Budget: Self-Drive Safari

We wanted to give you an idea (and figure it out for ourselves) of how much our self-drive safari cost. We knew that it would take us above our $100/day budget, but we figured that it would be worth it.

Total Cost of 25 day self-drive safari: $5,599.36

Throughout the safari, we used South African Rand, Botswana Pula, Namibian Dollars and US Dollars. We used the current exchange rates.

We divided this cost down into the following categories:


Transportation: $3785.89


The transportation includes the cost of our Bushlore Truck Rental ($3001.00), gas ($685.99), various road fees, and a ferry.


Accommodation: $860.25

We were actually quite shocked at the expense of our accommodation. We used our truck company to help us pre-book many of our campsites because we knew it would be high season for safari. We decided that it was a good choice for some of the parks in Botswana, but was probably a bit unnecessary for Namibia. We also found that the parks in Botswana were outrageously expensive, even though we were just camping. For example, there were park fees of about $28 per day. In addition to the park fees, we paid for camping. The camp grounds within the national parks are all private and they are amazingly expensive. You pay per person and they cost $50 per person, per night.


Activities (This includes all park and entrance fees): $448.73

These are the park fees mentioned above. They were much more expensive in Botswana than they were in Namibia.


Alcohol: $55.97

We purchased 2 boxes of wine for our camping and also purchased a couple of beers here and there in the lodges.


Food: $261.35

This mostly consisted of groceries for camping. However, we did end up breaking down and buying a few meals along the way.


Miscellaneous: $42.51

We purchased maps for all of the major parks. Again, the Botswana prices were much more expensive than Namibia. We also had to pay for the bathroom in a couple of places.


Souvenirs: $17.53

Our safari was 25 days, so this cost averages $223.97 per day. That definitely blows our budget. However, the good news is that because it was at the beginning of our trip, we did pay our deposits for the truck and accommodation prior to leaving. Therefore we feel as if we didn’t actually pay it now… Or at least that is what we are going to tell ourselves.

Roads of the Self-Drive Safari

We talked a lot about the roads of our safari, so we wanted to give you an idea of those as well. Here is a photo essay of the roads we drove while on safari.

Roads of South Africa

There were many big regular highways in South Africa, but our first campsite took us off of them!




Why did the Kudu cross the road?

Roads of Botswana

There were of course long stretches of tar highways here too. The hardest part was watching for the many many cows and donkeys that constantly decided to cross the road in front of you. There were warthogs leaping out on the road every now and then as well. As we made our way into the parks, the roads became deep sand.



Why did the springbok cross the road?


The impalas needed to cross the road as well!




Here is the road where we got stuck. It was purely accident that we got this picture. We just took it, continued driving and picked the wrong road. It is hard to see how deep the sand was down there… but it was bad!



We had to drive INTO the river about 15 feet to actually get ONTO this ferry.


Always watch out for the donkeys!


This was called third bridge. Not much of a bridge… as you can see.


Luckily, 4th bridge was a little more bridge like.

Roads of Namibia

After Botswana, Namibia felt like a breeze. No more deep sand, but lots and lots of gravel.


And why did the elephants cross the road? No… I still don’t have an answer…


We had to drive into the sun sometimes. This evening was particularly difficult cause there was a lot of dust in the air… we could hardly see!


Don’t forget to watch out for giraffes!


And zebra of course!


It did get a little hilly in Namibia.


The blind hills were the hardest!


IMG_0736 The Skeleton Coast felt like we were on another world.


There were some windy roads!

IMG_0081_edt  IMG_0092_edt


IMG_9592_edt We enjoyed the southern African version of waysides or picnic areas. We would see a sign for a table under a tree… and then you’d always see the table under the tree!




Watch out for the above sign. They meant you were about to cross a river… most likely a dry one. But it was good for a big dip!





The first half of our self-drive safari was spent in the country of Botswana. We really enjoyed our time in the country, and thought we’d share some observations about the places we visited.

Safari Night 2: Khama Rhino Sanctuary, outside Serowe

Our first stop was at the campground at this haven for rhinos and other game.

Getting There

We were still adjusting to camping rhythms, and we left from our previous night’s camp in South Africa later than we should have. Crossing the border took a long time as well, with multiple lines to wait in. We were still a little way away from the site as the sun was getting pretty low in the sky, so we were getting nervous. Luckily, we made it to the site before it got dark.


Nice and secluded with a sandy base. Each site has its own nice big tree.


They felt a bit rustic, but the water was nice and warm


You can do a game drive within the sanctuary with hopes of seeing the rhinos,but we arrived too late at night to do this. Instead, we woke up early the next morning and drove around the park. We didn’t see the rhinos but did get our first views of some other game.


