Our first campsite on our self-drive safari was at African Ranches, a potato and orange farm just over the South African border in Botswana.
Our first campsite on our self-drive safari was at African Ranches, a potato and orange farm just over the South African border in Botswana.
Botswana is a country that is easy to fall in love with.
If nothing more than for the vast Botswana sky.
It is an unbelievable experience to spend all day high on adrenaline in search of wild animals. You quickly realize that you don’t have to search hard in that they are everywhere to be found in the national parks of Botswana. Your heart skips a beat with every elephant butt sticking out of a set of trees, and your heart stops when the animals turn to look directly at you as you sit snapping photos of them.
At night, when you are done driving for the day and your adrenaline has calmed, open a cold beer, sit at your campfire and look up. You are in the middle of the bush, with no city lights to dull the stars’ brightness. This will be one of your favorite memories from your self-drive safari. When the night falls, there is an overwhelming peace in the bush. Although all of the animals you had spent the day looking for are still out there, when you reach your campfire you feel safe, relaxed and blown away by the millions of stars shining above you.
Enjoy some of our favorite and most memorable photos from Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Which photo makes you want to go on safari?
If you’ve been following the RTW budget updates so far, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, this RTW travel stuff is pretty affordable!” At the end of our almost 6 months in Southeast Asia, we were so far under budget it was funny.
We had only spent about $6,000 traveling through 7 countries. Based on our planned budget of $75 per day, we were almost $5,000 under budget. It’s good that we saved so much from January to June, because Africa was about to flip that in the other direction.
…and I would jump on a plane tomorrow and do it again.
When planning our trip, I knew that the self-drive safari would be our biggest expense. Our concentrated saving in the 6 months prior to the trip was mainly to ensure we could afford to do big adventures like this.
It was worth every penny.
This trip took us through three countries: South Africa, Botswana and Namibia with three different currencies: the Rand, the Pula and the Namibian Dollar. In Namibia, the dollar was pegged to the Rand and Rand was also accepted.
8.31 RND = $1 USD (June 2012)
7.70 BWP = $1 USD (June 2012)
8.31 NAD = $1 USD (June 2012)
Outside of big cities, ATMs are hard to come by, and in most towns there will be a Bureau de Change (money changer) that you can change money. This was one of the few times in our trip that our Charles Schwab card couldn’t help us and we had to make sure we brought enough cash to change once we got over the border.
Below, you can see a breakdown for 22 days on safari by category:
|Visa (Zimbabwe x 2)||$60.00|
|Total Daily Spending||$5,498.40|
(All numbers are only daily spending for two people, items like visas, fees, activities and food can be split in half to get a per person amount. The numbers don’t include airfare or other transportation to the country.)
We considered the entire trip an “adventure” so there isn’t a separate breakdown of adventure expenses. For our own tracking purposes, we tracked the truck, gas, and larger expenses as adventure expenses, and took the rest of the expenses out of the daily spending budget.
|BUDGET SUMMARY||USD ($)|
A self-drive safari through Africa is the trip of a lifetime. We could have skipped everything else we did this entire year (but why would we!?) and only done the safari and it would have been an amazing trip. As part of a longer trip, it will hit your budget hard, but if you plan for this trip in advance and save, it’s fairly affordable for the experience you get.
*We received a 25% discount on the 4×4 vehicle rental.
It sounds like a grumpy old man bellowing at the top of his lungs.
I became very intrigued by hippos during our self drive through Africa. They are the third largest land mammal after the elephant and rhinoceros and one of the most aggressive animals in the world.
During the day you will see them mostly in the water, helping to keep their body temperature down. Almost all of the hippo’s activities are in water except for eating which usually starts at dusk. They do need to come up for air every 3 – 5 minutes, but this is an involuntary act that happens when they are sleeping. To spot these massive animals when you are driving by, look for their eyes poking above the water.
At night they graze on grass for 5 – 6 hours and can eat up to 150 lbs of grass each night. Who says vegetarians don’t eat enough food?
In the water is when they are most aggressive, specifically when the alpha male is defending his stretch of river. Typically they take out their aggression on the crocodiles that are in the same river as them, but there have been numerous counts of aggression towards humans whether in land or on boats, so when you are in close vicinity to these animals be aware!
