There is no question that the best way to explore Botswana with a real and authentic experience and explore nature and wildlife, is by taking the roads and camping in remote unfenced camping sites. This is the ultimate guide you need that will answer all your questions about the Botswana camping safari.
I had the opportunity to self-drive and to camp in the wild safari of Botswana at some of the best safaris in the world: Chobe National Park and Okavango Delta.
I was very excited about this incredible experience to visit the best safaris in Botswana, but I still had many questions if it was safe and if I had planned it well enough. I had a lot of “what if…” questions in my mind. Even though a road trip to Botswana was one of my Dream Destinations and the best travel idea I ever had, it was completely nerve-racking at the same time.
So before you get all excited and book that rental car, I have listed absolutely everything you need to know, from the tips and tricks I learned the hard way and some things that I wish I knew before I went on what I call “the biggest adventure of my life”
You may also want to read:
- Botswana Self-drive Safari Itinerary
- Botswana Camping Safari: Ultimate Guide from Chobe to Okavango Delta
- Best safari quotes and captions + sharable images
- SECTION I: Self-Drive Camping in Botswana
- 1. PREPARE BEFORE YOU GO CAMPING ON SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
- 2. YOU NEED A 4X4 WHEEL DRIVE CAR FOR YOUR BOTSWANA CAMPING SAFARI ADVENTURE
- 3 . HOW TO CHOOSE A 4X4 VEHICLE TO SELF-DRIVE IN BOTSWANA
- 4. YOU NEED OFF-ROAD DRIVING EXPERIENCE AND SOME MECHANICAL SKILLS
- 5. BUY THE TOURIST MAP WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN BOTSWANA
- SECTION II: Wild Camping Safari In Botswana
- 6. CAN I CAMP IN THE OPEN WILD?
- 7. HOW TO CHOOSE THE CAMPING AT THE NATIONAL PARKS IN BOTSWANA
- 8. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO MAKE CAMPING RESERVATIONS
- 9. CAMPING IS NOT FENCED IN THE NATIONAL PARKS IN BOTSWANA
- 10. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE CAMPING SITES IN BOTSWANA
- 11. DON’T EXPECT TO HAVE ELECTRICITY AT THE CAMPSITES IN BOTSWANA
- 12. NO COMMUNICATION: PHONE SERVICE AND WI-FI ARE A LUXURY IN BOTSWANA
- 13. YOU WILL HAVE TO COOK IN THE OPEN AT THE CAMPSITE IN BOTSWANA
- 14. DON’T GO TO THE BATHROOM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT…WHAAAT!?
- 15. FOLLOW THE BASIC RULES OF CAMPING SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
- SECTION III: All You Need To Know About Safari in Botswana
- SECTION IV: What Else Should I Know Before I Go Wild Camping in Botswana?
- 19. MIND YOUR BELONGINGS AT THE CAMPSITES
- 20. YOU WILL HAVE ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS IF YOU ARE WILD CAMPING IN BOTSWANA
- 21. BRING ENOUGH CASH WITH YOU
- 22. PACK YOUR FOOD LIKE YOU WOULD PACK YOUR EGGS
- 23. HAVE ENOUGH WATER WHEN YOU GO TO BOTSWANA WILD CAMPING SAFARI
- 24. ALWAYS HAVE SOME CANS OF FOOD WITH YOU, THEY MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE
- 25. WHEN TO GO CAMPING SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
- 26. BOTSWANA IS A MALARIA AREA
- 27. BOTSWANA IS A SUSTAINABLE TOURISM DESTINATION
- 28. WHAT TO PACK FOR A WILD CAMPING SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
- 29. HOW CAN I PLAN A SAFE TRIP TO BOTSWANA?
- 30. INDEPENDENT CAMPING IN BOTSWANA VS. TOUR
- Camping in Botswana Conclusion
SECTION I: Self-Drive Camping in Botswana
1. PREPARE BEFORE YOU GO CAMPING ON SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
I cannot emphasize enough how much preparation you need, especially if you decide to go on a self-drive safari and wild camping on your own.
In reality, my trip started 3 months in advance, when I planned my Botswana safari 10-day itinerary (visiting in low season). I studied the maps, made reservations at the camping sites, and tried to make payments (I will share more details below). I did a lot of research online.
Also, I reached out to some local people with a lot of experience driving in Botswana in order to ask for professional help with my itinerary. I am sharing all my lessons learned here with you!
I recommend reading my 10-day Complete self-drive itinerary in Botswana, for all the detailed information you need to self-drive in Botswana, and my complete Botswana safari, from Chobe to Okavango, and all to choose the best safaris for you.
