Zambezi Region: Road Trip South Africa - Namibia - Botswana

When was the last time you woke up to the guttural sound of hippos grunting? I know a place where this happens. Namibia, on the southwestern coast of the African continent, borders Angola and Zambia in the north, South Africa in the south and Botswana in the east. On a road trip, you will soon realize that this is the second most sparsely inhabited sovereign country in the world (Mongolia holds the number one spot). The country covers an area of 824,292 square kilometres and with a population of only about 2.2 million, there are parts where you can seemingly drive for hours without ever meeting a single soul. 

Two elephants on the cover of the guide to Discover the Zambezi Region Road Trip South Africa - Namibia - Botswana

150 million years ago the “country” was even larger when dinosaurs roamed across the whole region from the African continent all the way to South America. Namibia, this vast and sparsely populated place, is the driest country in Southern Africa, and home to the oldest desert in the world, the 55 million-year-old Namib. I visited the Namib in recent years and recommend you also schedule an extra visit to experience this ancient place. The Namib Naukluft Park with its iconic dune formations, prehistoric-looking plants, desert Elephants, scorpions, and heat resistant Oryx, is larger than Switzerland. But for now, we are in search of hippos, grunting hippos.

Namibia is devotedly diverse in language

The oddly-shaped country is a member of the British Commonwealth despite the fact that it was never a British colony. After Independence in 1990, the English language became Namibia’s official language. Good for us tourists, anyhow also somewhat eccentric, considering that Namibia has the largest Khoisan speaking population in the world and that English is the native language of only three percent of the country’s population. Namibia is devotedly diverse in language and culture with more than eleven indigenous languages, for example, Damara, Kavango and Otjiherero, being spoken. In general, locals speak a few languages. Nearly half of the population speaks Oshiwambo and many also Afrikaans, a remnant from a time when Namibia was occupied by its neighbour South Africa.

Why the Zambezi Region (formerly known as Caprivi)

Over the years I went on road trips to Etosha and the Namib Naukluft Park in Namibia; one summer I drove to Maun, Savutu and Moremi in the Okavango Delta in Chobe National Park in Botswana. Another trip took me to Kasane, again to Chobe National Park, and the mighty Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I covered a lot of ground and on the way got to know the area. At one point on one of these trips, I started to become interested in driving through the Zambezi Region, formerly known as Caprivi Strip, a 450-kilometre narrow strip from the Kavango Region in Namibia to Kasane in Botswana. It took a while till the right time came and when I heard that two friends, Gigi and Dennis, who live in Cape Town, had driven all the way up there in their Land Rover, I was sure that my friend the Landy can do this too. 

Three Landrover toy cars on a paper map showing South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

We drove 5,250 kilometres from Cape Town in South Africa to the Zambezi Region in Namibia to Kasane and Gaborone in Botswana and back to Cape Town. On the way, we visited remote and lonely wilderness areas, a few different national parks and I learned what many people in Namibia do for a living, whether crocodiles have tongues, which birds cooperate with butterflies while hunting, why to better not drive in the dark and so much more. Everybody who loves wildlife, vast landscapes, the tropics, and who has got a driving licence can do this same trip. Please read How to Easily Prepare for a Self-Drive Safari in Southern Africa for more information. Follow me, I take you to where the hippos grunt and the wildlife roams.

How and when did the Caprivi Strip become the Zambezi Region?

The Caprivi Strip has been renamed and I wondered why that is and when exactly that was. It is a long and bewildering story. The Caprivi was named after German count and chancellor (Reichskanzler), General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi. By 1900, European countries had claimed nearly 90 percent of African territory. German-South-West-Africa (today Namibia) was a German colony from 1884 bis 1915. The Europeans wanted natural resources for the ever-growing industrialization and became more and more interested in Africa. It turned into a race between European powers, they knew, that the earlier each individual country could secure agreements with indigenous people, the better the profit. Great Britain and France argued a lot, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium were not any better. They all met in Berlin to discuss things, agreed on who takes what and put it on the African map; completely ignoring the fate of the indigenous people (seemed to be the norm in those days).

It so happened, that Germany wanted Zanzibar, but Great Britain wanted that too, so they swapped Zanzibar (an island in Tanzania) for the Caprivi Strip (what we know today as Zambezi Region) and an island in the North Sea, called Heligoland. Mr Caprivi wanted to work with Great Britain and was not a fan of colonial expansion. The Germans hoped to link German South-West Africa with Tanzania. That would have worked if only the British would not have colonized Zimbabwe and Zambia (back then known as Rhodesia) and stopped them.

