on the banks of the
Boteti and is run by SKL Group. There are two main gates into the park, Phuduhudu Gate on the A3 highway to
the north, and Khumaga Gate to the west. Entrance via Khumaga Gate may require a pontoon ferry over the
Boteti if the river’s water level is too deep to drive.
The Garden Route National Park is made up of three distinct sections:
Wilderness, Tsitsikamma and the Knysna Lakes. On the far west,
the Wilderness section protects a meandering system of rivers
and lakes between the sea and the Outeniqua Mountains. Around
Knysna, the lagoon estuary and the forests behind the town are
covered, and to the east, the Tsitsikamma section extends 65km
along the coast from Nature’s Valley to the Groot River, including
a marine protected area that extends offshore. The park is a
wonderland of rivers, lakes, forest-clad mountains and often-stormy
ocean, and should not be overlooked on any drive along the Garden
Nxai Pan National Park is essentially a continuation of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, a
northern extension across the tarred A3 national highway, about 30km west of Gweta. The park covers
roughly 2,500km2 and includes three small pans, the largest of which is Nxai Pan itself, at
approximately 60km2. There’s one large campsite called South Camp, which lies on the southern
edge of Nxai Pan, and three separate wild campsites in the Baines’ Baobabs area around Kudiakam Pan.
Baines’ Baobabs is a spectacular camping area. Its three separate stands are a few kilometres apart,
each with its own huge baobab tree and stunning views of the surrounding pan. Further north, South
Camp is a more traditional campsite with 10 stands, ablutions and hot showers. During the wet summer
months, the pans attract large numbers of zebra, wildebeest, springbok and numerous other species,
as well as predators such as cheetah, leopard and lion. In winter, there’s little game around Baines’
Baobabs, but South Camp has permanent waterholes nearby, which keep some animals in the area,
especially elephant and giraffe.
There’s water at South Camp, although it’s not suitable for drinking, but nothing but a pit toilet and
fireplace at the Baines’ Baobabs stands. Both Baines’ Baobabs and South Camp are operated by Xomae Group, and
the park has only one access road and it’s very, very sandy. 4x4 is absolutely essential. There are various
game viewing tracks around all the pans and during the summer rains they can get very muddy.
In winter the mud dries into deep holes and ruts so the going can be slow at any time of year.
Moremi Game Reserve is one of Botswana’s most famous parks, and the only place self-drive visitors can
access the Okavango Delta. The park sits on the delta’s eastern edge, with two campsites at its main
north and south gates and another two further in, on the waterways. The area receives rainfall in
summer which runs from late November to the end of March. Counterintuitively, this is when the delta
is at its lowest ebb. Water levels only begin to rise in May, reaching their height in September and
October as the floods from the Angolan highlands slowly filter down.
Moremi offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Botswana, including all of the Big Five –
although rhino are rare. The delta waterways attract a huge variety of birds and animals and
no visit is complete without a makoro (local wooden canoe) or motorboat trip out into the larger
pools. Trips can be arranged at the Xakanaxa and Third Bridge campsites, or at the Mboma Boat
station in the far northwest of the park. Xomae Group (who operate Third Bridge campsite) also
offer a wonderful overnight boat and wild camping excursion to the small delta island of Gcodikwe 1.
Moremi is a year-round wildlife destination, but the roads can be very muddy and difficult from
January to March. July to October are considered the best months for animals, but the campsites
are also at their busiest and it’s essential to book well in advance. The April/May shoulder season
is usually quieter, and still offers good wildlife viewing and decent road conditions. Kwalate
Safaris operates the campsites at South Gate (also known as Maqwee Gate) and Xakanaxa. SKL operates
the North Gate (Khwai Gate) campsite and Xomae Group operates Third Bridge and the island camp on
Gcodikwe 1. Ask about road conditions at the gates before you enter the park. In particular,
check whether it’s possible to cross between Third Bridge and Xakanaxa. The bridge itself is
often damaged and out of service, which may mean a long drive around. The closest fuel to Moremi is
Chobe National Park runs from Botswana’s northern border with Namibia, south towards the Khwai River
and Moremi Game Reserve. It’s a huge area of almost 12,000km2 and, along with Moremi, offers the best
wildlife viewing in Botswana. The two main wildlife regions are around Savuti Camp in the centre of the
park, and along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers in the north. The Savuti region is famous for the enigmatic
Savuti Channel which, when running, pours water into the inland Savuti Marsh and attracts an incredible
variety of animals in great numbers.
The Savuti Marsh is one of Southern Africa’s great wildlife playgrounds and when the channel is open
animals congregate on the plains around Savuti Camp. In a single game drive, you might see elephant,
buffalo, giraffe, leopard and lion, not to mention thousands of zebra, wildebeest, impala and a host
of other animals and birds. Further north, the rivers are vital water sources especially during the long,
dry winter. Thousands of elephants fall on the area from May to October and enormous herds are a common sight along the riverbanks. Don’t leave Chobe without taking a wildlife-spotting boat cruise on the Chobe River. Boat trips can be booked from most lodges and hotels in Kasane.
North of Savuti, the tracks are particularly sandy and in summer those around the Savuti Marsh can turn to
think, impassable mud. The whole park is definitely 4x4 only, but from May to November you shouldn’t have
any problems. SKL Group operates the Savuti and Linyanti campsites and Kwalate Safaris operates Ihaha Camp.
There’s running water and ablutions at all three of Chobe’s public campsites but no fuel or supplies between
Maun and Kasane.
With a population of just over 230,000, Gaborone is Botswana’s capital and largest city. At its centre –
known locally as ‘The Mall’ – tall, glass-faced commercial buildings glitter in the sun while below one of the
fastest growing capitals on the continent stretches out in every direction. There’s significant sunshine here,
with average temperatures reaching upwards of 26°C for almost two thirds of the year. Winters are mild and dry,
but nights may drop below freezing in June and July. Afternoon thunderstorms are most common during the height of
summer, but may occur from October to April.
You’ll have to brave the traffic (otherwise unknown in Botswana) to experience most of Gaborone’s
inner-city offerings. The National Museum and Art Gallery is home to works by local artists and the
Three Dikgosi Monument depicts a trio of the nation’s most famous tribal leaders in bronze. There’s a
National Botanical Garden and the Gaborone Game Reserve within city limits, but for the best views visitors
tend to head a little way out of town and up Kgale Hill, which overlooks the vibrant metropolis.
As Botswana’s commercial and economic hub, you’ll find everything you need here, including vehicle dealers for any
serious issues. If you’re not sightseeing, avoid the city centre if possible, especially during rush hour – road
works and detours can cause significant delays. Fuel stations and large grocery stores are aplenty and you’ll easily
find one on the outskirts. ‘Gabs’ (as its affectionately known) is a safe and friendly city but as with any large
capital, keep an eye on your belongings and beware of opportunists.
