By Vicky · Published Aug. 22nd, 2022 · Updated Jan. 29th, 2023
Read about our 45-day road trip through Botswana in our Defender, camping in our rooftop tent and visiting many national parks.
We drove up from Cape Town, around Botswana and back to Johannesburg. See the map below for details of our route and where we camped.
Botswana Roadtrip Map
Tips for A Road Trip in Botswana
- Don’t road trip in Botswana without the Tracks4Africa Botswana Map*, it’s super useful for planning and checking out the types of road and expected driving times.
- If you don’t have your own, you can rent a 4×4 from Britz*, an international car rental company specialising in equipped 4x4s, perfect for Botswana. You can collect your vehicle in Maun, Kasane or Gaborone, or any big city in South Africa.
- In the Kalahari Desert of the south, days can be scorching but nights drop to around freezing in winter (June-Aug) so make sure to pack enough warm clothes.
- Safari drives in the early morning can be very cold whatever the season – both a jumper and jacket are sometimes needed.
- You’ll have lots of free time in the hot middle of the day, so check out the best books to read in Botswana.
- If you want more stories and details of our trip, read my travel adventure book about our Botswanan Road Trip*.
Botswana Road Trip Route Summary
We spent 45 days driving through Botswana in our Land Rover Defender, 110 TD5. We slept in our rooftop tent every day apart from one night in a guesthouse in Kimberley and our final night at Nedile Lodge*, a luxury lodge in Welgevonden. Apart from normal camping gear, a headtorch*, a powerful red flashlight*, binoculars*, an animal guide* and a bird guide* were very useful to have.
This Botswana Road Trip Guide briefly covers our entire route. We also have a specific Self-Drive Botswana Guide which details how to organise everything and gives route suggestions, a guide to Camping in Botswana about how to book and where to camp, and a list of Things to Bring on a Botswanan Safari. We also have an overview of Botswana National Parks and Game Reserves and a general guide to the different types of Safaris in Botswana. (Other guides coming soon).
|Karoo Rest Camp
|Cecil Rhodes Guest House*
|Wena Tented Camp
|Kalahari Rest Lodge*
|Kalahari Rest Lodge*
|Rakops River Lodge*
|Rakops River Lodge*
|Nxai Pan South
|Chobe Safari Lodge*
|Chobe Safari Lodge*
|Matamba Bush Camp*
2 Originally we booked Third Bridge but it was flooded
3 Originally we planned to stay at Linyanti but it was flooded
4 Kubu Island rate includes an entrance fee
Botswana Road Trip Park Fees
Apart from the cost of camping, we paid for 24 days of National Park fees, which in 2021 came to P5976 for the two of us and our vehicle (international prices). National Park fees increased significantly in April 2022. The park fees for our exact trip would now cost P9,001 for SADC and P11,211 for international, plus an extra P940 for a trailer.
Areas of Botswana
The North is the land of the elephants, while the South is the land of wilderness. Both areas were totally different from each other, while within each area they were similar. Everything from the style of the campsites to the animals seen, the roads and the feeling of space were different. The Salt Pans parks of Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans were a crossover area, with a little feeling of the wet north and a little feeling of the dry south. The antelope agree – the Salt Pans is the only area in Botswana where both springbok and impala coexist.
Botswana Road Trip Route Schedule
We booked our camping reservations through Botswana Footprints, who booked everything for the 30 central days of our Botswana trip, from Mabuasehube to Kasane. We just sent them an itinerary of what we wanted and they booked all our places to stay, including paying for park fees. They sent us the bill and it was very easy to get the booking confirmation. We organised everything quite last minute (about one week before we left Cape Town) and we received the final confirmation when we were in Kanye. Here the lodge let us borrow their printer to print out booking confirmations.
Cape Town to Botwana: Days 0-4
Day 1: Cape Town to Karoo NP
Day 2: Karoo NP to Kimberley
After a brief morning safari, we drove the 500 km to Kimberley. Here we stayed at Cecil Rhodes Guesthouse*, a pleasant place in a quiet location near the centre of town.
Day 3: Kimberley to Kanye (Bots)
The next morning we visited the Big Hole Diamond Museum and a supermarket to stock up on food before leaving for the Ramatlabama Botswanan border post. There was no queue at the border though it took about one hour anyway because you have to go to various different places on both sides of the border to have passports stamped and car documents checked. We continued on to the town of Kanye, 480 km away from Kimberley.