Between 1904 and 1908, Germany committed a genocide of Herero and Nama and San, where 80,000 children, women and men were murdered.

During WWI, the piece of land (known as Caprivi Strip) came under British rule again. For obvious reasons, the Caprivi Strip has been renamed in 2014 after the river Zambezi.

Usuals on the road less travelled in North-East Namibia

In the northeast of Namibia, there are a few things to watch out for on the roads while driving. It soon becomes clear why it is best not to drive in the dark. Unannounced large and small potholes. Positioned strategically between villages, you see big water tanks, often kilometres from each other. The waysides are teeming with locals carrying all sorts of water containers. Collecting water is everybody’s job: Girls and boys, strong adults, young mothers who have a baby tied in a scarf on their back, as well as elderly women and gentlemen walking on a stick. Every now and then there is a roadblock, for no apparent reason. Police officers check your driving licence, ask where you are coming from and where are you going to. Occasionally these officers chat a little with you. A clear sign they wish you to proceed is when they look at you sternly and say with a Hollywood-film-worthy voice “chop-chop”. Try not to laugh in a situation like this. Utterly entertaining. Especially so, when the officer wears Ray-Ban Aviators.

A frequent appearance is shepherds and their large or small herds of cattle. The odd stray cow. Large goat herds. The odd stray goat. Stray dogs. Groups of stray dogs. Donkeys, often in pairs of two. Elephants (yes, also on the main central road), roads often function as a wildlife corridor through National Parks. You come along idyllic looking villages with huts made from reed. The surrounding land is farmland, corn is grown seemingly everywhere. Locals have problems with elephants that enjoy a good stampede through the fields. One man’s joy (we tourists come to see elephants) is the other man’s nightmare (local farmers wish there would be less of these grey giants). Children are swimming and playing in floodplains of the Zambezi River, they surely aren’t as scared of hippos or crocodiles as I.

The four-day drive from Cape Town in South Africa to the Zambezi Region in Namibia

Word of Warning 

It is a long drive up there. You could also fly to Windhoek, get a rental car and drive 963 kilometres to Divundu and the Zambezi Region instead of driving the complete 2,400 kilometres from Cape Town. I loved the drive from Cape Town since it shows how vast the region is. True, often you drive for hundreds of kilometres straight ahead and the only thing you hear from your GPS is “turn left in 498 kilometres.” The landscape is diverse, often flat, rocky, mountainous, sometimes very lush and green. There is enough to see and experience on the way. You have enough time to think about the history of the region and get to understand how these nations came to be where they are today. 

A beige and black painted toy Land Rover on a paper map next to the words Cape Town.

Day One Drive 550 kilometres from Cape Town to Springbok 

Find a campsite in Springbok. The Caravan Park is a reliable option for a quick stopover on your way to Namibia. Namakwa, R355, Springbok, 8240, South Africa. ZAR 250 125 per night. Bring your own food and water. There are shops and a filling station in Springbok.

Day Two Drive 654 kilometres from Springbok in South Africa to Mariental in Namibia 

Cross the border in Vioolsdrif. Hours from 8am to 5pm. Calculate 30 minutes to one hour for the border crossing (depending on the season). If you are in a rental car, make sure you carry a written permit by the car rental company. If you are in your private car, check all rules and regulations on how to enter Namibia, before you start the trip. When you enter the country you have to pay a fee of NA$ 160 as your contribution to road maintenance. Tourists can stay on their Visa up to 90 days in Namibia. Children under the age of 18 must carry an original or certified copy of the birth certificate stating the parent of the child (please double-check before you travel to Namibia).

In Mariental I recommend camping at River Chalets. B1 Main Road, Mariental, Central Namibia, Namibia, Mariental, Namibia. GPS: S 24° 37̒ 29,1˝, E 17° 57̒ 20,5˝Campers have their own barbeque facilities, power and running water, shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. NA$ 160 per person per night. Bring your own food and water. There are shops and a filling station in Mariental.

Camping at River Chalets in Mariental in Central Namibia

A beige and black painted toy Land Rover on a paper map next to the words Windhoek.

Day Three Drive 633 kilometres from Mariental to Otavi in Namibia 

In Otavi I recommend camping at Khorab Safari Lodge, Farm Elefantenberg Nord, Otavi, Namibia. Campers have their own barbeque and kitchen facilities plus outdoor dining area and their private bathrooms. NA$ 105 per person per night. Bring your own food and water. There is a filling station in Otavi. Please note: From now on you are in a Malaria risk area.

