Botswana…probably one of the most relaxing and natural places I’ve ever been to with not much going on really, except for pockets of activity here and there. This suited me just fine, having just led 4 back to back tours over the past 2 and a bit months, I needed some downtime and Botswana was the perfect place to get it.
So we hired a car and set off on our Botswana road trip starting in Windhoek, Namibia and ending in Kasane, Botswana before hopping just across the border to Livingstone in Zambia.
For the purposes of this Botswana itinerary, you can go in either direction depending on which flights are cheaper or you can incorporate it into a much bigger itinerary, say for instance if you were going Nairobi to Cape Town or vice versa and you can easily see the highlights mentioned here in 2 weeks, with a bit of pre-planning.
If you want to self-drive to all the places on this itinerary, you’re going to need a 4×4.
Saying that, we just hired a normal car (Toyota Corolla) from Europcar as it was cheaper and then took short tours to the places we weren’t able to go in the car. Driving on the main roads in in Botswana is pretty straightforward as they are all sealed, give or take a few places where the roads were quite sandy driving into the lodges (and we almost or actually did get stuck – but we managed to get out of it), so you may want to check the road conditions before you turn off the main highway, especially in the rainy season or when it starts to get very dry.
You can also take public transport (combis) between the main towns, but they aren’t as frequent as they are in East Africa so you will really need to be on the ball as there may only be one or two buses a day, so if you miss them, you may struggle to get where you need to go. And then if your camp/lodge is off the main road or out of town you’re going to have to figure out how to get there too. But don’t let that stop you! This is Africa, there’s (usually) always a way.
Or, you could also think about taking a Botswana tour (hint hint – I have an awesome Rock My Botswana & Zimbabwe Adventure tour).
Camping v’s Accommodated
Our trip was quite last minute, so we stayed in lodges the whole way (as we didn’t have a tent or any camping equipment) but it would also be nice to camp I think. Staying in lodges can bump up the cost quite a bit but is also quite nice.
Just bear in mind that in the European/North American summer months it is winter in Botswana and while it’s warm in the day time, it’s freezing at night so you’ll need a good sleeping bag and warm clothing (thermals, fleece and a down jacket).
You can buy camping equipment in some of the big supermarkets or hire it from some of the rental companies.
When deciding on how to travel (whether to camp/what car to hire etc) maybe think about these things:
* What is the cost of a normal 2WD car v’s a 4WD car v’s public transport? Public transport is going to be a lot cheaper than a car/tour but a lot more work – so I guess that’s the thing you need to think about – time/effort v’s money.
* If you are limited on time then driving or a tour would probably be the more efficient option.
* If you don’t have a 4×4, you may need to add in the cost of tours to the places where you can’t take a normal car (although regardless, I usually prefer taking tours into these areas – Chobe National Park, CKGR, Moremi National Park etc – as the guides will usually give you a much better experience than if you do it yourself).
* The cost of lodges v’s camping (camping is much cheaper but you may need to hire a tent if you don’t have your own)?
* Do you even like camping? If you don’t, then I wouldn’t attempt it in Botswana, you’ll be miserable especially in the cold winter months.
* The time of year. The cool, dry season is between May and September. In October and November it gets very hot. January to April sees the rains and some places close for the season.
* Do you have the driving ability to handle a 4×4 in tough conditions? Also remember it’s not advisable to travel by night due to animals on the road and some bad road conditions in places.
* Do you have have an in-date, international driver’s license to hire a car in Botswana?
So now you have an idea of how you may or may not want to travel, let’s hit the road and see the highlights of Botswana…
An Elephantastic Botswana Itinerary (Plus Things To See & Do)
Livingstone, Zambia or Vic Falls, Zimbabwe: 3 – 5 Days
Kasane: 1 – 2 Days
Chobe National Park: 1 – 2 Days
Elephant Sands: 1 – 2 Days
Gweta: 1 – 2 Days
Maun: 1-2 Days
Okavango Delta: 2 – 3 Days
Central Kalahari Game Reserve: 3 – 4 Days
D’kar: 2 Days
Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Ok, so not in Botswana, but if you’re flying in for a Botswana trip, you may want to start (or end) in either Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
These towns both have good international airports and are very close to the border with Botswana (which is only a 45 minute drive away).