Maun is conveniently positioned at the southern tip of the famed Okavango Delta and as such, it
benefits from the delta’s unique ecological wonders. The Thamalakane River, which bisects the town,
attracts a wide variety of birdlife and antelope species, while hippos and crocs can be found in the
waterways themselves. Agriculture is paramount here – swathes of commercial floodplain surround Maun’s
sprawling city centre of squat-brick structures, faded paintwork and busy, dusty streets. The climate
is tropical with heavy rains in the summer and dry temperate winters.
As a break for those on a self-drive, self-catering safari, Maun offers a surprising selection of
good restaurants and bars. Near the airport, The Red Monkey and French Connection serve up good
fare, while a little out of town, Sports Bar and The Old Bridge Backpackers are two of Maun’s
livelier venues. Popular activities here include chartered flights to see the Okavango Delta from
the sky, river cruises and day trips to the seasonal Lake Ngami or north into Moremi Game Reserve.
Home to the region’s only commercial airport, Department of Wildlife and National Parks permit
office and operations bases for most private safari operators in the region, Maun has all the
necessities of an outpost town. There’s fuel, supplies, medical services and mechanical support,
and most national park campsite operators have offices where you can check or amend bookings
face-to-face. There’s a range of accommodation in and around town too, including secure campsites
Situated on Botswana’s northernmost point, in close proximity to border posts with Namibia, Zambia and
Zimbabwe, Kasane is a key stopover town for anyone self-driving Chobe National Park and beyond. Though
relatively small, the town is abuzz with ad-hoc traders, overlanders and safari vehicles in transit.
The climate is tropical, with heavy summer rainfall, and the surroundings are mostly dense riverine
woodland thanks to its position near the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers.
Due to its critical geography, the town itself is largely utilitarian – a fuel station, grocery store,
vehicle repair services and a handful of general dealers make up the centre. There’s a small airport, a
golf course and a few lodges along the Chobe River, which runs parallel to the main road through town.
Accommodation ranges from upmarket lodges to riverside camping and most establishments, if not all, offer
river cruises, day tours into Chobe National Park, or trips across the border to Victoria Falls.
With an airport and reasonably good tar roads in all directions, Kasane is the best place to head if you
have an emergency in this region. It’s also the only place to stock up and refuel for safaris in and out
of Chobe National Park. As a gateway town, it’s also where you’ll get up-to-date information on routes
and road conditions. Take care when asking for advice (your best bet is to head to one of the lodges)
and keep an eye on your vehicle and belongings – as a mass thoroughfare, Kasane is a prime location for
Southern Africa has many wonderful safari destinations, but none quite like Botswana. Wildlife safaris
to Namibia or South Africa usually focus on one or two major game parks – Etosha or Kruger National Park for
example. The same can be said for Zambia and Zimbabwe, but Botswana is different. A self-drive Botswana safari
isn’t just a holiday to Moremi or Chobe or the Central Kalahari; when you go on safari to Botswana, you go on
safari to an entire country.
Only about 17% of Botswana is specifically set aside for national parks and reserves, but it feels
like so much more once you’re there. Partly this because there’s another 21% devoted to wildlife
management areas and buffer zones so that, along with various other small conservation areas, the
total landmass set aside for wild animals is just over 40%. For a country of almost 600,000km2,
that’s an area slightly larger than the whole of the United Kingdom.
But even this vast 40% doesn’t do justice to the enormous, untamed wilderness that seems to stretch
off to the horizon in every direction. With only 2.2 million people, Botswana has one of the lowest
population densities in the world. Even in the 60% not given over to wildlife, towns and villages
are generally small and infrequent, and many regions would still be considered wilderness in most
other countries. With few fences and huge tracts of land for animals to roam, the lasting impression
one giant game park where you’re almost as likely to see an elephant crossing a major highway as splashing through a river inside a dedicated national park.
January is the heart of Botswana’s summer ‘green season’, the height of the rains when afternoon
thunderstorms and heavy downpours are common. That’s not to say it’ll rain every day – it rarely
rains for two days straight – but some rainfall is more or less guaranteed so be sure to pack
Botswana’s climate is fairly regular and consistent, with hot, wet summers and mild, dry winters.
The north gets the most rain, and precipitation decreases steadily as you head south.
December and January are the wettest months, with average daily temperatures between 30°C and 35°C,
and hot days approaching 40°C. The most extreme conditions are in the Central Kalahari, but even
there nights seldom drop below 15°C.
The summer rains attract large grazing herds to the suddenly verdant grasslands of the Central Kalahari,
Makgadikgadi Pans and the Savuti plains. Wildlife viewing in these areas can be spectacular, with plenty
of predator activity against a stunning backdrop of glassy, water-filled pans and towering thunderclouds.
The only negative is the state of the roads, which can get extremely muddy and in some places, impassable.
A 4x4 is essential and it’s a good idea to travel in convoy.
This is especially true in Moremi Game Reserve and around the Okavango Delta. Counterintuitively, water levels
in the delta are at their lowest during the rainy season and instead only begin to rise in late April and May
when the flood waters arrive from the distant Angolan highlands. The local rains don’t have much effect on
the water levels in the delta, but they do have a huge impact on the surrounding roads. Moremi’s roads are
infamous, particularly from December to March when they’re extremely waterlogged and muddy.
By February the summer rains are beginning to lessen, but otherwise conditions stay much
the same as January. Average daytime temperatures remain in the low 30°C's, while the
coldest nights in the Kalahari may occasionally drop below 15°C. Towering thunderclouds
still form an impressive backdrop to afternoon photographs, and the atmosphere stays clear
and fresh after each bout of rain.
February is still prime time for the Central Kalahari, Savuti, and the Makgadikgadi and
Nxai Pans, which attract large numbers of zebra, springbok and oryx. Predators, especially
lion, are never far away. Elephants can be harder to spot in summer as they tend to
disperse due to the abundant vegetation and increased surface water. Birding, however,
is at its best with numerous migrant species and large flocks descending on the pans.
Road conditions are at their muddiest in February so make sure you’re carrying recovery
equipment and drive in convoy if possible. Driving on or near the pans is particularly
treacherous and doing so will almost certainly get you stuck. In Moremi, and around the
delta, certain tracks may be closed due to flooding and others will have deep pools that
you’ll need to treat with caution. Always ask other travellers about the conditions ahead,
and look out for no-entry signs or the equivalent – logs or branches laid deliberately across
The steady drop in temperature and rainfall continues throughout March, but hot days across the
country can still reach the mid 30°C’s. In the south and centre of Botswana, cold nights can drop
to 10°C, but tend to stay between 15°C and 20°C in the north. There are still afternoon thunderstorms
every few days, which keep the atmosphere clear. March remains an excellent month for spectacular
March and April are considered some of the best months to visit the Kgalagadi. The Kgalagadi is worth
visiting at any time of year, but as the summer rains withdraw, the landscape is at its most
striking – a vast green grassland against low, red-ochre dunes. As the animals begin to congregate
around any pans that are still full, predators, especially lions, gather too, with exciting
interactions virtually guaranteed.
