Get ready for a doozy of a post, because there’s no quick & easy way to share our 50+ day road trip through Southern Africa! When we arrived in Africa six weeks before beginning this leg of the trip (read our East Africa post here!), we never imagined we’d be going out on our own. But once you’re over there, you realize how normal everything is and how completely doable a self-drive is, particularly in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
Here is a video that showcases some of our favourite moments 🙂
Before getting into the nitty-gritty I wanted to share some of our biggest highlights – which are near impossible to pick! But I’ve done my best to round up my top 5.
Seeing the Okavango Delta from a Mokoro (Botswana)
Getting into the heart of the Okavango Delta is quite expensive, and also requires some dedicated time. We decided to base ourselves in Maun and do a two-day overnight trip into the Delta, which we loved! We saw elephants and hippos (which scared the $h*t out of me!) from the Mokoro, and also did a few walking safaris where we were able to get quite close to elephants, wildebeest, zebra and antelopes. It was a very unique experience and well worth it!
Exploring Sossusvlei – from the Dunes to Deadvlei (Namibia)
I was in awe of Namibia the whole time we were there. But I think I was most awe-struck when we were in Sossusvlei, with red sand dunes that towered above us. Seeing the run rise from Dune 45 was an experience, and climbing “Big Daddy” later that morning provided some epic views of Deadvlei.
Hiking the Drakensburg (South Africa)
Though I totally got us lost on our hike, it ended up working out well and I loved the day hike we did from Royal Natal National Park. I’d love to come back one day and spend more time exploring this gorgeous mountain range!
Taking a break from the bush in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch is such a lovely town, with lots to do! We ate and drank wine to our hearts’ content, checking out a few wineries each day. But beyond that, there are hikes, bike rides, massages and just exploring the town. If you’re in Cape Town, it’s definitely worth the drive!
Experiencing the joys that come with Self-Driving
Perhaps this shouldn’t be a highlight in and of itself, but honestly some of the most memorable parts of this trip were when we had car trouble! From changing a tire in the middle of a national park, to getting stuck in the mud on Skeleton Coast Road, to driving up the treacherous Sani Pass we grew quite an attachment to our Toyota Fortuner. We went through a lot together, and I would strongly recommend self-driving these countries to anyone considering it. It’s character building (if nothing else) and you’ll learn in no time that most things are just par for the course and any problem can be solved with a little creative thinking. Plus, taking yourself on a safari is really freaking cool!
Below, I’ve broken down the days by area, sharing where we stayed each night. I’ve put *’s beside the accommodation we particularly enjoyed!
To see how this maps out, you can also check out this Google MyMaps which includes our route, accommodations, points of interest, some of the places we got supplies (especially in Botswana and Namibia which were a little more remote), and places for eating/drinking when we weren’t making our own meals.
Botswana: 7 Days
You’ll notice we spent a mere 7 days in Botswana, driving from Johannesburg up to Maun for a few days. One thing to note is that we had already spent some time in Chobe National park, so we didn’t go back but Chobe is incredible and I would definitely recommend it (read about our experience here). A second thing to note is that we decided to self-drive about a week before we picked up our rental car which meant our options were much more limited. Ideally, we would have picked up a car closer to where we were staying, but we priced it out and it was cheaper for us to fly to Joburg, pick up the car and then drive back up Botswana. I’ll touch more on this later when we get to Tips & Tricks, but do some research to figure out the best option for you.
Namibia: 16 Days
Namibia was such a beautiful surprise, and probably my favourite country in Africa. You can see incredible wildlife in Etosha (read about it here), visit the sand dunes of Sossusvlei (here), drive the iconic Skeleton Coast (here), explore the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop (here) and so much more. We managed to see everything we were interested in, and fit in a few days of rest and relaxation in Swakopmund.