Maybe that is what drew me to be so interested in hippos. Knowing they could run up to 30 mph and that they have 12 inch tusks that can snap a crocodile in half. Yet when I seem them laying on land as a huge lump of lard, I can’t imagine how these gigantic animals can be harmful, or fast, or territorial.
When you see them open their mouth it is a signal the hippo feels threatened, hopefully you aren’t what is threatening them! They aren’t known to be social animals but we almost always saw them in groups huddled close together.
How do they mark their territory? Hippo spray. Poop that becomes projectile in order to humiliate their aggressors or simply to signify to others who wander in their area to keep away. Their tail vigorously swings to send it in all directions. This is another reason I will recommend you keep your distance and avoid making these animals angry!
What animals do you want to encounter on your own self drive safari?
We had already broken the first rule of driving in Africa – Don’t drive at night. We quickly understood this rule because as we were searching for our campsite (in the dark) a huge antelope jumped directly in front of our car. We weren’t in a national park or game reserve this was just a random dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
Our campsite was 22 km off of the main road. This didn’t sound so far, but add a dirt road, darkness, and having no idea where we are or where we are going and it makes for a long drive.
This is the first time Josh has driven a manual car and had already had one of the most stressful days of our lives trying to get our 4×4 Hilux across the Botswana border and parked in our campsite. I will skip all of the boring/stressful details and skip to the part that we finally 8 hours later found our campsite.
We sat outside of the entrance to our campsite for 10 minutes.
We stared at our car and then back at the entrance. This is sadly a true story as we couldn’t tell if our truck would fit through. To make the story better there was a car behind us turning into the same campsite. We hadn’t seen a single other sole driving and all of a sudden there was someone following us into this random dark camp. Creepy.
After sitting there for quite a long time the car behind us got anxious and got out of his car to ask us what we planned to do and why we were blocking him from entering. Embarassed, but truthfully we told him we werent sure if the car would fit. With his reassurance that we were in the right place, and we would fit we drove through and continued what seemed like an additional 20 minutes until our new stranger friend led us to a campsite and from what we could make out we were the only ones there.
I didnt want to get out of the car.
I am not proud of this, I wish I could brag about how adventurous and brave I was this first night, but I wasn’t. It was dark and my mind danced around scorpions, crocodiles, hippos and snakes. I had never camped in Africa before and I was honestly scared. So, I told Josh that I wanted to sleep in the car and he told me that I was crazy.
Next, we had a random friendly lady knocking at our car window. I jumped.
First I was startled, but then overly thankful to have Lucinda knocking on my window. She talked me off from my crazy ledge and not only built us a fire but she started the hot water heater so we could take a warm shower. Not only did I want to sleep in my car but I definitely didnt want to get naked and take a shower outside – I was terrified.
It was 7:30 PM.
I convinced myself that this was going to be a long month if I insisted on sleeping in the car so I got outside, cooked some dinner and even showered since Lucinda went through the trouble of heating up the water. In my own defense there was a baby scorpion in the shower waiting for us which was another fun way to start our safari.
We set the tent up for the first time in pitch darkness, climbed in and fell fast asleep. All in all it ended up to be a wonderful night – and one of our favorite campsites!
We woke up to this, luckily it was too dark the night prior to read:
When have you been scared while traveling?
Check out more photos from African Ranches, our first campsite in Botswana
We signed up for a tour to Victoria Falls through our campsite, loaded into the van with 10 other fellow campers and started driving to…Zimbabwe? Our first tip would be make sure you know which country you are going to prior to the day you are actually on the tour. For us, it didn’t so much matter which side of the falls we went to but we had just had a rather unsettling conversation with a different campsite owner about how everyone went to the Zambia side because of problems in Zimbabwe. So…..you could say we were pretty pumped.
After an extremely disorganized border crossing (but I guess I have rarely had an organized one) we loaded into our second van of the day and were given a short history of Zimbabwe. This was entertaining since the first words out of our tour guides mouth was “Robert Mugabe is a very bad man and has done very bad things to this country”. Our jaws dropped as we looked around for the police to swoop in and arrest our driver. Understand that we just came from Thailand where if you even joke about the king you can go to jail for a very very long time. Anyways we proceeded to learn some interesting details about the country as we made the short trip from the border to Victoria Falls.