Rock formations on the road between Mariental and Otavi in Namibia

Cliffs on the road between Mariental and Otavi in Namibia

Camping at Khorab Safari Lodge, Farm Elefantenberg Nord in Otavi in Namibia

Day Four Drive 556 kilometres from Otavi to Divundu 

I recommend to camp at the Nunda River Lodge. Kavango East Region, Namibia. GPS Co-ordinates : S 18 06.324 | E 21 35.657. See more detailed info below.

Road side shop in Divundu in Namibia

What to Do in the Zambezi Region (Caprivi Strip)

This region is perfect to live out the ranger lifestyle for a while. Fast forward 2,450 kilometres from Cape Town in South Africa we arrive in the Kavango East region of Namibia, near the border to Angola. A few more metres of driving (almost) straight ahead from Cape Town and we would have landed in Angola. The Zambezi region is bordered by four rivers, the Linyati, the Chobe, the Cuando and the Zambezi river. The river vegetation consists foremost of reeds, there are even forests in sandy grounds and marshlands.

Setting Up Camp in Divundu On The Okavango

We camp right by the River Okavango downstream from the Popa Falls. At night while we prepare Risotto on the campfire, we can hear the sound of the rapids clearly. The mouth of the 1,600 kilometres long Okavango is next door in Angola, where they call the river Rio Cubango. I'm awed finding out that soon after the river flows by here in Nunda, it runs over the rapids of the Popa Falls before it eventually flows into the Kalahari Desert, that is the Moremi Game Reserve, and the swamps, better known as the Okavango Delta. When in camp, we keep a distance of about two to three metres from the river’s edge. You might be wondering whether there is no fence protecting us from hippos or crocodiles. The answer is a simple no. The all-smiles guy who welcomes us warmly at the camp promises crocodiles won’t leave the water since they don’t feel comfortable on land. We wouldn't know our way around in croc-infested waters, and the crocs don't know their way around on human turf (this is how I understand his logic). Fascinating, that when one travels, trusting strangers is what one does, without hesitation.

The sun is about to set right in front of us. The river lies completely still; the odd grunts of hippos hang in the air. Reed frogs start croaking; one type is harmonious and calming, like a soft and clear ringing of small bells. The stars pop up over the river and the bush vegetation. The campfire is crackling, I love the smell. I sip some red wine. Life is beautiful.

At breakfast, flocks of black and white goose with a red beak fly in formations over the Okavango towards us. BBC Earth couldn't have filmed a better episode. The moment a flock of the up to 100 cm large Spur-winged Goose are directly over us, we can hear the whirring sound of their slow flapping wings clearly. It is an all-encompassing sound.

The birdlife is as diverse and exotic as the choice of ice-cream at ice-cream parlours in gentrified boroughs of Berlin. One bird sounds like somebody opening a door that needs a drop of oil. Another group sounds as if they were telling each other jokes so hilarious they constantly cackle loudly. My favourite is the one that sounds as if a hoarse cat meows. It might be helpful to get the Roberts bird app. It is still early in the morning; there is the most eclectic mix of birdsong. I stop counting when I reach ten or so different bird songs at the same time. The flapping of bird wings, the grunts of hippos, and the nose and eyes of the same sticking out of the water on the opposite bank of the river let me hardly sit still in my camping chair at breakfast. Over the course of our stay, I notice that there are fewer sounds when the day starts overcast. I feel like an explorer as if I would have discovered one of the big secrets of the bush.

Where to stay: Nunda River Lodge. Nunda is the local name for the fruit of the Jackalberry tree. Divundu. Kavango East Region, Namibia. GPS Co-ordinates : S 18 06.324 | E 21 35.657. Contact/book in advance: Camping per person/night: Nam/$ 130. Campsite with barbeque facilities, running water and power, directly on the river Okavango. Communal (single cabins) outdoor showers, toilets and bathroom; communal outdoor kitchen sinks. I recommend you stay for three to four nights to relax and to make the most of the area. Bring your own food and water. There is a filling station (plus shop) in Divundu.