You could easily spend a few days/weeks here as there’s so much to do! Just make sure you have a lot of money as the activities are expensive (although there are lots of cheap things to do too).
Alternatively, if you were going the other way, you might find it easier to fly into Windhoek, Namibia and fly out of Livingstone or Vic Falls.
Best Time to Visit: Between May and July (if you want to see the falls in full flow from the Zambian side) or mid-August to mid-January if you want to go in the Devil’s Pool.
Where To Stay in Livingstone: I love Jollyboys in Livingstone as it’s modern, fun, clean, right in town and their food is fab. It’s more of a flashpacker than a backpacker hostel, and a great place to meet people. If you want something more mid-range/quieter, you could try Green Tree Lodge. For a special treat (read: high-end/expensive) I would choose Waterberry Lodge, The Royal Livingstone or for the ultimate luxury, Tongabezi. Check out some other options here.
Where To stay in Vic Falls: Victoria Falls Backpackers Lodge is nice and reasonably priced. Shoestrings is also a popular backpacker spot. If you’re looking for a mid-range option, try Shearwater Explorers Village. Check out some other options here.
Cool Things To Do: Both towns offer pretty much the same activities. Although they are a little cheaper on the Zimbabwe side, I much prefer Livingstone as it’s much less touristy (in town). You have a ton of activity options here, including; Victoria Falls, bungee jumping, white water rafting, the Devil’s Pool micro lighting, bicycle tours, helicopter rides, sunset cruises… the list goes on and on and on.
Time Needed: 3 – 5 Days (you could manage in a day or two if you just saw Victoria Falls and did no other activities, I could stay here for a month personally).
You don’t have to stay in Kasane at all, as most of the safari companies can arrange transfers direct from Livingstone/Vic Falls to Chobe National Park and back again, however Kasane is the town closest to Chobe National Park, so if you have a bit of time, or are coming from/going to somewhere further away than Livingstone/Vic Falls you could relax here for a night before or after your Chobe Safari. It’s also a good place to stock up on food, petrol and other supplies.
On the other hand, you don’t have to stay inside the park if you are doing a Chobe safari, so you could use Kasane as your base and take day trips into the park. There are LOTS of options.
Last time I was there, I stayed at a couple of different places. The first was Senyati Safari Camp a few kilometres outside of Kasane town, and what a great choice it was!
Senyati Safari Camp overlooks a beautiful waterhole where lots of animals congregate (especially elephants) and they have an underground bunker so you can get really close to the action!
Our chalet was number 1, which sleeps 4 and has a fantastic view over the waterhole (as does the bar and chalet number 2). As we were chilling on our porch in the afternoon, we saw lots of elephants, kudu, impala, warthogs, baboons and even a rare sable antelope galloping by, which I thought was very cool, but the best was yet to come…
Around sunset, we were sat in the bar when a herd of maybe 25 – 30 elephants came trundling in to camp, including a few tiny (like really tiny) babies. Jessi and I bolted for the bunker (where the photo above was taken) and watched as they drank and played right in front of us, for a while before wandering off into the night.
They’d only been gone for a few minutes when 10 more arrived to drink. This group were a bit more feisty and I almost pooped my pants when one of the older elephants trumpeted angrily at one of the littler ones.
Then as soon as they’d left, another showed up, then another, then another… you get the idea – it was bloody amazing!
I’d say that this place is even better for elephant spotting than the more famous Elephant Sands as you can get way closer and the waterhole is floodlit at night – but Elephant Sands is also awesome – bring on the elephants!
You heard it here first – this is now one of my favourite camps in Africa (yes, in the whole continent, not just Botswana).
I also stayed at Thebe River Safaris Lodge. This place was nice with a good and lively bar and relatively good wifi.