In Kanye we first stopped at Mongala Mall (map↑) to get a few more food supplies and to buy a Botswanan SIM card. We bought a Mascom SIM which worked well for us throughout our trip, but remember that within most of the parks there is no signal – there’s only reception in dots around towns (compare coverage of the three Botswanan phone networks – Mascom, Orange or Bemobile).
We then filled up on fuel and went to our campsite for the night at Wena Tented Camp. This place was on the edge of town and was fine but nothing special. There’s not a lot of choice in the area. They do have a pool and the staff were very friendly.
Day 4: Kanye to Mabuasehube
Today we drove 376 km of tar and 160 of sand. After an early start, we cruised along the tar to Sekoma Fuel Station (map↑), the last diesel before Mabuasehube. We filled our normal tank (75 litres) and two jerry cans (20 litres each) which we kept on the roof. From Sekoma to the next fuel stop in Hukuntsi to the north of the park we drove 540 km and used 58 litres of diesel. For more information see our guide to how much fuel you need in Mabuasehube.
The turn-off to Mabusehube was well signed from the main road, 80 km south of Sekoma. You have to open a gate and then continue along the very straight sandy cutline. The track then wiggles about a bit before turning south to meet a large cutline that leads west all the way to the eastern boundary of the park.
Once at the park boundary we headed south down to the park entrance. There aren’t any fences here, so you can see animals outside the park too – make sure you scout for lions before getting out of your vehicle. The sandiest part of the drive was along the edge of the park, but there was nothing too difficult. At the gate we showed our camping reservations and the confirmation that we had already paid park fees. We then drove to our campsite on the edge of Mabuasehube pan, Site 1 with no facilities at all but a beautiful view.
Kalahari Desert: Days 4-17
On our road trip though the Kalahari Desert of Botswana we visited the three desert parks: Mabuasehube, Khutse and Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We allowed a couple of days between the parks in case we had car problems or anything went wrong, plus to relax in relative comfort.
Day 4: First evening in Mabuasehube
The sunset from our camping spot (Mabuasehube 1) was lovely and we enjoyed relaxing at our site, our first evening in the real wilderness of Botswana. It was great to have our red flashlight* as the sun went down and we spied many bright eyes on the pan below. Later the rain began and we went to sleep.
Day 5: Mabuasehube Safari
After a beautiful sunrise, with the water in the pan reflecting the colours like a mirror, we set off on a morning safari before breakfast. We drove around a few of the nearby pans, using our handy wildlife guide* to identify the animals and returned a few hours later. After a relax during the middle of the day we went out again before returning for a braai. In total we drove roughly 80 km along sandy tracks today.
Day 6: Mabuasehube Safari
We moved from Mabuasehube 1 to Bosobogolo 2 campsite and spent the day driving about 85 km in the park. From Bosobogolo 2 we had nice views over the large grassy pan below and another great sunset. It was very useful to have some binoculars* to see the animals while relaxing at our campsite. There was a lot of long grass around the site so I was slightly worried we’d be surprised by animals, but we weren’t.
Day 7: To Kalahari Rest Lodge
After breakfast we packed up our camp and set off for a safari drive through the park. After a few hours we headed to the park gate and started the drive to Kalahari Rest Lodge*, 20 km north of Kang. From the gate it was sandy up around the edges of the park, but once the track left the park boundary we hit random sections of good gravel track. We sped along these before the sandy track returned again. The tar started in Lokgwabe, 15 km south of Hukuntsi where there’s a fuel station. From there it was straight along the tar to Kang where we visited the Choppies supermarket and filled up on fuel at Kang Ultra. It was then a quick drive to Kalahari Rest Lodge. Today we drove 145 km of tar and 125 km on sand and gravel.
Kalahari Rest Lodge had a nice pool and bar, and we sat there drinking ice-cold Windhoeks for a while. We ate in the restaurant and although the menu was limited to a choice of filet or rump, the meat was superbly cooked and extremely delicious. The campsites had electricity and lots of shade as well as a shared ablutions block.
Day 8: Kalahari Rest Lodge
We spent the day relaxing at the Lodge, lounging by the pool, having a good braai and reading Cry of the Kalahari*, a book you should definitely read before or during a visit to Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Check out our list of other books to read in Botswana. There were also many birds visiting the lodge, including several crimson-breasted strikes who appeared to live in the nearby trees. I loved identifying all the birds with my little guide to the birds of Southern Africa*.
Day 9: Rest Lodge to Khutse
After an early breakfast we set off on the drive to Khutse Game Reserve and our campsite at Maharushele Pan 3 (300 km tar and 30 km sand). We fuelled up at Letlhakeng, the last spot before the park. From there the drive north was on fairly decent gravel roads, becoming sand shortly before the park entrance gate. Within the park the tracks were being widened and flattened so that 2×2 cars can make it around most of the park. Many locals come here from Gaborone on the weekends so it’s for their benefit that the tracks are better for non-4×4 cars.