Safari Night 3: Khumaga Campsite, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Getting There

We left early enough from the Rhino Sanctuary that we were able to make it here a little earlier. What we didn’t realize until we got there was that to actually get to the campsite you have to take a ferry across a river! This ferry costs 130 pula (almost $15) per one-way trip too!


More out in the open than we would have liked, with a lot of exposure to other camps,


The first of what we learned was the standard model in Botswana parks. Nice interior furnishings. Only so-so for hot water.


We had time to do an evening game drive, but boy were we not prepared, This was our first introduction to sandy roads, and there was a big learning curve for figuring out how to navigate them. We gave up after almost getting stuck a couple of times, so we can’t really comment about what you will see! (We later figured some things out that we’ll put in a separate post)

Safari Night 4 & 5: Third Bridge Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

Getting There

We had to cross back over on the ferry to leave Khumaga, then we had to drive through the town of Maun. Here we wanted to see if we could modify our reservations to get extra nights at some camps inside the park – we hadn’t been able to reserve these ahead of times. However, this got confusing because Botswana has privatized its campsites inside the parks, so you have to visit a different office than the National Parks Office (where we had to pay park fees). To make it even more confusing, different campsites are run by different companies! So, in Maun, we visited: the parks office (to figure out what to do), Xomae Camps, SKL Camps and then back to the parks office (because we couldn’t pay our fees until we had proof of our sites). Phew!

The road to Moremi itself switched to gravel, and then in the park back to sand. Uh oh we thought! But we deflated our tires (a big key) and switched into H4 and had no troubles.


We stayed here two nights and actually stayed in two different sites. The first night we had to share a sight because of some confusion in the office (even at $100 a night they rely on paper records…). Luckily, the three guys (a South African, Namibian and Englishman) we ended up sharing with the first night turned out to be very helpful. They shared their fire with us and provided a lot of valuable advice about the different parks and route. It was almost sad to move to our own site the next day.

The sites themselves had nice shade trees over a sandy base. The edge of the sites was the water of the Okavongo Delta, so at night you would hear hippos pretty close to the tent.


The standard Botswana parks setup.We followed our neighbor’s advice and tried the showers in the middle of the day (the water is heated by solar), and it was pretty warm.


You are in the middle of Moremi, so go on a game drive! If you are brave enough to cross the “bridge” the site is named after…

Safari Night 6: Khwai Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

Getting There

From Third Bridge to Khwai is basically a game drive in itself. A must-stop along the way was the hippo pools.


The site itself was a little less nice than Third Bridge in terms of layout. There was a road right through the site basically but luckily no one ever drove down it. This was where we had a late night visitor. The back of the site was the Khwai River, so we also heard hippos again.


Standard Botswana parks setup again. Our shower was pretty hot here.


You could do a game drive in the area, but since we had driven from Third Bridge we didn’t partake.

Safari Night 7: Savuti Camp, Chobe National Park

Getting There

The drive from Khwai to Savuti was for the most part the standard sandy roads. There was one tricky water crossing to get out of Khwai Village, but someone was kind enough to show us the way.


Our site itself was pretty paltry – just a patch of sand with a tree (but we were afraid to get too close to the tree because we were told an elephant might come through and they like those trees). There was a small store in the camp where we purchased a couple of cold beers while we relaxed in the afternoon.


The building was the standard setup, but what was unique here was that the building was surrounded by a reinforced circular fence with a gate. We think this was for the elephant worry mentioned before.


We did an afternoon game drive and saw our first lion of the trip! There were plenty of other places to explore that we didn’t get around to.

Safari Night 8, 9, 10: Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane

Getting There

The drive to Kasane was boring… for the most part. We knew it was going to switch to a hard “tar” road at some point, so when it got to be hard gravel we decided to re-inflate the tires. Of course then it turned back to sand around the next corner so we re-deflated.

Then, when we knew we were almost to the tar road, we came upon a hill with deep sand… and got stuck! We were trying to figure out how to use the rubber mats and shovel when a truck of safari drivers came by. One hopped in the car, put it in L4 reverse, and got out. We were definitely grateful!

The tar road was a nice relief after multiple days of sandy roads.


This campsite was attached to a fancy lodge, so we were definitely impressed with the reception desk and the lodge itself. The campsite… didn’t have that much going for it. Our space was a patch of dirt just wide enough for our truck, surrounded by thornbushes. The sites were packed pretty tightly together. The one saving grace was that within 100 feet they had a bar overlooking the river, where we spent multiple afternoons drinking beers and watching elephants graze.


Substandard, for sure. Felt outdated. Water for the shower could barely be called warm.


As this was a lodge, you could pay to do all sorts of things. Kasane itself is a town full of potential activities. This was the base for our Victoria Falls trip. We also paid to take one of the lodge’s morning game drives through the riverfront section of Chobe.


