"DIY" Chobe Safari

Johann went on a self guided tour to Botswana and also popped into Zambia to see the Victoria Falls. He shared his perspective of going on a "D-I-Y" camping trip during our telephone conversation.

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Independent Travel
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Local People

So you did everything independently... didn't you make use of a safari company at all?

This was the third year we went to Botswana, we're trying to go every second year. The first time we went with a friend of ours who has been there before. So it's on a self taught type of basis: he has been all around Botswana with his Land Rover; stayed in the pans himself. So by the time we went for the first time, we had him and his experience with us.

We have thought about using a safari company especially for when it would be just my wife and I (our kids have finished school now), we thought to fly in and then make use of an operator in stead of driving all the way, but we haven't done that yet.

To self drive is nice though because we can decide where to go and be flexible, enabling us to cover large parts of the country.

What was your rough itinerary this time?

We spent about 7 days in Chobe Botswana, 4 or 5 days at an island in the Zambezi River, then Livingstone in Zambia. For our return route we went back to Botswana at Kasane, spent one night in Francistown and then back into South Africa.

Did you decide on a route before your Chobe safari, or just planned it as you went along?

What we did for example at the Kwai River next to the Moremi there are some concession areas where we would book a few nights there so that we have a target to get to. Then we'd leave the route leading up to it unplanned and decide where to spend the night as we go along.

This time, we booked the Chobe safari camping ahead of time, through the Botswana Parks Board. So we knew we had to be there at a certain date and then had to decide where to sleep beforehand and afterwards.

So it's a combination of pre-bookings and filling in the gaps as we go along.

Was it easy to make your Chobe safari bookings with the Botswana Parks Board?

It was unbelievably easy. We booked it by phone. I got a contact name and found booking to be easier than the Kruger National Park, it was genuinely easy to arrange.

And the Zambian side?

That was a bit more difficult! Especially at the border posts, we struggled a lot and it was very frustrating on the Zambian side.

We crossed borders at Katima Mulilo and the Kazangula Ferry border post.

Botswana's border posts are user friendly - you know what you have to do and where you have to do it but with Zambia you arrive there and you don't know which permits you need, it's quite a mess; we just found it very frustrating. If we didn't get people to help us with the procedure it would probably have taken another 3 hours to cross the border! There are no clear indications for instance to start at point A, then on to point B, etc. You might get to point C and then be referred back to point A!

Getting around - transport

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How big was the group you were travelling in?

We were two 4x4 [or 4WD] vehicles: 4 adults and 4 kids.

Did you find it was necessary to travel in convoy, i.e. at least two vehicles?

Yes, in Chobe National Park my friend's trailer got a flat tyre and I had to turn around in the dark to go and fetch him. On the way to the Chobe safari camp site we lost the other car without realising, because the dust was quite heavy and although I did see headlights behind me, they weren't those of my friend's vehicle. When we arrived at the camp site we realised it wasn't them and I had to go back to help him. So it was handy to have the two vehicles during our Chobe safari, to help each other.

When we got to Livingstone it was my turn to pick up problems with my vehicle. Fortunately it wasn't necessary to be towed but for the rest of the trip it wasn't very reliable and it would die every now and again. I was a bit worried about getting back to South Africa but fortunately with the second vehicle, I was covered in case of serious problems on the road.

Do you need a 4x4 for an independent Chobe safari, or can you also get by with a normal vehicle?

Part of the route you would need a 4x4 yes, but you can get to Ihaha camp with a 2x4 bakkie [small pick-up/ute], with a bit of ground clearance and if you drive carefully. But a normal sedan won't work for a Chobe safari, I don't think you'll make it. Maybe with a bakkie, but if not you will definitely struggle.

The first time we went to Botswana with my friend, I used a small BMW vehicle and he had a 4x4. I left my car in Maun. People think you can't go with a normal car. We drove in the sedan up to about 30-40km from the genuine wilderness.

So you can use a normal car if you don't have a 4x4 and then go on a Makgadigadi or Chobe safari from there, or book game drives with a hotel or safari company to get into the areas where a 4x4 is needed. There are ample opportunities from Maun or Kasane to explore those areas. You can literally drive right through Botswana in a normal sedan and make an alternative plan for those 4x4 areas that you want to visit.

The roads in Botswana are great. It's a great country.

How about cell/mobile phone reception, in case things went wrong?

No problems in Botswana, the network switching was flawless. I also activated it in Zambia.

