Amazing 3 week self drive safari in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe – Road trip planning in Africa

Giraffes at Etosha National Park, Namibia

This has to go down as one of my best experiences to date. Driving in Africa seemed daunting at first, but I can safely say that I enjoyed every minute of this trip and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone thinking of organising something similar. If you’re looking for a safari holiday in Africa and want to see abundant wildlife and stunning scenery then Namibia is definitely for you. We ended the holiday in Botswana and finally Zimbabwe, managing to cram in three different countries in three weeks.

Flights to Namibia

We booked out flights to arrive in Windhoek, Namibia and depart from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe flying with South African Airways. There are plenty of options and airlines to choose from, but we would were able to find the best cheap flight deals via trip.com.

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Renting a car in Namibia

Hiring our own vehicle worked so well for this trip and gave us so much flexibility and independence. There were many options to chose from when renting a car in Namibia but we found that a simple SUV was perfect for getting us around to all the places we wanted to, including via some slightly sketchy roads. A 4X4 isn’t essential but some of the roads can get a little tricky to navigate, particularly during the rainy season from November to April. We arrived at the tail end of the rainy season but managed just fine.

We collected our Toyota RAV 4 from Windhoek, Namibia and arranged for it to be dropped off in Kasane, Botswana. As drop-off was in another country it did incur an extra fee, however we were able to cover much more ground in our three weeks as we weren’t restricted to returning to the same starting location.

A word of caution; driving in darkness is strongly discouraged. It’s highly likely you’ll come across an animal close to the road at night and they can be difficult to avoid if you’re not used to driving in Africa. We planned our trip to make sure we arrived at each stop before sunset.

For the best cheap car rental we would recommend booking through qeeq.com.

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Day 1 – Arrive in Windhoek

Our flight arrived mid-afternoon which gave us enough time to collect our rental car, stock up on supplies at a local supermarket and check in to our hotel to rest up prior to starting the journey the next morning. You won’t have trouble finding somewhere to stay as there are plenty of places to choose from that suit all budgets.

Days 2 to 3 – Windhoek to Sussusvlei (4 hours drive)

The Namib Desert

Starting bright and early we headed out on our first drive south to the Namib desert. We passed a few checkpoints and on leaving Windhoek we were soon on near empty roads and surrounded by stunning scenery. For the last couple of hours of driving the paved roads ended and were then mainly dusty tracks, although perfectly passable in most vehicles. As it was the tail end of the rainy season we there were a few large depressions and puddles in the roads, so make sure you drive down the edge to avoid the deepest water.

We stayed for 2 nights at Sossusvlei Lodge which was well located and only a few minutes drive from the Namib-Nakluft National Park entrance. The accommodation itself was amazing, with our own private cabin and an amazing open air restaurant.

This gave us a full day to explore the park, paying our entrance fee and entering early morning at sunrise. We drove past amazing desert scenery including the towering Dune 45 which is worth hiking up. The end of the road is an reasonable drive away, and it’s here you can park up your vehicle and catch a shuttle ride with one of the 4WD cars which take you deeper into the national park and onto Sossusvlei, a vast salt and clay pan where you’ll find it hard to take a bad photo. Driving these 5kms in your own vehicle isn’t recommended.

Day 4 to 6 – Sussusvlei to Erindi Private Game Reserve (6 hours drive)

Leaving by 7am we headed north. Rather than backtracking we chose a route which took us through Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park. This was a fairly long day of driving, but the scenery on the way was worth the slight detour.

We were able to arrive at the Erindi Private Game Reserve in time to head out on an organised early evening game drive with the park rangers. This was our first taste of African wildlife and we came across Lions, Giraffe and a Hippos. For the remainder of our stay here we mostly chose to join the organised game drives through the reserve. This was a great way to give us the best chance of seeing wildlife. However parts of the reserve are designated for self-drive safaris and we would definitely recommend doing that in your rental car if you have time.

Day 7 – Erindi to Waterberg Plateau National Park (3 hours drive)

Waterberg Plateau National Park.  Wildlife in Africa

As we only had one night booked at Waterberg Plateau National Park we left Erindi early to arrive late morning at our accommodation at Waterberg Wilderness. This left the afternoon for us to join another organised game drive during which we were able to view several Rhinos. The setting of the camp was stunning, perched upon a plateu overlooking dense green vegetation and mountains. All the activities were booked through the lodge on arrival.