Final Thoughts

We definitely enjoyed our time in Botswana and all of the game-watching opportunities it provided. The people of the country were all very kind and also very proud of the country. We did get a little frustrated by how expensive everything associated with the parks seemed to be – park fees, campsite rates, and so on. But that didn’t keep us from having a great time!

Victoria Falls

When planning our self-drive safari, we knew that a visit to Victoria Falls was a must-do. These gigantic falls are definitely a unique attraction within the world.

The falls are a nice day trip from the town of Kasane in Botswana, where we were staying for three nights. The falls themselves are on the Zambezi River, which forms the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. So, to visit the falls you have to go into one of those countries for the day. All of the tours offered in Kasane go to the Zimbabwe side, which was convenient since that’s where we wanted to go anyway!

We booked our day trip as “unguided,” meaning that the tour company would get us to the park and back from Kasane, but we were on our own inside the park. We priced a few companies in town, then went with one that was cheap and already had a large group going (meaning we were less likely to get lost). After paying though, we began to have regrets for going through a random company we found on the street. What would we do if the driver didn’t show up the next day?

Luckily, our worries were unfounded. Our driver showed up the next day right on time. He took us to the border, where we first had to get a stamp to exit Botswana. Then, he drove us a little down the road to enter Zimbabwe. Both stations were very crowded with tourists trying to do the same thing! The visa for us to enter just for the day was $30 US, which seemed very high!

We were then handed off to our driver from the Zimbabwe side. It is cheaper for the company to have a separate vehicle in Zimbabwe than to pay fees for taking a vehicle through.

At the falls park, one of the first things you will notice in the parking lot is vendors attempting to rent you ponchos. We had our own so we were prepared.

The entry fee to the park was also $30 US per person. This plus the visa fee plus the tour fee made for an expensive day!

There are numbered viewing areas that you go through as you get closer and closer to the main falls. First,  you start off near the Devil’s Cataract. Then as you proceed down the stations, it starts to get mistier and mistier. At some of the final stations, the mist from the falls is so powerful that it feels like rain is falling. We don’t have pictures from these stations because we didn’t want to get our cameras wet! Even with our ponchos, our lower legs got soaking wet. We’d recommend for future visitors to wear sandals!

We also took a little bit of time to walk out on the bridge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia. At least we didn’t have to pay a fee for this – just a “bridge pass” is enough even though you are technically leaving the country. There was a bungee jump available from the bridge, but we decided to pass :).

It was a quick visit, but one that we won’t soon forget!

Close Encounters!!

We have had the privilege of seeing many animals on our safari. Keep checking for a post with our best pictures, but there was only one experience that qualifies as a close encounter. We had been warned that evening scavengers might visit our campsites at night. Indeed, one did.

One evening, we were relaxing by the fire, only one hour after the sun went down. We had made the mistake of leaving our trash bag out on the picnic table in camp. We heard a clatter and saw a shadow steal the trash bag. We thought it was either a baboon or a hyena! We were nervous and retreated to our truck where we waited awhile. After seeing nothing, we came back out and saw that the trash bag had only been knocked to the ground. We put it in the proper receptacle and returned to the fire.

A few minutes later we heard another noise, turned our heads and saw a full grown hyena loping through camp!! He was probably only 6 feet away from us and the fire! Needless to say, we were a little scared! Granted, he looked quite startled as well as we pointed our flashlights at him. We did decide to retreat to the car again though… The whole thing was too fast for a photo, unfortunately!

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Self-Drive Safari, Week Two

We’re not sure we will have Internet access while on our safari, so we’ve scheduled a few posts like these to automatically go out. During the 2nd week of our safari, here is where we are planning to be:

Day 8 – July 15

We will spend the morning in Savuti then head into the northern Botswana town of Kasane, where we are camping at the Chobe Safari Lodge.

Day 9 – July 16

We will spend the day exploring the Ihaha area of Chobe near Kasane, and spend another night at the Chobe Safari Lodge.

Day 10 – July 17

We will take a day trip to Victoria Falls! We think we will go to the Zimbabwe side (for yellow fever reasons). We will spend another night at the Chobe Safari Lodge.

Day 11 – July 18

We leave Botswana and head into the Caprivi Strip region of Namibia. We will spend the night at Camp Kwando.

Day 12 – July 19

We drive further along the Strip, spending the night at Ngepi Camp.

Day 13 – July 20

We drive out of the Strip and to a town called Rundu near the Angola border, spending the night at Nkwazi Lodge.

Day 14 – July 21

We have a long day of driving, making it all the way to Etosha National Park. We will be camping at the Halali Camp

Self-Drive Safari, Week One

We’re not sure we will have Internet access while on our safari, so we’ve scheduled a few posts like these to automatically go out.

During the first week of our safari, here is where we are planning to be:

Day 1 – July 8:

We will pick up our truck at the Bushlore office, and drive to the campsite at the Waterberg Wilderness reserve.