Further north, the Central Kalahari is also green and full of life, though road conditions around
the pans remain extremely muddy. To the northeast, Nxai Pan is no exception, although it’s especially
wonderful at this time of year as migrating grazers make the most of the lush grassland and abundant
In the Okavango Delta, the marula trees start dropping fruit, attracting hungry elephants, often right
into camp. There are few things more marvellous than sipping on your drink, watching the sunset, as a
magnificent elephant munches happily at a marula tree nearby.
By the end of the month, the roads in Moremi have usually begun to dry, making driving a bit easier.
The water in the delta is now approaching its lowest level and makoro trips may not be possible, but
boats out to the deeper channels are usually available year-round.
The April/May shoulder season is an excellent time to visit Botswana. By April, rainfall has
almost completely ceased across the country, although there may still be a few scattered
showers. Everywhere is still green and most pans still hold some water, but what is
available is getting scarcer, forcing both predators and prey to stay near. Average
daytime temperatures are now about 30°C and nights hover around 15°C – pleasant enough
for long evenings around the campfire, while also allowing for a more comfortable sleep.
By mid-April, water levels in the Okavango Delta panhandle are beginning to rise,
although it takes a few months for them to filter down to Moremi. The delta itself
feels fresh and alive, with fruit-laden trees and tall, green grass as far as the eye
can see. April is the start of the antelope breeding season and the well-fed male impala
begin fighting it out for females. If you’re keen on fishing, then the deeper waters of
the panhandle offer bream (tilapia) from April to August, but tigerfish are more likely
from late August/September.
The Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari are at their best in April – a combination of cooler
weather, prolific game, and lush, leafy landscapes. Game is also still plentiful at Nxai
Pan and with the rains now almost gone, the muddy tracks are drying quickly. By the end
of the month road conditions are much improved across the country. It’s still best to
avoid crossing the Makgadikgadi Pans, however. The transit route from Lekhubu to Gweta
may not be dry for at least another month.
May is the beginning of Botswana’s dry winter season and there’s usually no rain at all
anywhere in the country. Average daytime temperatures range from 25°C to 30°C, and it’s
generally slightly warmer in the north and cooler in the south. Evenings in the north
are now regularly below 15°C and by the end of the month, nights in the Kalahari can fall
close to freezing. May is one of the best all-round months for visiting Botswana,
with good to excellent game viewing, mild, dry weather and relatively quiet campsites and
parks that get much busier later in the season.
There’s good game viewing all across Botswana, but especially in the Savuti region where
herds of zebra and buffalo congregate in large numbers. As surface water evaporates,
elephants return to the Linyanti Chobe River System, and to the Khwai River and northern
Moremi. In the northwest panhandle, the seasonal flood waters are beginning to filter into
the rest of the delta although it’ll take another few months before they percolate all the
way to the southeast. The gently rising water attracts numerous resident water birds, while
migrant species take to the skies in numbers and begin the long journey north.
By May, the muddy park roads have thoroughly dried, leaving deep gouges and folds where vehicles
struggled through the sludge. It can be slow going and bumpy, but there’s little chance of
getting stuck. By the end of the month it should be safe to cross from Lekhubu to Gweta,
but don’t leave the main track. The top of the pan dries to a thin, harmless-looking crust,
but there’s often thick mud underneath that will trap even a tough 4x4.
June is another excellent month to visit Botswana, although the parks get busier from around the
20th as schools in neighbouring South Africa break for winter holidays. These usually run from
the last week of June to mid-July and campsites across Botswana book up quickly. Late June marks
start of the high season in Botswana and July to October is the busiest time. If you’re planning a
self-drive safari during this period, make sure you book your campsites well in advance.
June and July are Botswana’s coldest months and night-time temperatures in the Kalahari can
drop below freezing. In the north, it rarely freezes, but lows of 5°C are common and morning
game drives can be very cold. Daytime temperatures are roughly the same across the country,
averaging between 20°C and 25°C. As ever, the north is warmer and hot days may still reach 30°C.
By June the pans have usually dried, forcing the animals to find more permanent water sources.
They begin to congregate in large numbers along the fridges of the Okavango Delta and on the
northern waterways of the Savuti Channel and Chobe Linyanti River System. June is a great time
to see African wild dogs, as they begin to search for dens for their pups.
In the Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari, lion and other predators are never far from the permanent
waterholes, and large herds of springbok and oryx – which can survive with limited water –
can still be seen on the drying, golden plains.
Road conditions are at their best in winter and from June it’s usually safe to cross the Makgadikgadi
Pans, providing you stay on the main tracks. In Moremi, the delta water levels are starting to rise
and a few routes may require some cautious water crossings. The thick mud of the green season is
long past, however, and although it can be bumpy, all the main routes are usually open.
July is the start of Botswana’s busy season and camps and lodges can book out far in advance.
Botswana’s parks and reserves don’t have that many public camping areas and most are small and
spread far apart. This makes finding space tricky during peak times, but also means that even
when the campsites are at their fullest, Botswana’s parks never feel overly crowded.
July is Botswana’s coldest month and night-time temperatures can drop below freezing in the
centre and south. In the north expect lows of between 0°C and 5°C, and early morning game
drives can be icy with the added wind chill. Daytimes average between 20°C and 25°C across
the country, with hot days in the far north occasionally touching 30°C. It’s also the driest
month in Botswana with practically no rain at all anywhere in the country.
July is an excellent time to visit the Okavango Delta, Moremi and Chobe, when the wildlife
congregates in greater and greater numbers along the permanent water channels. In Moremi,
the flood waters are now at their highest and there’s plenty to eat along the myriad waterways.
Their bright green fringes lie in stark contrast to the parched surrounding plains,
where the thinning vegetation allows for superb game viewing.
Wildlife sightings in the Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari are still good, although not at their
best. The permanent waterholes become the focal points for the larger predators, while the
shorter grass makes it easier to spot smaller animals such as the honey badger and Cape fox.
By late July the pans are thoroughly dry and crossing from Lekhubu to Gweta should pose no
August remains extremely dry across Botswana, although by the end of the month there may be a
brief shower somewhere in the south. Temperatures, however, are already beginning to rise and
while nights in the Kalahari can still fall below freezing, sub-zero mornings are the exception
not the norm. Daytime temperatures also climb rapidly during August and hot days across the
country will regularly top 30°C. August is very a popular safari month in Botswana and
campsites and lodges should be booked far in advance.
In the Okavango Delta, water levels are high, by now having reached as far south as Maun.
Game viewing along the waterways is at its best and will remain so until the first rains
fall in November. Late August marks the start of the barbell (catfish) run in the northwest
panhandle. From now to November is also the best time to catch tigerfish and the panhandle’s
lodges and houseboats are at their busiest.