Here you can also find a complete guide to the best camping accommodation in Botswana that I recommend you read before your trip to Botswana.
2. YOU NEED A 4X4 WHEEL DRIVE CAR FOR YOUR BOTSWANA CAMPING SAFARI ADVENTURE
This is a fact! You will need to have a 4×4 car, either if you decide to go with a tour operator, or if you decide to go on an adventure to self-drive safari in Botswana.
Driving in Botswana is very challenging. You will start to learn it during your preparation when it is hard to find information online, and some of the roads do not even show on the map.
In some National Parks, such as Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve, you cannot even enter the park if you don’t have a 4×4 WD car.
The struggle is real, and the roads are really challenging with a mix of sandy and muddy roads, and even some points where you will need to cross the water (during the rainy season).
You can get a 15% off your rental car when you book through this site. I use and recommend RentalCar because it is the most reliable rental car source, and it allows you to compare the prices of different places.
3 . HOW TO CHOOSE A 4X4 VEHICLE TO SELF-DRIVE IN BOTSWANA
Now that you know you will need a 4X4 to self-drive in Botswana, what else you will need in your car?
If you choose to go wild camping in Botswana, you will need a fully equipped car with some basics for survival: A tent on top, cooking gear, a refrigerator, and an emergency radio. Because of the long-distance off-road driving, your vehicle will have to have at least 2 spare tires, 2 batteries, and an extra-large gas tank.
I recommend reading my full guide on How to go on a self-drive in Botswana wild safaris for additional tips on road conditions.
I recommend booking your car way in advance, and you can quote below, to have access to cars from many major companies which you can compare the best prices and find the best deal for you.
You can get a 15% off your rental car when you book through this site. I use and recommend RentalCar because it is the most reliable rental car source, and it allows you to compare the prices of different places.
4. YOU NEED OFF-ROAD DRIVING EXPERIENCE AND SOME MECHANICAL SKILLS
Great! You prepared for your trip, you rented a 4×4, and now? You will need great driving skills to be able to drive in Botswana, and I really mean it!
I do a lot of road trips around the world, but there is nothing like driving in Botswana. It is another level of “off-road” – the bumpy roads are no joke! You will also most likely get stuck, have to change a flat tire, and do some basic mechanical work during a trip like this.
5. BUY THE TOURIST MAP WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN BOTSWANA
This is the best map you can have if you are self-driving and camping in Botswana.
You can buy these maps at the Botswana wildlife office, including at the National Park gates, and also, at the campsite offices. I bought the Chobe and Moremi tourism maps, and I was surprised by how complete and useful they are.
You can find not only the safari area map but also the coordinates, viewpoints, some main safari spots, and even the campsite layout.
SECTION II: Wild Camping Safari In Botswana
6. CAN I CAMP IN THE OPEN WILD?
The answer is a NO NO!
You are only allowed to camp in the designed areas, the campsites. Pulling off the trail and setting up your tent is not allowed in Botswana.
All vehicles must be at the campsites before dark. To be clear, there are a limited number of campsites and a limited number of spots at those sights, and reservations are required. If you are caught open camping you may be mistaken for a poacher, receive a fine, or worse put yourself and the wildlife in an unsafe situation.
In order to enter the different sections of Chobe and Okavango, you have to pass through park gates. These gates are checkpoints where you must register your entry and exit.
In order to enter the gate, you MUST HAVE proof of reservation at a campsite and a permit or the CASH to pay for the permit (no credit cards – you are in the middle of the bush).
If you are looking for more information on the best camp safaris in Botswana, check out my guide for the Best Camping Accommodation in Botswana.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you don’t do this you will not be allowed into the remote areas of the parks. Make your reservations with the campsites along your route early (they fill up quickly and there are not many) and make sure you pay for the daily permit in the park in local money.
7. HOW TO CHOOSE THE CAMPING AT THE NATIONAL PARKS IN BOTSWANA
Good question, right? First of all, you will need to decide on your detailed itinerary for your trip to Botswana and decide where you will spend the night.
Then you will need to contact the 2 companies that administer the campsites and make reservations well in advance.
The camping areas are very limited! I recommend reading my full guide on the Botswana Self-Drive – How to find and book the best wild campsites.
8. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO MAKE CAMPING RESERVATIONS
Good luck with this one…sorry, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I need to be honest and say that this is the most challenging part of your trip.
Things in Botswana move much more slowly than I am used to. Getting a hold of someone or getting responses can take quite a bit of time.
If you are making plans from the Western Hemisphere, the time change also makes it challenging. Don’t be afraid to get on the phone and call the reservation companies.