Day Seven – Eight: Divundu (Ngepi Camp*)
Day Nine – Ten: Etosha National Park (Onguma Tamboti Campsite*)
Day Eleven: Etosha National Park (Toshari Lodge Campsite)
Day Twelve: Kamanjab (Hoada Campsite)
Day Thirteen- Sixteen: Swakopmund (Sea Wind Self Catering Cottages*)
Day Seventeen – Eighteen: Sossusvlei (Sesriem Campsite)
Day Nineteen – Twenty: Aus (Klein-Aus Vista Desert Horse Campsite)
Day Twenty One: Fish River Canyon (Hobas Campsite)
South Africa: 30 Days (plus 1 night in Lesotho, 2 nights in Swaziland)
I’m going to break this up into Western Cape, Garden Route, Wild Coast, Lesotho & Drakensburg and finally Kruger, Swaziland and Johannesburg because 30 days is a lot!
The Western Cape was a wonderful break from the bush and the desert. We were originally supposed to stay at Fish River Canyon for two nights, but decided to leave a day early and stop on our way to Stellenbosh; Highlanders was such a pleasant surprise with large campsites and wine tastings. Stellenbosh was beautiful – we enjoyed the town as much as we enjoyed the wine, and appreciated being somewhere we could go for runs, or walk around and explore. Cape Town is a must for anyone visiting South Africa; though we didn’t get to go up to Table Mountain (it seems the city took a break from their insane drought for two days while we were there, and it was rainy) we loved walking around the city trying cafes, bars and restaurants.
The Garden Route is beautiful (though I would argue the best views were on our way from Cape Town to Gansbaii!). Storms River Mouth was one of our top five favourite campsites, positioned right along the water with great facilities and lots to do. And Addo was an incredible experience – this was the closest we got to elephants while doing safaris.
Day Twenty Nine: Gansbaii (Gansbaii Town Lodge)
Day Thirty: Knysna, Garden Route National Park (Diepwalle Camping Decks)
Day Thirty One – Thirty Two: Tsitsikamma , Garden Route National Park (Storms River Mouth*)
Day Thirty Three – Thirty Four: Addo Elephant National Park (Addo Campsite) (Note: best to book in advance)
Covering the ‘wild coast’ in three days was ambitious, and didn’t allow us a lot of time to get in and amongst the different beach towns. While staying in Coffee Bay, we did hike to Hole in the Wall and it’s one of the most beautiful self-guided hikes I’ve ever done. Durban was a wonderful surprise with lots of culture, street art, restaurants and distilleries and, of course, Indian food!
Lesotho & Drakensburg (read more here)
Driving up Sani Pass in our 2wd was quite the experience for me, and definitely pushed the limits of my comfort zone (though in the end it was totally fine and I got myself worked up for nothing!). Driving through Lesotho felt like we were on a different planet, and stopping for a night in Clarens afterward was a stark contrast! The Drakensburg is beautiful, and an essential stop for hiking enthusiasts. Just make sure you plan your hike before heaving, or you might have to improvise like I did 😉
Kruger National Park, Swaziland & Johannesburg (full post here)
We thought we were going to be safari’d out by this point, but it wasn’t the case at all! My best friend and her husband joined us for a few days in Kruger, where we experienced one of our top safari moments in watching a pride of lions eat a giraffe over two days! Besides the animals, it was also filled with lots of laughs and great memories made. Royal Hlane NP in Swaziland was a completely unique experience and one that James, Lindsay and I will surely never forget (particularly when we got our SUV stuck in the mud!). Rounding up the trip with a few days in Sandton was relaxing, and quite the contrast to one of my favourite experiences – a guided bike tour of Soweto.
