BOTSWANA - THE BEST GUIDE ON HOW TO GO ON A WILD CAMPING SAFARI
Remote...Isolated...Wild! If you are planning a trip to Botswana, the best way to experience the country landscape and wildlife is by driving and wild camping in the remote safaris of Botswana.
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.
During 10 days, 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 and Okavango Delta.
I was very excited about this incredible experience 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 in Botswana was 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"
BOTSWANA REMOTE CAMPING-SAFARI GUIDE OVERVIEW
THIS GUIDE IS EXTENSIVE AND CONTAIN A LOT OF INFORMATION. FOR THIS REASON, I HAVE SEPARATED IT IN 4 DIFFERENT SECTIONS TO MAKE YOUR READING EASIER -
THE CONTENT IS EXTREMELY NECESSARY IF YOU ARE GOING TO SELF-DRIVE AND WILD CAMP IN BOTSWANA (YOU WILL APPRECIATE IT LATER)
SECTION I - Self-drive in Botswana
SECTION II - Wild camping in Botswana
SECTION III - Wildlife in Botswana
SECTION IV - What else should I know before I go wild camping in Botswana
INFORMATION - Visit this section at the end for tips on how to book your trip to Botswana.
ALSO, VISIT MY BOTSWANA TRAVEL GUIDE FOR ALL THE ARTICLES, TRAVEL TIPS, ITINERARIES, AND HOW TO TRAVEL TO BOTSWANA ON A BUDGET.
28 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO WILD CAMPING IN BOTSWANA
SECTION I - EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SELF-DRIVE IN BOTSWANA
1- PREPARE BEFORE YOU GO
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 10-day itinerary, studied the maps, made reservations at the camping sites, and tried to make payment (I will share more details below). I did a lot of research online and also I bought this guidebook that helped me a lot. 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 The 10-day Complete self-drive itinerary in Botswana, for all the detailed information you need to drive from Chobe to Okavango Delta.
2 - YOU NEED A 4X4 WHEEL DRIVE CAR
This is fact! You will need to have a 4x4 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 in the map. In some National Parks, such as Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Rerserve, you cannot even enter the park if you don't have a 4x4 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 raining season).
3 - CHOOSING A 4X4 VEHICLE TO SELF-DRIVE 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, you will need a fully equipped car with some basics for survival: Tent on top, cooking gear, refrigerator, and, 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 self-drive in Botswana wild safaris.
4 - YOU NEED OFF-ROAD DRIVING EXPERIENCE AND SOME MECHANICAL SKILLS
Great! You prepared for your trip, you rented a 4x4, 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 map, and I was surprised 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 - EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WILD CAMPING IN BOTSWANA
6 - CAN I CAMP IN THE OPEN WILD?
It is a NO NO! You are only allowed to camp at the designed areas, the campsites. Pulling off the trail and setting up your tent is not allowed. All vehicles must be in the campsites before dark. To be clear, there are a limited number of campsites and a limited number of spots at those sights.
In order to enter the different sections of Chobe and Okavango, you have to pass through park gates. These gates are checkpoints that 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).
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT - 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.
7 - HOW TO CHOOSE THE CAMPING AT THE NATIONAL PARKS
Good question, right? First of all, you will need to decide your detailed itinerary, 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 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 is a very manual process, still carbon copy receipt based rather than Internet bookings. See the section INFORMATION below on the great advice I have for you on how to book accommodations for a wild camping in Botswana.
9 - CAMPING IS NOT FENCED IN THE NATIONAL PARKS IN BOTSWANA
Different than what I thought prior to camping in Botswana, the campsites 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, remain calm and most likely they are just looking for food and they are curious about you.
10 - WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE CAMPING SITES
The campsites 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 4x4 under. Some camping sites have a faucet with water, a concrete table for you to cook, electric power until 10 PM, 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
Most of the campsites have no electricity, or if they have, they turn it off around 10 PM. Remember that you in the middle of a national park, and life is different! The sky has an infinite of stars, which will make you appreciate being in the dark. Make sure you pack some headlamps and some flashlights and 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. 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 in the present moment. No opportunities to share that amazing selfie with an elephant on your Instagram.
When I finally was back in the civilization and had access to Wi-fi, I had messages from my family saying that it was the last call for me to answer before they contact the consulate to try to find 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
Just be aware that if you are going wild camping in Botswana, the campsites do not have restaurants. 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 in 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. 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 the sunrise to be able to run to the bathroom.
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 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 IN BOTSWANA
I have been camping 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 at 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
- Do not leave any belongings outside at night, hyenas love to grab your shoes and anything they can play with...or destroy! It happened with me
- Clean your area before you leave, and take the trash to the designated area
SECTION III - EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE WIILDLIFE IN BOTSWANA
16 - LIKELY, BUT NO GUARANTEE TO SEE THE BIG FIVE
It is true that Botswana is the land of the Big Five, but it doesn't mean they are easy to spot. After have done safari in 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 rhino or leopards during the 10 days of "hunting" with my 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 less 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 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 into 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 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 dark falls (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!
