For many people (including us), an African safari is the ultimate bucket list experience.
To explore pristine wilderness, go on safari and observe wild animals in their natural environment; it is such a unique experience.
Botswana is one of the best places in Africa to go on safari, but how much do you need in your safari Botswana budget? We researched long and hard to find a way to visit Botswana on a budget and here we share our travel costs with you.
Why go to Botswana on Safari?
When we began planning the itinerary for our trip around the world we desperately wanted to include an African safari in our budget.
Unfortunately the high cost of many safari trips in Africa puts the experience out of reach for most people.
So why did we choose to go on safari in Botswana? Not only is Botswana one of Africa’s most stable nations, it is also home to some of the largest remaining areas of pristine wilderness in Africa.
Not only that, alongside South Africa it is also one of the most affordable safari destinations in Africa.
How much does An African Safari cost?
In 2017 the typical cost of a “value” safari package for a family of 4 in Botswana was around $20,000 USD for 7 nights. And that didn’t include the airfares! That is a whopping $715 USD per person, per day.
While I would love to go on a fully packaged safari tour in Africa, it isn’t financially viable for us and, I suspect, many others.
Even the very cheapest tours we could find were over $6,000 USD for a family of 4 for 7 nights, with many exclusions (such as game drives!). We kept searching.
How to plan an African Safari on a budget
So what is the secret to visiting Botswana on a budget?
If you are prepared to take responsibility for planning the trip and travel independently, we believe a self-drive holiday in Botswana is the cheapest way to experience the lifetime dream of an African safari.
We planned and booked a 9 day / 8 night Botswana self drive safari that was far more affordable than any packaged tour we came across.
When I say “affordable”, it was still expensive by our budget standards! Despite being able to reduce our Botswana safari budget significantly by planning a self drive safari, our Botswana daily costs were still the highest of all the countries we visited on our Family Gap Year.
But, our trip to Botswana was also one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. So if you too are desperate to go on safari and would like to know how much an African self drive safari costs, we have broken down and share all of our self drive safari costs here.
As with any trip, we think there are ways we could have saved even more! We highlight these potential savings in each section.
Self Drive Safari Botswana Budget
Your travel style has a big impact on your trip costs. If you hate to cook, your costs will be higher. The costs will also be higher if you like organised tours. If you like to stay in gorgeous lodges, your costs will be way higher.
Here we describe how we travelled in Botswana so you can compare your style of travel and work out a budget to match.
We recognise that the daily costs outlined below are still high by many people’s standards. There is no doubt that a Botswana self drive safari is still an expensive vacation compared to most.
However when you compare the daily cost to most safari tours, I think you will agree our total costs were significantly cheaper.
The apps allow you to set up a budget, categories and enter every cost each day while on the go. It is quick and easy to do and it soon becomes a simple habit.
Our Travel Style
- We traveled in a Toyota Hilux 4×4 camper for the duration of our trip.
- Our travel style would be defined as budget. We camped and did not stay in any lodges or permanent camps.
- While we purchased snacks and beer, but we rarely ate out at restaurants.
- We splurged on a small number of organised game drives and a day trip to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
- Length of Trip: 9 days / 8 nights (overland return trip from Johannesburg, South Africa).
- Distance Travelled: 1406 miles (2262 kilometres).
What Is Included
- 4×4 camper rental, fuel, accommodation, groceries, eating out and activities.
- Costs are for 4 people (2 adults and 2 children aged 10 and 8).
- Costs are in $USD and based on travel and exchange rates in March 2017.
What Is Not Included
African Safari Costs
Campervan / 4×4 camper rental – $925 / $102 per day
The 4×4 rental is likely to be the largest single cost in your safari Botswana budget. This cost will also vary significantly depending on when you travel to Botswana.
From a budget perspective, try and go during shoulder season when accommodation and vehicle rental prices are cheaper. Shoulder season in Botswana is from March – May and also November.
Don’t expect any deals during high season from June to October.
For our Botswana self drive safari we rented a Toyota Hilux 4wd camper through Bushlore in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Bushlore are well respected experts in self drive safaris in Southern Africa. They have an extensive range of customised 4×4 campers available for trips to Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They also offer an itinerary planning service.
Our vehicle came equipped with two rooftop tents, all bedding, fridge, gas bottles, 2 gas burners and all kitchen equipment. It had a large pull out drawer to store food and a 60 L water tank. The 4×4 had everything we needed to drive off road, camp and self-cater.
We were given a detailed introduction to the vehicle on pick up. Bushlore also offer 24 hour assistance by phone and at their office in Kasane if required.
If you are interested in talking to Bushlore about their 4×4 rental vehicles, we have negotiated a special deal for our readers!