Away from the delta, water is extremely scarce and the animals gravitate to the few man-made
waterholes. The Kgalagadi’s Kaa Gate and Nxai Pan’s South Camp both offer oases in a dry and
desolate land. Kaa Gate is known for its black-maned Kalahari lions, and no stay at South
Camp is complete without a thirsty elephant trundling through the campground.
Across the Kalahari sightings may be few, but the golden grasslands don’t need wildlife to make
them spectacular. Driving through this vast wilderness is a wonder in itself, and at night the
incredible southern stars simply add to the splendour.
Northern Botswana stays completely dry during September, but the centre and south may receive a few scattered showers. Temperatures climb rapidly throughout the month and no longer drop below 0°C, even in the Kalahari. Average lows are between 10°C and 15°C, a bit cooler in the south and warmer in the north. By the end of September, the days are hot everywhere, averaging over 30°C and approaching 40°C in Maun and Kasane. September is another busy month in Botswana, and the popular northern camps should be booked well in advance.
September and October are particularly impressive along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers. Thousands of animals rely on these waters for survival, especially elephants, which can drink up to 200 litres of water a day. After a long, hot day foraging for food, hundreds of elephants gather along the river, often running the last few metres, trumpeting wildly in their excitement and thirst.
Moremi is also excellent in September, although by now the days are getting very hot. The dry, thin vegetation makes for excellent wildlife viewing and the cooler mornings and evenings are best for predator spotting as they come to the channels to drink. By September, the Okavango’s barbell (catfish) run is in full swing and it’s also prime time for tigerfish in the northwest panhandle.
In September, the Kalahari and pans are almost at their driest, but the full October heat has yet to arrive. Wildlife viewing across the central and southern parks can be hit and miss, but the endless golden grasslands have a beauty all their own. And lurking in the grass are the Kalahari’s black-maned lions, stalking the large herds of springbok, oryx and red hartebeest that still roam the plains. While many visitors focus on the north, the south and central parks still have a lot to offer and can be much quieter and easier to book at this time of year.
Northern Botswana stays completely dry during September, but the centre and south may
receive a few scattered showers. Temperatures climb rapidly throughout the month and no
longer drop below 0°C, even in the Kalahari. Average lows are between 10°C and 15°C, a
bit cooler in the south and warmer in the north. By the end of September, the days are
hot everywhere, averaging over 30°C and approaching 40°C in Maun and Kasane. September
is another busy month in Botswana, and the popular northern camps should be booked well
September and October are particularly impressive along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers.
Thousands of animals rely on these waters for survival, especially elephants, which can
drink up to 200 liters of water a day. After a long, hot day foraging for food, hundreds
of elephants gather along the river, often running the last few metres, trumpeting wildly
in their excitement and thirst.
Moremi is also excellent in September, although by now the days are getting very hot.
The dry, thin vegetation makes for excellent wildlife viewing and the cooler mornings
and evenings are best for predator spotting as they come to the channels to drink. By
September, the Okavango’s barbell (catfish) run is in full swing and it’s also prime
time for tigerfish in the northwest panhandle.
In September, the Kalahari and pans are almost at their driest, but the full October
heat has yet to arrive. Wildlife viewing across the central and southern parks can be
hit and miss, but the endless golden grasslands have a beauty all their own. And lurking
in the grass are the Kalahari’s black-maned lions, stalking the large herds of springbok, oryx and red hartebeest that still roam the plains. While many visitors focus on the north, the south and central parks still have a lot to offer and can be much quieter and easier to book at this time of year.
November is the spring shoulder season in Botswana, a time of soaring thunderclouds, returning
migrant birds and, once the rains arrive, fields of new-born calves. It’s still very hot,
with daily highs of 35°C to 40°C across the country, and it can get even hotter in the north
where nights are humid and often well over 20°C. The start of the rainy season is always hard
to predict, but good years can see early November rainfall in the south and central Kalahari,
while Moremi and Chobe usually have to wait until later in the month.
November is all about when the rains will begin and when they do arrive it’s with a literal bang.
Before the first thunderstorms, conditions are much the same as October, with increasingly desperate
animals drawn to whatever permanent water sources they can find. Waters in the delta continue to
recede, opening up the flood plains and providing essential, fresh grazing. The Chobe and Linyanti
river banks are by now crowded with game and large numbers of elephant congregate on the waterways.
Once the rains do come the relief is palpable. The dust clears from the skies, the pans begin to
fill, and the antelope birthing season begins. If there have been early rains, this is an excellent
time to visit the Central Kalahari, where enormous herds of oryx and springbok attempt to protect
their new-borns from prowling cheetah and lion. Road conditions are still reasonable at this early
stage of the wet season and you can still drive confidently without worrying too much about
December and January are Botswana’s wettest months, with afternoon thunderstorms a
regular feature across the country. The rains are cooling, but daytime temperatures
remain high, averaging in the low 30°C’s, but with hot days of up to 40°C or more.
Nights tend to be humid and warm, often not dropping below 20°C. The clear atmosphere and
thunderclouds make for excellent photographs, and you can expect a spectacular thunderstorm every few days.
December is the start of the summer ‘green season’ when the vegetation recovers and grazing land is plentiful.
New-born calves frolic on the Kalahari plains and are often targeted by the ever-present predators. As the pans
slowly fill, more and more animals are drawn to the central parks and both the Central Kalahari and Nxai Pans
National Parks have abundant wildlife at this time of year. The Savuti region is also packed with game, although
by now the elephants along the Chobe River are beginning to disperse as more water and vegetation becomes available
As the rains intensify the roads around the pans deteriorate. Thick mud can make some tracks impassable and it’s a
good idea to travel in convoy. The roads through and around Moremi also get worse as the rains continue. Large holes
in the roads fill with water and the going can be very slow as you navigate around the deep pools and fallen
Botswana is completely landlocked, with no beaches or access to the sea. It doesn’t even have
very many rivers or permanent water sources, but in the Okavango Delta it has what must be the
most spectacular, and certainly the wildest, inland delta in the world. Each year, roughly 11
trillion litres of water flow south from the Angolan highlands, bringing life and sustenance to
thousands of species of plants and animals, before evaporating, subsiding, then beginning all over
again. There may be no beaches in Botswana, but the Okavango Delta is a more than adequate
substitute, and in some places, if there are no crocodiles around, you can even take a swim.
The Okavango never drains completely and the best way to experience the delta is by boat. The most
traditional choice are the mekoro – small, dugout canoes which can be hired for short excursions
or multiday trips. They’re a wonderful, peaceful way to explore the narrow, twisting waterways,
poled silently along by local, knowledgeable guides who are usually only too happy to share their
beautiful home with visitors. Short outings can be arranged from Xakanaxa Camp and the Mboma Boat
Station in Moremi Game Reserve. They don’t need to be booked in advance. Longer trips are best
organised through one of the operators in Maun.