Diesel problem

What we did have a problem with, was diesel. That's why we arrived in Chobe so late that night - when we arrived in Kasane there was no diesel. I was searching from one place to the next and in the end I had to enter Chobe and return to Kasane the next day because they were going to receive more the next day. Fortunately it did arrive.

If you're a single vehicle, I think you could pick up problems. In the past we used to take extra fuel with (from South Africa) but there are so many fuel stations these days. It was just unfortunate that there was a shortage problem at Kasane when we got there. We didn't have any problems in Maun, Francistown or Gabarone? only in the north.

Where did you stay during your Chobe safari and what was the standard of the camp site(s) like?

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The place we stayed at this time was in the Chobe National Park. We've been to Moremi before and the Kwai River and so on.

The previous time we stayed at the Makgadigadi Pans, but this time we drove all the way from South Africa in one go? it was a long stretch. Our first night was at Ihaha Camp at Chobe. It's situated right on the river.

We had to make do without hot water on our Chobe safari because it seemed the baboons damaged the wires of the sun-panels that are used to heat the water. It was a bit of a problem for the ladies not to have hot water in the bathrooms. On the other hand, you could get firewood and heat water on the fire. But we expected there to be hot water, and there wasn't any.

But then again, if you are in a place where you are overlooking the river with elephants walking by and playing, it's not really such a huge problem!

It was just that we had expected there to be hot water on our Chobe safari. They didn't seem to be working on fixing it up. I'm not sure how long it's been broken but it might have been a while already.

In Livingstone, we stayed at the Zambezi Sun, a 4-star hotel - we didn't plan on spending the night there but I had to get the car sorted out. It was really a very nice hotel.

It was also an incredible experience to view the Victoria Falls from the Zambian side.

Camping on the Zambian side: Victoria Falls trip report...

How about food? Did you buy your groceries for your Chobe safari in South Africa or Botswana?

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This time what I did is call ahead to a certain butchery in Maun - they have the best quality meat, you don't need to worry about meat and things.

We took tinned food along from South Africa. You're not allowed to take meat, dairy or anything through the Botswana border? but you don't need to because the food is cheap there; the meat is cheaper than in South Africa.

Getting food for our Chobe safari wasn't an issue, especially not in Maun. Francistown was also fine and at Kasane we bought most of our food at the fairly large Spar supermarket? very nice meat.

How was the weather?

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We went in July, so we didn't get rain. During this Chobe safari trip we had one extremely cold night? the first one or two nights it was freezing! I suppose it's also because we were camping right next to the water, but there was a cold wind blowing.

Other than that it was good, we knew what to expect. It's much warmer than the Free State [South Africa] anyway!

On to wildlife - did you see much wildlife, and anything unusual?

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It was the first time we saw a whole lot of sable antelope there at Chobe; they are quite rare. We also saw leopard.

Other than that pretty much the same kind of game we usually see, except lions: hippos, crocodiles? lots of elephants as you would expect in Chobe - lots of large herds. We came across a huge herd of buffalo.

And of course the birds were great there at the river, quite a large variety of birds that we saw there.

Did you get to meet any local people?

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Just the usual ... we had to get that tyre repaired at one of the shops there, more of a third-world experience than what we're used to... but we didn't have an outreach or visit villages specifically, no. The people of Botswana are tops, very friendly!

Can you offer any tips and advice to others planning a Chobe safari or another "DIY" trip to Botswana?

  • One needs to ensure you fill up with fuel where you can, just in case but it's not necessary to take extra fuel with.
  • Towards the central Kalahari (from previous experience) for example they don't take credit cards for fuel - so ensure you have enough cash.
  • We used Pula most of the time - there was one place that specifically didn't accept South African Rand. In the bigger centres (Maun, Francistown etc.) you can get by with Rand or US Dollars, but Pula is the best, for sure.

What about anti-malaria pills; did you have any problems with mosquitoes?

We took the anti-malaria pills during our entire Chobe safari, but we didn't have any problems with mosquitoes or tsetse flies or anything. We took the tablets to give my wife peace of mind, but I have never seen mosquitoes in July there.

Struggling with what to pack for your camping safari? Use our camping list...

How would you rate your total safari, on a scale of 1 to 10?

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You must remember as you visit a place more often, your expectations rise. The first time it was perfect but the second time you know what to expect? but the fact that I want to return tells you that it was good? say about 8 out of 10.

Safari Location: Botswana: Chobe, Zambia: Livingstone
Safari Company Used: N/A - independent safari
Duration: 2 weeks in July
Traveller Details: Johann Daffue, South Africa
Rates & Availability: Plan your own safari. Make an enquiry

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