To finish off the greatest year I’ve ever had, I’ve got one final massive adventure up my sleeve. For the last two months of the year, I'll be exploring nine countries across southern Africa, my first time on the continent and one vastly different to anything I’ve ever encountered before.
I flew from Salzburg all the way down to Cape Town via Istanbul with a friend of mine from my city, preparing ourselves for a three-week journey through six countries, after which I would continue solo for another month on the continent. Our trip began with a week based in Cape Town, a gem of a city situated right on the southern tip of Africa. We landed on a beautiful Saturday morning, picked up our rental car and spent the rest of the day getting acquainted with the city and exploring many of its highlights.
After our exceptional week spent in Cape Town, at the southern tip of South Africa, and one of my now-favourite cities in the world, we dropped off our rental car at before spending the night sleeping on benches in Cape Town airport. From there, we took an early morning flight in a tiny airplane up to Windhoek in Namibia where we picked up our rental 4x4 truck with a roof tent and headed into the city, anticipation at an all time high for the adventure we were about to undertake.
We spent six days roadtripping across Namibia, witnessing extraordinary places, deep in the desert and thousands of years old. From Namibia, we turned eastward and completed our first African land border crossing into Botswana. During our four days in Botswana, we visited two exceptional game reserves - the revered Okavango Delta, a wet river delta teeming with life, before entering Chobe National Park, home to a huge elephant population (and terrible roads).
In this guide, I have compiled a brief summary of our time in Botswana. Read on for where to stay in each place, driving distances and what to do when you get there.
Crossing the Border from Namibia to Botswana
Depending on how you're planning to visit Botswana, if you're coming by road you're very likely to be driving across the border from neighbouring Namibia. The last place we visited in Namibia was Etosha National Park giving us two options to head eastward. We chose the southern route below through Gobabis as the roads are better quality (crucial on an African roadtrip!). This is also the same road you'd take if heading east directly from Windhoek.
The border between Namibia and Botswana is nothing like what you'd expect from a European border crossing and quite similar to most other African land border crossings we encountered. We both hold European passports. It's not very clearly marked but you park on the Namibian side, go to the health screening first and provide any proof of required vaccinations (e.g. COVID-19, yellow fever) before proceeding through a series of counters for your exit stamp at immigration upon completion of an exit form and customs. Then you drive over to the Botswanaian side where they check your car, hand over your forms and collect your entry stamp at immigration for Botswana.
A WORD ON SAFETY IN BOTSWANA
I'm no safety expert and I'm being honest when I'm saying that a trip to Africa requires a lot more safety-awareness than you might typically expect of say, Europe. It's just how it is. If you take sensible precautions when traveling around, you should be fine.
If you must travel with valuables e.g. camera, laptop, always carry them with you. Leave nothing in your car unattended anywhere, and even when driving, ensure all your belongings are hidden out of sight - smash and grabs are common at red lights.
Never travel at night - stay in a safe, fenced, locked accommodation (campsite, AirBnb, etc.) with security and CCTV before sunrise and after sunset. The roads are poor and filled with potholes and likely to have wild animal crossings, both of which you can't see at night, and the roads are very rarely lit. Gangs also populate the streets after dark look for unsuspecting victims.
Ensure you have all your travel vaccinations up to date, including yellow fever (it's not required, but they may ask for it at the border). Carry ibuprofen, throat lozenges, allergy medication, diarrhea medication and any other pills you may find useful. Malaria is a risk in Botswana; I strongly suggest taking daily malaria tablets - you start a day before your trip begins and finish a week after your trip ends.
TIPS FOR BOTSWANA
The official languages of Botswana are both English and Tswana. English was introduced when Botswana is a colony and is the language used for official purposes and signage and is widely understood. Tswana is the national language spoken by most everyone.
The weather can get extremely hot in the summer months but prepare for all sorts of weather. We had some intense rainstorms as well. Bring cool, thin clothing and plenty of layers to accommodate for the changing temperatures.
The currency is the Botswana Pula (BWP) and is actually considered one of the strongest currencies in Africa. We found Botswana to be the most expensive country we visited on our roadtrip. Currently, 1 BWP is ~ 1 South African Rand. As in most of the African countries we visited, many places only accept cash but a surprising number (such as all gas stations) do accept international MasterCard or Visa. They also typically accept most other currencies - we used Rand, NAD, Euro, BWP and USD cash in Namibia and all were readily accepted.
Get a local SIM card to ensure you have data while you're roaming the desert and also local calling in case you need to contact your accommodations or encounter roadside issues.Mascom is the main network in Botswana; we picked up a prepaid SIM just after crossing the border in Ghanzi.
All of southern Africa drives on the left side (opposite to Europe, same as the UK) including Botswana. You'll find a massive variety of roads - the great "A" roads are paved and usually well-maintained (save for a pothole or two), "B" roads are lesser quality paved roads, "C" roads are good quality gravel roads and then "D" roads are bad quality gravel or sand roads. And "F"... well, don't go there. They're basically dirt tracks.
