Driving in Botswana

Julie Botswana 18 Comments

Botswana is home to several of the world’s best safari destinations, such as the Okavango Delta, the Kalahari Desert, and Chobe National Park. Most people choose to fly into these locations, but those on a budget may not have this luxury. We fell into the category of budget travelers so we chose to drive from South Africa to Chobe National Park.

Driving across Botswana was an enlightening experience. Here’s what we learned about driving in Botswana.

Driving in Botswana

Is it Safe?

In terms of crime, yes, driving through Botswana is safe. Botswana is one of the safest countries in Africa. Still, the occasional theft or car jacking can occur, but it is rare. For more information, check out the World Nomad’s safety report on Botswana.

Drive on the Left

In Botswana, cars drive on the left hand side of the road.

Do I need a 4×4?

If you are staying on the main roads and not planning on self-driving the national parks, then you do not need a 4×4. If you are planning on driving through any of the parks on your own, you will need a 4×4.

The highways in Botswana are paved but not always in the best conditions. We were driving in a Volkswagen Kombi Van and had no trouble driving the 1500 km (930 miles) round trip to Chobe National Park.

What are road conditions like?

The roads are long, straight, and flat. They are two lane roads with a crumbling shoulder. Occasionally, you will pass through small towns. Here we saw small villages with huts made from wood, tall grasses, and sometimes concrete. People would smile and wave as we drove by. Many people were sitting on the side of the road, waiting for the rare bus to pick them up.

Driving in Botswana

Be Prepared for Potholes!!

In some sections of Botswana road conditions can be terrible. As we entered Botswana from the Martin’s Drift border post at Groblersburg, we were met with long stretches of road littered with potholes. Not small potholes, some were large enough to swallow a small child.

PotholesThese potholes had Tim swerving all over the road and still many were unavoidable. This drastically slowed our travel time. Plus, we were in danger of getting a flat tire or having some other mechanical issue occur with our van.

Once we got closer to Francistown road conditions dramatically improved. These roads were getting a fresh coat of asphalt, making our travels much less stressful.

Beware of Animals!

Botswana is wilderness…elephants, ostriches, kudu, warthogs, and giraffe roam free throughout the country. Sometimes, these animals can be found crossing the highways. We actually had our first elephant sighting from the highway on our way to Chobe National Park.

Ostrich

Do Not Drive After Dark

Animal crossings are frequent and at night some of these animals would be very hard to see. Traffic can be moving as fast as 100 km per hour (60 mph). Imagine meeting an elephant at this speed. It does happen; there are numerous reports of catastrophic accidents between cars, buses, and wildlife at night in Botswana and other countries.

Petrol Stations

Petrol stations can be few and far between, so when passing through a larger town make sure to top off your car.

Checkpoints

Roughly every 200 km we would come to a checkpoint in the road. Here, government officials were stopping cars to check registration and to make sure that vehicles were in proper working condition. Since we were tourists traveling in a rental car we were usually just waved through. We did get stopped several times, and we were asked to demonstrate that our windshield wipers and blinkers were working properly.

One time, as we were nearing the border on our way out of Botswana, we were stopped at a checkpoint for Foot-and-Mouth Disease. We all had to exit our cars and walk across special medicated mats on the ground to clean our shoes of the disease. Next, we drove our vehicle though a trough of medically treated water, to clean the disease off of our tires. These checkpoints are common when there is an outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Botswana.

Hand and Foot Disease Checkpoint

So, What’s It Really Like?

Eye-opening, frustrating, at times stressful and at times very enjoyable.

Hair CutAs we drove down these long highways without civilization in sight, we felt like we truly were in the middle of nowhere. There is not much traffic on these roads and at times we could drive long distances without seeing another vehicle. Yes, we were on main roads but just driving through Botswana felt like an adventure.

Since we hadn’t been on safari when we first entered Botswana, seeing warthogs and baboons on the side of the road was thrilling. Seeing an ostrich or elephant was absolutely amazing!

