Southern Africa's Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations

  • 01 of 07

    The Joys of Independence

    Southern Africa's Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Self-Drive Safari, Namibia. Jessica Macdonald

    For first time visitors to Africa, the thought of a self-drive safari can be intimidating. With a guide, you undoubtedly have the benefit of an expert pair of eyes when it comes to spotting wildlife; and you have someone in-the-know on hand to take care of the driving, the directions, and most importantly, your safety.

    However, for those with an adventurous spirit, a self-drive safari gets you closer to the essence of Africa - which is after all, the freedom to explore and discover the continent’s wonders in your own time. Self-drive safaris have many benefits. There are no prescribed schedules or time limits - meaning that you can spend two hours photographing zebra if you feel like it; or take that less-travelled road simply because you have a gut feeling that it might yield an exciting sighting. 

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  • 02 of 07

    Choosing the Right Destination

    Southern Africa's Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Photographing Elephants from the Car, Namibia. Grant Macdonald

    When you do spot wildlife, it feels like a personal victory - something that you made happen all by yourself. It’s more special that way, and a truer representation of wild, unpackaged life in the bush. Of course, another key benefit to self-drive safaris is that they cost a fraction of the price of organised tours. Often, guided game drives are only available to those staying at a park or reserve’s most expensive lodges; while at other times, tourists are charged a premium for the privilege of a chauffeur.

    Not all countries are geared towards independent safaris, however. When choosing a self-drive destination, it’s advisable to select a park with good signage, passable roads and public accommodation located within the park boundaries.

    South Africa and Namibia are particularly popular choices for self-drive safaris, as both of these countries have the infrastructure needed to make getting around by oneself simple, pleasant and safe. In this article, we look at five of Southern Africa’s...MORE most exciting self-drive safari destinations. 

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  • 03 of 07

    Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

    Southern Africa’s Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Elephants Play-Fighting, Addo. Jessica Macdonald

    Less crowded than the Kruger and more accessible than Mkhuze, Addo Elephant Park is one of South Africa’s most popular self-drive destinations. Located just 25 miles/ 40 kilometers from the major east coast city of Port Elizabeth, it’s amazingly easy to get to, making it perfect for day trips as well as longer stays. No booking is required for day visitors, while in-park accommodation ranges from campsites to basic chalets and luxury lodges. Unusually, the park’s tarred and gravelled roads are suitable for both 2x4 and 4x4 vehicles, and are meticulously well signposted. 

    The park is malaria-free, saving you the cost of expensive prophylactics; and there’s even an enclosed picnic site in the heart of the park where you can indulge in a traditional South African braai (or barbecue). As its name suggests, Addo is most famous for its huge herds of elephant, but it’s also home to the Big Five as well as an impressive variety of birdlife. To make spotting by yourself easier, there are several...MORE waterholes and an elevated bird hide. During the dry season, game congregates at these waterholes, making them the focus of your day. 

    Gate Opening Times: 
    7:00am - 6:30pm
    Daily Self-Drive Rates: 
    R248 per adult, R124 per child (discounted rates apply for SA and SADC nationals)
    Accommodation: 
    From R265 per night (campsite, low season)
    When to Go: 
    Year-round, although the dry season (June - August) offers the best sightings.

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  • 04 of 07

    Etosha National Park, Namibia

    Southern Africa's Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Pale Chanting Goshawk, Etosha. Jessica Macdonald

    Namibia is the king of self-drive safari destinations and Etosha National Park is undoubtedly the jewel in its crown. Situated in the country’s dry north, the park is defined by semi-arid landscapes set around a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. The roads are generally accessible for 2x4 vehicles - although a 4x4 is preferable during the rainy season. There are six  public rest camps offering a range of tented and luxury accommodation. The three main camps (Okuakuejo, Halali and Namutoni) have gas stations and are especially geared towards self-drivers.

    Etosha is malaria-free, and has a unique environment perfect for desert-adapted wildlife, including the gemsbok, or oryx, and the endangered black rhino. Its combination of grassland, salt pans and thorn-tree thickets supports a surprising variety of life, with highlights including elephant, leopards, lion and both species of rhino. There are several waterholes, including floodlit waterholes at the three main camps, which...MORE offer rare sightings of nocturnal wildlife. The park is also a birders’ paradise, with 340 avian species recorded within its boundaries. 

    Gate Opening Times: 
    Sunrise - Sunset
    Daily Self-Drive Rates: 
    N$80 per adult, N$10 per vehicle. Children under 16 go free
    Accommodation: 
    From N$250 per night (campsite)
    When to Go: 
    The dry season (June - September) is best for wildlife sightings, while the rainy season (October - March) is best for birding.