Our campsite obviously used to have a tree but it had died. However, there was a convenient tree for shade slightly outside the site that we sat under during the heat of the afternoon. When driving about in the park we came across a band of San walking with their mules and horses along the tracks. They didn’t seem at all scared of the elephants or lions. I think they camped not too far from us in the evening because we could hear some distant conversation floating towards us on the wind. In the nighttime we heard lions prowling around our car, I was super scared, but they totally ignored us.
Day 10: Khutse Safari
We moved campsites from Maharushele to Moreswe 2, right at the far end of the park. We drove 95 km in total on sand today. On the way we passed some lovely scenery, and our own pan, Moreswe, was also really nice. There were many antelopes, jackals and giraffes. The campsite had great views over the pan and the sunset was amazing. During the night again, lions wandered past our car making their way down to the waterhole nearby on the pan.
Day 11: Khutse Safari
We spent the day driving around the park (90 km) before reaching our campsite, Khutse Pan 9, later in the day. There are ten sites quite close by here but all the other sites were empty. A short while after we arrived, two elephants came wandering through the campsite. After they had passed we followed them at a large distance and watched them wander into the centre of Khutse Pan to the waterhole right in the middle. I was surprised as I didn’t think elephants lived all the way down here!
Late in the evening some large thunderstorms started, and not wanting our tent to be struck, we sat in the car to wait it out. All around us were lightning strikes, both nearby and in the distance in all directions. Eventually the storms passed and we climbed back up into our tent.
Day 12: Khutse to Ghanzi
Today we had a long drive out of the park and all the way to Ghanzi, 115 km on sand and gravel, and 550 km on tar. The miles passed quickly (listening to some good podcasts) and soon we were in Ghanzi town. We visited the Spar and stocked up on food before heading to Tautona Lodge*. There was a restaurant and swimming pool here in the lodge area, with the camping a few kilometres away in a quiet area amongst some trees. Maintenance was slightly lacking and in the restaurant the choice was steak or steak, which was fine because the steak was quite tasty.
Day 13: Ghanzi to CKGR
We had been hearing a bit of a clinking sound in our car that slightly worried us, and figured out a rubber was missing from our suspension. This was the only problem we had with our car on our entire road trip through Botswana. First thing we went into Ghanzi to NSI (PTY) LTD Motor Vehicle Repairs (map↑) on a corner near the Spar. Someone took a look at our car almost immediately and replaced the missing rubber. The sound had gone and everything was fine again, so we headed to the fuel station.
We filled up our tank (75 litres) plus two 20-litre jerry cans on the roof and two 25-litre jerry cans that we kept in the back of our car (165 litres in total). Between Ghanzi and Rakops (the next place for fuel) we drove 793 km and used 83 litres, so we had a lot to spare! After refuelling we drove north on the highway. 150 metres before (south of) the vet fence we turned right on a track to reach a cutline heading due east right by the fence. There were some quite sandy sections on this track, but we powered through fine.
In Central Kalahari
Almost 40 km later we reached the (partially destroyed) entrance gate to Central Kalahari Game Reserve. After checking in we continued along the northern border of the reserve, swerving to inch around a rotting dead elephant in the middle of the track. We then took the track south to Motopi 2 campsite. Before the campsite, we checked out the nearby waterhole. The pump was broken but many thirsty animals were hanging around it.
Motopi 2 campsite is the nearest of the Motopi campsites to the main track, and also nearest to the waterhole. Nobody else was camping within maybe a hundred kilometres of us, so it felt very remote and we had the wilderness to ourselves. The route to the other Motopi sites is a bit overgrown – our car got a little scratched from going to the wrong campsite first. However, it got much more scratched later on in the reserve and elsewhere in Botswana, making the initial scratches we had worried about irrelevant. Today we drove 120 km on tar and 90 km on sandy tracks.
Day 14: CKGR Safari
On our first full day in the park we left Motopi to head to our next campsite, Sunday Pan 3, 150 km away. It doesn’t sound that far, but on the sandy tracks you can’t drive that fast and don’t want to anyway because of the animals. There were lots of animals at the dry Motopi waterhole – gemsbok, giraffe, kudu, jackals – all desperately waiting for water. After the waterhole it was a long way through undulating sand dunes with few animals until we reached the main loop around the park. Here the tracks were slightly better as they follow old river beds with many pans, so the driving surface is often hard mud rather than thick sand.