Xomae Group, who operate Moremi’s Third Bridge Camp, also offer boat hire and overnight boat trips
into the heart of the delta. Their wild campsite on Gcodikwe 1 island is one of the best ways to
experience the Okavango on a budget. There are plenty of very high-end lodges out in the middle
of the delta, but Gcodikwe 1 is one of very few islands available to self-drivers who want to camp
wild. You’ll need to take absolutely everything with you – including enough to feed your guide.
There are few more wonderful experiences to be had in Botswana than sitting around your own private
delta campfire as hippos grumble and splash on your doorstep and lions roar in the pitch-black night.
A Botswana holiday as a couple
For self-drivers in Botswana, romance may have to take a back seat, especially if you plan
to visit the more remote wild campsites which usually have just a pit toilet and no running water.
Modern 4x4s can still be very comfortable of course, but you’ll need a fairly rough and ready
definition of romance if a purely romantic holiday is what you’re after.
For unequivocal romance, your best bet is to take a few days off from the road and head for one of
Botswana’s magnificent luxury lodges. These can range from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars
a night so you’ll have to shop around for something to fit your budget. Luxury lodges in the Okavango
Delta offer some of the most spectacular safari accommodation on the planet, with beautiful rooms,
private wooden bath decks, sunset dinners and incredible birds and wildlife all around. Not in your
bed though. They’re very specific about that.
If you’re someone who can find romance in dusty pillow cases and dirty fingernails, then all of
Botswana is yours to enjoy. The best romantic campsites are those with no one else for miles around,
which makes Baines’ Baobabs, in Nxai Pan National Park, a particularly wonderful option. These three,
private campsites are spaced a few kilometres apart around Kudikum Pan in the south of the park.
There’s no water or facilities of any kind, just a discrete pit loo and a concrete slab for a fire.
Towering above each campsite are the huge baobabs that make this place so special. E
ach site has its own gigantic baobab or two, and stunning views across the nearby pan.
A family holiday in Botswana
With its free-roaming predators and unfenced camps, Botswana isn’t the ideal holiday destination for very young
families. North of Maun, malaria is also a concern, so unless your children are old enough not to require
constant supervision, its best to keep to the central Makgadikgadi Pans region where there’s plenty of open
space to play, fewer dangerous animals and practically zero risk of malaria.
First stop should be Lekhubu Island, without doubt a top contender for Botswana’s most magical place. Lekhubu
lies on the western edge of the immense Sua Pan, which, together with neighbouring Ntwetwe Pan, makes up one of
the largest interconnected salt pan systems in the world – the Makgadikgadi. Lekhubu is not a true island, but
rather a small rocky hill that juts out into the seasonally flooded Sua Pan. Sprouting mighty baobabs like a
pincushion, Lekhubu is an amazing sight in the late afternoon light and – especially – at dawn, when the sun rises
gently as if from a boundless, silent ocean.
If the pans are dry, and you have a 4x4 and GPS, you can transit safely across the pans to Gweta.
Don’t attempt this route in the wet as you’ll almost certainly get stuck, and even when dry,
keep to the main tracks of the vehicles that have crossed before. The last stretch before
Gweta is very rough and dusty, but Gweta Lodge has a lovely swimming pool, and there’s another at
Planet Baobab down the road. If the kids are old enough, don’t miss the fantastic quad bike tour to
visit the local meerkat colony nearby.
Further North, Nxai Pan National Park is another good spot for families. The private campsites at Baines’
Baobabs all have plenty of open space around them so it’s easy to keep an eye things, and if you visit
during the dry winter months there’ll be very few animals around. From the Baines’ Baobab campsites,
it’s only an hour’s drive to the main Nxai Pan in the north. Here the permanent water holes attract
the elephant, giraffe, lion and antelope that, during the dry season at least, generally don’t venture
South Africans love to camp, and there are excellent campsites all over the country. Camping facilities
are usually top drawer, with hot water, electrical points, clean ablutions and plenty of shade.
The larger campsites often have laundry facilities, and there’s usually a shop selling basic supplies.
The national park campsites are particularly well-appointed, and the major rest camps all have shops
and restaurants that campers can use.
A camper or motorhome is an excellent vehicle for exploring South Africa. They provide access to all but
the most rugged 4x4 terrain, and allow a degree of ease and comfort that traditional camping lacks.
A night in a motorhome on a deserted beach campsite can feel more exclusive than a night in a hotel,
and having a kitchen, power, and no tents and mattresses to pack and unpack, is practically luxury.
On the downside, campers are not ideal for South African cities. They can be tricky to manoeuvre and park,
and it can be difficult to find a place to camp. There are very few campsites in any of South Africa’s major
cities, and they tend to be of a lower standard than elsewhere in the country.
Out on safari, campers sit high off the ground and can be good game viewing vehicles. Be aware,
however, that some configurations don’t have very large passenger windows, or only have them on
one side. Very inconvenient if the lions are on the other side of the vehicle.
Campers and motorhomes are best suited for road trips along the Garden Route, KwaZulu-Natal, and across
the interior, especially during the wet and unpredictable Cape winter and the hot, rainy summers in the north.
Having a cosy, dry motorhome makes camping a pleasure even in bad weather, and they’re a great option in
the quieter rainy seasons.
What are my options if I’m travelling by 4x4 through Botswana?
To explore Botswana’s parks, you’ll need a 4x4 – in fact most parks and reserves
won’t let you in without one. In some areas, a high-clearance 2x4 with diff lock
will manage, but it’s best to have a 4x4 even if it’s only for the occasional
trickier situation. In the dry winter, deep sand is the challenge, especially in
the Kgalagadi, Central Kalahari, Nxai Pan and northern Chobe. Once the rains begin
in November/December, the roads around the pans get especially treacherous, with
thick mud that can trap even 4x4s. Moremi’s roads are always tough: a mix of deep
ruts, sand and high delta flood waters in winter, and rain-choked, muddy tracks in
summer. That’s not to say every metre is a terrible ordeal, but some sections will
put your 4x4 to the test and all tracks should be treated with caution.
Botswana is Southern Africa’s premier wildlife safari destination and a fantastic country
to self-drive. With a 4x4, fully-equipped for camping, you can experience almost everything
Botswana has to offer. The only exception is the central Okavango Delta, which is only
accessible by air or boat and the domain of numerous luxury lodges. Otherwise a 4x4 will
get you everywhere, from the Central Kalahari’s wildest solitary campsites, to the
elephant-clogged riverbanks of the Chobe. It’s important to make sure you have adequate
fuel and water tanks and a fridge/freezer and dual battery, ideally with solar power.
The joy of Botswana’s campsites is their utter isolation and you’ll need to be completely
self-sufficient as you journey between them.