Just quote the code RODDA001 when you book with Bushlore to receive a 10% discount on your 4×4 rental.
Other Transport Costs – $345 / $38 per day
This category includes fuel, local insurance and GPS rental. The cost is high as we were traveling on average 156 miles (250 kilometres) per day.
The cost of fuel was actually quite low, similar to the USA.
Note that if you enter Botswana by car you are required to pay a third party insurance fee in cash in the local currency (Pula).
You will need to have this cash with you when you arrive at the border otherwise you are at the mercy of the currency exchange office on the border. This fee was equivalent to $15 USD in 2017.
If you need to pay large travel costs, consider Wise as an alternative to a credit card.
Wise is an online money transfer service which lets you quickly and easily transfer money much more cheaply than a bank. We use and love Wise!
Accommodation – $580 / $72 per night
As the second largest cost, this is a crucial category to focus on where you can save a lot of money on an African road trip.
We have all seen pictures of luxury camps in Africa, and while it would be lovely to stay in one, they are one of the prime reasons why an african safari is unaffordable for most people.
Quite simply, the standard of accommodation you choose could mean the difference between going on safari or not!
Our tip is to lower your expectations, stay in simple campgrounds and you will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars on your Botswana safari budget.
Note that the cost of camping in Botswana fluctuates significantly depending on the season. Some campgrounds also charge park entry fees on top of the site fee as you are free to explore the park once you camp.
The campsites range in quality. All were generously sized with firepits and firewood available for purchase onsite. The campsites all had basic shower and toilet blocks close by.
It would be possible to spend less on accommodation that we did. There are a number of factors that mean this cost isn’t as cheap as it could have been:
- Due to sickness we had to make a late cancellation for one campsite, which was non-refundable and paid for an additional night of accommodation in Kasane.
- We used the Bushlore itinerary booking service and they booked all of our campsites for us.
The reason we used Bushlore’s itinerary booking service was that we were traveling in India and didn’t have reliable access to the internet to book our trip in Botswana.
Using the itinerary booking service is convenient but isn’t necessary as many campgrounds and lodges can be booked online through SafariNow. SafariNow have a huge range of accommodation listings (including campsites) in Southern Africa.
When we return to Africa I will be using SafariNow to book our campsites in Botswana.
Groceries – $336 / $37 per day
Food costs were cheaper in Botswana and South Africa when compared to Australia, Europe or the USA. We prepared almost all 27 meals during our self drive safari in Botswana.
This grocery cost covers every breakfast, morning and afternoon tea, most lunches and dinners for 4 people. It also includes beer and wine purchased during the trip.
As we had picked up the 4×4 rental in Johannesburg, we did a large grocery shop before we entered Botswana and topped up our groceries along the way in Botswana.
Supermarkets in South Africa were excellent. We found supermarkets in Botswana in the major towns of Nata and Kasane. They were well stocked supermarkets and we were able to source everything we needed.
Note the supermarkets were not generally open on Sundays in Botswana.
The fridge in the 4×4 camper was big enough to fit our chilled groceries and drinks for around 3 days at a time.
Eating out – $57 / $6 per day
Unless you are eating at one of the many lodges, there are not many restaurant options outside of the major towns in Botswana.
The restaurants in the Lodges generally charged high prices for meals, often equivalent to the cost in western countries. If you are looking to save money, avoid eating out at the lodges and cook your own meals.
We would sometimes have a drink at the Lodge (as they often had great views) and then return to the campsite to cook our meals. We felt this was the best way to save money but still experience some of the benefits and comforts of the nearby lodges.
Our eating out costs include drinks and treats purchased (icecream, fast food snacks etc).
Activities – $281 / $31 per day
Game drives, boat cruises, helicopter and plane rides, day trips to Victoria Falls. The activity options are endless and the costs can quickly rack up.
This is a highly variable cost item on your safari Botswana budget and depends on how many organised safari tours you take.
In reality the per person cost of many activities was much less than what you might pay for an organised activity in the USA or Europe. The key is to book directly with the tour organiser when you arrive to get the best price. In the peak season it may be wise to book ahead.
Most lodges run game drives each morning and night. On average we paid around $30 USD per person and kids were generally given a 50% discount on all tours.
It is possible to explore many of the parks independently if you have a 4×4 vehicle. We opted not to do this for a couple of reasons:
- We valued the knowledge of the guides who shared a lot of information and engaged the kids on the game drives.
- The guides were much better at sighting and pointing out animals. This was useful in the shoulder season when animals are harder to spot due to long grass and plentiful water sources.