Camping with a Land Rover under a starry sky at the Nunda River Lodge right by the River Okavango in Namibia

Popa Falls 

You find the Popa Falls in the Bwabwata National Park near the small town of Divundu in the Western Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi), that is 200 kilometres east of Rundu and only about ten kilometres from the campsite at Nunda River Lodge. Stand on the white sand beach and watch the rapids, more than a kilometre in width, breaking through a four-metre high quartz rock reef. Remember, the last stop of the river is the Okavango Delta and you stand here and watch it on its way there. Entrance fee White Sands Resort: Nam/$ 20 per person and Nam/$ 10 per vehicle. Please ask at the filling station for directions to the White Sands Resort. There is no shops, no food, no drinks, no entertainment, just nature, a few cows, birdsong and you. Watch out for hippos.

Mahango Game Park 

The aka Mahango Core area of the Bwabwata National Park is 25,400 hectares of untamed wilderness. Drive on a deep sand track along the Okavango River, wetlands, reeds, grasses, and forests with baobabs, acacias and teak trees. See if you can find as many warthogs, antelopes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, baboons, water buffalos, vervet monkeys and birds as I did (over 400 bird species live here). Depending on the season, tracks are either slippery and muddy or deep sand. There is nothing here apart from the entrance gate, no fast food outlets, no drinks, no entertainment, nothing; it is a magical and remote place. The Mahango Game Park is open during the day, there is no camping allowed. It is 21 kilometres from the campsite at Nunda River Lodge. Entrance fee NA$ 90. Suitable for 4WD only. Please: Respect the wildlife, give the animals their space, do not get in their way or follow them in your vehicle.

Wildlife at the Mahango Core area of the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia

Travel Onwards Towards Kongola

Drive 221 kilometres from the Nunda River Lodge in Divundu through the wildlife corridor of the Caprivi Game Park and the Kwando Core Area to Kongola. Please drive with care and watch out for wildlife on the road.

wildlife corridor of theElephant warning sign on a road through the Caprivi Game Park and the Kwando Core Area on the way to Kongola in Namibia

Pedestrians walking on the side of the road in the wildlife corridor of the Caprivi Game Park and the Kwando Core Area in Namibia

Setting Up Camp in Kongola on the Kwando River

Mavunje Camp is situated in the Zambezi Region (formerly known as Caprivi), 12 km south of Kongola at the banks of the Kwando River in the Mashi Conservancy area. The camp sits on a lagoon close to the horseshoe and the Ngonga wildlife corridor. We reach the neatly signposted camp, named after a local tree, over a deep-sand track suitable for 4x4 only. It feels a million kilometres away from everything, and it is a true delight since it is run in cooperation with the local community to support development projects. Our campsite, in which several little reed huts form our private camp, sits right on the Kwando River. One is a bathroom, one has a loo, one has a washing basin with a view into the bush, one is a kitchen, and one is the living room with a view over the floodplain. Picturesque and idyllic and wild. Whenever in camp, I develop this deep urge to run through the veld. Out of joy. Think Maria in The Sound of Music. Something tells me not to, and that is probably better.

There is no power and no shops; it is built for that type of tourist who likes to be in the wilderness surrounded by nature. The sound of birds is the only music you hear. One morning, all is quiet, sipping freshly brewed speciality coffee, we see an otter in the river right in front of our camp, he gets out of the water, scratches his back in the reeds and dives straight back in to continue the morning swim. What an Otterly fascinating moment.

One night while sitting around the fire, we see a medium-sized yellow snake with black bands around its body. It must have been shocked to see us; it scurries up a tree the moment we meet. See, it was good after all not to dance through the veld like happy Maria.

Sunsets over the reeds and floodplain are something to write home about, they are out of this world beautiful. When the stars come out, they mirror in the river, and that together with the croaking of frogs (remember the bell sound), it is an almost overwhelming experience. The wheezing and grunting of hippos as a universal background sound rounds it all off. Too good to be true.

Go on a boat tour and find yourself within the stunning scenery of the floodplain. We see ibis, kingfishers, bee-eaters, pygmy owls, whistling ducks, elephants, hippos and water kudus. How fast are hippos? Do hippos fight with crocodiles or elephants? How do they attack? Where do hippos like to hang out? When do hippos mate? Are hippos vegetarians? You will get all your questions about bird species, hippo behaviour, crocodiles and elephants answered. I’m of course not spoiling your trip here with giving away the answers.

Mavunje Camp. Contact owner Dan per email: Mashi river safaris cc. Mayuni. Zambezi region, Namibia. Phone +264(0)814619608. Camping fee NA$ 220 per Person per night. Boat tour NA$ 465 per person. I recommend you stay for three to four nights to spend time in the camp and to make the most of the area. Bring your own food and water. There is a filling station (plus shop) in Divundu.