Day Forty Four: Johannesburg, OR Tambo (Europrime Boutique Hotel)
Day Forty Five: Kruger NP (Numbi Hills Self-Catering Hotel)
Day Forty Six – Forty Seven: Kruger NP (Letaba Rest Camp*) (Note: best to book in advance)
Day Forty Eight – Forty Nine: Royal Hlane NP Swaziland (Ndlovu Camp)
Day Fifty – Fifty Two: Sandton, Johannesburg (Signature Lux Hotel*)
When we set out, we knew it was going to be a long trip and opted to buy camping gear from Makro. (Note, if we were to do this again, we would look into renting a Toyota Hilux with roof tents and all the gear – but since we made these plans relatively last minute it wasn’t an option for us. Our camping gear, kitchen gear, and car rental – everything you get with the roof tent 4x4s – worked out to $81.12 per day for the two of us. We received multiple quotes from rental agencies for 4x4s with roof tents, and all were at least $150 per day).
Note, all costs below are USD and the per person per day costs assume 2 people.
Let’s start with the camping equipment costs. We spent $509.85 on our camping gear, including air mattresses (plus an extra one when mine got a hole in it mid-trip), a tent, renting a fridge for the duration of our trip, blankets and sheets, camping chairs, firewood for all our campsites and also misc. items that we needed to purchase on the go (like a converter for one of the campsites). This worked out to $4.81 per person, per day. Not bad, eh? Especially when you consider that we slept over 25 nights in that tent, saving $30 or more per day in accommodation compared to staying in a hotel.
We also made a lot of our own meals, and so purchased “kitchen” gear which included a portable stove, pots and pans, plates/bowls/cups/cutlery, knives and cutting boards and other little knickknacks we needed to cook our own meals. We spent $116.77 on this items, which worked out to $1.10 per person, per day.
Another large expense was the car. We wanted something automatic, big enough to fit all our gear and ourselves comfortably, and had 4WD. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any 4x4s, but our Toyota Fortuner had high clearance, a full spare and some 4×4 features (like diff lock) that definitely helped. The cost for the rental and any car maintenance (replacing spare tires, getting a car wash, etc.) was $2,910.18 which worked out to $34.65 per person, per day. Fuel on top of that was $9.05 per person, per day.
Average accommodation when we were camping was $12.11 per person, per day, while using hotels/Airbnbs/Self catering lodges was more like $31.41 per person, per day. On average, we spent $21.67 per person, per day on accommodation.
Here is a breakdown of all the costs (per person, per day):
All in all, we spent roughly $97.00 per person, per day.
Feel free to check out/use our camping and kitchen gear packing list – link here. 🙂
TIPS & TRICKS
So, what did we learn?
Southern Africa is much safer than you think, and a totally appropriate place to do a self drive.
I think (slash I know) that we scared the hell out of our families when we told them we were going to rent a car and drive around 5 different African countries. But the truth is that it was so much more normal than portrayed in the North American media! Before visiting, I pictured it being extremely remote, apart from the large cities where we would surely get robbed/carjacked in. It wasn’t the case at all!
After picking up the car at the airport in Joburg, I was just waiting for something terrible to happen. But guess what? Bad news is sensationalized! We drove to Makro where we got nearly all of our supplies and were on the road to Gabarone, Botswana without a care in the world. Now all this being said, have your wits about you (this is just a good life rule). If something seems sketchy, it probably is and so get out of there. Always lock your car (this should be a given), don’t stop and talk to strangers and schedule your driving for daylight hours only.
We were shocked at all the big box stores (Checkers was my personal favourite grocery store) where we could get supplies in nearly every location. In Botswana and Namibia, we did a little more planning (when was the next large grocery store to restock, or the next gas station to refuel) but didn’t have to think twice about this in South Africa. And all of the parks were beautiful and safe! We saw lots of families travelling and camping together and both agreed it is something we would love to do with our own kids one day.
You will have some sort of car trouble; it’s inevitable.
We rented a large SUV with high clearance and, though it didn’t have 4WD it did have some of the features (traction control, diff lock). We still managed to get 2 flat tires (both within the span of 5 days in Namibia) and got stuck in sand and mud on more than one occasion. Even if we did have 4WD, some of these situations would have been unavoidable. Don’t sweat it when something goes wrong. You will be amazed at how quickly you can change a tire after doing it once! A few considerations to lower your risk of car problems / to make them easier to deal with:
- Get a 4×4 if possible. When we went to rent, there weren’t any automatic 4WD vehicles available, so we took what we could and it worked for us but we may have been able to avoid getting stuck at least once if we had 4WD. Also consider carrying tow rope, in case someone is willing to help you but doesn’t have one. You will see a lot of Toyota Hilux trucks kitted out with rooftop tents (this is also an option!) and they all have tow cables, so if you are stuck try waving one of them down.