When you first arrive in the parking lot there are plenty of stands offering for you to buy ponchos for the falls. Being the intelligent travelers we are, we convinced ourselves that it couldn’t be that bad and we don’t mind a little bit of water. Funny how quickly we learn lessons…Without ponchos you walk away from the falls completely drenched. There is no way to avoid the massive amount of water that surrounds the falls.
If you aren’t prepared for the amount of water you encounter at the falls you end up with photos that look like the one below. Not only does the lens quickly get covered with water to blur your photos, but your camera is getting soaked, which I don’t think is very good for it!
When you finish viewing the falls, the path will lead you past the famous bungee bridge.
After leaving Victoria Falls you have a 5 minute walk to the main town area. Along the walk you will be bombarded by very good salesmen. They are selling Zimbabwean currency which was hilariously hyper-inflated Did I mention that the US dollar is the standard currency here?
Yes, we bought a 50 trillion dollar bill.
I know it will be tough to by-pass Pizza Inn, Chicken Inn AND Creamy Inn…but keep going! You will find Invuvu bar just across the street.
Invuvu Bar is only drinks and the menu is on the ceiling – try a local beer. We had the Zambezi and Bohlingers, both we enjoyed! The restaurant next door has food. Josh unfortunately left his sweatshirt and Chicago marathon shirt out to dry on a bench here and forgot about them until we crossed back into Botswana. If you see someone wearing them let us know!
You can fly into Victoria Falls but it’s just as easy to hop over from Kasane if you’re already in Botswana. It isn’t cheap though. Our transportation from Kasane was $70, Zimbabe visa was $30, and park entrance was also $30 meaning an hour at the waterfalls cost about $260 for the two of us. Regardless, it’s another box checked off the list!
Our self-drive safari through Botswana was one of the most exciting and memorable trips in 2012. We’ve put together a photo essay on the variety of roads we drove on so you can see it with your own eyes!
Roads in Botswana are constantly changing. You’ll be on a decent tarred road and one mile later you’ve shifted into 4WD and are taking on sand 3 feet deep.
There aren’t always roads, sometimes only suggestions of where you should drive left by past cars that have taken the same route.
Overhanging bushes, thorns and occasional tree trunks litter the sides and sometimes are in the road.
Getting onto a tarred road after a couple days of straight sand can be cause for celebration!
Depending on the season, the grass in the middle of the road can grow very high, and if your car doesn’t have a grass seed net, the seeds get stuck in the radiator and can overheat the engine.
Elephants, huge animals you’d think would be easy to see…think again! These animals hide well in the thick bush and suddenly 40 elephants will be crossing the road ahead.
Bridges always look questionable, luckily this one wasn’t submerged in water. These are always taken slow.
Wide open plains are some of the best places to venture to during your self-drive safari. You can see animals from further distances and are able to enjoy the blue of the Botswana sky!
Sometimes we’d see more animals outside the reserves than in! Cows, donkeys, goats and warthogs were constantly crossing the highways.
My favorite memories are the roads that seem to fade into the distance.
Sand, sand, and more sand along the Chobe riverfront. And…why would you subject your BMW to these conditions?
In South Africa, you’ll be on tarred roads most of the time but they still stretch on forever and ever.
Finally, when you see this truck coming up fast behind you…just let him pass!
What kind of crazy roads have you been on?
Driving along the Chobe River in Botswana, we came across a mama and baby elephant out for their afternoon drink. You can see the mother staring us down in an attempt to say “Don’t mess with my baby!”.
In the USA we drive automatics.
We turn the key and the car starts
We press the gas and the car goes
We brake and the car stops.
One Time in Africa…I Learned to Drive a Manual Car
This wasn’t just any manual car, this was a huge 4×4 truck that could climb over tree trunks and barrel through sand ridges. Those reading this post in other countries won’t understand because they begin preparing to drive a manual at birth. Automatics are seen as taking the easy way out when you get your license. In my world, you can’t even rent a car with a manual transmission. Your only shot is if you know someone who owns one.
