The Wildest Wilderness: Self-Drive Safari In Botswana

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After a great time in Victoria Falls and a short transfer I arrived to Kasane. This town is right in the “Four Courners” where four countries almost meet: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia & Zimbabwe. It is also the only town in northern Botswana. The next town Maun, is more than 600km away.

Between these towns lies the wildest most beautiful wilderness with the Okavango Delta, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, as its protagonist. It all begins just a few kilometers south of Kasane in Chobe National Park, which benefits from one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. The Savuti, Linyanti and Chobe Riverfront areas within Chobe each offer different landscapes and unique game viewing. But that’s not all! The phenomenal wildlife experiences are continued in the Moremi Game Reserve.

Self-drive from Kasane to Maun

We left Kasane to soon enter Chobe National Park via the Sedudu Gate. Soon after the gate, rough and extremely sandy roads slowed us down. But we were in Chobe already!

Our itinerary was tight. We would spend our first night in the Savuti Campsite in Chobe and second night in the Third Bridge Campsite in Moremi. But you’ll soon learn things had to change.

What I’m trying to get at is: this is not for anyone. First of all, it requires an experienced and slightly fearless driver that is ok with driving a 4×4 in sand and mud. Second, it requires extreme preparation. There is basically nothing between Chobe and Maun other than very rudimentary campsites so you’ll need to pack all the food, petrol, and tools required to survive your journey.

Chobe National Park, Botswana

We battled through the sands and got to Linyanti in the afternoon. There wasn’t much daylight time left but we wanted to spot some wildlife before heading to Savuti. We saw a herd of ten plus elephants up close. They were right on the middle of the road coming back from the river.

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We then headed to Savuti, and on our way found a couple of South Africans on a 4×2 stuck deep in the sand. Our attempts to tow them off all failed but luckily they had family in the camp and they came to the rescue!

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Early morning in Savuti

The next day we woke up and slowly began our journey towards Moremi. We soon saw an Impala herd completely frozen, watching something at a distance. A leopard had probably got one of their friends. Minutes after, Savuti continued to surprise us and we saw a pack of six or seven lions crossing the road, probably looking for their rest place for the day. Their arrogance and peacefulness represent their power: they are feared and they know it.

We soon made our way for Moremi, seeing loads of wildlife on the way.

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Coming through y’all stop there!
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Yes, we are totally posing for you

Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

Moremi brought more widlife and obstacles. Our 4×4 got stuck in mud. Luckily, a local saved us pretty quickly and taught us how to handle the areas where you literally need to go through deep water. It was scary as hell but we did it.

In parallel, the lovely and zero customer centered people at Third Bridge sent us, due to flooding, to Kaziikini Camp which is outside Moremi and on the way to Maun. They dis not give us any other choice. This meant we would need to leave Moremi a lot earlier than expected. Hence we decided to visit the Black Pools and Mogogelo Hippo Pool which are on the way to the South Gate of the park.

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He wasn’t happy to see us at all

While driving there we encountered and angry elephant who trumpeted loudly at us. Soon after we found a small waterhole with two elephants which seemed to be fighting inside it, together with hippos and a resting crocodile. At that moment I smiled to myself in joy: “Yep, this is what I’m here for”.

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Elephants parting after their fight

We continued our journey and noticed the road became a lot rougher. The track was almost inexistent. A bit of erosion of the soil from wheels could still be seen but the space between the wheels featured grass a meter long. It was clear that not many cars had gone through that road recently. However, we continued and at last, the hippos!

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Hi hippos!

After the successful turnout, we decided to call it a day and head to Kaziikini Camp. It was a bit muddy around the pools, so we decided to take extra caution after having got stuck earlier. But we got stuck again! And this time we didn’t get out of it easily or safely. You can read the full survival story here.

Reflections on self-driving in Chobe & Moremi wilderness

I hope I was able to convey this through the post, but I’ll say it anyways: self-drive safari in Botswana is where long days of travel in dodgy terrains are rewarded with uncharted wilderness.

If you are adventurous, intrepid and passionate about wildlife in its most, well, wildest form then Botswana could be the experience of a lifetime.

Are up to the challenge? Then you can find tips for planning the trip in this post.

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PLANNING FOR SELF-DRIVE SAFARI IN CHOBE & MOREMI

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Planning for self-drive safari in Chobe & Moremi

If you are looking for pure wilderness then self drive safari in Botswana can be a very rewarding experience. I visited the Chobe and Moremi reserves in the Okavango Delta – for details on my visit see this post – but there are a lot more National Parks & Game Reserves to explore such as the barren Central Kalahari Game Reserve which is next on my list.