- Make sure your car has a full spare tire, not just a donut. Because when you are on a rough road in the middle of a national park, driving through potholes and large puddles and you get a flat tire, you want to make sure your spare will get you safely off that road and to a service centre!
- Carry a gas canister. I insisted we get a gas canister in South Africa because I knew there would be times in Botswana and Namibia where fuel stations would be far and few between. Admittedly, we didn’t have to use it but I felt more comfortable knowing that if we did run out of gas we wouldn’t be stranded. Once we got back into South Africa we ditched it because there are gas stations everywhere.
Use Google Maps as your GPS.
We didn’t have a GPS, but instead used Google Maps on my phone. I downloaded all the maps offline and saved places we were driving too before we would depart. That way, even if we were in a dead zone (we got a SIM card and data in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) we could still get where we were going.
Crossing borders is extremely easy.
Your rental car company will ask which countries you are visiting and give you a letter of permission to cross borders. While handy to have, we didn’t have to show it once!
The one thing that might trip you up (more in Botswana and Namibia) is that they have vet check points where you cannot cross with raw meat. These aren’t always at border posts, but you will see signs for them (for instance, you can go into Etosha with raw meat but you cannot leave with it). We were only searched once, and didn’t have any meat in our cooler at the time. I suppose the worst case scenario is that you get a few steaks confiscated.
If possible, get a portable fridge for your car.
Honestly, I didn’t even know this was a thing until James mentioned it, but it was such a life saver for us! We kept ours in the trunk, plugged in to the 12V jack in the back. We rented a 55L with freezer and rented from this gumtree dealer. This ensured our food never spoiled, and most campsites also had electricity so we could keep it plugged in at all times. We also picked up two large tupperware containers from Makro, one to hold our dry goods and one to hold our kitchen supplies. Keeping everything organized this way made meal times a breeze.
Big cities will have all the supplies you need, but otherwise there isn’t much choice.
If you’re purchasing equipment or have forgotten something at home don’t fret – any large cities will have stores to get supplies. But know that (in Botswana and Namibia in particular) large cities are few and far between so plan accordingly.
Consider purchasing a Wild Card if you plan on visiting a lot of SA parks.
Because we were visiting a few different SA parks and camping in quite a lot of them, it made sense for us to get a Wild Card. The one thing we didn’t realize was how difficult this would be! The first park we visited was Cape Point, on our way from Stellenbosch to Cape Town. We figured we would just buy a Wild Card at the front gate and be done with it, but you can’t buy them at the gate. You need to pay your entry fee and then purchase it inside, which means you’ve already wasted money. We were so annoyed we decided not to purchase it there, and instead buy it in Cape Town (surely there would be a place). We saw a tourism office not far from our Airbnb that advertised the Wild Card and went there one morning, only to be told we needed to drive to another office about a half hour outside of the city. Without much choice, we ended up doing this on our way out of town.
They also don’t give you the Wild Card (it is mailed to you), and instead give you a piece of paper with your membership number on it. Had we known all of this, we would have purchased our Wild Card online and just printed off the membership number to show at park gates.
If you are planning to camp in the SA parks, it’s really easy to book online using the SANparks website (this is also where you can buy a Wild Card). If you know your itinerary, I’d consider booking things in advance. While availability isn’t an issue with most parks, some of the popular ones (Addo, Kruger) need to be booked ahead of time.
This is one of the best trips we have ever taken, and I can’t wait to return one day! Are you planning on road-tripping around Southern Africa? Reach out and let me know if you have any other questions!