The booking in Botswana is a very manual process, still, carbon copy receipt based rather than Internet bookings. Check my Botswana Camping Accommodation here for the great advice I have for you on how to book accommodations for wild camping in Botswana. And don’t forget, once you have the reservations, bring hard proof with you. You will not have internet access at the entry gates.
9. CAMPING IS NOT FENCED IN THE NATIONAL PARKS IN BOTSWANA
Different than what I thought prior to camping in Botswana, the campsites in Botswana are not fenced.
That means the chance to have a wild animal encounter is really big!
At night you will listen to wildlife noises, and during the day or night, you may have some visitors. All you have to do is not panic, and remain calm and most likely they are just looking for food or they are curious about you.
10. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE CAMPING SITES IN BOTSWANA
The campsites in Botswana have only the basics for you to camp with your own tent.
They will have a designated camping site for you, which normally will have a tree that you can park your 4×4 under. Some camping sites have a faucet with water, a concrete table for you to cook, electric power until 10 PM in the ablutions, and a fire pit.
All the campsites have an ablution area with shared bathrooms and showers, and I found them all very clean.
What the heck are ablutions? Ablutions are buildings with toilets and shower rooms. Each campsite has one or more ablutions that everyone shares. 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.
11. DON’T EXPECT TO HAVE ELECTRICITY AT THE CAMPSITES IN BOTSWANA
Most of the campsites have no electricity, or if they have, they turn it off around 10 PM.
Remember that you are in the middle of a national park, and life is different! The sky has an infinity of stars, which will make you appreciate being in the dark.
Make sure you pack some headlamps and some flashlights and some additional batteries, this is all you need.
12. NO COMMUNICATION: PHONE SERVICE AND WI-FI ARE A LUXURY IN BOTSWANA
I really spent 10 days without any communication in Botswana. It was both, scary and amazing at the same time.
Scary in case you really have no contact with anyone for many days, and amazing because you really focus all your time on the present moment. No opportunities to share that amazing selfie with an elephant on your Instagram.
When I finally was back in civilization and had access to Wi-fi, I had messages from my family from Brazil saying that it was the last call for me to answer before they contact the consulate to try to locate me…ha! I am glad I got the last call, just on time.
13. YOU WILL HAVE TO COOK IN THE OPEN AT THE CAMPSITE IN BOTSWANA
Just be aware that the campsites do not have restaurants if you are going wild camping in Botswana.
Consider yourself lucky when a campsite has a faucet with running water and a cooking table at your camping spot. They are very, very simple and basic.
Before you leave the town, make sure you stock up on food and I recommend having some extra cans of food (Yuck…I know, I also don’t like canned food, but they saved my life a few times during my trip to Botswana).
14. DON’T GO TO THE BATHROOM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT…WHAAAT!?
That is right! There is no such thing as going to the bathroom in the middle of the night while you are camping in Botswana.
I have read and heard terrible stories of people who decide to do it while wild camping in Botswana. One piece of advice that the locals gave me, and I want to pass along to you is DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR TENT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
I had a terrible night when I was feeling very sick, and I had to wait until sunrise to be able to run to the bathroom, but I had to follow the rules.
I saw hyenas almost every night around my tent and I could hear lions being very active close by.
This was not scary, on the other hand, it was exhilarating looking out of the tent and seeing them pass through the campsite. But don’t forget they are wild animals, and they are fully alert and ready to hunt in the dark of the night.
15. FOLLOW THE BASIC RULES OF CAMPING SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
I have been camping before, including in the jungle in Brazil before, but I learned that each location has its own rules, especially safety.
The campsites in Botswana are not highly supervised and sometimes we don’t even see anyone working at the sites, but make sure you follow at least the basics rules:
- Camp only in DESIGNATED areas
- Do not go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (yes, I know…I am repeating myself again here)
- Clean your area after you cook, and don’t leave any food outside, as it will attract animals
- Do not feed wild animals – this is dangerous for the animals and could result in them getting put down
- Do not leave any belongings outside at night, hyenas love to grab your shoes and anything they can play with…or destroy! It happened to me
- Clean your area before you leave, and take the trash to the designated area
SECTION III: All You Need To Know About Safari in Botswana
16. LIKELY, BUT NO GUARANTEE TO SEE THE BIG FIVE DURING YOUR SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
It is true that Botswana is the land of the Big Five, but it doesn’t mean they are easy to spot.
After I have done a safari in Brazil, South Africa, and Namibia before, I was mentally prepared to see the big five in the safari paradise in Botswana.