Camping at Mavunje Camp in the Zambezi Region (formerly known as Caprivi), south of Kongola at the banks of the Kwando River in the Mashi Conservancy area.

 ibis, kingfishers, bee-eaters, pygmy owls, whistling ducks, elephants, hippos and water kudus in the Zambezi Region (formerly known as Caprivi), at the banks of the Kwando River in the Mashi Conservancy area.

Visit of Kwando Core Area National Park, part of BwaBwata NP

This park which was formerly known as the Caprivi Game Park forms a transboundary link for wildlife migration between Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. You are going to drive through dune valleys, along floodplains, grasslands and teak-, mopane- and camel-thorn woods.

In the not so far distance, from the safety of my vehicle, I see small grey hills and lots of snorkels sticking out into the air between these. My imagination is apparently playing me a trick; it is elephants roaming through the bush. There are striped mongoose and squirrels, magically into all directions-grown tree trunks, reedbucks, red lechwe, waterbucks, sitatunga, buffalos, monkeys, deep sand tracks. I’m in a fairy forest. When you visit the Kwando Core Area NP, part of BwaBwata National Park, you should also drive to Horseshoe Bend, if you are lucky enough, you are going to see elephants in the Kwando River. The Fort Doppies Ruins in the park are remnants of the South African defence forces (SADF) who used to have a camp here. You reach the entrance of the park after a 30-minute drive from Mavunje Camp. Entrance fee NA$ 90. Only suitable for 4WD. Hours: 6am to 6.30pm.

A beige and black painted toy Land Rover on a paper map next to the words BwaBwata National Park.

Wildlife and driving through sand in the Kwando Core Area National Park, part of BwaBwata NP

Mudumu National Park 

This. I buy the ticket at the gate, and the guy starts scribbling down a map to explain to me which route to best drive through the park. Happily navigating according to the guy’s drawing, I drive straight to the hippo pools, where I find lots of adults and their little ones. During the visit, we won't see any other visitors, what a luxury. It is a 30 kilometres drive from Mavunje Camp. Entrance fee NA$ 90. Only suitable for 4WD.

Hippos, trails and a hand drawn map of the Mudumu National Park in Namibia

Street signs that make no sense on a road in Namibia

Travel Onwards Towards Katima Mulilo and Kasane in Botswana

Drive 240 kilometres from Kongola to Kasane in Botswana via Katima Mulilo which is the largest town in the Zambezi.

Enter Botswana at Ngoma border post, Ngoma Bridge River Crossing, Botswana. Hours from 7am to 6pm (phone to confirm opening times +267 620 0050). Calculate 30 minutes to one hour for the border crossing (depending on the season). If you are in a rental car, make sure you carry a written permit by the car rental company. If you are in your private car, check all rules and regulations on how to enter Botswana, before you start the trip. Motorists have to pay BWP 50/ single entry and BWP90/return trip for a road transport permit and a national road safety fee of BWP 50. The fee for third party insurance is at BWP50/for 90 days (as of May 2018). All fees can be paid by credit card. Tourists can stay on their Visa up to 90 days in Botswana. Children under the age of 18 must carry an original or certified copy of the birth certificate stating the parent of the child (please double-check before you travel to Botswana). You cannot bring fruits and other fresh food items to the country. We gave ours to the border posts, who happily shared them with their workmates at the border gate. There are lots of beautiful Baobab trees at the border.

From Ngoma, you drive over a wildlife corridor through Chobe National Park to Kasane. Tell officers at the gate where you are travelling to and avoid paying the entrance fee to the National Park. Watch out for wildlife on the road. There is a filling station and also shops in Kasane.

Baobab at the Ngoma border post in Namibia

A beige and black painted toy Land Rover on a paper map next to the words Chobe National Park.

Where to set up camp in Kasane close to Chobe National Park?

I moved into one of the bright and airy rooms at Chobe Bush Lodge and felt inspired each day by the oversized photo images of local wildlife they used to decorate the space. It is right next door to the Chobe National Park, and I love to mix things, it is the perfect break from camping and taking a shower in the bush. It is special to watch baboons and warthogs roam the grounds and climbing up to your veranda while relaxing in bed. The lodge is a moments’ drive away from Sedudu gate of Chobe National Park and only a skip and a jump from the Chobe River. I went on boat cruises that start directly at the lodge and one can also visit Victoria Falls from here, which is only about 70 kilometres away. Please read Travel Zimbabwe - 10 truly amazing things about Victoria Falls. There is also a pool, a bar and a restaurant and besides guests are invited to use all facilities at the next door Chobe Safari Lodge.