The ‘roads’ through Botswana’s parks are mostly bumpy jeep tracks or muddy trails, depending on
the season. Driven carefully, a 4x4 with good ground clearance will handle most conditions without
any trouble, but water crossings and wet salt pans can trap even the toughest vehicles. If possible
always check water depth before you cross any pool or stream and drive around or back if you’re at
all unsure. Salt pans should be treated with particular caution – even when they appear dry, it’s
often just a thin top crust, hiding deep mud beneath. Avoid driving where no vehicles have gone
before, and keep an eye on any existing tracks to see if any previous vehicles have gotten stuck.
Make sure you’re carrying recovery gear (tow rope, sand tracks, spade etc.), don’t take chances,
and travel with at least two vehicles if you can.
What is great about travelling through Botswana in a car?
A network of paved highways connects Botswana’s major towns, but most roads off these arteries
aren’t suitable for regular cars. Sedans aren’t allowed to enter most parks, all of which have
sections that can’t be negotiated without a 4x4, or at the very least a sturdy, high-clearance
vehicle. If it’s not deep sand, then it’s mud, and when the mud dries it gets rutted and very bumpy. For the most part, none of this is particularly challenging in a tough 4x4, but you won’t get far in Botswana without one.
If a sedan is your only option then heading to Maun, Kasane and/or Tuli will be your best bet.
The Tuli Block is a relatively small region of private camps and reserves in the southeast
of Botswana. Most of the area is off-limits to self-drivers, but guided game drives can be
booked at the camps and the main access roads can be driven in a sedan.
In the far north, Kasane is easily reached along the A33 highway. Once there, guided 4x4
drives operate along the Chobe River, which are especially worthwhile in the late afternoons
when the elephants come to drink. Don’t leave Kasane without taking a Chobe River sunset cruise. You’ll get to see elephants, crocodiles and a host of other animals from the water.
Maun is known as the ‘gateway to the Okavango’ and there’s no shortage of operators waiting
to take you into the delta. Day trips and multi-day excursions are available, or hire a light
aircraft or helicopter for a few hours and see the incredible Okavango from the air.
The country’s paved highways are of varying quality, with long, well-surfaced sections that can
deteriorate suddenly into potholes. Always drive cautiously, never at night, and keep a sharp
eye out for animals at all times. In the wilder regions, you may see elephant and antelope
on the road and stray cattle and donkeys are common near villages. Be especially careful of the donkeys. They like to stand in the middle of the road, refusing to budge, and you may be forced to detour around them. Botswana’s traffic police are active on the highways and radar trapping is used to enforce speed limits.
Space is limited in Botswana’s parks and reserves and during the busy winter season it’s essential to book in advance.
June to October are particularly popular in Moremi and Chobe and while the Kgalagadi, Makgadikgadi Pans and
Central Kalahari tend to be quieter, it’s best to secure your itinerary before you arrive rather than take
a chance on last minute cancellations.
Booking campsites can be a bit complicated in Botswana, with multiple separate companies operating
different camps, often in the same park. Moremi, for example, has four public campsites. Xomae Group
operates Third Bridge, while SKL runs Khwai North Gate. And if you want to stay at South Gate or
Xakanaxa, you’ll have to book through Kwalate Safaris.
Besides these and other private operators, some camps are managed separately by the Botswana Department
of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), who also deal with park entry and conservation fees.
The best method is to approach all the relevant camp operators together and get a selection
of available dates for the camps you want to visit. Once you can see what’s available and when,
you can then piece together your ideal route and make the appropriate bookings.
After your campsites are booked you’ll need to pay park entrance fees to the DWNP. This can be done in
advance or at the gates, but if in advance, make sure you give them enough time to process and send
you the vouchers. You might be able to pay with a credit card at the gates, but card facilities
sometimes don’t work so it’s safer to carry cash. The DWNP central reservations office is pretty
well organised and a quick phone call will often resolve any issues.
Botswana’s traffic police enforce speed limits through radar trapping. They use mobile units and
tend to set up just after villages or vet fence gates – anywhere where the highway speed limit
(usually 120km/h) has been lowered and not yet re-established. If you do get stopped for
speeding, you can expect a spot fine. Fines must be paid in local currency and can be anything
from a few hundred to a thousand pula. Don’t expect them to have any change.
All-in-all it’s usually not a major ordeal. Be friendly and you’ll be on your way in no time.
Botswana is home to the Big Five and much more, and the north is where you’ll find the greatest
numbers and variety. The permanent waters of the Okavango Delta and the Chobe Linyanti River
System provide water and food for huge herds of elephant and buffalo, as well as thousands of
zebra, giraffe and other iconic species. These of course attract a variety of predators,
including lion, leopard and cheetah, plus numerous scavengers and over 500 species of birds.
The only animal under-represented is the ever-threatened rhino and although they can be found
in Moremi Game Reserve (on the eastern edge of the Okavango Delta), sightings are rare. Your
best chance of spotting a rhino is at the excellent Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a small, community-based
wildlife reserve near the south-eastern town of Serowe.
Botswana’s southern and central regions are generally less productive for wildlife viewing,
although at specific places and times of year, sightings can be just as spectacular as in
the north. In winter, from May to October, conditions are extremely dry and many animals
migrate north in search of water. This can make the few remaining permanent water sources
excellent focal points, especially for the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lions. These stay
behind to prey on the springbok, oryx and other desert-adapted species that can go for long
periods without a drink. The permanent waterhole at the Kgalagadi’s northern Kaa Gate, for
example, is particularly well known for lions.
From November to April, the summer rains transform the region. Although predators can be
harder to spot in the thick, green vegetation, the Kalahari itself is at its most beautiful
and the antelope and other grazers are drawn in high numbers to the fleetingly full rivers and
As in any culture, a few words of the local language go a long way to making friends.
Setswana is the first language of over three quarters of the population and you can’t
go wrong with a ‘dumêla’ (hello) or ‘dumelang’ (how are you?). Botswanans are generally
laid-back and gregarious. Take the time to say hello and chat, and you’ll usually have
nothing but positive interactions. There are many different languages and cultures in
Botswana, but no specific cultural nuances that are especially relevant to a wildlife safari.
English is Botswana’s official language and you’ll find it widely spoken across the country.
For most locals, however, it’s their second language – about three quarters of the population
speak Setswana as their mother tongue. A further 20 or more local and regional languages are
also spoken, often by very small rural communities. As an English-speaking visitor, you’ll
have no problem communicating wherever you go.
Botswana is a very safe country, with little violent crime and only occasional petty theft.
What criminal activity there is occurs almost exclusively in the urban centres –
Gaborone in particular, and to a lesser extent, Maun and Francistown. Don’t leave your
vehicle unlocked, or valuable items visible on car seats. And if you have easily
accessible items on external brackets, or a roof rack, then leave someone with the
vehicle while you do your shopping.
Botswana’s parks are some of Africa’s last truly wild places, with no fences
or park officials telling you what to do. Lions, hippos, elephants and other
dangerous animals regularly come into campsites, mostly just to sniff around
and almost always once you’re already asleep. It’s very important to pack
away any food, even dirty dishes, before you head to bed, and to be especially
careful if you need the bathroom at night. Make sure you have a powerful torch
to survey the area, and stay close to your vehicle at all times.