But I cannot complain, I had the chance to see: Lions, African elephants, and buffalos – I didn’t spot any rhinos or leopards during the 10 days of “hunting” with my Canon camera. I was not upset at all because I was still able to see from a very close distance the amazing wildlife in Botswana.
17. FEWER BUGS BUT MORE MOTHS THAN EXPECTED
When I camped in the jungle in Brazil, I ended up in the hospital because of mosquito bites. I was expecting the same in Botswana, but surprisingly I was wrong! There are much fewer mosquitoes than I expected and prepared for.
They do have malaria in Botswana, and I did take medication for prevention, but other than that, I rarely used the repellent I took with me.
On the other hand, my only struggle while camping in Botswana was the moths. I know…I know…they don’t cause any harm. But there are so many that to me, it was impossible to stay outdoors with my headlamp on. They fly aggressively in your face, they try to share your food with you and I also learned they love red wine.
18. ANIMALS WILL MAKE YOU GO TO BED EARLY, AND ALSO GET UP EARLY
Welcome to the jungle baby! It is so exciting to be in the wild, sharing the same space with the natural inhabitants.
After sunset is when the wildlife is more active, especially for the hunters.
The nights in the wild campsites in Botswana are loud, and I learned that the most active animals in the dark are the lions, hyenas, and hippos – Yikes! “I will give you guys space to enjoy your nocturnal routine”.
My routine was to go to bed when the sun sets (around 8 PM) and get up when the first daylight started to show (around 4 AM). The birds are extremely happy (aka crazy loud) in the morning, and they will let you know it is time to wake up!
SECTION IV: What Else Should I Know Before I Go Wild Camping in Botswana?
19. MIND YOUR BELONGINGS AT THE CAMPSITES
You never know when you will have an encounter at your campsite, the only thing you should know is that this will happen!
Beware of baboons, they can be very strong and intelligent, and they know how to open tents. Don’t leave food inside the tent, and collapse it when you go out.
Hyenas are very active at night, I was visited by hyenas almost every night. They are searching for food, so before you go to bed, pack everything. They will also steal your shoes, it happened to me! Be careful if you have small children, there are records of attacks at campsites at night.
Elephants can also visit you at the campsite in Botswana, and it also happened to me. My advice is just don’t panic, don’t run, and leave them alone.
20. YOU WILL HAVE ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS IF YOU ARE WILD CAMPING IN BOTSWANA
I had a couple of encounters at the campsite.
One day I was washing the dinner dishes at the Xakanaxa campsite when a huge hippo crossed in front of me! Another very close encounter was when I was cooking lunch at the Third Bridge campsite and a herd of elephants decided to go have some lunch too at my camp. It was gorgeous to be so close to them.
I had a very close encounter with a hyena in the middle of the night. Lying in my tent I heard the noise outside, and there she was, spying on me, and the funniest thing? With one of my sneakers in her mouth, which decided to take with her when she ran out in the middle of the night. What did the hyena do with my sneakers? Even today I think about that scene and have fun just imagining it.
Just remain calm, don’t run or try to scare the animals, and never forget rule #1: Never leave your tent in the middle of the night!!!
You can read more about some amazing stories on epic Africa Safari animal encounters.
21. BRING ENOUGH CASH WITH YOU
You must be asking “but there is nowhere to go shopping during a wild safari” – yep, you are right. But you still need to carry cash, why?
You may decide to do an activity while on safari (guided safari, boat safari, etc.) or you may find a campsite that has a small concession stand (water, basic food).
Another reason you will need to carry cash is that you have to pay the National Park fees at the gate, and they only accept Pula (local currency) – in the park, there are options for credit cards.
22. PACK YOUR FOOD LIKE YOU WOULD PACK YOUR EGGS
I wouldn’t understand this either if I haven’t seen what the bumpy roads can do to your gear.
On my way to Savuti, the “trails” were so crazy bumpy that I lost 1/3 of my food and water supplies. Containers of juice and water broke and mixed with a package of rice and the heat of the African summer cooked my rice in the trunk of my 4×4 – yes, it was a mess to clean, and yes, I ran out of food, and water sooner than I expected.
Don’t underestimate how rough the trails are in the parks. Whatever you have in the back of your vehicle will move up and down with the bumps of the trails.
23. HAVE ENOUGH WATER WHEN YOU GO TO BOTSWANA WILD CAMPING SAFARI
Have enough water and read above in tip 22.
In Okavango Delta, I ran out of water sooner than I had planned and I had to boil water to drink. Yes, even after boiling, the water was still dark, so you don’t want to know how that water tastes, right?