Chobe Bush Lodge. Kasane, Botswana. Room per night from BWP 1,895 plus continental breakfast BWP 95 per person. For dinner at the a la carte restaurant, you can expect to pay about BWP 350 per person. Three-hour boats tour BWP 270 per person (please book one day in advance). Transfer to Victoria Falls BWP 780 per Person (please book one day in advance). If you haven’t enough time (or energy) for a road trip up here, you can easily fly to Kasane from either Johannesburg or Gaborone, check into Chobe Bush Lodge, visit Chobe National Park and return home.

Baboons, beaded elephants and interior design of the room and restaurant at the Chobe Bush Lodge in Kasane in Botswana

Wild experiences: Savuti. Third Bridge, Xakanaxa and Khwai in Moremi

If you have the time, Savuti in the southern part of Chobe is an un-fenced campsite with running water, ablutions with showers and flush toilets but no electricity only about four hours in a 4WD vehicle (only) from Kasane. When I went, I booked Savuti campsite well in advance. Please also keep in mind that this is basic (this is for bush and nature lovers). I am not an overly adventurous person, and I know that it takes nerves to sit completely still when an elephant eats from a bush that stands next to your camping chair and table. Keep that in mind, you are visiting a wildlife area. Read: You want the ultimate wildlife spectacle? I heart the Okavango Delta. Savuti Campsite GPS: S 18 34.014, E 24 03.905. Back then from there I also went camping at Third Bridge, Xakanaxa and Khwai in Moremi and went on different boat trips into the Okavango Delta. Book all of these camps well in advance. Please do not feed wildlife. Again, do not call wildlife a nuisance; it is their home you visit. You are not visiting a big town, do not expect to find shops or filling stations, there is nothing; you’d need to be prepared for that.

Enter Chobe National Park at Sedudu Gate near Kasane

If you drive through the Zambezi Region you will end up here, there is almost no way around it. There are two easy options to see countless elephants, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, and different birds, especially eagles at the Chobe Riverfront, you can either drive through the park in your own 4WD vehicle or hop on a boat to go for a guided trip. Sedudu gate is a quick drive from Kasane. Getting into Chobe is fast and easy, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to enter the park. I visited at two different times before this trip, and never waited for long. Chobe National Park protects 11,700 km2. Entrance fee: BWP 120 per adult (children BWP 60). Vehicles per day BWP 50. Hours: 6am to 6pm. Check gate times depending on the season.

Elephant in Savuti in Chobe National Park in Botswana

Chobe National Park - The Land of The Giants

Chobe National Park, and its Chobe River, near the Okavango Delta in Botswana’s far north-eastern corner, is wild- and birdlife galore and (exciting) it is also home to Africa’s largest elephant population. There are apparently 120,000 elephants in this park. On one afternoon I saw a line of dust over the bushland, and it took me a few moments until I realized it was a large herd of elephants walking towards the bank of the river to drink, to have a paddle and a splash. Moments like these plus the fish eagles flying overhead and hippos bathing in the river are the best and worth the long trip to get here.

I would not recommend you walk with lions or ride on elephants when in this area. Please read Is walking with lions good conservation? Probably not and Travelling is a movement of hope – how to become part of it.

Please do not chase animals. In Chobe National Park, I saw many different safari guides who drove so close to wildlife that guests in the safari vehicle shrieked and laughed out of excitement. I expect the guides do this to please tourists and their bosses; they want to give them the best time. On one occasion I watched a group of mongoose, many birds from several different species, a group of springboks and lots of crocodiles doing what they do around the Chobe River's edge. My car was parked on a nearby hill, I used binoculars. It was so peaceful. A safari vehicle drove right into the scene. The springboks ran off, all mongoose disappeared into the bush, the crocodiles retired to the water, birds waded and flew away. The safari vehicle left the scene a few moments later. All wildlife was gone, left behind was the dusty emptiness.

On another occasion I was on a boat, mesmerized by a herd of elephants at the river bank. A safari vehicle drove down all the way to the embankment and cut off one animal from the herd.

One afternoon a big herd of water buffalos crossed the track right in front of us. We stopped, together with another car that came up right behind us, switched off the engine, and watched the animals in silence. What an experience. Minutes later a safari vehicle arrived at the scene and overtook us off-road. Leaving the designated path, it simply drove through the grassland and plant life and parked right in front of us, with its engine running. The buffalos disappeared into the surrounding bush.

