In many ways, self-drive safaris are the ultimate type of safari to explore a country or national park. Taking a self-drive safari puts you behind the wheel of your own vehicle, dispensing with guide, driver, and crowds to discover the African wilderness for yourself.
Whilst some people can be put off doing a self-drive safari because of worries about self-catering and accommodation, with a little planning ahead you can easily arrange a self-drive safari that involves either camping and BBQs each night or top-end luxury safari lodges and Michelin-star-style meals. And the flexibility of self-drive safaris means you’re free to arrange a combination of the two and really mix up your safari experience.
On the animal knowledge front if you’re unsure of wildlife behavior then take a guided game drive or two before you get behind the wheel. This will give you a feel for what the animals may do, and build your confidence for what to expect when you’re driving yourself around.
There are a number of positives to driving yourself on safari:
- You have the freedom and flexibility to choose where you go how to pace your day. This means that you don’t have to conform to a strict daily schedule – if you want to stop by a watering hole to have a picnic and watch game, you can.
- Self-drive safaris are much cheaper than a guided safari as you don’t have to layout for a guide or driver. The only cost is your park entrance – usually charged on a daily basis – and your accommodation.
- Self-drive safaris are easily combined with many other types of safari to allow you the best of both worlds and optimal game viewing. For example, you can do a few days of self drive and add a guided walking safari one morning and a balloon safari in the afternoon…you have the flexibility as you’re in charge of your itinerary.
Best national parks for self drive safaris
Southern Africa offers the ultimate destination for self-drive safaris, with Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa all providing good infrastructure, decent roads, and huge open spaces that house national parks where you’re permitted to drive your own vehicle. There is any number of national parks in these three countries that will give a great self-drive safari experience, but these national parks are considered among the top of the continent:
- Etosha National Park, Namibia has a network of good quality dirt roads surrounding the enormous salt pan. The public camps have restaurants and shops to stock up on food and water for long days out wildlife spotting.
- Chobe National Park, Botswana is a wild national park with facilities few and far between. You’ll need to be fully prepared and supplied to enjoy a self-drive safari here, but the rewards come with the plethora of wildlife and lack of other tourists to share it all with.
- Kruger National Park, South Africa is classic big five country and has superb facilities for independent safari-goers. Roads in the park are generally excellent, and a combination of tarmac and dirt. The range of government accommodation in the parks is cheap and cheerful, with shops, swimming pools and information centers available in many camps.
What to take on a self drive safari
- Extra petrol in Jerry cans – even if you have a backup tank. In Africa most petrol stations are only located in the major cities towns, leaving you struggling to find petrol in remote areas.
- A detailed map. The roads are often un-signposted in Africa so a map is a definite necessity.
- A mobile phone (ideally satellite) with a local SIM card. As well as a back up for any emergencies, it gives you the flexibility to ring ahead to book your lodges or campsites before arriving.
- In case of break down you should have two spare tires, a tyre pump, a high lift jack, and an ordinary jack.
- A medical or first aid kit. In the heat and humidity, even small cuts can get infected quickly, and you’re likely to be along way from the nearest medical help.
- Food: Most campsites have some sort of restaurant, but it’s a good idea to take food for your breakfast and lunch, along with a few evening meals. And don’t forget the charcoal for your BBQs!
- A plentiful supply of water for drinking, washing… and filling radiators.
Tips for wildlife spotting on a self-drive safari
- The best time to spot wildlife is in the early morning and early evening when they are most active.
- Never get out of your vehicle, even if the animals appear docile or friendly. Big cats and other predators don’t associate vehicles as a food source or a threat, but once out of the vehicle, you are considered prey.
- Always leave your vehicle a clear route forwards when in the presence of elephants – they can run faster than you can reverse. Be warned that an elephant trunk tucked back between the legs of a running elephant is a sign of real danger!
- Driving around the park at top speed to see as much as possible is just about the worst technique for wildlife spotting. Slow speeds mean more sightings, and often pulling up at a watering hole and sitting still for a half-hour will reap you rich rewards.
- Mixing your self-drive safari with some sort of guided safari – a night drive, walking safari, balloon ride, etc. – will give you the biggest possible exposure to the local wildlife.