We drove all the way through beautiful Passarge Valley before driving a loop of Leopard Pan and continuing on to Sunday Pan and our campsite. Here we saw the first other vehicle we’d seen in the park so far. It was definitely slightly busier near the eastern side of the park around Deception Valley (but still not actually busy). In the afternoon we saw a leopard very close to the road near the pan – it jumped down from a very narrow tree and started sniffing about among the tree roots before disappearing off into the bush. We drove in total about 170 km today.
Day 15: CKGR Safari
On this day we were moving campsites a short distance to Deception Valley 1, probably the best site of the Deception campsite, though like the others surrounded by bushes so you can’t see much. We spent the day driving short nearby loops and reading Cry of the Kalahari*, a book about a real-life study of brown hyenas and lions in Deception Valley. We returned to our campsite before dark for a braai, having driven 75 km. In the night we had a Scops Owl purring away just above our tent.
Day 16: CKGR Safari
Today we set off early to drive to Piper’s Pan 2, 132 km away. Just five minutes from the camp we came across a pack of wild dogs thinking about hunting nearby antelope. The sun was just rising and the scene was entirely unforgettable. After the dry but heavily rutted muddy tracks near Deception Valley, the way became much better heading west along another old river valley. We stopped for a late breakfast on the way at the deserted Lekhubu campsite where a crimson-breasted shrike visited us. We saw a huge herd of springbok and stopped for quite a long time to let them cross the road. Not much further we disturbed a male lion resting just by the road.
The route to Piper’s Pan leaves the central loop and heads through undulating sand dunes on a sandy track to the large Piper’s Pans. Our campsite was nice, just on the edge of the pan. Including an afternoon game drive, we drove 160 km today. In the evening we disturbed an owl hunting guineafowl that were wandering through our camp, and later in the night we heard distant lions roar. We searched for them the next day but didn’t find them.
Day 17: CKGR to Rakops
On our final day in the park we had a long drive to the gate and then Rakops River Lodge*. After another early start and a loop of the pan, we headed towards Rakops – 175 km through the sand and 15 km on tar. Shortly after setting off we spotted a caracal sitting elegantly in front of a bush. As the sun became stronger she retired into the depths of the bush and we continued onwards, reaching the gate many hours later.
The route out to Rakops from the gate was sandy but fine, and in town we visited the Choppies and refilled our diesel. We stayed at the campsite at Rakops River Lodge* just north of town. The campsite was fine, with quite nice ablutions, and it was strange to see a room after so many nights in the wilderness. We started taking malaria tablets here until we left Botswana, since the Salt Pans Area of Botswana and the wetter north has malarial risk. Before you set off on any road trip through Botswana, check with a travel nurse or do your own research about whether you should take malaria tablets.
Salt Pans: Days 18-22
In the Botswana Salt Pans we visited Nata and the Bird Sanctuary, Makgadikgadi Pans and Nxai Pan National Parks. Originally we had planned to drive to Nata from Rakops via Kubu Island but the route was flooded. We returned a few weeks later when the route was totally fine to visit Kubu on the way back from Kasane to Joburg.
Day 18: Rakops
Today we had a rest at the lodge and didn’t really do anything. We did see thousands of quelea, potentially the most populous bird in the world. When they took off simultaneously from nearby trees it sounded like an explosion going off.
Day 19: Rakops to Nata
We drove all the way around the outside of the Salt Pan today, from Rakops to Nata, 360 km. We had been planning to go via Kubu Island instead of the extra night in Rakops, but apparently the roads to the Island were flooded, hence the long trip around the pans. The worst bit of tarred road we found in Botswana was along the top of the pans between Gweta and Nata. I guess it gets flooded quite often and the road has been gradually washed away and turned into potholes. Elsewhere the tarred roads were always great.
We camped at Nata Lodge*, a lovely well-run place with a nice pool and restaurant. We popped in here before heading to Nata Bird Sanctuary 12 km down the road. There weren’t many animals in the park apart from straggly wildebeest who looked like they’d been left behind by their herd. The lookout point over the pans was impressive – not dry but filled with water as far as the eye could see. There were also quite a few birds, but no flamingoes.
Before heading back to the Lodge’s restaurant for a swim and dinner, we popped into Choppies in town to stock up on food and got some diesel for the next few days.
