Driving through Botswana, you get the sense that you are the outsider. Not threateningly. You are the alien to the otherwise preserved and balanced way of life. Animals and man seem to have it just right. And here you are, speeding along in your tin can that appears to have no place here. That said, the locals welcome your odd arrival. Children run to see these curious folks, waving and laughing, while adults stare with a knowing; we have a better life here look.
As you pass by the dispersed traditional homesteads, watching locals build and repair their thatched round huts, keep an eye on the road. Cattle dominate. Cows have it worked out. They will nod their massive horns at you, giving you a look that you may drive on. Or not, if they decide they have waited long enough and are now going to usher their family across the road.
Horses dart out from nowhere — elephants, giraffe, springbok. And then there are the donkeys. The Botswana donkey is the archetypal Eeyore. Standing statue-like right by the side of the road, solemnly staring into space. They do not move. Seemingly having the weight of the world on their grey shoulders. Either that or they munch on some very potent kind of herb all day and are just completely stoned. But there they stand. Everywhere. Not, moving. Ever.
Botswana can be affordable
I had been unsure about travelling to Botswana. Mostly because I knew little about it. In my mind, it was a luxury safari spot for the very rich and I was a little afraid doing it ‘on the cheap’ may run us into unsafe places. I was wrong.
We aimed to travel from South Africa to northern Namibia, so our itinerary does not include the famous Chobe National Park – which we intend to return to do in the future!
We stayed in the following spots with Savanna-the-Vanna and would recommend them all. Some were quoted to us in Botswana Pula, others in South African Rand.
- Mokolodi Nature Reserve: we paid BWP310 a night, around £20
- Khama Rhino Sanctuary: BWP280 per night, £20
- Tiaan’s Camp: Now called Boteti River Camp. We paid R420, which was around £20. I am unsure what the rates are under the new owners
- Planet Baobab. Here we took a break from camping and hired a quirky twin hut at R1900, about £110 for the night. It was wonderful to have your own toilet and shower and get some washing done. Worth the extra money!
- Maun’s Backpacker Camp: BWP80 per person per night, about £10 for both of us for a night
- Drotsky’s Cabins: R630, £38 per night
Our first stop in Botswana was near to the principal town of Gaborone, where we made our border crossing from South Africa. You are met with a welcoming bar and restaurant and a small shop. Here you can buy firewood that you will need to heat your water when you drive further into the Reserve to camp for the night.
Mokolodi is camping wilderness style at its exhilarating best. We were the only ones camping that night, which added to the complete remoteness. We cooked dinner as the stunning red sun set, opposite the most vibrant red rising full moon you could imagine. Standing between the two, I felt simultaneously alive and insignificant.
The night was spent peering through the tent window, trying to see what creatures were making the passing animal noises. At one point we were approached by two men! Sticking our heads out of the tent, we were told they were security guards who would sit on the hill above with their fire to make sure we were ok. This was both reassuring and a little scary. From what were they protecting us from?
Good morning Botswana
Morning arrived soon enough to a chorus of birds and yelping – things. As I climbed out of the roof top tent to make breakfast, a family of stunning Kudu walked by before disappearing into the bush. Ahh, it was bliss. I put on the bacon and eggs to cook; only to hear a kind of hissing, screeching, alarming – noise.
Well, if the night before had resembled one of those tranquil moments from Star Wars, where they gaze longingly out to the planets, we had now walked into an audition for Kong the Return: This time they are even bigger-er.
I have seen baboons many times. I have never seen baboons of this size. Human size. Gorilla size. Lunging towards my bacon and eggs. Screeching yelping coming for, my, bacon. I screamed. Iain raaared them away, flapping and stomping.
Breakfast was eaten, the tent was packed, and we were out of there — what an incredible experience.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary to Tiaan’s Camp
Next, we drove to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where we managed not to see any rhinos!
We then drove on north to Tiaan’s camp. This camp is nice enough, I would recommend it, but this is not the star of the show here. No. That would be the ferry across the Boteti river to reach the Makgadikgadi National Park.
The Botswana Ferry
They call it a ferry. I would call it one of those once in a lifetime experiences. You know the ones you instantly know that never again in your lifetime will you be so silly as to sign up to this death-defying trip again, experiences.
There are no words for this.
And yes, we had to come back again.
The wildlife on the other side is indeed worth the effort. We only had a short time in the Makgadikgadi National Park, but there appeared to be an abundance of wildlife. Botswana does it in size and number.
Planet Baobab: a room with a view in Botswana
Next, we drove on from here to Planet Baobab. This camp was recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide, and I certainly agree. Set amongst the ancient Baobab trees, we took a break from the camping and stayed in one of the wonderfully quirky lodges.
Ours had an attached outdoor shower where the odd squirrel ran through but nothing sinister! And the view from the toilet in the early morning was stunning. That’s not something you can often boast about.
In Botswana; the journey is the destination.
Botswana is not just about the destination. The next stop for the night. Getting there is to see Botswana. Getting there is to experience Botswana. No more so than the drive from Planet Baobab to our next stop in Maun at the Old Bridge Backpackers.
Now, this one I call, what in the name of my old giddy aunt did you do to your road Botswana? When does a road not become a road any more and in fact is just one giant pothole? Please give it up Botswana this is a road no more, concede and return it to the sand it wants to be. But then, just when you think you can take no more from this stretch of pothole madness, you are catapulted, literally, into a wondrous stretch of road driving slap through the middle of two national parks back to back. Amazing. Here you are to give way to elephants and any other roaming wildlife. A family of giraffe strutted in front of us. We looked up, and up, in awe. They didn’t bat one of their long eyelashes at us way down below in our little box on wheels and simply carried on their way. A reminder, good things can come out of despair!
The bar area here has a prime view by the Okavango Delta. Schoolchildren and locals walk back and forth across the old bridge. Just as you imagine they have done for many years.
The camping area itself is nothing special but sitting gazing out at the river, hoping to catch a glimpse of the crocodiles sipping your Savanna Dry is just serene.
Here was our last stop before crossing the border into Namibia. Noteworthy here are the monkeys. They are everywhere. Our camping spot was large and remote where Savanna the Vanna sat nicely between fragrant jasmine trees and palms by the side of a river. The monkeys swung and jumped from tree to tree, oh how delightful. Ha!
“I am guarding the cheese slices, the bread and keeping my foot on the pan box, no I can’t stir the flamin’ impala stew!”
“Well I have just chased a monkey on its way onto the back seat, and there’s one on top of the car, I can’t do it.”
“The monkey is getting my impala stew, do something!”…
And so it went on into the dark of night until the fire was made, the delicious impala stew was eaten, the monkeys went to bed for the night, and we toasted Botswana with a tin cup of cheap red wine before moving on to Namibia the next day.
So, although we only stayed six nights, Botswana remained one of our favourite and most memorable countries in all of our around the world trip and in hindsight, I would have stayed longer. You could easily budget for around a hundred dollars for campsites for a week, although splashing out on Planet Baobab was worth it!
Incidentally, we then crossed the border into Namibia at Rundu and stayed in the Hakusembe River Lodge – a wonderful trip, and also highly recommend.
Read more blogs from our Southern Africa trip here.
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