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We both have been to Southern Africa multiple times. The last time was 3 years ago, when we hired a 4x4 with rooftop tent and explored South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. We absolutely loved it, living the African life! The moment we returned our car we knew this wouldn’t be our last time to travel to this part of the world. We both really wanted to come back and have the best Africa experience: Botswana! And now during our world trip it was the best time to do it!
Botswana is a true wildlife and African Dream: unfenced camp sites, the largest population of elephants in the world, predators around every corner and a beautiful landscape, from the lush Chobe River to the central Kalahari desert. Top that off with some proper 4x4 driving in very remote places and we knew this was going to be a once-in-lifetime experience
Botswana is huge with only 2.8 million very friendly people. The best way to describe the country is as one big national park with only a couple of main roads. One third of all the world’s elephants live here and there were many days when we saw more elephants than people! The remoteness of the country requires some preparation. In some areas you can drive on your own without seeing another car for days. You don’t want to break down with your 4x4 in these places.
After travelling for 10 months, hopping from 1 hostel to another, it was an absolute delight to have our own ‘home on wheels’! Cooking your own food, set up camp every day and going wherever you want felt like freedom. Our daily routine looked mainly like waking up early with coffee, a sunrise game drive (and this was early, sometimes at 04.30am!), making breakfast afterwards, driving for a couple of hours, having lunch, drive a couple of hours more to the next camp site, a sunset game drive and after a well deserved bbq with (South African!!) wine and a campfire we always went to bed early. And driving and camping in the wild means seeing wildlife for 24 hours a day. Because the campsites in Botswana are unfenced we had all types of wildlife around our camp, including elephants and hippos just 10 meters next to us! It was also necessary to make a campfire to keep some animals away from our camp that you do not want to have up close. We have never been afraid to be all alone in the bush with just wild animals around us, we actually loved our bush camping life!
We entered Botswana coming from Johannesburg and crossed the country from south to north via Marakele National Park, Khama Rhino Sanctuary and Elephants Sands. On the way we saw so much wildlife, including buffalos, rhinos, zebras, giraffes and of course elephants. While driving we had to keep an eye on the sides of the road as it was very common that an elephant decided to cross the road just when we passed!
Once in Kasane, a town in the very northwest corner of Botswana, we heard the first stories about the effects of the rainy season. Flooded roads in the parks, car break downs, waterholes as deep as the car windows and seeing no wildlife for days because of the water and thick green bushes. What to do? At that moment the rain had stopped since a few days and we hoped it would be better in a couple of days.
First we decided to visit the impressive Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The good thing of the rainy season is that the falls are at full force. Only the bad thing is that the spray made it sometimes impossible to see it, ha ha. So as you can guess, we ended up being soaking wet.
Back at the camp site in Kasane we met other people who just came from the parks. It seemed that the conditions in the parks were still very bad. The roads were still flooded, driving 20km took 12 hours, there are high risks of a car break down and there is hardly any wildlife on the way, especially in Savuti and Moremi. Some people even got stuck for 2 days and had to camp between lions in the middle of nowhere. As seeing wildlife is one of the main reason for us to visit Botswana, we decided to skip some national parks. Very sad as we were looking forward to these parks a lot, but we didn’t want to risk water damage with our rental car which isn’t covered by our insurance..
We visited the beautiful Chobe National Park which is situated next to the Chobe River. First we did an amazing river cruise and got a sneak peak of what can be seen when you spend time on the shores.
And so we did enter the park the next day to explore it with our own 4x4! And when you expect it the least, the unexpected happens...Just after entering the park in broad daylight, a leopard came out of the bushes only 5 meters from our car. It was amazing and we were so lucky!!! Linda managed to take an incredible good photo within seconds. See our first photo in this blog :) HAPPY! Our big five was finally complete, whoohoo! And there was more to come...
Large groups of hundreds of buffalo, hippos, jackals, lions, crocodiles, impalas, kudus, springboks, vultures, baboons, and driving between hundreds of elephants and passing them within 2 meters distance. This all on the same day. We even had 20 elephants around our campsite while setting up our tent, we loved it. And last but not least, a pride of lions eating from a carcass of an elephant the next morning
Why should we take so many risks with the car on flooded roads while being able to see so much wildlife in other parks? We decided to skip Savuti and Moremi and drive to Makgadikgadi, Nxai and Kalahari in Central Botswana instead.
In central Botswana we still had to be careful where to go because of all the rain. We could only access the north part of the Kalahari which was nice to get an idea of this remote area.
Afterwards we drove to the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans and were surprised by the beauty of the landscape. These pans are a bit off the beaten track and many people skip this part, which is a real shame. The landscape is a combination of flatlands and Baobab trees. During the rainy season there is a zebra migration to the Nxai Pans. Therefore we have seen the largest zeal of zebras ever!! The open flatlands are perfect for spotting wildlife, especially gemsbok, ostriches, giraffe, wildebeast, hunting jackals and of course elephants! We even had to reverse our car one time because of an angry bachelor elephant attacking us as we came too close! And this male was huge... Luckily our 4x4 did not let us down. The big cats didn’t show themselves this time. We had to save something for Namibia.
After 2 weeks of camping in the wilderness and 3.500 km’s of driving we arrived in Maun. The place to stock up on groceries, fuel and do some maintenance of the 4x4... and our last stop before crossing the Namibian border and continue our selfdrive adventure.
We definitely come back one day to see Okavango, Moremi, Savuti and Kalahari... but then in the dry season ha ha!