Day 20: Nata to Makgadikgadi Pans
After a night in the relative civilization of the lodge, we drove off towards the wilds of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Our next fuel stop would be Maun, before which we drove about 800 km and used 86 litres of diesel. Before the park we wanted to see Green’s and Chapman’s Baobabs south of Gweta. We drove south off the main road through Gweta and into the bush. We saw some donkeys and a horserider who asked us for food. The dry bush gradually turned wetter until we reached lush green fields. Finally we were stopped by a bird-filled lake covering the tracks. We stopped here for a late breakfast and then returned to the main road.
We visited an alternative, slightly lesser but still big baobab in Gweta itself, very easy to get to almost next to the main road. We then continued 15 km west along the road to the eastern gate of Makgadikgadi Pans, Mokolwane Gate. It was signposted with a rather battered sign from the main road. At the gate the ranger told us the zebra herds were south along the cutline and slightly into the park. Some parts of the pan were still flooded, so we had to return the same way, but it was a great detour to see the zebra amongst the golden grass and date palms.
We then drove directly to our campsite, Tree Island, as the name suggests a rare island of trees in the surrounding grassy scrubland. There are three sites here, all unoccupied apart from us in Site 1, probably the best site. From our tent we could see a small pan as we looked out watching the sunset. We went to sleep surrounded by nothing but wilderness, the nearest humans perhaps 50 km away.
Day 21: Makgadikgadi Pans to Nxai Pan
Up early, we drove through the park to Boteti River on the western edge of the park. On the way we saw zebra, gemsbok, springbok and a lone elephant way off in the distance, but not much more. After having breakfast overlooking the river we drove about along the riverbanks. There were many antelopes and birds grazing on the green grass by the river, as well as a couple of hippos in a large pool.
After exploring the river area, we drove north and across the main road to Nxai Pan. The cutline north from the gate to the main area of the park was slightly sandy but totally dry. We saw quite a few elephants on the way in, and then many of them surrounding a waterhole near the game scout camp on the edge of the main area of pans. At our campsite, South Camp*, unlike our previous campsites so far, the sites are close together and there’s a shared ablution block with flush toilets and hot showers rather than a bucket shower and drop toilet.
We drove around the pan area in the late afternoon and experienced a magical sunset. The light was really nice and the animals wandered very calmly around the area – the semi-resident pride of lions hadn’t been seen for a few weeks. In the night we heard a strange noise and thought it must be a leaking pipe in the nearby washroom. But then the sound stopped and an elephant came wandering into camp. It rubbed itself on a tree right next to our tent but then luckily it went away.
Day 22: Nxai Pan to Maun
After a morning drive around the area, we left the park and drove to Maun where we’d have a week-long break from our journey. There are many fuel stations and several different supermarkets (Spar, Choppies, Woolworths Food) in the centre of town. There are also nice restaurants (with options other than steak) and great bars to relax in while overlooking the river.
Maun: Days 22-29
In Maun we mainly hung out at our campsite in Crocodile Camp*. The campsite was quite posh, with our own private ablutions, and the WiFi was ok (but not amazing). The campsite didn’t have any views but the lodge had a lovely bar overlooking the river.
One day we went on a mokoro trip on the Okavango Delta. We booked it at our lodge, but you can get an idea of tour itineraries and prices online*. We were collected from our lodge and driven to the mokoro launch point.
On the water the canoes are quite low so it’s hard to see much, only the reeds and lilies nearby. We reached an island for lunch and went on a fun walking safari. We saw red lechwe, many antelope and three elephants who came to check out our lunch spot. It was fantastic to be walking with a guide through the wilderness rather than in our car for a change. Back in the boat and we glided back over the water after a great day out. A wide-brimmed sunhat* is highly recommended for a trip onto the water as there is basically no shade. Make sure to apply a lot of sunscreen too!
Maun to Kasane: Days 29-37
We travelled the sandy direct route from Maun via four parks: Moremi, Khwai Community Concession, Savuti, and Chobe Riverfront. In total we drove 976 km and used 114 litres of diesel from the last fuel station in Maun to the first fuel station in Kasane. We had a capacity of 165 litres – 75 litres in the tank, 2 x 20-litre jerry cans on the roofs and 2 x 25-litre jerry cans in the back – so we still had some spare. This was the longest stretch without fuel stations on our Botswana road trip.
Day 29: Maun to Moremi
Having stocked up on a lot of food and filled to the brim with fuel, we set off from Maun early one morning, direction Moremi. The first 50 km was tar, and then it was sand almost the entire way to Kasane. We drove 120 km on sand today. Approaching Moremi we saw many grazers in the dry, grassy bush and a short while later we entered at South Gate*. We were camping here for two days since our originally booked campsite, Third Bridge, was cut off. It had rained a lot and the route to the camping was not passable.