Hundreds of visitors pass through Botswana’s parks and camps each month so
although the animals are wild, they’re still relatively used to humans and
tend to avoid contact if they know people are around. Hyenas, honey badgers
and monkeys can be a nuisance in campsites, but serious incidents are very
rare. Keep your food packed away and don’t wander off into the bush and you
shouldn’t have any trouble.
The currency in Botswana is Pula, which is a Tswana word meaning “rain”. Rain is cherished and
welcomed because it brings life to the Kalahari. Pula is used throughout the country and is the
accepted form of payment in restaurants, shops, and at hotels or lodges; however, most places in
Maun, Kasane, Francistown, Gaborone, and other major towns accept international bank cards. ATMs
are located in the above mentioned towns and one can withdraw cash before heading into the parks
and reserves where there are unlikely to be card facilities. Foreign currency is often accepted
as a tip or gratuity to helpful staff and safari guides, but not as payment for something in
commercial facilities. The current exchange rate is 1 BP = 0,10 USD.
Every major town in Botswana has at least one shopping centre or mall, which includes major
supermarkets, liquor stores, clothing, furniture, homeware, and electronic shops, in addition
to local banks and ATMs. In terms of gift stores and curio shops, some safari lodges stock their
own locally made woven baskets, jewellery, wooden carvings and bowls, and these items are usually
sourced from communities in the area. A number of safari operators and lodges offer village visits
as an opportunity to meet local people, learn about their culture, and understand their way of life,
and these are often opportunities for travellers to purchase some locally crafted items. Be warned,
these local markets are expensive and it is likely that similar items can be sourced in gift shops
in Maun or Kasane at a cheaper price.
Paved highways connect Botswana’s major towns and while most are in good condition,
some sections are badly potholed. You’ll need to keep an eye out for these, as well
as for both wild and domesticated animals. Stray cattle and donkeys are common near
villages and the donkeys can be particularly dangerous. They have a tendency to stand
in the middle of the road, refusing to move and forcing cars to stop and drive around
Botswana’s traffic police are active on the highways and often set up radar speed
traps after villages and vet fences. Don’t be tempted to accelerate back to highway
until you see the appropriate signage.
Away from the highways, the road conditions deteriorate rapidly. There’s not much in the way
of secondary roads and you can go from tarmac to thick sand in a few hundred metres.
Particularly sandy sections include the access roads around Mabuasehube Game Reserve
and the Kgalagadi, the Xade Gate road into the Central Kalahari, the main entrance road
into Nxai Pan National Park, the road north of Maun to Moremi, and pretty much everything
from the Savuti region to the Chobe River. An unusual route, and perhaps the sandiest of all,
is the north-south track between Khutse Game Reserve and the Central Kalahari.
It’s about 230km of deep sand from Khutse to Xade Gate and shouldn’t be attempted lightly.
In summer, heavy rainfall can turn the park tracks to mud, especially those around the
Okavango Delta and the pans. As vehicles churn and get stuck, they dig deep ruts
which then dry into bumpy potholes in winter. Moremi’s roads are bad in all seasons:
wet and muddy during the summer rains and bumpy and rutted in winter. In winter, the
higher delta water levels bring the added excitement of swollen streams and deep water
A 4x4 camper is unquestionably the best vehicle for Botswana. For a self-drive safari, there’s
really no other option. At the very least you’ll need 4WD and high-clearance to tackle the thick
sand and occasional mud. But more than that, you’ll need their range and carrying capacity. Once
you’re inside the parks there’s no fuel or supplies and many of the more isolated campsites also
don’t have water. 4x4 campers aren’t just required for the poor road conditions, their extra
features such as a table, chairs, lighting and – crucially – the fridge/freezer provide those
small luxuries that make a well-planned safari so special.
A 4x4 camper is unquestionably the best vehicle for Botswana. For a self-drive safari,
there’s really no other option. At the very least you’ll need 4WD and high-clearance to
tackle the thick sand and occasional mud. But more than that, you’ll need their range and
carrying capacity. Once you’re inside the parks there’s no fuel or supplies and many of the
more isolated campsites also don’t have water. 4x4 campers aren’t just required for the poor
road conditions, their extra features such as a table, chairs, lighting and – crucially – the
fridge/freezer provide those small luxuries that make a well-planned safari so special.
Botswana’s mobile phone network is extremely limited and only reliable in the major centres.
Cover along the highways is decent, but patchy – better in the south than in the north.
3G or 4G is available in Gaborone, Maun and Kasane, as well as a few other large towns,
but mobile data is unreliable elsewhere. Once you’re in the parks and reserves there’s
no network cover at all and you’ll need a GPS and/or map book to know where you are.
Google Maps is not adequate for Botswana’s myriad back roads and signage in the
parks is practically non-existent. You’ll need some kind of map to navigate, and
Tracks4Africa is the best available. Their paper and GPS maps are updated regularly
and it’s useful to have both – the paper map for planning and the GPS to find your
Botswana can get hot at any time of the year so make sure you pack summer clothing, a
broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. Long sleeves and loose trousers
will protect against both the sun and mosquitos, which can be a nuisance in the north,
especially in summer. Pack clothing that can stand a bit of dirt and dust, and take a
swimming costume, just in case – you never know when you’ll come across a pool.
Winter nights in the centre and south regularly drop below freezing so make sure you have warm
clothing from April to September. The summer rains can be torrential, but they’re usually short
lived and temperatures stay warm – a light rain jacket can be useful, but is not essential. Take
comfortable shoes for the evenings, but you’ll probably prefer sandals or flip-flops during the day.
Pack a head torch, a more powerful torch, and any personal items you’d usually take camping.
Most 4x4 campers will be fairly well-equipped, but a few extra Tupperware containers are always
useful for storing food. A sharp penknife or Leatherman will also come in handy.
Botswana uses a mix of plug types: South Africa’s round three-pin, Britain’s square three-pin,
and the EU-standard two-pin. You’ll find power points at the campsites in cities and towns, but
none inside the national parks. If your 4x4 comes with an inverter and plug points, make sure you
have the correct adaptors. Either way it’s best to travel with spare batteries for your camera and
don’t forget the extra memory cards and your telephoto lens.
Make sure you know where your jack and tyre tools
are, and speak to your rental company about what
to do if you break down completely. If you can
phone them they’ll probably be able to send someone
to assist you, no matter where you are. It’s
a good idea to have a local sim card with calling
credit. Roaming calls can be very expensive.
Private towing companies operate in certain
areas and they can be a nuisance when
trying to get business. Tell them you
have a rental and that help is on the
way, and don’t take no for an answer.
If you break down at night, deploy your reflective
triangle to warn traffic. Long-haul trucks
often pull into the hard shoulder to
allow other vehicles to pass – give them
at least 100m warning if you can.