Grass HutsWe ended up having to drive for two hours in darkness, not anticipating the length of time it would take to make a border crossing and then spending extra time dodging all of those potholes. This was extremely stressful. Yes, we were worried about colliding into an elephant, but we were more concerned about oncoming traffic. It was dark, we were on a two-lane highway traveling at fast speeds, there was no shoulder, and the possibility of a head-on collision with another car was a very real possibility. Of course, this never happened, but it was a stressful experience.

If we had flown, we would have missed out on these experiences. Yes, going on safari in Botswana is much more thrilling than driving its roads, but this journey was a worthwhile experience.

Disclaimer

Make Sure You Have:

Cellphone

Extra food and water. Some stretches of road are long with no sign of civilization. A flat tire or mechanical issue here could have you waiting a long time for assistance.

Patience. The potholes, the checkpoints, and road construction can slow down your progress, so be prepared for this.

What We Did

We drove from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Kasane, Botswana. This journey totaled 1200 km and 14 hours of driving (not including pitstops along the way as well as the border crossing at Martin’s Drift). We split the drive into two days, our halfway point being Francistown, Botswana. For us, making the drive was worth the savings on the airline tickets. Since we were traveling long term, we were time rich, so allotting extra time into driving was not a big issue for us.

Where We Stayed in Francistown: We stayed at the Diggers Inn, one of the few hotels in this small town. The Diggers Inn is a three star hotel, adequate for our needs but nothing spectacular. Would we stay here again? Yes! The rooms were large, if a bit dated, and it conveniently has a restaurant (again nothing spectacular but did meet our needs).


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Driving in Botswana

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Comments 18

  1. Would driving with a Mercedes Benz which is low to the ground be a good idea? Thinking of driving from Kimberley to Gaborone and then through the northern part of Botswana into Namibia to Windhoek. Or would you say a Mazda cx3 is a better vehicle to use? Your blog is amazing! I’m traveling from North America.

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      The roads are paved so a Mercedes will be fine. We had one smallish section (5 miles) of roads with lots of potholes but I don’t think it’s worth getting a car with more clearance just for that section. Plus, we did this drive in August 2014 so hopefully it’s been repaved or at least patched since then. Have fun in Botswana…it’s awesome! Cheers, Julie

      1. Awesome! Decided to drive from Gabarone to Francistown, and then head over to the Victoria Falls as well. It’s good to know from someone who has actually done the trip, who you can ask for road conditions. Tried to avoid most of Zimbabwe, and just cross for the Victoria Falls, so I booked two nights in Gabarone, when we check out, we will drive for the Bots/Zim border. and possibly overnight in Francistown. Then the next day, drive to the border, and head to the Victoria Falls for one day. Then start driving back to South Africa.

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          Sounds great. I’m glad we chose to drive back and forth. We did it this way because it was so expensive to fly but it turned out to be such an interesting look at this part of Africa. Hopefully you feel the same way. Enjoy Botswana! Cheers, Julie

          1. Yeah, the visa for Zimbabwe is like $50 with my US passport, and the requirements to drive in look like a lot of tape compared to Botswana. I happen to be a dual US/SA citizen, so with my SA passport, the visa is 100% free.

            I looked at flying, but for 3 people, it adds up, and driving gives you the opportunity to actually see animals.

            Planning to drive during the day, to avoid animals at night. So, every morning, we would plan to hit the road at around 8am, to give us most of the daylight to drive.

            Will let you know how it went.
            Richard

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  2. I’m curious. If the purpose of the Journey was to drive through Botswana why not use the Kopfontein (Zeerust)/Gaborone Border rather than the Martin’s Drift Border? Much better roads and you would have seen more of Botswana as well as been driving in daylight after crossing the Border. Also you could have taken a day in Gaborone.