We checked in at the campsite and left on a drive. We went towards Xini Lagoon, a nice open area with lots of water. Several of the tracks were quite muddy, and it was a bit of a maze near the edge of the water trying to find a route that avoided both thick muddy tracks and very overgrown tracks. At one point a crocodile seemed to shoot out from beneath our car, then glide away silently into the nearby water.
We returned to the campsite for lunch and drove again to a similar area in the afternoon. There was a lot of mopane bush to drive through, devoid of most animals apart from elephants, which seemed to be everywhere. In the evening we saw two lovely spotted owlets in a tree looking down on us.
Day 30: Moremi Safari
We drove similar routes to the day before, 100 km on sand today, seeing again similar animals and hardy any other vehicles. When packing away our tent in the morning, we found a little mouse sheltering on the ground underneath our tent cover. As soon as I’d removed the cover a hornbill swooped in and ate the poor little mouse, I was horrified.
There was quite a lot going on at the campsite in terms of small animal behaviour and birds. We had friendly squirrels and mongeese, and occasionally some impala would wander out of the bush.
Day 31: Moremi to Khwai
We woke up early to head for Xakanaxa Campsite and the lagoon. We ate breakfast in an empty spot at the camping while overlooking the water. Afterwards we drove some nearby loops, seeing red lechwe and other antelope. We visited Paradise Pools, a photogenic area of water, trees and grass with many birds.
The direct route along the Khwai River to Khwai North Gate was too flooded to pass, so to get to Khwai we had to head back to South Gate, then north along the cut line. At Khwai Gate we drove another short loop to the east along the river banks and saw hippos lounging in the water.
Then we left Moremi and crossed the log suspension bridge to Khwai Community Concession on the other side, driving 140 km including game drives around Xakanaxa. We drove straight through the village on a good gravel road and continued north on the main road. We saw some more hippos wallowing in pools near the road, and several elephants wandering about nearby. The road bent right and soon we saw a sign to Magotho Campsite*, our place for the next two nights.
Our spot at the campsite was taken by others already and the campsite staff told us we could choose any other site, so we took one right on the edge of the river. We didn’t know then that an elephant highway passed right through our site, but we soon found out. I’m normally quite scared of elephants, but the ones at Khwai were either solitary males or males in groups of two or three. They weren’t aggressive at all, and we could divert them around our campsite instead of through if needed by standing on a handy log and staring them down.
Day 32: Khwai Safari
We woke up early for a drive and soon spotted a pack of wild dogs running and playing in the long dry grass. They weren’t bothered by us at all and had fun chasing each other around our car. A while later they disappeared into the bush and we continued. We saw many birds by the river, and on the way back we came across a lioness right by the road with a super cute cub walking along a tree branch just behind her.
We ate a late breakfast back at the campsite while watching the comings and goings of the river. Many different antelopes came to drink from the water on the other side, and elephants crossed over almost continuously.
In the late afternoon, we drove up the river a little to an overlook to watch the gorgeous sunset, driving 50 km in total today.
Day 33: Khwai to Savuti
Today we drove the sandy route from Khwai to Savuti Campsite, 165 km away including some game drives. The way north was well-signed from the main road, and at the gate they told us to take the Ridge Road rather than the Marsh Road because of the wet conditions.
About 35 km north we found a car pulling a trailer that had been stuck in the sand the evening before and had to camp right where they were overnight. Some others had reached them just before us and were helping to tow them out. We found the sandy tracks definitely sandy but totally fine.
We arrived in wild Savuti and our campsite around lunchtime. It had been recently cleaned and raked and the ablutions were very clean too. Our site was away from the dry river channel, though we did have a puff adder, an impala and a hyena visiting us in turn.
At the campsite we bought a cold beer and crisps from the small tuck shop and then drove around some nearby loops in the late afternoon.
Day 34: Savuti Safari
We set off early towards Savuti Marsh. Some of the tracks were slightly overgrown, and all of them were through long dry grass. We almost ran over a pride of lions sleeping unseen in the vegetation. They were vaguely keeping an eye on a large herd of eland not too far away.
After leaving the lions we reached a waterhole surrounded by hundreds of zebra and passed a couple of grumpy buffalo in the scrub. In the afternoon we visited the Bushman Paintings. It was a little scary leaving the car, but I picked up a stick which gave me enough confidence to walk the short distance to the rocky cliffs and beautiful paintings. We drove 70 km today.