We arrived at Bushtrackers in Johannesburg to pick up our brand-new Toyota Hilux. We get in and begin to slowly conquer the clutch and feel as if we are 16 again learning how to turn the steering wheel. We knew the basics, slowly let off the clutch as you add gas and boom you are driving. Right? Down shift when you slow down, up shift when you start going faster, and dont let the RPMs get too high. It can’t be that hard…
Josh climbs in the driver’s seat, I in the passenger seat and we catch a quick glance at each other. What were we doing? With no time to answer that question we had to conquer our first goal of getting the car to the closest supermarket less than 1 mile away.
Harry and Heather stand in the driveway and wave like it is our first day of kindergarten as we start the car. It stalls. Immediately, it stalls. Of course the gate at the end of their driveway is uphill. Embarassed but compelled to get our new car outside the gate we revved the engine one more time and they watched us sputter the car through their gate and onto the open road. It wasn’t the prettiest exit but we made it out and the safari had begun.
We came across our first stop sign. We stall. The cars behind us began to honk as they impatiently wait for the couple in the white truck to fumble with their keys, say some choice words and let off the clutch slowly as we violently jerk forward and the car once again continues on. The first 3 – 5 hours of driving was like walking through an expensive house where everything is made of glass. One wrong move could send the car into a shuddering frenzy. Of course, we chose the toll road, which meant every half hour or so, we’d stall as we approached the booth, or when we tried to pull out. I think we stalled at every single booth, we went through at least 8 of them.
I suppose we learned the best way, by being thrown directly into the fire. We had to drive a huge truck, on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, in a foreign country, and we had to drive 7 hours to another country and 22km down a dirt road before we’d reach our destination. The only way we could continue our trip is if we were able to drive, and drive we did. With every shift and down shift I held my breath hoping that the car showed pity for us over the next 22 days.
What skills have you learned on the road?
When you drive yourself through Africa the rules are a bit gray. There is no manual outlining the details that could possibly get you into a lot of dangerous situations.. You are told to “Drive slow” and “Don’t get too close to the animals.” The question is how slow and how close!
We left early in the morning with no plan other than to drive north and see what we could find. Our route took us over a bridge submerged in water and a 3 ft deep sandy path. As we drove we continually had to swerve from left to right to avoid the trees on the sides of our road that threatened us with their lengthy thorns.
We turned a corner and came across a solo bull elephant eating the leaves in a tree about 60 meters in front of us. His backside hung out into the road blocking us from driving around him. At the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, signs suggested keeping 50 meters distance between yourself and dangerous animals, so we assumed we would be fine.
We sat there, excited to see such a large elephant in a wide open space.
We sat there, wondering when this marvelous creature would be tired of this one tree and move on to the forest behind us.
We still sat there, frustrated that 40 minutes had passed and we had only seen one animal on our game drive, the grumpy guy.
In an act of defiance and blurring the rules of a self-drive safari we inched forward. We made it maybe 10 meters when the elephant—who seconds ago was cute and harmless—turned, flapped his ears and trunk and let out a warning trumpet. Before we could react, he took off towards us, still screaming.
You could say we panicked. While before we were trying to move as little as possible to not agitate him, Josh—who was 3 days into his experience of driving a manual transmission—threw the trunk into reverse and stepped on the gas trying to get the hell out there, while still staying on the sandy road.
Feeling helpless in the passenger seat I became a play-by-play announcer. “He is still waiving his trunk in the air! He seems to be picking up speed! He looks angry! He just passed the 50 yard line and his ears continue to flap with fury!” You could guess that none of these comments were helpful to Josh as he contined to focus on getting the car as far away from the charging elephant as possible showing no concern for the trees on the left or the thorns on the right that were tickling our car.
After 200 meters of reverse and my heart trying to pound its way out of my chest, the elephant veered off the road to the right as if we had disappeared. He got bored, or tired of running, or decided he’d had enough fun with us. We’re not sure why but overly thankful because when we tried to turn around we got stuck in the sand and stalled. Like us, our car could no longer handle the stress of the charge and gave up. We sat there in the sand, no longer frightened but still high off of the adrenaline coursing through our veins.
This was just the beginning of our elephant encounters on this trip. We could write a book on what not to do when you see elephants on a safari, but from this point forward we were constantly on guard for the big gray monsters. We added a few meters to the concept of “keep your distance” in hopes of avoiding future run-ins.
What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you while traveling?