Earlier this year, we were made an offer we could not refuse when we were asked if wanted to join a 4×4 trip to Botswana and Namibia.
We had been to Botswana before and knew how incredibly difficult and expensive it can be, particularly if you don’t have the right equipment. If you don’t own your own 4×4 the best (and sometimes only) way to see the country is to join an organised trip. These seem to be run for people with lots of spare dollars or pounds and not for your average traveller! So… this opportunity – to jump in a ready-owned 4×4 and join a planned trip into unexplored Africa – was a definite yes for us!
For any of you wanting to do the same, here are some tips we picked up along the way:
1. Go in a 4×4
If you want the freedom of going anywhere then you will need a 4×4. If you don’t have one you can still see some spectacular parts of the country but be aware that you will be limited. There are 2 main tarred roads in Botswana – one to Maun and one to Chobe. When we first went to Botswana in 2009 we took my Ford Focus and easily made it to both these places. However, once we were there we had to rely on tours to explore the delta and the parks. With your own 4×4 you can seek out new spots and park yourself in a campsite in the middle of a game reserve for as long as you want.
2. Take plenty of spare parts and repair kits
Even the hardiest of 4x4s will take a beating on those roads and you do not want to be left stranded in the middle of nowhere trying to get help. We found having a someone with a keen knowledge of fixing cars also helped!
3. Always have lots and lots of water
Be aware (particularly if you are wanting to stay at campsites within the reserves) that you run a high risk of ending up somewhere with no running water. The best thing to do is to have plenty of water with you at all times. Our trailer had a 50 liter water tank and we also took about 25 liters of bottled water in the car. What you need obviously depends on where you are going and how often you move.
4. Find out where all the vetinerary check points are
Famously, Botswana is very strict on what you are allowed to take into the country – no meat, no oranges etc etc. However, once you are in the country, you can’t relax as you will be stopped at vetinary checkpoints along your route fairly frequently. These stops are desgined to stop the spread of foot and mouth so you can expect to drive/walk through a pool of some type of solution and to hand over all your meat (and sometimes fruit and veg). In order to avoid having all your supplies confiscated, find out where these are in advance. This will save you a lot of time and money.
Another tip, although raw meat can’t be taken through a checkpoint, they have no problem with you stopping on the side of the road and cooking it before proceeding. We had a very cheerful roadside braai on our way to the Okavango Panhandle.
5. Invest in a rooftop tent
This is not an essential but for any of you who have a little bit of a fear of being trampled by elephant in your sleep or dragged out by hungry lions (disclaimer: I have no clue how likely either of these are) then the feeling of safety, sleeping up above the animals is priceless! We spent many nights lying in bed listening to the hippos chomping and the elephants growling (yes, they do growl!) right next to our tent, able to enjoy it only because we knew we were not underfoot.
6. Check whether or not you will have to pay park fees to transit through a game reserve.
Reserves are everywhere and sometimes your sat nav will suggest you drive through them en route to your next destination. We drove through one assuming we would not need to pay if we were just transiting – mistake. We ended up on a slow and dusty route through a reserve (with not an animal in sight) only to be hit with pretty steep park fees upon exit and then an extravagant ferry fee to get back onto the main road. If we had just stopped and asked we would have been told about the fees and could have taken the much faster tarred route around the edge of the park.
7. Check the rules of each game reserve before you start exploring
Some of the reserves are much stricter than others. So, while you may be able to sit on roof racks and drive off road in the Caprivi, if you try that in Chobe you ill find yourself quickly removed from the Park.
8. Book ahead!
Some game reserves (Suvuti, Moremi) require proof of booking before they let you into the park. These campsite are small and far between so don’t delay and make the booking with plenty of time to spare. Remember to carry printouts of all your bookings – internet access and cell phone reception are luxuies you won’t find in the African bush.
9. Be prepared to see lots of animals
These are wild animals but with a certain amount of luck and lots of respect you can have incredible encounters with a variety of animals. We had elephant walking though our campsite, hornbills landing on our laps, hyena visiting our campfire and hippo joining us at our dinner table.
10. Be on the lookout for animals at all times
Sometimes the best times to spot wild animals – especially elephant – is while you are driving on the freeway. So keep an eye out even while you are doing 120km/hr.