Day 8 to 10 – Waterberg Plateau National Park to Etosha National Park (4 hours drive)

The next morning we had time to join a walking tour of the Waterberg National Park, a great way of getting up close to some of the wildlife and seeing it from a different perspective. To make it to our next destination before sunset we left before lunch. We entered Etosha National Park via the Anderson Gate and took a leisurely drive through the park for the next couple of hours, including many stops to check out the wildlife which was on every corner, including Zebra, Giraffes and Lions.

We stayed at Mushara Bush Camp, a short drive from the Von Lindequist gate to the national park, and we would highly recommend it.

There’s a fee to pay to enter the park per day, and you’ll find all the details you need on the Etosha National Park website including a really useful map of the gates and various sites on the park.

The next few days were dedicated to self drive safaris in the park, in the early morning and late afternoon. This avoided the midday heat where wildlife is generally less active. Etosha is generally considered one of the highlights of Namibia, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

Day 11 to 12 – Etosha to Bwabwata National Park (6 hours drive)

Bwabata National Park. Wildlife in Africa

Today was another long day of driving so we left Etosha early. Breaking up the journey may have been a better alternative, but we were keen to head east and check out the Caprivi strip. This is an area of Namibia sandwiched between Angola and Botswana. As we drove further east it felt much more like we were entering rural Africa.

We stayed at Ngebi Camp, possibly our favourite accommodation during the whole trip. Our private hut was situated right on the riverbank, with Hippos frequently passing close by below us. The sound of Hippos at night so close to us was incredible!

During out stay here we took several organised canoe trips on the Cubango River as well as game drive up to the border with Botswana. Again all booked through the accommodation who offer a good range of trips which can be booked upon arrival. We were able to get up close to Hippos and various other wildlife and really enjoyed our time here.

Day 13 to 14 – Bwabwata National Park to Kwando River (3 hours drive)

Driving only a further 3 hours east took us to our next stay at Camp Kwando, situated on the River Kwando right on the border with Botswana. We were able to make use of the afternoon and following morning to join a walking tour to view an array of birdlife and other wild animals.

Day 15 to 17 – Kwando to Chobe National Park, Botswana (3 hours drive)

Elephants in Chobe National Park

Today we allowed extra time to cross into Botswana as we heard there can be hold ups at the border. This didn’t prove to be the case and we were able to get our passports checked, pay our fees and head into Botswana and what was the entrance to Chobe National Park.

A word of warning though, please take note of the stop sign when entering the park! Whilst we stopped and waited for several minutes to be seen by the guards, driving our car only a matter of 1 metre beyond the sign gained us a $100 traffic fine (we negotiated this down from a much higher initial price). This very much seemed like a scam to catch out tourists…

Once we arrived in Kasane, Botswana we were able to drop off our rental vehicle at a pre-arranged parking lot and make our way to our next accommodation. Awaiting us was a vehicle to take us to our stay at Chobe Bush Camp. It turned out that we were the only guests staying at the time, but the owner was extremely accommodating and went out of his way to make sure we had a great stay.

Over the next few days we used the time to head out on morning and evening game drives in Chobe National Park which were organised and booked through the camp. Each and every drive was incredible and we had opportunities to see a whole range of wildlife including countless Elephants and a few Leopards.

Day 18 to 19 – Chobe National Park to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (1 hour drive)

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

At this point we had left our rental vehicle behind so had to arrange a transfer across the border into Zimbabwe and our final destination at Victoria Falls. I would recommend allowing extra time to cross the border as we did end up waiting around for few hours whilst our passports were checked and stamped. It all seemed rather chaotic so be prepared to hang around a while.

We stayed at N1 Hotel in Victoria Falls town, situated only a couple of minutes walk to entrance to Victoria Falls itself. There are plenty of accommodation choices in town and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere that suits your budget.

Victoria Falls National Park was one of the highlights of our trip. At the time of our trip we paid about $30 to enter. You can spend a good morning or afternoon wandering between the various viewpoints to check out different parts of the falls, and there were just so many great photo opportunities.

Day 20 – Depart Victoria Falls

The airport was just a short taxi journey away and this marked the end of our trip. Until next time…

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