Please note, such uncharted wilderness comes with a price – you need to be prepared!

How to get there & around

There are several gates to the reserves, if you are coming from Kasane then you’ll approach Chobe National Park first. The road approaching Chobe is first a smooth concrete highway which then turns into, well, horrible sand. You need to be a confident driver to cruise these parks and in my opinion, a 4×4 is an absolute must.

You could also come from the south (for example, Maun) and in that case you will enter Moremi first and go to Chobe after.

Anyhow, you’ll need a good map. Cellphone reception is inexistent in the parks. Mobile data & wifi is pretty uncommon in northern Botswana so you’ll need to go back to basics.

You can rent a GPS with you 4×4, the best option as it includes navigation. What I did was download the Tracks4Africa Botswana map in my phone and use it with GPS. This works well. I found the map to be – although not perfect – quite accurate. The good thing as well is that it has interest points, such as campsites, attractions, fuel and loads more, which are available offline. The points have a description and GPS coordinates. They did come useful at many points during the trip.

Last, do carry a paper map just in case. I didn’t need it but you never know!

When to go and for how long

We went in April, and it’s said that the best time to go for wildlife watching is April to October. The weather was perfect, it was quite hot during the day but not unbearable, and got chillier at night but not too cold. We stayed for 3 days and 2 nights, one in Chobe and one in Moremi. Three days is a lot less than recommended, but my partner and I are the energetic type who prefer to squeeze in as much as possible even if it means driving most of the day. We also didn’t mind the driving as it’s really all you are there for!

If I had to recommend a time to go I would say at least 5 days. To be honest, the longer the better, as the chances to see animals hunting on prey or any other awesome wildlife episode will increase.

What you need

4×4: Although we did some people in 4x2s, guess what – they kept getting stuck! And I can tell you, getting stuck is not fun at all. We rented our 4×4 in Hertz Kasane and it was pretty awesome, but apparently Hertz is going to stop renting them in Kasane, so here’s an alternative. If you are coming from Maun you can use this rental instead.

Food & drink: You need to take all the food, drink and water for the days you’ll be there. You should bring 4 liters of water per person per day. Our 4×4 had a proper fridge, which most do, so keeping food chilled shouldn’t be an issue.

Extra fuel: There are no gas stations in Moremi or Chobe, which means you need to bring enough fuel for your whole safari. So bring extra fuel tanks. Some 4×4 have long range fuel tanks which house up to 140 liters which depending on your schedule may be enough. Fuel is sold in Khwai village in Moremi by the locals in their homes. However, they not always have it and it’s expensive.

Satellite phone: As I mentioned there is no signal. A satellite phone seemed like an exaggeration to me but after this happened I will never do self safari again in my life without being able to call for help. It’s also better to travel in at least two vehicles. Because this isn’t always possible, bring a satellite phone!

A dose of respect: Respect wildlife. Don’t get to close or do crazy things just for a picture. Don’t take unnecessary risks.

Full Checklist:
  • A 4×4 preferably with two 4×4 modes, the second one being low speed full strength. It will come really useful in the sand.
  • Enough fuel. Our 4×4 had a long range tank with 140 liters which was enough for our trip. You can bring extra cans if needed
  • A roof tent to keep you safe from wildlife together with all tent gear (sleeping bags, mattress)
  • Recovery tools: high-lift jack, sand ladders, full sized shovel and a tow rope
  • Two full spare tires and an air compressor
  • A satellite phone, GPS system or equivalent (already explained above)
  • A gas stove, our 4×4 had one built in
  • A fridge, our 4×4 had one built in, together with food for every meal. Just reiterating – you won’t be able to buy anything
  • Four liters of water per person/per day
  • First aid kit
  • Head torch or lantern
  • Any other camping gear you would normally bring

moremi

Where to stay

There are several campsites which you can chose from. You do need to pay and book in advance, and unfortunately they are not cheap nor customer friendly but that’s what happens when it is the only option you have. You need to book really in advance – I began booking more than 3 months before and I still didn’t get my first choice.

We stayed at Savuti in Chobe for one night and booked the second night in Third Bridge but were actually relocated to a campsite outside Moremi called Kaziikini. We actually slept one night in the wild due to an unlucky accident.