Where To Stay: Senyati Safari Camp, The Old House, Chobe Bush Camp (they were very helpful and I got to get a peek in when they were helping us with the car), Thebe River Safaris Camp or Bananyana Backpackers. Check out some other options here.
Cool Things To Do: Day or overnight safaris to Chobe National Park, river cruises, day trips over to Livingstone/Vic Falls, fishing trips, take a dip in the hot springs, shop at the Chobe Women’s Arts & Crafts Centre and visit the old baobab tree.
Time Needed: 1 – 2 Days
Things To Know About Senyati Safari Camp: There are two turn offs for Senyati Safari Camp, one for 2-wheel drive cars (via Lesoma village) and one for 4-wheel drive cars the main route your GPS will probably take you.
We took the 2-wheel drive route in our little Toyota Corolla however we still got stuck in the sand just outside of Chobe Bush Camp (down the road, who were super helpful and lovely) so we ended up parking our car there and getting a lift to Senyati, but not before we had to get towed out of the sand.
We were there in September when it’s very dry, so you may be ok earlier in the year – just check on the road conditions before you arrive.
Senyati is also a self-catering camp only, no restaurant so you need to take your own food or you can buy noodles, pasta, tuna, tinned veg and sauce from the shop. All the chalets have cooking facilities and there are also great camping sites too.
Chobe National Park
I’ve been to Chobe quite a few times and it’s one of my absolute favourite national parks in all of Africa and one of the best places in the world to see elephants. Definitely a staple of any Botswana itinerary.
Last time I was there was on the Rock My Malawi, Zambia & Botswana Adventure and I swear we saw about 1000 elephants. Seriously. It was pure magic.
But as well as the elephants, we saw a ton of buffalo, lions, giraffes and 3 leopards, including the closest leopard sighting I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously amazing!
There are a whole load of safari companies that offer trips to Chobe of varying lengths, some include boat trips along the river too.
Best Time to Visit: Between May and September.
Where To Stay: In Chobe, I usually stay in a bush camp as part of the safari but if you are self-driving and want to camp, Ihaha Campsite is on the riverfront. You can see more camping options here. For an accommodated option, try Chobe River Camp. However, if you want more something more upmarket, you could stay at Chobe Game Lodge.
Cool Things To Do: Camp in the bush, go on safari and take millions of pictures of elephants, leopards, lions…
Time Needed: 1 – 2 Days (but maybe more if you really love elephants)
Around 50km before the town of Nata (if coming from Kasane), you will find Elephant Sands, a lodge with a fantastic waterhole that is very popular with the local elephants. Every day (and night) elephants and other animals visit the lodge to drink.
All of the tents, campsites and the bar/restaurant face the waterhole, so no matter where you stay, you always have a front row seat and elephants wander through the camp all the time.
We arrived at around 4pm in the afternoon and within about half an hour 7 elephants showed up. Just don’t do what I did and arrive with a flat battery! I spent my time running between the charging point at the bar and the waterhole trying to get pictures and I definitely missed a few of the best shots.
After dinner, a few more elephants showed up as well as a honey badger, which is only the second one I’ve seen in all my years travelling Africa (the first was in south Luangwa in Zambia earlier this year).
As I was drifting off to sleep later that evening, I could hear the low rumbling of elephants just beside our tent. Just beautiful.
Where To Stay: Elephant Sands, of course!
Cool Things To do: They have game drives departing in both the morning and the evening, as well as a morning bush walk that you can join. They also offer bush braais (bbq’s). Other than that, just sit back relax and enjoy the view.
Time Needed: 1 – 2 Days
Things To Know About Elephant Sands: The tents don’t have mosquito nets (at least ours didn’t), so make sure you cover yourself in bug spray. When I woke up I had 13 mosquito bites on my face and neck. Yep.
If you are only staying one night, I’d try to arrive as early as possible so you have more chances of seeing elephants.
Dinner is an extra 150 Pula and breakfast is 85 Pula. My advice… get to breakfast early. It runs from 7am – 9am, but by 8am, a lot of food was gone and they didn’t seem to be making any more. Jessi was very upset when the pancakes ran out.