If you feel unsafe for any reason you can
and should call the police. But don’t
panic, there’s seldom cause for alarm,
just inconvenience. Don’t be afraid to
ask for help from locals. They’ll usually
assist you in any way they can.
The most important thing to know about Botswana’s camps is that they’re unfenced and wild animals
are free to wander through them without restriction. The rules are few and simple: don’t play
music, don’t sleep in the open, don’t leave your tent or vehicle at night, camp only at your
designated campsite, and secure your food and belongings after dark, or whenever you leave camp
on a game drive. Finally, make sure your campfire is properly extinguished before you depart.
The main, larger camps in Moremi, Chobe, and the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks all have
water and ablution blocks, but the smaller bush camps, and all those in the Central
Kalahari do not. You must have a paid-up campsite booking before arriving. You won’t be allowed
access to any national park without one.
There are very few officials in any of Botswana’s parks. Visitors are expected to look after
themselves and obey the rules. Park rules are simple: leave before 11am on your day of
departure, don’t drive more than 40km/h, keep to the main tracks and don’t remove any fauna or flora.
You can usually pay your park entrance fees at the gate if you haven’t done so in advance.
Day visitors aren’t allowed and you won’t be let in unless you have a campsite booking.
There’s usually a wildlife sightings chart at each park gate – great for seeing what’s in
the area and where the most productive game drives might be.
There are no laundry facilities outside the major towns, so pack clothing that doesn’t show the dirt.
There’s a reason safari outfits are all shades of khaki! You can take a small bucket and biological
washing powder to do laundry on the road, but it’s also a good idea to schedule a stop in Maun or
Kasane, on a convenient day to resupply and wash clothes. Most town campsites have a laundry service,
or facilities for guests to do their own.
There’s a long list of countries whose citizens don’t require a visa to visit Botswana
for up to 90 days. If you’re from Europe or North America, you almost certainly won’t
need one. Just make sure you have at least two blank pages left inside your passport
and that it’s still valid for six months from your date of departure.
Most Commonwealth countries also have a visa exemption, but if you’re not
a citizen of one of these countries, or wish to stay longer than 90 days,
then you’ll need to apply for a visa from a Botswanan embassy or diplomatic
mission. Costs vary depending on your nationality and the duration of the visa required.
Botswana has excellent supermarkets and stores and you can buy everything you need for your
safari when you arrive. Kasane and, especially, Maun are regional hubs supplying hundreds
of hotels, lodges and self-drive visitors. Speciality liquor may be tricky to find, but all
the basics are readily available.
Transporting fresh meat and fruit around Botswana can, however, be tricky,
as veterinary fences have been established across large areas in an effort to
contain foot-and-mouth disease. If you’re entering from South Africa, you’ll cross
at least one checkpoint as you drive north and there’s another important control
gate to the east of Maun. You can take meat from the south to the north and east
to west, but the movement of fresh meat is strictly prohibited in the opposite directions.
The transport of fresh fruit and vegetables also goes through periodic restrictions,
in this case to combat the spread of fruit flies. The rules around fruit and veg
change regularly and are harder to pin down, but it’s generally not a good idea to
bring any fresh fruit into Botswana, especially lemons, oranges and tomatoes.
Botswana has excellent fruit, vegetables and meat so the best advice is to buy
all your fresh produce in Botswana, avoid carrying fresh meat from Maun towards Nxai Pan,
and otherwise just resupply as you go.
Border crossings between Botswana and South Africa or Namibia are usually straight-forward and
hassle free. You’ll need to have some cash for road and vehicle taxes – a few hundred pula or
rands – and your vehicle’s papers must be in order. You’ll need a certified copy of the
registration papers and a letter from the rental company confirming you as the driver and
granting permission for you to take the vehicle across the border.
The Zambian border at Kazungula involves a pontoon ferry and is a bit more chaotic.
Officials will want to see reflective tape on the sides of your vehicle, and may
check that you’re carrying portable reflective triangles and a fire extinguisher.
The border costs are also higher and payable in kwacha or US dollars. It costs about $70
per vehicle for border fees, including the ferry.
The most difficult borders are into Zimbabwe, but the exact conditions are always
changing and hard to predict. There will certainly be road and carbon taxes, and
compulsory third-party insurance. All fees are paid in US dollars and the total outlay
should be around $60 per vehicle, but could be double that or more. Most European and
North American visitors can get a $30 single entry visa at the border, but British
passport holders may have problems getting a visa. There’s almost always a police
check point just past the border post so be careful of your speed, and make sure all
your seatbelts are fastened. They may want to see reflective tape on the sides of your
vehicle, country stickers, reflective jackets and triangles, and fire extinguisher.
Check with your doctor before travelling, but your usual, routine vaccinations should be up to date,
including MMR, tetanus and polio. Hepatitis A, typhoid and rabies vaccinations are also recommended,
although if you’re on a self-drive safari and spending a lot of time in the wilderness and away from
built-up areas, the risk of infection is very low.
Malaria is not found in Gaborone, the Central Kalahari or the Kgalagadi, but infection rates increase
as you head further north. The highest risk is during summer and in or near human-populated areas.
Apply insect repellent and wear long, loose-fitting clothing at night, and consult your doctor about
prophylaxis medication before you travel.
There’s no risk of yellow fever in Botswana, but if you’re arriving from a yellow fever region you
will be asked to show proof of vaccination. Yellow fever areas include most of Central Africa, and
parts of Central and South America.
Botswana has countrywide, toll-free numbers for ambulance (997), police (999),
fire brigade (998) and medical rescue services (911). For air rescue and serious
injury, you can also contact various private medical companies for assistance.
Medical Rescue International (MRI) is well known, and can be reached 24-hours,
7-days-a-week on 992 (toll-free) or +267-390-1601. Emergency Assist 991 is
another private 24-hour, country-wide service, available on 991 or +267-390-4537.
Check with your medical insurance company to see if they have a preferred provider
before travelling to Botswana.
Travel and medical insurance is always a sensible precaution, especially when visiting a wild and remote country
such as Botswana. Full, comprehensive, primary medical cover is highly recommended. And it’s best to get the
maximum cover available as emergency evacuations and medical procedures can be very expensive. Make sure your
policy includes all the ‘adventure activities’ you’re planning to do, specifically: driving off-road vehicles,
canoeing and boat trips, and up-close wildlife encounters. Familiarise yourself with how your policy handles
payment and reimbursement, and what documentation you need to process a claim.
It’s also advisable to get full vehicle insurance and to know exactly how your policy is worded with
regards to breakdowns and breakages. In particular, check the clauses on support and recovery situations,
especially those that could be judged as your fault. It can be very expensive to extract a broken vehicle
from the middle of the delta.
General travel insurance should cover cancellations, theft, loss and damage to sensitive equipment.
Very expensive, specialist gear such as cameras and lenses may need to be covered separately.