Day 35: Savuti to Mwandi View
After a morning drive around some of the loops we set off further north, out of the park to the campsite at Mwandi View*. The way was long and sandy, 110 km of sand and 20 km of tar including the game loops. The sandiest road we found in Botswana was outside the park gates on the way to Kachikau Village, in the neighbourhood of Thobolo’s Bush Lodge*, who I guess would help you if you got stuck. This was the only time we had to use low-range to power up the thick sandy hills.
We reinflated our tyres where the tar started in Kachikau (there are a couple of stalls by the side of the road who’ll inflate them for you for a small fee if you don’t have your own compressor). Then it was not far to the pool and bar at Mwandi View. The deck overlooked a waterhole but there was still too much water in the bush for it to attract many animals. There was a huge storm in the evening and we were glad to shelter under a real roof before setting up our tent.
Day 36: Chobe Safari
We woke up early to be at the gate to Chobe Riverfront National Park at 6 am when it opened. We had to wait a few minutes for a staff member to arrive who checked our reservations at Ihaha campsite. He then told us not to drive in through the gate because the tracks along the river in the western side of the path were not easily passable. Instead, he recommended we drive a bit further east along the tar before heading north along a cutline.
On the main road we were stopped for a few minutes by a large herd of buffalo heading to the river from the bush. We then ourselves turned north along the sandy tracks to the river. We first drove west by the river and saw many antelope. As the gate staff said, the tracks then became not good – deep narrow gullies had eroded the road in many places. We turned back and headed to our campsite.
Ihaha Campsite was an amazing spot, just by the river. We were welcomed by some mischievous vervet monkeys, but they soon lost interest in us. After lunch we explored the eastern side of the park, along the river and the backroads in the bush where we came across some elegant sable antelope. We drove 30 km on tar and 90 km on sand today.
Day 37: Chobe Safari & to Kasane
Awake early again, we packed up our camp and drove east along the river. Soon we were lucky and met a pride of lions with only one other car watching them. An angry male buffalo stood glowering nearby and it was fun to see the lions, big scaredy cats, trying to sneak past him without instigating his wrath.
The lions ran down to the shoreline and we followed, with now a few other vehicles including a lodge vehicle that was radioing to others. The pride slowly walked up the shoreline as more and more vehicles arrived. Soon so many cars were here that the lions got annoyed and moved off deep into the thick bush.
We left and continued along the river. Birds, red lechwe and puku wandered about and for a long time we watched some elephants playing in the water. Finally, we left the park and headed to civilization in Kasane, driving 50 km on sand and 5 km on tar. We camped at Chobe Safari Lodge*, one of the few options for camping in Kasane. It was a fairly big, popular lodge with a nice restaurant and two bars overlooking the river. The spaces in the campsite were slightly small and didn’t really have views but we were visited by warthogs that roam the hotel grounds and a supercute bushbuck mother and baby.
We went to the bar and ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, a change from the previous nights.
Day 38: Kasane & River Cruise
We relaxed in the morning and went shopping in town for more food and fuel. We booked a river cruise for the evening which left a couple of hours before sunset. It’s possible to book river cruises and safaris online*, but it’s just as easy to book them at the lodge you’re staying at. It was a great trip, we saw many antelope along the shoreline and elephants, hippos and crocodiles in the water. Our boat actually got stuck in the shallows for an hour before being rescued by others. We arrived back at the lodge long after the sun had set.
Kasane to Joburg: Days 39-45
We drove back to South Africa via Elephant Sands Lodge*, Kubu Island, Khama Rhino Sanctuary and Goo-Moremi Gorge. Within South Africa we camped at Matamba Bush Camp* in the Waterberg and stayed at Nedile Lodge* in Welgevonden Reserve before finally returning to Johannesburg.
Day 39: Kasane to Elephant Sands
After breakfast it was a 260 km drive down to Elephant Sands*, a cool lodge 55 km north of Nata. The swimming pool, chalets and campsite area surround a large waterhole that elephants often visit. We didn’t see any in the daytime, but after dark many elephants came along to drink and I had to wait for ages for them to leave before I could safely venture to the toilet. We also saw several springhares jumping around nearby, their bright eyes flashing in our useful red flashlight*.
Day 40: Elephant Sands to Kubu Island
After breakfast we continued south to Nata, fuelled up, then drove west towards Gweta and the turnoff to Kubu Island. The tracks south of the main road were sometimes unclear, sometimes overgrown and sometimes great. As well as a paper copy of the Tracks4Africa Botswana Map*, we also had the Maps.Me app so we could easily see where we were. The drive in total was 70 km on tar and 100 km on sandy tracks.