24. ALWAYS HAVE SOME CANS OF FOOD WITH YOU, THEY MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE
Read number tip 22 – Yes, I planned my food accordingly but because of the incident, I lost some food. Thankfully I had some cans of beans and vegetables, which saved some of my meals (and my life).
25. WHEN TO GO CAMPING SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
Regardless of the time of year, the wildlife and scenery in Botswana are incredible all year long.
But the best time to visit is during the dry season between May to October. At this time, the grass is lower, and the trees have less foliage, making it easier to spot hidden animals in the undergrowth.
A shortage of water causes wildlife to congregate around permanent water holes, or to make a daily pilgrimage to the river.
I visited Botswana at the end of December but it was only possible to drive to some sandy roads because the rainy season this year came later.
26. BOTSWANA IS A MALARIA AREA
I recommend consulting a doctor before you go to Botswana and see if you can get a prescription for malaria prevention medicine since there is no vaccine available. Don’t forget to pack your bug repellent.
27. BOTSWANA IS A SUSTAINABLE TOURISM DESTINATION
Botswana has a very unique tourism industry, based on a sustainable tourism model. Botswana relies on a low volume / high revenue tourism strategy, and it serves as an example all over Africa and the Planet.
In other words, it is not cheap to visit Botswana!
The business model in Botswana helps the local economy and assists with keeping balance in the fragile ecosystem by controlling the number of tourists. Higher prices help to support this sustainable system of tourism in Botswana.
28. WHAT TO PACK FOR A WILD CAMPING SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
You want to pack light….but at the same time, you will be so remote for many days that you will want to pack heavy. So, let me help you PACK SMART!
- GPS and a good Botswana map.
- Extra flashlights and batteries
- A well-equipped First Aid kit (including a snake bite kit)
- Rehydration solution
- A day daypack
- Satellite phone
- Inflatable LED Solar Lantern.
- Bring a warm blanket for cold nights.
- Camera and safari lens
- Toilet paper
- light hiking pants
- long sleeves shirts
- good face cover
- polarized sunglasses
- Hand sanitizer
- LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle and Emergency water supply
- External battery charger
29. HOW CAN I PLAN A SAFE TRIP TO BOTSWANA?
If you are going to travel to Botswana, pre-planning, researching, and understanding what you are looking for in a destination will help make your travels far more successful and safe. Here is some further information I think you might need to plan your self-drive safari in the Botswana itinerary.
- Visit my Botswana Travel Guide for more information about your trip to Botswana.
- Check my 10-Day Self-Drive Safari itinerary for all the day-by-day details about my trip to Botswana.
- If you are planning to go wild camping, read about my experience Sleeping under the stars in Botswana to find out what to expect.
- I have prepared a very complete guide to The best Safaris in Botswana and how to visit it.
- If you are combining your Botswana trip with Namibia, check out my Namibia self-drive road trip Itinerary.
30. INDEPENDENT CAMPING IN BOTSWANA VS. TOUR
I save the best questions about Camping in Botswana to last. So, congratulations if you get all the way to this point. If you are wondering: Should I go camping in Botswana independently, or hire a local tour operator, here I will explain the pros and cons of each one:
TRAVEL BOTSWANA INDEPENDENTLY:
If you choose to go camping in Botswana independently, keep in mind that the planning will take time and (a lot of) patience. It took me about 3 months of hard work to plan my itinerary in Botswana, especially, to be able to book all the campsites.
Communication with Botswana is challenging and it may take days, or even weeks to answer back to you. Plus, consider that you will be driving in very remote and isolated areas. You will need to have some basic mechanical skills (changing tires), and expertise in driving off-road (mud, deep sand, crossing water, etc.).
My 10-day trip to Botswana cost US$4,700 and you can read here the price breakdowns.
TAILOR-MADE TRIP IN BOTSWANA:
A popular alternative to visiting Botswana is to hire an expert local company. They can take you to the best safari spots in Botswana, and even get to add the animal species that you hope to see.
I have researched the best tour options in case you decide to hire a local guide, based on length of time, interest, and budget. Here are my top picks for you:
Camping in Botswana Conclusion
If you are planning to go camping in Botswana, pre-planning, researching, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe.
Camping in Botswana on a wild safari is a very challenging trip. You will be driving off-road, the GPS will not work, you won’t have a wi-fi connection, and no access to stores, or ATMs. So you will need to plan accordingly, have a very well-defined itinerary, and have enough food, water, and money with you.
Here is some further information I think you might need to plan your trip:
- 10 Easy Steps to Plan your Trip
- Botswana Travel Guide
- Botswana 10-Day itinerary
- The best safaris in Botswana
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