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      We made this decision based off the info we could find online at the time (and there was not much). It’s one hour less driving, which seemed like a good idea. Our Mom’s were traveling with us and they had limited time so we needed to get right to Kasane without adding another stop. And what a wild experience…the potholes, the small towns, the wildlife…I’m glad we got to see all of this. Cheers, Julie

  3. Excellent information, Julie! My wife and I will be making a similar trip this year, but going from Kasane to Francistown one-way after driving northern Botswana and the Susuwe Triangle in Namibia. But, after all of that driving, I might be inclined to take a bus for the Kasane-Francistown leg so I can actually enjoy the scenery (and to save on the one-way upcharge for a different dropoff location).

    My question is this: Did you notice if there is regular bus service between the two towns? I’ve found conflicting info throughout my research and just thought I would consult the blogosphere.

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      I know that buses run through that part of Botswana because we saw the local people standing by the roadside, waiting for the next bus. However, to me, they looked like they had been waiting a long time. I really do not have any solid info to give you about public bus routes in Botswana. I vaguely remember reading that there are buses that connect Johannesburg to Kasane, but it’s been several years now and I don’t know where on the internet I read that. Keep researching but the easiest thing may be to keep the car until you get to Francistown. Honestly, the landscape on that drive is not that spectacular. Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi Julie

    We are planning a trip up to Kasane via Francistown this May. Are there many gas stations along the way? It doesn’t look like there are any significant towns.

    Thanks for the info in your blog. 🙂

    Dave

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      There are gas stations on the way but they are sparse, if I remember correctly. I recommend starting with a full tank of gas in Francestown and I believe we refilled our tank in Nata. You will be fine, just make sure you fill up when you get the chance. And watch out for elephants and ostriches crossing the road!! 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  5. Hi guys,
    we are a Swiss family (I am 43, my wife as well, our kids are 10 and 15) planing to take a trip to Victoria Falls (by plane from Cape Town, as we have lived there for some years, hence we are going back to visit friends as well) , hire a car, drive through Botswana and get to Johannesburg. Browsing the net for information I have bumped into your blog, which I have found very interesting and informative.
    Any extra tip you could drop to us in order to save some headaches and worries?
    We also like to travel quite a bit, whenever there is time for it :-).

    Take care, and thanks in advance for your kind reply to this email of mine

    regards

    Igor

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      We did a very similar journey, going from Kasane to Johannesburg in two days, spending the night in Francistown (we did this twice, in both directions). From Victoria Falls, you will have to cross the border into Botswana. Depending on where you stay, this could be two border crossings: Zambia to Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe to Botswana. Check the Visa requirements for entering Botswana and allow at least an hour of time to get across these 2 borders. When we crossed the border back into South Africa, a dodgy agent tried to bribe hundreds of dollars from us. Tim didn’t fall for it. So make sure you know what all of the up to date border crossing requirements are so you don’t get scammed. Cheers, Julie

      1. Hi Julie,

        Planning a trip for march of 2018

        What are the border crossing requirements? Did you need any special documentation from the rental car company in order to cross the border? We will be taking the same route you took.

        What are the costs of crossing the border with a vehicle into Botswana?

        Also costs of driving a vehicle into Zimbabwe? Just the vehicle fees not the visa fees.

        Vehicle border crossing fees?

        Thanks!!!

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          For the border crossing from South Africa into Botswana, we had the rental car agreement and no other special documentation, not that we recall. We did have an international driver’s license, just in case. Our cost for gas, tolls, and border fees for crossing into Botswana were $71 USD in 2014.

          We didn’t drive into Zimbabwe because of the vehicle requirements, which required things like a reflective triangle and other items to be in the vehicle. So we had our hotel in Botswana arrange transportation for us to/from Zimbabwe. I do not know what the vehicle fees will be for 2018. You will have to do some more research about that, and see if the vehicle requirements have changed in the past 4 years.

          Cheers, Julie

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