We glimpsed Kubu Island from quite far off – a real island of hills in a vast flat expanse of sandy salty land. We checked in at the little office and paid entrance fees and for camping (and apparently for a view deck which we think we found the next day). Nobody else was there so we had the entire place to ourselves. It was super gorgeous and otherworldly, one of my favourite places in Botswana.
After walking around the rocky hills and taking a photo for the front cover of my Botswana travel adventure book*, we watched a gorgeous sunset from our campsite and looked at the amazingly bright stars.
Day 41: Kubu Island to Khama Rhino Sanctuary
We woke up to a beautiful sunrise, ate breakfast and set off south. The tracks south of Kubu Island were much clearer and nicer to drive than those to the north. It was 75 km on sand and then another 200 km down the main tarred road to Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
We hadn’t booked anything but the camping inside the Rhino Sanctuary was totally empty and we booked at reception just inside the park gate. We checked out the campsite before driving around the park. It’s quite small so only takes a couple of hours to see everything. We saw many rhinos as well as plenty of antelope.
Back in our campsite for dinner, we heard and then saw bushbabies jumping around and squealing amongst the trees. Then we spotted an owl who was also watching them.
Day 42: Khama to Goo-Moremi Gorge
After a few loops of the park we set off to Goo-Moremi Gorge for a short hike to some waterfalls. We stopped off at Palapye on the way to get food and fuel. In total we drove 35 km of sand (mainly around the Rhino Sanctuary) and 135 km of tar. At Goo-Moremi we checked into our campsite, which had great facilities including a private outdoor shower and huge cooking area.
We then drove up to the parking spot for the gorge walk. We met a guide there plus some locals who were also doing the hike. The walk lead into a narrow gorge surrounded on all sides by cliffs. A stream flowed through it, passing through several waterfalls. After about 45 minutes we reached as far as we were going, a larger waterfall with a cliff behind home to nesting Cape Vultures.
We drove back to our campsite and went to sleep. Here we noticed that one of the spiders who we picked up in Cape Town was still with us – he came out at night to build a web by our steering wheel, then wound it all away before dawn so we never normally noticed him.
Day 43: Goo-Moremi to Waterberg
In the morning we went on a short walk from the campsite. We then set off to Martin’s Drift (Grobler’s Brug) border post and South Africa. The border was super quick and almost nobody else was there. We were through in about 20 minutes and back in South Africa. In total it was 250 km on tar and 15 km on sand today.
We then drove towards Matamba Bush Camp*, via lunch at The Shrink in Lephalale. The campsite in Matamba Bush Camp was super nice, with lovely private outdoor ablutions at each of the few large sites. The campsites are within a nature reserve area full of antelope and giraffes. There are several walking trails within the reserve, a great place to stretch your legs after lots of driving and see the animals from a different perspective.
Day 44: Waterberg to Welgevonden
The morning was fresh with beautiful light streaming through the trees. After a short walk and lazy breakfast we set off to Nedile Lodge* in Welgevonden. It was 75 km on tar and 15 km on a gravel road to the meeting point at Welgevonden Game Reserve West Gate, around the back side of the reserve.
We stayed at Nedile Lodge because it was the last night of our Botswana road trip and there was a 50% Covid-related price reduction. It was all-inclusive and we went on a game drive in the afternoon followed by a delicious dinner. The lodge was perched on the edge of a ridge so we had great views over a waterhole and the scrub stretching out into the distance.
Day 45: Welgevonden to Joburg
After an early morning game drive and a great breakfast we were driven back to the West Gate and clambered back into our own car. It was then 15 km down a gravel road and 290 km on the tar back to Johannesburg and the end of our Botswanan road trip.
We went on a self-drive safari in Botswana for two months in our trusty Defender. Find out more by reading the travel book I wrote, No Footprints in the Night: On Safari in Botswana*.
Guidebooks & Maps to Explore More of Botswana
The Lonely Planet Guidebook* covers all of Botswana, but not in much detail. The Bradt Guide* has a wealth of information and is great for planning a safari around northern Botswana, but doesn’t cover southern Botswana. The Tracks4Africa Map* is an essential item for driving around the country and its national parks. For more information, see our Best Botswana Guidebooks article.
Useful things for a holiday in Botswana
- Travel Debit Card: we have Wise Cards* which allow you to cheaply convert most currencies into Botswana Pula. You can then pay by card (a few lodges have card machines), wire transfer or withdraw cash from an ATM inside Botswana for no extra fees.
- Travel Insurance: we use SafetyWing*, it’s simple to buy online and they have a downloadable letter proving you have travel insurance which includes Covid-related issues.