Entitled humans. Taking what they need and not giving a damn about what surrounds them. Do these tourists go back home and tell others how much they love nature and wildlife and go into raptures about the brilliant adventures they had with the same up close? Do these wildlife Rambos, sorry guides, brag in front of their friends and families how much they care for the environment? When words don’t match actions. Do tourists and guides have a secret agreement where they tell each other what amazing conservationists they are? These were the sad moments on my trip. If that is your idea of a wildlife encounter, better stay home.

Elephants, crocodiles, lions, monkeys in Chobe National Park in Botswana

Vultures, antilopes, frogs, trees, monkeys, crocodiles, elephants, and sand tracks in Chobe National Park in Botswana

 Eagles, birds, elephants, buffalo, sandy tracks in Chobe National Park in Botswana

Chobe River Cruise starting in Kasane

Has a crocodile a tongue? Which bird catches butterflies and places them on the water’s surface, so that the butterfly flap (wing movement) attracts fish, which it then catches? Go on a boat trip in Chobe National Park to find out. The tour starts at the Chobe Safari Lodge. Book one day in advance. If you visit Chobe National Park with your vehicle on the same day and you already paid the fee for the National Park, let the tour boat company know. On a boat tour, you will see the park from a different angle, I couldn't believe as I saw an elephant swimming in the river, lost in thought, its head dreamily popping up and down between water the lilies.
 Eagles, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, kudu on the Chobe River in the Chobe National Park in Botswana

Red sunset over the Chobe River in the Chobe National Park in Botswana

Colourful fabric on a market in Kasane in Botswana.
Colourful fabric at the market in Kasane

The four-day drive from Kasane in Botswana to Cape Town in South Africa


Day One. Drive 661 kilometres from Kasane to Palapye  

The road (highway) between Kasane and Nata is a wildlife area with foremost elephants and giraffes. It is somewhat funny to see that there are lots of knocked down or bent street signs, destroyed by elephants plus warning signs to only get out of your car at your own risk. For a quick stopover, I stayed at the Cresta Botsalo Hotel, BWP 1,057/night plus breakfast BWP 160. I once spent a lovely few days camping at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, no power and ablution blocks. BWP 120/per person/night. Here I saw black as well as white rhinos on a drive in my own vehicle.

An elephant about to enter the highway between Kasane and Nata in Botswana

A giraffe in the middle of the highway between Kasane and Nat

Street sign with donkey cart warning on the highway between Kasane and Nat

Day Two. Drive 580 kilometres from Palapye to Vryburg  

You have to stop over in Gabarone, it is the capital of Botswana. I searched for Zebra Drive since I wanted to see where Mma Precious Ramotswe lives (she is the main character from the Alexander McCall Smith Novels The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency).

A beige and black painted toy Land Rover on a paper map next to the words Gabarone.

Hairdresser in a container also offering pedicure and manicure in Botswana

Holy Gurudwara Sahib in Gabarone in Botswana

Land Rover under massive storm clouds over the fields in Vryburg in South Africa

A beige and black painted ty Land Rover parked on a paper map next to the words Vryburg.

You are now leaving the malaria-risk area. Please remember to proceed to take your tablets as recommended. Cross the border into South Africa in Ramatlabama (it is sort of the same procedure as on your way in, only in reverse, you should still have all needed documents). Hours: 7am to 10pm (probably depending on the season). In Vryburg, and if it is too cold for camping, stay at the Safari Guesthouse, it should do for a quick stopover; your vehicle is parked safely. ZAR 540 per night plus breakfast ZAR 50 per person. 35 Edwin Frylinck Street, Vryburg 8601 South Africa.