Day 2 – July 9

We cross into Botswana and head to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.

Day 3 – July 10

Drive to Makagadikgadi Pans National Park. We will spend the night at the Khumaga campsite.

Day 4 – July 11

Drive through Maun and into Moremi Game Reserve, spending the night at the Third Bridge campground.

Day 5 – July 12

We will explore more of Moremi, then head just outside the park to spend the night at the Khwai community camp.

Day 6 – July 13

We will spend another night at Khwai community camp, so we will have the day to explore more of Moremi

Day 7 – July 14

We leave Moremi and head north to the Savuti area of Chobe National Park. We will spend the night at the Savuti reserve camp

Planning Our Self-Drive Safari

Why Self-Drive?

When setting out our overall itinerary, we decided that we wanted our first stop to be South Africa.We also know we wanted to do some sort of safari to see some of the amazing wildlife and sights that Africa has to offer. But what kind of safari should we do?

First, we had to figure out where we wanted to go. Some people just go out to Kruger National Park in South Africa. While that sounded like an excellent destination, once we saw pictures of places like Sossusvlei and Victoria Falls, we decided to focus on getting to both Botswana and Namibia out of Johannesburg.

A quick glance at the prices or the luxury guided safaris let us know that was a no-go. Another option that a lot of “backpackers” do is to do a group “overland” tours through a large tour operator. This would have allowed us to see a lot the highlights, but the downside seemed to be to us that we wouldn’t be able to set our own pace.

Then, we stumbled across a blog by Traveling 9 to 5 about a self-drive safari. Intrigued, we looked into this further and thought it sounded pretty cool. You rent a truck with camping equipment and drive yourself on your own itinerary. This seemed like it would allow us to see exactly what we wanted while not breaking the bank. So, we started planning for this option.

Picking a Truck

There are many operators in Johannesburg that will rent you the standard self-drive safari vehicle: a four-wheel-drive pickup (always white for some reason) with a tent mounted on top and camping supplies included. We wanted to find a good deal, but also wanted to go with someone that seemed responsive to our concerns.

We got quotes from a few different places, then made a spreadsheet to compare their daily costs, insurance options and other fees. In the end, we went with Bushlore. Their costs were on the lower end of the spectrum, and they were very responsive in answering questions. From their selection of trucks, we chose the Toyota Hilux with Safari Camper.

Choosing the Route

The next step was to figure out where the truck was going to take us. July is part of the high season for safaris, so we couldn’t afford to dawdle. Conveniently, Bushlore offers a service to help plan the itinerary and book accommodations along the way. So, we got in touch with the booking department and started making plans.

The agent came up with a day-by-day plan and quoted us a price to book the whole thing. However, we felt like we needed a little more information. First, we mapped out the itinerary ourselves to see if the number of days could be condensed. Then, we researched all of the proposed campsites (cross-referencing against Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, of course) to see if any of them could be booked by us directly.

Our first attempt at mapping out the destinations

Our first attempt at mapping out the destinations

It required a little back and forth, but eventually we settled on a route and cost with the agent. We came up with a 25 day itinerary, which doesn’t allow for a lot of downtime but hopefully won’t be too hard to get done. It turned out that it was easier and almost as cheap for Bushlore to book the campsites for all but one of the destinations…

The Time We Wired Money to Africa

The website for Etosha National Park in Namibia seemed petty straightforward, and the price they were requesting for a campsite was about half of what Bushlore quoted. So,we decided to try and book it on our own. Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly until it got to the whole payment part of it.

We had thought we could pay by credit card, but it turned out the only option was to wire money. We hadn’t really done that before, so it took a little figuring out how to even do that. It was tough to even figure out if we were sending it the right place – the way it was supposed to work was that we wired to an account in the US that is associated with a foreign exchange company that would then send the appropriate Namibian dollars to Etosha.

We were a little scared that somehow this was a scam (and trying to explain that we were attempting to wire money to Africa while talking to representatives of our bank felt a little silly), but by this point we were in deep enough that we decided to just send the money anyway. If we ended up losing it, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world and would be a good lesson learned. We were getting a little nervous because it took Etosha quite a while to email that they received the payment… but they finally did (after close to 3 weeks)! Hopefully when we show up there, they will still remember that…


After telling everyone how flexible we want to be on our trip, it feels strange to have planned out the first month in such detail! We’re just hoping that all of this up-front planning will help make this self-drive safari go as smooth as possible. Look forward to more posts in the future about how close we can stick to this plan 😉

Learning Something New Everyday!

Did you know that a braai is a BBQ grill?

Did you know that an ablutions block is a bathroom?

I didn’t. But now I do! At least they are in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.

We’re getting close to having our plan put in place for our self-drive safari! (More details to come)