There’s not much in Gweta itself, but the town came to our attention when we spotted a giant pink aardvark on the roadside and immediately began Googling what the hell it was.
Turns out it’s a lodge called Planet Baobab. We didn’t stop here, which I kind of regret as it looks really cool, quirky and right up my street, but if you aren’t in a rush and want to break up the drive from Elephant Sands (or Kasane) to Maun, you could stay here for the night or maybe even stop for lunch!
Otherwise, you could stay longer at Planet Baobab and use it as a base to explore Botswana’s famous salt pans, Makgadikgadi and Nxai.
Where To Stay: Planet Baobab.
Cool Things To Do: Quad biking, hanging out with meerkats and overnight camping trips into the salt pans.
Time Needed: 1 Day (if just stopping off), more if you want to do any activities.
Maun is a busy town and the jumping off point to safaris in the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve (and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve too if coming from that direction – if going the other way, you may want to arrange your CKGR safari from D’kar/Ghanzi).
You can just turn up and book your safari, but I wouldn’t bank on you always being able to get on a safari the next day. Well you probably can, but you’ll need to ask around a bit in town.
If you are on limited time (and/or money) I would try to book your accommodation and tour to the Delta/Moremi in advance where possible, even if just a few days before.
Whilst you’re in town, stop by Hilary’s for some hearty, healthy food. I had one of the specials – avocado and toasted coconut flakes on garlic bread with salad and homemade lemonade and it was delicious.
The road between Gweta and Maun is fill of potholes, so please drive carefully. We saw a ton of burst tyres scattered along the roadside.
Cool Things To Do: Go on safari into the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve, take a scenic flight over the Delta, go for a ride in a mokoro (traditional canoe) and go bush camping.
Time Needed: 1 – 2 Days (maybe more if you haven’t pre-arranged your safari).
The Okavango Delta is a must see on your Botswana itinerary.
‘The Delta’ as it’s usually called, is basically a giant swamp, formed when seasonal water flowing from the Angolan highlands creates a flood, which produces channels and islands which form one of the most unique landscapes and environments on earth.
It’s also perfect for wildlife viewing making it one of the best safari spots in Africa.
Most people make 2 – 3 day trips, starting in Maun. These trips usually involve taking a mokoro (traditional canoe – in the dry season you would drive in) ride into the Delta or you can also fly in. Once there you’ll either bush camp (budget) or stay in pre-built tents/lodges (mid-range to high-end).
In the northern part of the Delta, you’ll find Moremi Game Reserve which is an incredible place to see wildlife and is also one of the best places in the world to see endangered wild dogs, so perhaps consider adding that into your plans for the Delta too. If you are self driving you with need a 4×4 car and I would check on the road conditions before you attempt to enter. You can also fly into Moremi.
Personally, I’d probably prefer to join a tour into the Delta than to attempt it myself, but that’s just me!
Best Time to Visit: Between May and September.
Where To Stay: In the main part of the Delta, your best option for a budget traveller is to join a group safari and stay in basic bush camp or self-drivers can use one of the 4 public campsites in Moremi Game Reserve (book in advance as they can get busy). There’s also 3 more in the Khwai area of the park. For those not on a budget, the world is your oyster as there are a whole host of beautiful and luxurious static and mobile safari camps for you to live out your safari dream.
Cool Things To Do: Take a scenic flight over the Delta, ride in a mokoro, take a motor boat, camp out in the bush, go on a walking safari, go on a game drive, go fishing and just enjoy being in nature.
Time Needed: 2 – 3 Days (longer if you venture into Moremi as well).
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
If you are looking for an off the beaten path adventure in the Botswanan wilderness then visit the Central Kalahari Game Reserve which lies slap bang in the middle of the country.
The CKGR is an epic and remote place which should definitely be on the itinerary of every intrepid traveller and is a great place for wildlife, with good numbers of brown hyenas, lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs.
