All about the top self-drive safari destinations in Southern Africa. A self-drive safari can be daunting for first-time visitors to Africa. With a guide, you can enjoy the freedom to relax because you’ll not only have the advantage of an expert set of eyes for spotting wildlife, but someone knowledgeable to handle the driving, directions, and, most importantly, your safety.
A self-drive safari, on the other hand, brings you closer to the essence of Africa, which is, after all, the freedom to explore and discover the continent’s wonders at your own pace. Self-drive safaris have numerous advantages. There are no set schedules or time limits, so you can spend two hours photographing zebra if you want to, or take that less-travelled road simply because you have a gut feeling it will yield better results.
Of course, another significant advantage of self-drive safaris is that they are significantly less expensive than organized tours. Often, guided game drives are only available to those staying at the most expensive lodges in a park or reserve; at other times, tourists are charged a fee for the service of a chauffeur.
However, not all countries encourage independent safaris, and not all parks permit them. When selecting self-drive safari destinations, choose one with good signage, passable roads, and public accommodation within the park boundaries.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park, dominated by the remarkable Chobe River, is the best option for a self-drive safari in Botswana. Roads run along the waterfront, allowing you to see animals as they come down to the river to hydrate. Chobe is well-known for its abundant wildlife, which includes large herds of elephants and buffalo. The river attracts water species such as hippos and otters, and the birdlife is spectacular. Chobe also includes the legendary Savuti Marsh, which is known for sightings of lions, cheetahs, and hyenas.
This excellent self-drive safari destination requires 4WD vehicles and anti-malaria medication. There are camping spots available at Savuti, Linyanti, and Ihaha, which all provide potable water as well as basic shower and toilet facilities. It’s important to remember firewood and catering equipment, and reservations are required in advance. There are also private lodges within the park, though these frequently include guided game drives in their rates. Victoria Falls is only 80 kilometres from Chobe’s gateway town, Kasane, for those travelling by land.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Those looking to get off the beaten path should visit the mighty Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a remote wilderness that bisects the border of South Africa and Botswana. This self-drive safari destination can be tricky as it has extreme weather. However, it is a low-risk malaria area and suitable for 4WD vehicles. This semi-arid region of the Kalahari Desert is well-known for its predator and raptor sightings, with cheetah and black-maned lions among the highlights.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has three main camps (Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata, and Nossob), each with basic amenities. For those looking for a little extravagance, there are up-scale lodges. For nature enthusiasts, the park’s wilderness camps offer the opportunity to immerse oneself in untamed nature with only eight guests per camp. Because of its unique transfrontier location, the park is an excellent choice for those planning a cross-country trip through South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.
Addo Elephant Park
Addo Elephant National Park is one of South Africa’s most popular self-drive safari destinations. It is less crowded than the Kruger and more accessible than Mkhuze. Just 40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, Addo is ideal for day trips as well as longer stays. Day visitors do not need to make reservations, and in-park accommodations range from campsites to basic chalets and luxury lodges. The park’s tarred and gravelled roads are unusual in that they are suitable for both 2WD and 4WD vehicles.
The park is malaria-free, and there’s even an enclosed picnic area in the heart of the park where safari-goers can fire up the braai and enjoy a traditional South African lunch. Addo is best known for its large elephant herds, but it also has the Big Five and an impressive variety of birdlife. There are several waterholes and an elevated bird hide to help you spot wildlife during your self-drive safari.
Etosha National Park
A self-drive safari destination, Etosha National Park offers an abundance of wildlife sightings and long days on the road. However, careful planning is required. One of our all-time favourite wildlife experiences is an Etosha self-drive safari. Etosha National Park, which spans 20,000 square kilometres, is home to four of the big five, including the endangered black rhino, as well as 114 species of mammals and 340 species of birds. During the wet season, large herds of game roam the plains. When the rains stop, the animals congregate around waterholes in this otherwise very dry landscape, creating some of the world’s most dense game viewing opportunities, against a remarkable backdrop.