Botswana for beginners
Your first visit to Botswana doesn’t have to be an intimidating affair – you don’t even need a 4x4! Here’s how to plan the trip of your dreams.
Are you sure I don’t need a 4x4?
Yes. If you’re in a 4x2, you just need to approach your tour a little differently. Go to places that you can get to in a normal vehicle, but where you can also do an outing in a 4x4 game-drive vehicle – or in a boat.
Obviously, a 4x4 is the best vehicle for an extended tour (whether it’s in Botswana or the Karoo) because you’ll have better traction if things go awry. Second best is a bakkie or SUV with a high ground clearance and lots of boot space. But there’s nothing wrong with your Golf, Corolla or Astra. Just pack less stuff and show the guys in 4x4s how it’s done.
Visit Botswana during the dry season (June to October) so you won’t have to drive on muddy roads. See our maps on pages 12 – 15 – there’s a tar road all the way to Maun (starting point for exploring the Okavango Delta) and Kasane (your base to visit Chobe National Park and Vic Falls). You might have to drive short distances on sandy roads (seldom further than 5 km) to get from the tar road to your chosen lodge or camp. If you get stuck, there will be someone nearby to help you.
See page 18 for information about the Great Northern Loop – a 12-day circular route for the holiday of a lifetime. This is my first time – where do I start? Your first visit to Botswana might feel like an oncein-a-lifetime thing, but you’ll soon be planning your second trip. It’s a big country and the most scenic parts are in the north – this is where you want to be.
Plan your route from South Africa carefully. Try to enter Botswana at one of the smaller border posts to save time. You want to reach the north as quickly as possible so your holiday can begin. Get the long, hard drive out of the way.
Our Great Northern Loop route includes the Zambezi Region in Namibia. Why? This slice of Namibia offers a similar wilderness experience to Botswana, but at a fraction of the price.
How do I make a booking?
Use our accommodation guide (pages 83 – 113) to find a place to stay. Most lodges and camps can be contacted by e-mail, others by phone. Some of the community camps are almost impossible to reach, but bookings are rarely needed and you can just show up.
The bigger the group you’re travelling in, the further in advance you need to book. If it’s just you and your husband, you’ll usually get a place to sleep, even if you arrive without a booking.
Although it’s essential to book at least a year in advance to camp in Botswana’s top parks like Moremi and Chobe, this doesn’t necessarily apply to the rest of the country. Still, play it safe and book beforehand.
What do I need?
A reliable vehicle, your passport and money in the bank. Camping gear, too – you’ll save money if you camp. You need a simple tent (you don’t need a roof tent), camping chairs and cooking gear – a gas cooker being the most important so you can start every day with a hot cup of coffee.
You don’t need expensive sleeping bags – throw your duvet in the back of the car and you’re sorted. It’s nice to have a small fridge in the car, but it’s not essential. Buy meat as you go or at lodges. (Call ahead to check if they sell meat.)
Borrow camping gear from friends if you have to
– everyone has piles of unused stuff in their garage. If you do decide to buy your own, invest in quality gear that will last longer.
If you have the luggage space, pack a jerrycan, a big container for water and an extra spare wheel. The Great Northern Loop is not too wild – fuel, water and help are never too far away.
Not a camper? No problem. Your holiday won’t be as cheap, but Botswana has many great lodge and self-catering options.
Can I afford it?
You can if you save up! The parks in Botswana are more expensive than their counterparts in South Africa and Namibia, but they also offer unique landscapes. Set money aside for activities like a flight over the Okavango Delta from Maun, a sunset cruise on the Chobe River and a visit to Vic Falls.
Our best money-saving tip? Drive slowly to keep your fuel consumption low and avoid speeding fines. (Botswana’s traffic officials are on the ball.) You can easily save more than R1 000 this way.
Can I travel with a tour company?
Of course. A guided tour brings peace of mind. Your experienced tour leader knows where you have to go every day – you’re just along for the ride. See page 54 for a Botswana tour with go! and Mpafa (formal accommodation) and page 106 for a tour with go! and Bhejane (tented accommodation).
DO IT YOURSELF LIVE ACTION. A boat cruise on the Chobe River will bring you so close to elephants you’ll hear them breathing.
DON A CAPE. Remember to bring a rain jacket if you’re planning to visit Vic Falls.
COAL KING. Camp your way through Botswana for a budget-friendly holiday.