4 DAY ROADTRIP ITINERARY THROUGH BOTSWANA
We spent four days driving nearly 900km through Botswana, starting at the land border crossing from Namibia at Buitepos and traveling northeast through the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, before heading east to cross the border at Kazungula into Zimbabwe.
Botswana was an incredible adventure, but we struggled with enjoying it as much as Namibia because truly the roads in Botswana are really horrible. We spent a lot of our time in Botswana focusing on getting safely to our next destination in one piece and perhaps would have opted for drivers to take us on some of the excursions. Thankfully, we scheduled our time really well and didn't have long drives to tackle every day, just short and tough ones, allowing us to spend a lot of down time catching up on rest.
DAY 1 - Buitepos to Mankwe
After we crossed the border at Buitepos from Namibia, we drove to Ghanzi where we picked up fuel, food and a Botswana SIM card. We then headed north through Maun to enter the Okavango Delta, a revered and magical nature reserve, teeming with wildlife that call the shallow riverbeds home.
DRIVE: From Buitepos, drive the 600km north through Maun to the heart of the Okavango Delta. The road between the Botswana border and Maun is really well paved and easy to drive. After Maun, we encountered the worst roads of our entire roadtrip. This was made exponentially tougher by probably one of the most severe rainstorms we've ever witnessed which we had to drive straight through. The road is completley full of pot holes, sand and dirt, and large accumulated pools of water. The rainstorm turned the road to a swamp and our 4x4 was expertly navigated at the hands of Nikias who tackled them with courage and determination.
STAY: Mankwe Lodge and Campsite
DO: Take in Botswana for the first time. Spot wild animals as you enter the Okavango after Maun - we got lucky with elephant and giraffe sightings!
READ MORE: Visiting the Okavango Delta
DAY 2 - Mankwe to Mbudi
We rose early in Mankwe to enjoy the sumptious surroundings of the Mankwe Lodge which we had opted for after our rough day on the road the night before so we didn't have to camp. The breakfast was a delight, as was the service and kindess of the staff. We had to deal with a broken fridge and some other car issues, which were becoming a daily occurrence for us, but other than that, we tackled the sandy roads with grit and determination to make it to our next stop through the delta. It was here that we were able to partake in a traditional mokoro ride to see the Okavango Delta from the water - peaceful and sublime, a welcome respite from the stress we'd been under.
DRIVE: From Mankwe, drive just 50km to Mbudi, a much more rustic camp spot in the delta. The roads are sandy - in good weather, it'll still take you about two hours to complete the short drive.
STAY: Mbudi Camp where you can camp next to hippos!
DO: Spot wild animals as you drive through the delta. Take a ride on a traditional mokoro along the shallow rivers of the Okavango Delta to spot hippos, animals, birds and plants.
READ MORE: Visiting the Okavango Delta
Day 3 - Mbudi to Savuti
We focused our third day on a game drive, heading northward through the Okavango Delta and entering through the south gate of Chobe National Park to see what we could find. Admittedly we didn't see as much game in Chobe National Park as we had seen in the exceptional Etosha National Park in Namibia, but were still thrilled to spot plenty of elephants, giraffe, zebra and ostriches along the bumpy, sandy roads.
DRIVE: From Mbudi, head north into Chobe National Park. Chobe, like all of the other national parks we visited in southern Africa, can be self-driven with your own vehicle at your own pace or, given how terrible the roads are, you can also opt to hire a driver and go on safari with someone who knows the roads expertly. The drive from where we camped at Mbudi in the Okavango to the Savuti camp in the heart of Chobe was quite terrible and took us a good three hours to conquer even though it's less than 100km. However, it was still an experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on - there's nothing like driving along a maddeningly potholed and sandy road bumping around in a 4x4 and spotting a pack of elephants lumbering out of the bush ahead of you. Sure, it was insane at times, but I think in both a good way and a not-so-good way and it was the sum total of the experience that made it memorable and rewarding.
STAY: Savuti Campsite
DO: Spot wild animals as you drive through the delta. Have lunch at the designated rest spot and maybe get lucky to share the space with an elephant or two!
READ MORE: A Guide to Chobe National Park
Day 4 - Savuti to Zimbabwe
On our final day in Botswana, we left Chobe National Park and, after three days, we finally saw a paved road again. This came as a massive flood of relief (and most likely was the triggering factor in why I then spent the next three days in Zimbabwe severely ill, all part of this grand adventure!).
DRIVE: From Savuti, leave Chobe National Park and sign out at the exit gate. If you are continuing into Zimbabwe, drive the 250km towards Victoria Falls, right at the very northern tip of the country bordering Zambia.
STAY: we stayed at an AirBnb in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
DO: Spot wild animals as you drive through the national park.
READ MORE: A Guide to Chobe National Park