- Also, if we are completely honest, we are not experienced 4×4 drivers and we were nervous about navigating some of the sandy trails in the parks on our own!
However, if you are a confident 4×4 driver, you could save a lot of money on organised game drives and explore many of the parks independently.
My biggest regret is not spending MORE money on game drives. At the time we were trying really hard not to spend money as we were on a long-term trip.
In hindsight it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and perhaps we should have blown the budget a little more!
|Chobe River Boat Cruise||$90|
|Chobe National Park Game Drive||$105|
|Elephant Sands Game Drive||$85|
Victoria Falls Day Trip from Kasane – $465
We agonised over whether to take a day trip to see Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. It is a very expensive day.
Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and classified as the largest waterfall in the world based on its combined width and height. At over 1,700 metres long it is an impressive sight!
Victoria Falls is just over the border from Kasane in the north of Botswana. But a day trip to Zimbabwe comes with a hefty price tag.
In the end we decided that were so close, we couldn’t miss it! We just had to forget the cost as it was ridiculous. The trade off for us is we did less organised game drives than we wanted to in order to keep our costs down. It was a very tough decision, but we are glad we visited Victoria Falls.
We booked the day trip through Chobe Safari Lodge when we arrived as we were at the adjoining campground during our stay in Kasane.
Can you self-drive to Zimbabwe?
It is possible to save money by driving your own vehicle to Zimbabwe, but check your rental policy first.
Our 4×4 rental insurance didn’t cover travel to Zimbabwe. We had also heard of significant delays on the border for private vehicles. As we wanted to get there and back in a day we opted to go on an organised day trip.
When you arrive, be warned that everything is very expensive. We made the mistake of not taking lunch with us and paid an exorbitant amount for a café lunch at Victoria Falls.
We also should have taken our own raincoats to save money on rental cost as they are essential when visiting the falls in March when the falls are in full flow!
Note that $30 USD in CASH is required for the Zimbabwe visas (as well as a lot of patience) at the border. The costs below are for 4 people.
|Victoria Falls Entry Fee||$90|
|Lunch at cafe||$43|
Other Costs – $42 / $5 per day
A random assortment of costs are included here:
- Antibiotics for us all to treat an ongoing tummy bug picked up in India.
- A couple of kitchen items and new flip flops after a blowout in Nata.
- Firewood purchased at campsites along the way.
- Mobile phone recharge.
There is a common saying “This is Africa – anything can happen!” You always hope nothing will happen, but it is not worth the risk traveling to Africa without travel insurance.
We saw two heavily damaged 4×4 campers being returned on pick up trucks when we arrived to pick up our rental from Bushlore.
Needless to say we were a little disconcerted to see this on our first day! It was a reminder that stuff happens and why travel insurance is absolutely essential for a Botswana self drive safari.
Visas for Botswana
The visa cost will vary depending on your country of origin. It is free for many foreigners, including Australians and is obtained at the border on your arrival. The visa gives you permission to enter the country for 30 days.
Important: if traveling with children you are required to carry a full unabridged birth certificate for each child. You will need to present them to Immigration Officials at the border both on the Botswana and South Africa sides.
Self Drive Safari Botswana Budget – Summary
What does an African safari cost? Well, it depends. As you can see, we spent $84 USD per person per day to self drive Botswana . That is a saving of $631 per person per day compared to many “value” safari packages on offer!
Sure, it is a very different experience from a packaged tour. We didn’t eat out at restaurants, we limited the number of paid game drives and we stayed in basic campsites. A self drive safari requires a lot more effort on your part, but we still had an incredible experience.
During 9 days in Botswana we saw zebras, hippos, elephants and giraffes close up in their natural environment. We experienced the power of Victoria Falls in all its glory. As we lay in bed at night we heard lions roar and the call of wild dogs.
In summary, it is possible to experience an African safari on a budget. While it is a commonly held view that you can only explore Africa by tour, it is absolutely possible to travel and explore Africa independently.
Planning a self drive safari in Botswana is a cost effective and achievable way to experience this bucket list destination on a budget as a family.
Plan your Botswana Self Drive Safari
Flights to Botswana
Flights into Botswana are expensive. It is possible to fly into Kasane, Maun or nearby Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The cheaper option is to fly to Johannesburg in the north of South Africa and travel overland to Botswana.
4×4 camper rental
We recommend Bushlore for 4×4 rental in Botswana and South Africa. Quote the code RODDA001 to receive a 10% discount on your booking.
The best website to book campsites and lodges independently is SafariNow.
They have a wide range of accommodation options (including campgrounds) in Botswana and South Africa.
Don’t leave for an African Safari without travel insurance.
Have you been on an African safari? What are your best budget saving tips? Share in the comments below!
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