Chobe: 

Savuti Campsite & Linyanti Campsite: owned by SKL Camps. Website here. Email: reservations@sklcamps.co.bw

Ihaha Campsite: owned by Kwalate Safaris. Website here. Email: kwalatesafari@gmail.com

Moremi:

Xakanaxa Campsite & South Gate Campsite: owned by Kwalate Safaris. Website here. Email: kwalatesafari@gmail.com

Third Bridge Campsite and Gcodikwe 1 Island Camp: owned by Xomae Group. Website here. Email: xomaesites@btcmail.co.bw

North Gate Campsite: owned by SKL Camps. Website here. Email: reservations@sklcamps.co.bw

Park fees

Park fees are payable in the gates so don’t worry about that in advance. Fees are valid from whenever you pay them to the next day at 11AM. Staff at the park gates are pretty useless when it comes to tips or help, so remember that you are on your own.

It’s worth it!

Don’t let the requirements scare you, just make sure you are prepared. This trip will make memories that you will never forget. If you are looking for absolute wilderness then this is the place.

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Victoria Falls: everything you need to know!

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Victoria Falls Bridge
Victoria Falls Bridge plus Rainbow

Why should I go?

The majestic Victoria Falls, fed by the Zambezi River, are one of the Seven Natural Wonders. Although not the tallest or the highest, the combination of height and width makes them the largest sheet of falling water in the world. Trust me, you don’t wanna die without experiencing them, it’s a multisensory experience. Also, prepare yourself for the most beautiful rainbows you’ve ever seen!

Where do I fly to?

The falls are located in Zimbabwe and Zambia. You can chose to fly and stay in either! In Zambia, the city you would fly to is Livingstone and the airport is also called Livingstone. In Zimbabwe the town is called Victoria Falls and the airport well, Victoria Falls as well!

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Rainbows! Rainbows everywhere!

Where should I stay?

I stayed at the city of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and loved it! It’s a cute little town which at least near the falls is very touristy but still quiet. Plus, you will most likely be able to walk to the falls as they are so close to the town. Both to the Zimbabwe and Zambia side of them. Staying in Vic Falls is a no brainer! If you are as lucky as I was, you’ll see elephants feeding on your walk to the falls. This is not typical – the locals seemed pretty impressed. They were just passing by a few blocks away from the town center, feeding on the vegetation.

Regarding hotels, if you are on a budget then stay in the N1 Hotel. It’s super nice, very cheap, super close to the falls, town and restaurants. If you can stretch a bit, then I’d recommend the Victoria Falls Hotel. This historic hotel with Edwardian style is truly beautiful and has a terrace with great views. If you are not staying there you can still stop by the Vic Falls Hotel for a Mojito! If none are available there are a couple more hotels (not a ton) which you can check out here.

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Victoria Falls Bridge

How many days do I need to visit the falls?

If you are the active type and your only interest is the falls, one day is enough! You can easily do both sides of the falls – Zimbabwe and Zambia – in just a day and still not end up super tired. For the falls themselves you don’t really need more than two days to take them all in.

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The falls at full force, it’s a multisensory experience!

Tell me about visiting the Victoria Falls?

The falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia are two separate entities. This means they are separate from each other (about a 30 min walk which includes an immigration post) and you need to pay fees for each of them. Fees are valid for the day only (about 20 to 30 USD per person per park). To go to both countries you will also require a multivisa which you’ll need to pay for in the border. Most, but not all, countries can apply for a multivisa. Always check your visa requirements in advance.

The time it takes to visit each of the falls’ parks is 2 to 3 hrs, so, as I said before you can fit them in a day. Please make sure you bring a raincoat or something waterproof for your valuables. YOU WILL GET WET. If you go in the wet season, very very wet.  At first, it seems like the heaviest rain you’ve ever seen but it’s just the falls water mass bouncing everywhere. At some point, you cross a hanging bridge and feel the full power of the falls: you are standing in the bridge, a few centimeters of water running past your feet and so much water falling down you can’t keep your eyes open. It’s a unique experience. Unfortunately the excessive water prevented my GoPro from capturing it decently.

In the drier months (Aug to Jan) you can do a trip to the Devil’s Pool and Livingstone Island. The Devil’s Pool is a natural rock pool formed right at the edge of the falls, which basically allows visitors to swim right at the edge of the falls without well, dying of a tragic death. Makes for pretty awesome pictures. I think I’d still prefer the wet season in order to see the full force of the huge mass of water falling down. Your choice!

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Boyfriend almost at the edge of the falls

What else is there?