Day Three. Drive 580 kilometres from Vryburg to Victoria West to Beaufort West

Stop-over in Kimberley to look at the Big Hole. In the Karoo town of Victoria West, you should stop for Rooibos Tea and carrot cake at the Karoo Deli on Willow Street, where you can also buy handmade crafts and homemade rusks. In Beaufort West, you have to stay for the night at Lemonfontein. The lodge in the Great Karoo with its high ceilings, wooden floors and verandas was built in 1850 by a Victorian English man (not sure whether his partner played the fiddle in an Irish band). Back in the days and once a year he would invite friends from England and Scotland to travel with him to this place to hunt, relax and enjoy good company. The hunting days are long over. These days, home-style cooked dinner is served in the dining room, it is a warm atmosphere and somewhat exciting too; imagine a scene where Hercule Poirot would visit Downton Abbey and The Touristin is present too. Sitting there together with all the other guests, I imagine we are in an Agatha Christie murder mystery and I can't help but wonder what is going to happen after we all retire, delightfully stuffed, from the feast. I soon find out. During the night… just after midnight… I hear a noise at my door... I leave my bed, hesitantly and tiptoe through the room, put my hand around the brass handle to open the door. A guy storms in. Moving with fast steps, determined, and not waiting for approval. Dressed all in grey, in the same colour as the chilly night… it is one of the resident cats. When you get up in the morning, after you had breakfast, go find the hiking trails that take you up the hills. This is the place to reflect with happiness on what you have seen and experienced over the last weeks during your trip to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Make sure it is all safely stored in your mind before you head back into civilisation and your life back home. Lemoenfontein. Rooms per night from ZAR 795 per person plus dinner and breakfast.

If you have a few more days to spend, make your way to the Karoo National Park. Breathtakingly beautiful Karoo scenery plus plant- and wildlife (many different antelopes and also lions call this place home). Best to book in advance. Entrance fee: ZAR 194/day. Camping ZAR 268/night. Barbeque facilities and shared ablutions blocks.

Cat and dog and interior design of Lemoen Fontein in Beaufort West

Day Four. Drive 460 kilometres from Beaufort West to Cape Town

Stopover in Matjiesfontein, a small town in the Great Karoo. I went for a walk towards the end of the main road and to look over the Karoo Landscape, all was silent. I heard footsteps in the gravel coming towards me, I turned around and there was no one neither near nor far. Odd.

Pop into the Coffee House for a sandwich or piece of cake. Coffee House, Main Street, Matjiesfontein. 
Sandwich, museum, bar, padstal and the main road in Matjiesfonteinin South Africa

Top tips for your self-drive road trip to the Zambezi Region and Chobe National Park

There is a risk of Malaria throughout the year, and a high risk of Malaria during the months from November to June. See a travel doctor before your trip and take recommended preventive measures. Take the warning seriously; one mosquito bite is enough to get you Malaria and it can be fatal (fast). I always take Malarone in Malaria regions and have never experienced any side effects. Please talk to a specialist/GP about all side effects and what you can do. It is expensive (but we only have this one life).

Get vaccinated against diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A.

Put on a sufficient amount of sunscreen and wear protective clothing (hat and sunglasses).

Bring lightweight clothing and sturdy shoes (no need at all to wear camouflage, obviously, you are not going to war). Bring a jacket or jumper, sleeping bags that work in cold conditions. In autumn/winter it gets cold in the early morning and evening/nights.

A credit card is a legal payment instrument and generally accepted at fuel stations and grocery stores. Carrying sufficient cash (just in case) is always a good idea.

Wildlife is wildlife, please do not chase, touch or feed it. Please do not get out of your car in a national park.

Take your entire litter home with you and/or dispose of it at signposted places only. Do not buy and use plastic (in general), it all ends up in the ocean and river systems.

Book campsites in National parks, lodges, guest houses well in advance during peak season.

Best time to visit Zambezi Region and Chobe National Park

Best time to visit Zambezi (formerly known as Caprivi): There is a tropical climate, so the weather is sort of perfect for the whole year. Spring days are bright and blue. Summers are (can I say extremely) hot with chances of rain from January to March. Autumns are mild and sunny. Winter is an excellent time for wildlife viewings and the temperature hardly ever gets below 25 degrees Celsius during the day but keep in mind that it can get cold and even towards zero degrees Celsius during the night.

Best time to visit Chobe National Park: The weather is almost always sunny in Botswana. It rains (usually single heavy downpours) from December to March and it is hot, hot, hot. Wildlife viewings are plenty and the heat is an experience. From April to October, it is the dry season, temperatures are pleasant during the day, but it can get cold at night and in the early mornings, wildlife viewings are aplenty.

How to get to the Zambezi Region and the Chobe National Park

Flights from Europe to South Africa, Namibia or Botswana are easy; travel time is between 11 to 20 hours depending on the connection, all manageable.

To visit the Zambezi Region, you fly to Windhoek airport and travel on towards the Zambezi region. By car, it is roughly four days from Cape Town in South Africa.

To visit Chobe National Park, you can fly to Kasane airport and travel on to your lodge. By car, it is roughly four days from Cape Town in South Africa.

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