The most famous part of the CKGR is Deception Valley, where Mark and Delia Owens studied lions and brown hyenas, as detailed in their book ‘Cry of the Kalahari’. The other areas are the Northern CKGR, Passarge Valley, the Western Pans and the Far South.
There are a number of waterholes in the reserve that make a great stop to watch wildlife and you’re unlikely to see many other people whilst you are there.
Getting there is a bit of a mission, so you really need to be prepared, especially if you are doing self-drive (you need a 4×4) and self-supported trip. You’ll need to take all of your supplies with you including water.
Best Time to Visit: Between December and May.
Where To Stay: You have to camp at designated campsites within the reserve and the campsites they do have vary in facilities (some don’t have toilets etc), so make sure you do your research before you go! For budget, try Passarge Valley Campsites, Piper Pan Campsites and Kori Campsites. For more info, see here. For something a little more comfortable (and expensive), stay at Kalahari Plains Camp or Deception Valley Lodge.
Cool Things To Do: Game drives, San Bushmen walks and quad biking. If you have the time, you can always visit neighbouring Khutse Game Reserve.
Time Needed: 3 – 4 Days
The reason most people come to D’kar (pronounced dee-car) is to meet and spend time with the San people, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) ethnic groups on earth.
I had a wonderful time here at the Dqae Qare San Lodge where we did the full day San Experience which encompassed spending time with the San, foraging for roots, setting (fake) traps, storytelling, playing games, music, dancing/singing and learning about their culture.
In fact, it was one of my coolest travel experiences to date. The San people were wonderfully warm and open and it was a ‘refreshing’ and ‘different’ tribal visit to many I’ve had before.
In nearby Ghanzi you’ll find supermarkets, petrol stations and ATM’s.
Where To Stay: Dqae Qare San Lodge – love this place!
Cool Things To Do: Spend the whole day with the San and go to the Kuru Dance Festival (held at the lodge, usually in August).
Time Needed: 2 Days
D’kar is within a day’s drive of Windhoek, Namibia, so you could finish your trip there. If you are using public transport you will need to change buses at the Buitepost/Mamuno border as I believe there are no cross border services going into or out of Namibia.
If you don’t want to travel the whole way to Windhoek in one go, there are places to stay near the border such as Kalahari Bush Breaks or Zelda Game & Guest Farm.
If you want to extend your trip a bit more, here are a few alternative routes …
- You could drive south after D’kar, through the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (in which case you’d be better going, Maun – D’kar – CKGR) and Khutse Game Reserve down to Gaborone and then cross over the border at Pioneer Gate and end in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- Or travel down through Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Khutse Game Reserve down to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, cross over the Bokspits border into South Africa and then drive down to Cape Town.
- Or follow the same route as option 2, but instead of going down to Cape Town, you could enter southern Namibia via the Ariamsvlei border and do a Namibia road trip.
- If you are doing a Namibia and Botswana road trip, you could go around the country clockwise, ending in Windhoek or drive along the Caprivi Strip (the panhandle in northeast Namibia) and end where you started in Kasane, Botswana. From there it’s an easy journey to Livingstone/Vic Falls by public transport, shuttle or taxi.
There are so many wonderful options! So enjoy your road trip and as my friends in Botswana would say… “Go well!”
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Plan Your Trip to Botswana
Getting There: I always search for flights on Skyscanner. For this Botswana itinerary, the best airports to fly in and out of are: Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone, Victoria Falls International Airport in Victoria Falls and Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek. There are also a number smaller airports in Kasane, Maun, Ghanzi and Francistown and Gabarone have international airports.
Resources: I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks and usually travel with one wherever I go.
Tours: Don’t fancy going it alone? Join a small group tour and come on one of my Rock My Botswana & Victoria Falls Adventure tours.
What To Pack: See my comprehensive Africa Packing List.
Read More About Botswana:
- Spending Time With the San People at Dqae Qare San Lodge in Botswana
- Into the Wild: the Okavango Delta
See all Botswana posts here.
Want to come on an epic Botswana adventure this year? Then join the Rock My Botswana & Victoria Falls Adventure in August 2019.
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