Other than the falls, Vic Falls town is nice to walk around and buy some souvenirs. There are various small markets with crafts. Elephant’s Walk was particularly charming. There are also loads of activities, which you can either book in advance or do so in the town or your hotel (everyone sells them!). Unless you are planning an overnight activity there is no need to book them in advance. There are many options: white water rafting, hi-wire gorge swing, zip line, canopy, canoe trails, crocodile diving, bungee jumping, helicopter over the falls etc. You can also chose to cruise through the Zambezi river with dinner & drinks included.

Last, Vic Falls is really close to Botswana and the Chobe Game Reserve, both famous for it’s unique game viewing. You can arrange a day or multi-day safari to Chobe from Vic Falls or simply arrange one from the city of Kasane and take a transfer from Vic Falls to Kasane (which takes little over an hour). In my case, I decided to do self-drive safari in Chobe (only for the brave) and picked up my self-drive 4×4 in Kasane. Transfers to Kasane are expensive for such a short trip, I managed to find this one which was relatively cheap (35 USD PP).

 Where do I eat?

Literally just go to The Three Monkeys every night. It’s awesome. If you are vegan like me then they’ll do a vegan pizza. If you are not, there is well plenty of options like a trio of Wildebeest, Zebra and beef which my boyfriend is still talking about . Take a pic with the “I <3 Vic Falls” sign when you are there!

Author’s note: Looking for other adventures in Africa? Botswana is just an hour from Victoria Falls. But beware! It’s only for those seeking thrill and adventurers. You can learn about it in this post. 

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LONDON 101: the essentials to your first visit

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Sunset in Hyde Park

Welcome to the most amazing city in the world! If it’s your first time, well sir or madam, you’ve got your hands full! There is a gazillion things to do in London, more than someone could ever do. But you gotta start somewhere, so start with the below. If you’ve managed to finish these then check out my list of more unusual things to do.

Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park & Kensington Palace, St James Park, Green Park

Buckingham Palace, the Royal icon of London, is surrounded by beautiful parks: Hyde Park, St James Park & Green Park. Make sure you walk them all and burn those fish & chips! Although you can visit it on your own, I recommend you take the free tour from Sandemans instead to get a bit of context on what you are seeing. It covers these areas and a bit more of what I mention below. If you are around at 11.00 AM you can see Buckingham Palace’s change of guard.

Last, towards the most western part of Hyde Park you will find the lovely Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace which you can chose to visit inside.

Covent Garden, Soho, Regent Street & Oxford Circus

These are all mostly great shopping & eating destinations just in the heart of the city. Again the guidelines are to just walk around and go check out the places that call your attention. Start in Oxford Circus and check out the big stores.

If you are the artsy type the most prestigious art galleries in the New Bond St and they are free of charge, usually with pretty cool exhibitions. If you are the luxurious type or just like window shopping the expensive brands make a turn on Regent Street. A nice store to visit is the Liberty London Tudor builiding building, gorgeous on the outside and inside.

After that, walk into Soho for more shopping or eating. The best bars and restaurants are here. If you are a music lover drop by Ronnie Scotts, a legendary jazz club, or Ain’t Nothin but Blues Bar – which I also mention in this article. Last, head to Covent Garden’s pretty cobbled streets, walk through the Seven Dials, where seven streets converge, and make another shopping stop at Covent Garden Market.

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Liberty London

Westminster Abbey & Big Ben

Also a stop in the Sandemans tour, you can’t leave London without a picture of the most famous, tallest and biggest clock tower: Big Ben. Close by you’ll find Westminster Abbey where the coronation and burial ceremonies of British Royalty take place. It’s a majestic gothic abbey but if you are not into churches at all it’s fine to skip and just enjoy its outside as it’s pricy.

Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus & watching a West End musical or play

The famous Leicester Square is well known due to its concentration of cinemas and theaters, this is typically where the big movies premieres take place so if you are lucky you may spot some celebs. Then walk down to Piccadilly Circus, the British version of the Times Square for a picture of its neon signs.

Your visit to London isn’t complete without watching a musical in the West End. If you haven’t seen Les Miserables, the West End version is impeccable. Have an inner child? Then you might try Wicked. Looking for something different? Then go with Book of Mormon, from the creators of South Park. There is no rule for buying the cheapest tickets unfortunately, what I usually do is check Amazon tickets  and the app TodayTix and then compare the prices with the play’s official page. If you are unsure about the seating, then SeatPlan is your friend.

