Authored by Paula Martinelli
Have you ever considered camping without fences on a safari in the most remote areas of Botswana, sharing the same space with wild animals like lions, hippos and hyenas?
Does it sound like an adventure of a lifetime, or is it a little too much of an adventure?
Over 10 days I went on a self-drive remote camping safari in Botswana, driving my 4×4 deep in the bush, carrying everything I needed in my truck – a portable kitchen, 2 spare tires, a toolbox, a tent on top, my camera and tons of excitement.
Here’s how you can do it too!
Wild Camping in Botswana – a Camping Safari Without Fences
What to Expect When You Travel to Botswana
First of all let me share that if you decide to travel to Botswana, be prepared to fall in love.
Botswana is one of the most renowned safari destinations on the African continent. The beauty, scale, and diversity of Botswana will take your breath away.
While you are exploring the savannah, swamps, and woodlands with countless birds and wild animals, you won’t ever feel crowded. Botswana’s tourism policies manage visitor numbers for minimum ecosystem impact, and I really appreciate how sustainable tourism in Botswana is.
How to Choose the Best Safari in Botswana
This is a very hard question to answer. The safaris in Botswana are all incredible and unique in their own way.
Botswana, is a bucket list destination, with abundant wildlife. Part of this is due to the fact that the desert and the delta meet, offering infinite possibilities to explore the natural wonders and among the most diverse wildlife on the planet. This is what makes Botswana a perfect destination for a remote camping safari.
Three-quarters of the country is a desert, but right in the middle of this desert is a region known as the Okavango Delta. This is a wetland area covering 16,000 square kilometers, making it the largest delta in the world.
The unique landscapes make up four safari areas in Botswana: Chobe National Park, Linyanti, the Central Kalahari Reserve, and the Okavango Delta. These wonders of nature allow travelers to enjoy three different types of safaris – land, water, and desert.
Chobe National Park
After exploring the best safaris in Botswana, I have my personal preferences. First of all, I absolutely love driving around Chobe National Park, where thousands of elephants live. Botswana has the largest population of elephants, more than any other country in the world.
It also offers easy access. Chobe is the gateway from Kasane, a small town near the border of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia. Here you can find a large variety of accommodations, from tented camps to luxury lodges, and it is a great start for your safari adventure in the country.
My second pick is the Okavango Delta – a World Heritage Site with a vast and virtually untouched freshwater wetland that lies at the heart of Botswana’s arid Kalahari Desert, supporting an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty.
Okavango Delta is home to a huge number of animals such as elephants, zebras, lions, hippos, crocodiles, and water buffalos, plus some unusual antelopes like puku, sitatunga, and red lechwe.
Here you can explore the safari in a 4×4 vehicle, and also, by water, going on a traditional mokoro (a canoe commonly used by locals in Botswana) or by motorboat.
The Best Way to Travel in Botswana
It is not easy to travel around Botswana. It is a vast and isolated country and you will be driving long distances without civilization in sight. You will really feel you are in the middle of nowhere most of the time.
There are two ways you can travel around Botswana: on a budget and do it all yourself. There is no public transportation in Botswana.
If this is your travel style and it accommodates your budget, keep in mind that travel in Botswana is not cheap. If you hire a tour operator, they will plan absolutely everything for you.
Including luxurious lodge accommodations, transportation, safaris, and food and drink is usually also included. The average budget for this type of trip is around US$1,000 per day/ person.
I traveled independently from Namibia to Botswana, and the planning took A LOT of work. If you are planning to self-drive and do remote camping in Botswana, make sure you start planning at least 6 months in advance.
You will need to rent a 4×4 vehicle fully equipped, buy and study the maps of the country, and make your camping reservations before your trip. The camping spots and/or lodges are extremely limited and they tend to be booked months in advance during the high season.
Planning for Camping in Botswana
The best way to experience the country, landscape, and wildlife is by driving and wild camping in the remote safaris in Botswana.
