Welcome to no man’s land and wild animals’ territory! Welcome to your self-drive safari!
Your self-drive safari will be such a unique and special trip, so niche it’ll be really difficult to come by useful information to prepare your trip. If you find some guidance it is usually from two sources: safari veterans, who often take a lot of basic knowledge for granted, or from tour operators, who are careful to give significant info to self-drivers to protect their business.
So here 15 things to know before going on a (self-drive) safari in Botswana:
- Pre-book your campsites in National Parks in Botswana. Where you stay matters and you might not be able to enter the Parks without one. If you don’t stay within the National Parks you miss out on precious game-drive time in the mornings and evenings.
- Rise and shine nice and early! The earlier you start the better your chances to see predators and other game. Lots of species are only active at the break of dawn. We generally started driving just before sunrise (approximately 5:15am in April).
- Campsites in Botswana are not fenced and you will encounter wild animals on your campsite, pinky promise! Stay calm, move slowly and you’ll be fine.
- Don’t walk away from your car at night, not even to the ablution block. Even if you have a good torch you won’t see an elephant in the dark and let’s not even talk about predators.
- Invest in a good torch, it’ll change your life. We didn’t and it made our life unnecessarily difficult trying to navigate through the dark with only our phones as torches.
- Wild Animals don’t want to have anything to do with you and won’t attack you if you respect them and keep your distance. Give them personal space, be quiet and they’ll mind their own business.
- Make sure you’ll have a proper container for your jerry cans and not just ropes to tie them up. The roads are extremely uneven and will shake the ropes lose – a jerry can almost smashed my window because of that…
- Always fill your jerry cans up, you never know when you’ll get fuel again in Botswana. Petrol stations are unreliable and your 4×4 will drink a lot, especially on sand tracks.
- Don’t overestimate the distances you can cover before dark. Even tarred roads are full of potholes and you might be forced to go slower than on gravel to avoid them. On some days we only covered just about a 100km in 5 hours.
- A better-known fact: Don’t drive in the dark, ever! It happened to us a couple of times and it was awful. There are domestic animals – donkeys, cows, dogs – and people on the road near villages and wild animals on the road in remote areas and national parks. You also don’t see potholes at night. I can’t emphasise enough how terrifying it was, so really just don’t do it…(also, your insurance probably doesn’t cover damage from hitting an animal at night)
- You are not ever guaranteed to see anything. Game-driving is like a gamble. Wild animals are not waiting to be stared at and photographed by eager tourists. Sometimes you drive for hours without seeing anything, but then suddenly there are 4 lions around the corner – A M A Z I N G! Every intersection will trigger a debate about where to go and you’ll become a pro in reading traces and droppings (correct, that’s poo, a useful friend when tracking).
- Mosquitos are everywhere and they will devour you. We went all stylish and tucked our trousers into our socks, covered our bodies in 100 deet repellent and still got bitten from head to toe. My legs were absolutely destroyed my those little vampires and there was nothing I could do about it. I just had to trust that the Malaria pills would do a good job and they did… We also didn’t encounter any mosquito nets without holes, so that doesn’t always work either (you may want to bring your own).
- It gets really cold at night. In any case you need long trousers and long sleeved shirts to protect yourself from the mosquitos, but you’ll also need them against the cold. As soon as the sun went down we put on our fleeces.
- Unless you are Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver, don’t plan for fancy cooking. Make a list of easy camping meals to be cooked on fire and go shopping with that list. You get everything in Botswana’s supermarkets. If you forget something you probably won’t be able to buy it for at least a couple of days.
- Don’t count on wifi or even mobile reception. While it’s important to get a local sim, it is more useful to carry a satellite phone with you. Hopefully you won’t need it but it’ll give you peace of mind in the remotest parts of the country like the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. When we were there the rangers had just saved a man who was stuck in his car for 4 days after it had broken down – on a main road……
All of that being said, you’ll have the time of a life!
Appreciate the tent, bucket showers, star filled skies, simple food and simplicity while you’re there. Life gets a very different meaning in Botswana. Enjoy it and don’t worry too much, there really is no reason to be scared (easier said than done but true)!
Before you leave…