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Camden Town

Camden Town

This London neighborhood is famous for its markets: Camden Lock Market, Stables Market & Buck Street Market. You can find all kinds of things, from clothing to antiques and great street food. Camden is also famous for selling bizarre & “alternative” clothing and items. You mustn’t miss the Cyberdog store, it will blow your mind! The are also has great pubs & bars, some with live music, great for a night out.

Notting Hill and Portobello Market

Another London neighborhood, most famous for the Portobello Market, the largest antiques market in the world, and for, well the movie! The main street features colorful houses and cute antiques & vintage clothing stores, great for a photo op.

The Tower of London & Tower Bridge

Tower of London, one of my favourite tourist attractions, this historic castle, founded in 1066 is a gem of British history and great entertainment. Don’t be put off by its entry price, it’s worth it. Make sure you allow enough time to visit and try to book online to skip the line.

Right outside you’ll find the famous gorgeous bridge you see in all London pictures which is not London Bridge, it’s Tower Bridge so don’t confuse them!

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Tower Bridge

The pub, a pint, fish & chips & English Breakfast

If I have to choose something that represents the UK and brings its inhabitants together, I choose the pub.

The pub is everything! The pub is for eating, drinking, meeting with family and friends, etc. Grandmothers and grandparents go alone, or with their children and their grandchildren, even if they are newborns. In the morning, at noon, in the afternoon and at night. It’s always a good time to go to the pub.

You must try the English Breakfast or “Full English”, which typically consists of eggs, bread, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, roasted tomatoes and hash brown. A delicious bomb! And in many places they make their vegetarian or vegan version. Perfect to start a long day of sightseeing.

At lunch or dinner, have Fish & Chips. It consists of cod or haddock breaded in a mix of beer, eggs and flour, and then fried. Finally, many chips as a side. And to drink, have a pint of beer!

St Paul’s Cathedral, walking along the Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe & Borough Market

Start by visiting the beautiful Cathedral of St Paul, if you wish to go inside you need to pay. The Thames river is also one of London’s main icons and walking along it is a lovely experience. Alongside it you’ll find the Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe theatre. The original theatre was created in 1599 and demolished in 1644. You can go see a play for as little as £5 (standing). It is also beautiful inside. As a warning, your English level will affect your experience – most plays are in old English and even natives struggle to understand it!

Last, you MUST go to Borough Market. It’s one of London’s largest food markets which means lots of variety, yumminess and free tastings! Try to avoid weekends if possible.

London’s FREE museums

Start jumping up and down, London’s museums are free and there is lots of them! Below a list and a brief description so you can chose:

British Museum: Go if you are into ancient stuff.

Imperial War Museum: Go if you are into knowing more about WWI & WWII.

Museum of London: Go if you want to learn more about the city’s history.

National Gallery: Lots of old art, think from Renaissance (think Italian religious art) to Modern (think impressionism) but no new stuff.

Natural History Museum: Think lots of stuffed animals, dinosaurs. For nature fans.

Science Museum: Go if you are really into science, all kinds of machines and how things work.

Tate Modern: Newer art, you’ll find modern (from not so long ago) & contemporary (from today) art here. It’s on the Thames so you can visit it while you walk along it.

Victoria & Albert Museum: Decorative arts, really awesome colorful things to see!

Regents Park & Primrose Hill

Another gorgeous park of the city located in Central London. Bring yourself a nice picnic, and head to Primrose Hill, also in the park, for great views of London.

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Primrose Hill

Abbey Road: get your version of the Beatle’s cover!

Follow the steps of the fab four and take picture on the famous zebra crossing featured on the Abbey Road cover. This is a real street used by real cars so just try to not get run over by a car. Right besides it is Abbey Road studios. Also, be careful, the crossing is not on the Abbey Road tube station but on St John’s Wood station which are in completely different places in the city.

Harrods

Although the only thing you might be able to buy here is food, this luxury department is a must visit. You’ll find the crème de la crème on everything: clothes, decoration, electronics,  food, toys, health & beauty and the list goes on. Be prepared to be wowed by the offerings, and by how expensive they are!

Viewing London from above

Your visit to London is not over without a great picture of London from above! For this you have several options: The London Eye, The Shard or the Skygarden. As I explain in this post the Skygarden is the best and most budget friendly option (it’s free), but it gets booked really in advance so you might have to consider the other two if you are a bad planner!

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London Eye

Hampton Court Palace

This royal palace and it’s gardens are beautiful, fun and full of history. I do recommend visiting them – better on a sunny day! The visit takes at least half day as it’s located in Greater London and there is a lot to cover. You’ll take great pictures!

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