You can’t camp in the open in Botswana. You are only allowed to camp in designated campsites. Wild-camping, or camping outside of a designated campsite, is illegal and subject to fines. Because of the limited campsites and spots available, you will need to plan and book your accommodation well in advance.
But first of all, you will need to be prepared before you go wild camping in Botswana. You will be fairly isolated during your self-drive safari in Botswana and will feel that you are alone with the nature around you.
You will not have internet access, no cell phone service, no ATM’s around or grocery stores, and you will be driving off-road on unmaintained dirt tracks, through mud and deep sand. You will need to be able to change tires or perform some basic maintenance on your vehicle.
You will need to calculate very well the amount of food and water you will carry with you as well as gasoline and all other supplies. Also, make sure that you have all the accommodations well-planned in advance. Without proper camping reservations, parts of the reserves will not allow entry.
Rough, but Rewarding
I know it sounds pretty rough, right? But a self-drive trip in Botswana is so rewarding.
A typical day starts very early, during summertime the sunrises around 5 a.m. and it is the best time to spot animals.
The most fascinating moments of my experience happened very early, before 7 o’clock in the morning. First I observed a male lion savoring his breakfast – a wildebeest cub that he hunted during the night.
And another time, for over an hour, I sat side-by-side with two lionesses and their 9 cubs, taking the morning sun. Knowing that lions are at the top of the food chain, this family did not change their routine with my presence, and to be able to observe them so closely was an incredible experience.
Almost every night I saw hyenas around my tent and I could hear lions close by (roaring in the night). This was not scary, on the other hand, it was exhilarating looking out the tent and seeing them pass through the campsite.
Don’t forget they are wild animals, and they are fully alert and ready to hunt in the dark of the night. Rule #1 when you go wild camping in Botswana is: Never leave your tent in the middle of the night!
What to Expect of Camp Sites in Botswana
Campsites in Botswana have the basics for you to camp with your own tent. They will have a designated camping area for you, which normally will have a tree that you can park your 4×4 under. This provides some shade at mid-day in case you decide to rest or have lunch at the campsite.
Most camping sites have a faucet with water, and a fire pit or barbecue stand. Some have a concrete table for you to sit at, and some sites closer to civilization have electric power that you can plug your truck into until 10PM.
Your truck should have a small refrigerator that runs off either auxiliary (campsite) power or the vehicle battery. All campsites have an ablution area with communal bathrooms and showers (men and women separate), and I found them all very clean.
Ablutions (building with toilets, showers, and sinks) are centrally located in the campsites. You will have a short walk from your campsite carrying your towel and toiletries. Make sure you use the ablutions before the animals come out at nightfall.
The wild campsites are completely open, and walking to the ablutions in the dark is extremely risky. Just remember, if the camp has power, it will go out at a certain time. This means the ablutions will be without lights throughout the night as well.
You be cooking all of your meals at your campsites, as there are no other options for food. Just remember that you will need to pack your food when you are done cooking and eating as food can attract animals – especially baboons, hyenas, and elephants.
It is not advisable to leave food out as the animals can become dependent on humans and create unsafe conditions that can lead to animals and humans being put in harm’s way. Keep yourself safe and the animals safe as well.
Last Thoughts About Wild Camping in Botswana
Camping in remote areas of the African safari can be a challenging and even an uncomfortable experience.
But when you find yourself immersed in wildlife, marveling at animals that rarely see other humans, you forget the difficulties of driving in the most inaccessible terrain.
You don’t mind being isolated without communication for days, or having to sleep in a tent without being able to leave until the first rays of sunlight appear.
Botswana is still a little-visited destination by tourists, as local tourism focuses on the most authentic and remote safari experiences. There are also very limited options for spending a night in the national parks and reserves, which is one way the government limits the number of people in these remote areas.
Botswana is a perfect destination with endless possibilities to explore the incredible natural wonders and some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet.
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