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, 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 campsite. 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 around the globe on epic Africa Safari animal encounters.
SECTION IV - WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW BEFORE I GO WILD CAMP IN BOTSWANA
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 - 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 4x4 - yes, it was a mess to clean, and yes, I ran out of food and water sooner than what 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
Have enough water and read above in tip 22. 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.
25 - WHEN TO GO CAMPING 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 - HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE BEFORE YOU GO CAMPING IN BOTSWANA
Wherever you go or do during your travels, don't travel anywhere in the world without travel insurance; the unexpected can, and often does, happen. Be it sickness, losing your bag, theft, or even worse, having an accident, travel insurance is your best way of mitigating the issues and saving yourself thousands of dollars down the track.
Especially on a trip that offers so many opportunities for unexpected adventures to happen, I strongly recommend reliable travel insurance through World Nomads before your trip.
28 - WHAT TO PACK FOR WILD CAMPING 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! I recommend you to read my Complete Africa Packing Guide.
- Botswana Guidebook
- Backpack is the most convenient way to pack for a wild safari
- Day Pack to carry your camera and other essentials
- Headlamp and flash light
- 2 pair of shorts
- 4 t-shirts or tank top
- Hiking boots are a must - I wore mine ALL the time
- A pair of flip-flops
- 2 long sleeves shirts
- 2 pair of pants
- Fleece jacket
- A couple of pair of socks
- Sunblock/ Lip balm/ Sunscreen
PLANNING YOUR SELF-DRIVE & WILD-SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
During my Botswana road-trip self-drive itinerary I researched on the internet, watched vlogs, and also bought some books and maps to study my itinerary in advance. This helped me and I felt much more prepared to choose the amazing itinerary in Botswana and to self-drive the country.
The below are the 8 ESSENTIAL STEPS for your self-drive safari-camping in Botswana:
- VISIT MY BOTSWANA GUIDE PAGE: Considering that when I was getting ready for my trip, I struggled to find useful information on the web, so I am doing my best to provide the most complete information for anyone looking to do an independent trip to Botswana - BOTSWANA GUIDE.
- BUY A GUIDE BOOK: An excellent guide book that I read and used during my self-drive is Lonely Planet Botswana Guidebook, as it has tons of great information on main attractions, places to stay and park opening times.
- BOOK YOUR FLIGHT: Flights can be challenging. Most likely you will have a couple of connection flights, and they are not cheap. Make sure you book your flight at least 6 months in advance.
- BOOK A 4X4 IN ADVANCE: Make sure you do your research and choose a reliable rental car.
- BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION IN ADVANCE: The campsites have very limited spots available, so make sure you book in advance. Below are more tips on how to book it.
- BOOK ANY ADDITIONAL TOUR IN ADVANCE: If you have more time to explore Botswana, or are looking for some additional adventure, make sure you book your tour in advance.
- BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE: You will need travel insurance for this trip and I cannot reiterate it more. I recommend reliable travel insurance through World Nomads before your trip.
- PACK LIGHT AND SMART: Check my packing list recommendation.
If I forgot to cover something, or if you have any additional questions, please leave your comment below and I will be thrilled to get back to you.
BOOKING A 4X4 RENTAL WITH TENT ON TOP
If you are planning self-drive and mobile camping in Botswana, you will need a 4x4 truck, fully equipped with a kitchen, GPS, and a tent on top.
Make sure you rent your car from a reliable company, that offers all necessary camping gear and importantly, someone who is available 24/7 as we never know when we will need assistance and help. I rented my 4x4 in Namibia and drove both countries in the biggest adventure of my life.
I recommend Zambezi Rental Car - If you are interested in renting their 4x4 with a tent on top, I have negotiated a special deal for my readers. Just request a quote using code PPP10 to receive a 10% discount on your rental.
BOOKING YOUR INDEPENDENT WILD CAMPING
I recommend downloading the app iOverlander as you can locate all the campsites plus have access to reviews and exact locations.
Also, contact the groups below, well in advance, and try to make the reservations.
- SKL Group of Camps operates Northgate (Khwai), Savuti, Linyanti and Kumaga camping sites
- XOMAE operates the other campsites: Third Bridge, Ihaha, Xakanaka, and Southgate
Another option is to book using Booking.com as you can find great options for lodges, guesthouses, and campsites and with a free cancellation policy.
BOOK ADDITIONAL TOURS IN ADVANCE
If you are planning a trip to Botswana, you have plenty of options for amazing tours you can take while there. I have selected a handful of diverse options that can be the best fit for you:
WHERE NEXT? My top picks to make your trip the best experience
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