     

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  • 05 of 07

    Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa & Botswana

    Southern Africa's Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Black-Maned Lion, Kgalagadi. Franz Aberham/ Getty Images

    Those looking to step off the map and explore the road less travelled should consider a trip to the mighty Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a remote wilderness that straddles the border of South Africa and Botswana. Extreme temperatures, a low risk of malaria and roads suitable for 4x4s only means that self-driving the Kgalagadi is not necessarily easy; but the rewards far outweigh the effort of stringent forward-planning. This semi-arid section of the Kalahari Desert is famous for its predator and raptor sightings, with highlights including cheetah and black-maned lion. 

    Kgalagadi has three main camps (Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata and Nossob), all equipped with basic amenities. For those in search of a little luxury, !Xaus Lodge provides upmarket chalets, while the park’s wilderness camps offer the chance to immerse oneself in untamed nature with space for just eight guests each. Some of the wilderness camps are unfenced, and all require visitors to provide their own fuel, firewood and water....MORE The park’s unique transfrontier location makes it an ideal destination for those planning a cross-country trip through South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. 

    Gate Opening Times: 
    7:30am - Sundown
    Daily Self-Drive Rates: 
    R304 per adult, R152 per child (discounted rates apply for SA and SADC nationals)
    Accommodation: 
    From R265 per night (campsite, low season)
    When to Go: 
    Year-round, although the best times for wildlife are the end of the dry season (September - November) and the end of the rainy season (March - May).

     

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  • 06 of 07

    Chobe National Park, Botswana

    Southern Africa’s Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Hippo, Chobe. Steve Allen/ Getty Images

    Dominated by the spectacular ribbon of the life-giving Chobe River, Chobe National Park is the best option for a self-drive safari in Botswana. Roads run along the waterfront, giving you the opportunity to spot animals as they come down to the river to drink. Chobe is famous for the abundance of its wildlife, including vast herds of elephant and buffalo. The river adds water species like hippo and otters; while the birdlife here is astounding. Chobe also includes the legendary Savuti Marsh, renowned for its lion, cheetah and hyena sightings. 

    4x4 vehicles are recommended for Chobe; and anti-malaria medication is essential. Accommodation takes the form of wilderness campsites at Savuti, Linyanti and Ihaha, all of which offer potable water and basic shower and toilet facilities. It’s important to remember firewood and equipment for catering, and advance booking is essential. There are private lodges within the park as well, although these often include guided game drives in their rates....MORE For those on an overland trip, Victoria Falls is just 50 miles/ 80 kilometres from Chobe’s gateway town Kasane. 

    Gate Opening Times: 
    April - September, 6:00am - 6:30pm/ October - March, 5:00am - 7:00pm
    Daily Self-Drive Rates: 
    P120 per adult, P60 per child, children under 8 go free. There is also a daily vehicle charge, starting at P10 per vehicle. 
    Accommodation: 
    From US$ 40 per night
    When to Go:
    Year-round, though the dry season (April - October) is best for large herds of game and the rainy season (November - March) is best for birds. 

     

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  • 07 of 07

    Mahango Game Reserve, Namibia

    Southern Africa's Top Five Self-Drive Safari Destinations
    ••• Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Mahango. Jessica Macdonald

    Situated 140 miles/ 225 kilometers from Rundu on the western end of the Caprivi Strip, Mahango Game Reserve offers a completely different view of Namibia to the arid landscapes of Etosha. Fed by the perennial waters of the serene Kavango River, its lush wetlands, shaded thickets and twisted baobab trees provide a welcome respite from the heat for an incredible variety of bird and animal life. Rare antelope like the sitatunga, roan, sable and red lechwe are a highlight here, while more than 400 bird species (including many owls and raptors) have been recorded.

    There are two self-drive routes, one of which is suitable for 2x4 vehicles, and the other of which is suitable only for experienced 4x4 drivers. Despite the presence of lions, bush walking is allowed here. With no accommodation within the park itself, Mahango is geared towards day trips, but there are several excellent hotels strung along the banks of the Kavango just a few kilometers from the entrance. Options range from...MORE backpacker campsites to five-star lodges, and most offer river cruises and excursions to nearby Popa Falls

    Gate Opening Times: 
    Sunrise - Sunset
    Daily Self-Drive Rates: 
    N$40 per person, N$10 per vehicle (discounted rates apply for Namibian and SADC nationals)
    Accommodation: 
    N/A 
    When to Go:
    Year-round, although the dry season (May - September) is best for wildlife, while the rainy season (October - April) is best for birding.