Self-drive travel through Botswana is an adventure, not a leisure holiday. In 10 days we churned up dust crossing the Makgadikgadi pans, dodged donkeys on the tar road in Maun, crossed rivers in Moremi, bumped along deep mud-dried ruts next to the Savuti marsh and slipped in sand on the tracks leading to Chobe. Seeing the best of Botswana requires a 4×4 and a sense of humour (I’ll admit, I lost mine for a bit in the Savuti sand). Here, nature takes centre stage and you’ll want a front-row seat.
When it comes to tourism, Botswana champions quality over quantity. Destinations are generally pricier than many in South Africa, in order to protect resources, and lodges target wealthy foreign visitors. However, this is a good thing. It means visitor numbers are less, South Africans get special (read cheaper) reserve rates – and it forces us to camp.
The family I introduced to Botswana does not regularly camp but they readily embraced it as part of the thrill. Granted, living on the road and packing up camp each morning – often from 5am – can be a hack, but it’s the means to magic memories that’ll last a lifetime. We dodged hyena on the way to the loo and hippo popped in for a visit at Third Bridge. We stirred our coffee to lion roars in the morning, an egg-and-bacon skottel breakfast sizzling on the crusty salt pans.
On Kubu Island, we spread out blankets to watch stars splash the night sky; at Ihaha, we spotted a snuffling honey badger; at Chobe we shooed
a warthog away from our lunch. And on that evening in Savuti, when the noises of nature made us freeze, we discovered that new, enormous species of bushbaby.
Camping also means you can splurge the money you save on cool stuff – such as spotting elephant, giraffe and lechwe from a flight over the world’s largest inland delta, or on a mokoro trip and feel your adrenaline surge as hippos approach your dug-out while piloting through the narrow river channels. Other options are motoring along the Chobe River in a private boat with a guide who knows where to find Jesus birds (African jacanas) and pied kingfisher, or sipping a sundowner overlooking Botswana’s ‘sea’, the vast Sua Pan, dotted with flamingoes and rowdy pelicans.
It’s the kind of adventure that gets under your skin and gives you an unshakeable urge to pack up the car and do it all over again.
Best of Botswana Itinerary
Take it easy and drive along the Chobe River, as you’ve only got to get to Chobe Safari Lodge roughly 40km away. Veto the afternoon booze cruise and book a private boat trip at the activity centre for the following morning. It works out cheaper per person and the knowledgeable guide can manoeuvre the boat for a closer look at game and birds. Then while away the afternoon on the decks of the lodge and upload those snaps using the free WiFi.
Wake up at 07:00 and dress warmly for the scenic boat trip on the Chobe River. Return to camp and pack up to leave for Nata Lodge near the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Stay in a safari tent so you can take it easy on the last day of your trip, sleep on a thicker mattress and get an early start in the morning. Check with reception if there’s water on the pans and book a drive to see the flamingoes at the nearby Nata Bird Sanctuary.
Originally published on Getaway Magazine.