HIGHLIGHTS AND TIPS FOR THE CLASSIC SOUTHERN AFRICAN DRIVE
The immensity of Botswana and Namibia’s wide open spaces means the journey between destinations is the real highlight of driving this region. Time to enjoy the arid beauty, reflect on the place you have been and imagine the place you are going to. To add to this, the region has one of the lowest population densities in the world. As empty as it seems, its wonders are innumerable and the highlights below are but a small selection chosen simply for their ability to lure you back to discover more.
Use this interactive map to help plan your trip.
Situated on the edge of Sua Pan, Kubu Island, with its majestic baobabs and massive boulders, is the ultimate throne from which to survey the endless horizons. You will need a four wheel drive vehicle to reach the island and it is best approached in the dry season between June and October. Sua Pan is one of only two sites in southern Africa where both greater flamingos and lesser flamingos regularly breed in the wet season. The other is Etosha pan in Namibia. Lodges on the edge of the pans offer excursions to Kubu Island. Overnight camping is permitted.
UNESCOs 1000th World Heritage Sight, The Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve, which this vast wetland embraces, supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. There are a variety of ways to experience it and whether you glide through the waters in a mokoro, walk its islands or fly overhead for the ultimate view, the Okavango Delta will leave you breathless. International flights arrive in the nearby town of Maun which offers a variety of travel options, including 4×4 rental.
Containing the highest concentration of rock paintings in the world, the mysterious Tsodilo Hills tell a story that is 100,000 years old. Much has been learned about the ancient inhabitants from the region by studying the paintings and carvings, and modern people still visit the hills for spiritual ceremonies. You can reach the hills in a sedan in the dry season between June and October. A 4×4 is recommended in the wet season.
The famous Baines Baobabs and the diverse wildlife are the allure of Nxai Pan. The wet season from November to April is when Nxai Pan is at its best for game viewing. A 4×4 is needed to reach the pan. Lodges and tour operators in or near the region offer excursions to Nxai Pan. Overnight camping is permitted near Baines Baobabs and in other parts of the pan.
Namibia’s wildlife jewel, Etosha National Park offers unparalleled game viewing across a vast and easily accessible area. The park cradles the Etosha pan which is one of only two sites in southern Africa where both greater flamingos and lesser flamingos regularly breed in the wet season between January and March. The other is the Sua Pan in Botswana. Game viewing is best during the cooler, dryer winter months, particularly June to August when animals congregate at the water holes. There are a variety of camping and lodge options in or near Etosha and roads are accessible to sedans.
Image ©Elin F. Kjetland
Described as the ‘Matterhorn of Namibia’ Spitzkoppe’s striking outlines make this the most distinct landmark for hundreds of kilometres. The granite massif was created by the collapse of a gigantic volcano over 100 million years ago. Subsequent erosion exposed the volcanic rock as the outer layer was carried off by wind erosion. Ancient rock paintings can be found on its walls and the area can be hiked to enjoy the incredible rock formations. The nature reserve can be reached in any vehicle.
Home to the iconic ‘Dead Man’s Vlei’ and the red dunes of Namibia, Sossusvlei cannot be missed. It is unsurprisingly a mecca for tourists in the cooler winter months, but there’s more space than one can imagine, to climb the dunes and enjoy the sunrise, then descend to watch the sand change colour as it contrasts with the stark white earth and black trees in the vlei. Access to dunes is possible in all vehicles, and four wheel drive shuttles drive visitors over the deep sand tracks to the vlei.
The second largest canyon in the world, Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is up to 550 metres deep and about 160km long. It measures 27km across at its wides point. Forming a chain of narrow pools, the river flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer. The canyon is open for hiking in the cooler winter months between 1 May and 15 September and hikers can camp in the deep gorges which frame the stars. A variety of accommodation options is available in or near the national park which can be accessed by sedan.
A little something on the side
Visiting Botswana’s Chobe National Park in the north east of the country is a must if you love wildlife. It also puts you right next door to one of the wonders of the natural world, Victoria Falls. It’s a short trip across the Zambian border to Livingstone, the town named after English explorer Stanley Livingstone, which is situated above the falls. Otherwise cross the Zimbabwean border to the town of Victoria Falls. From either side, you can view this spectacular waterfall, which plummets 100 metres into the gorge. But to experience it to the full, spend a few adventurous days rafting the rapids, flying over – or through – the gorge in a micro-light or helicopter, bungee jumping off the bridge and much more. This is Africa’s adventure capital after all.
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When to go
The summer months, between November and April, herald the arrival of the migratory birds from all over the world, and the rain creates softer, greener landscapes that are easy on the eye.
It can be extremely hot in summer reaching upwards of 40°C. In mid winter, June to August, it can be bitterly cold at night, but is the best time for such things as hiking the Fish River Canyon and enjoying the wildlife that congregate at the water holes during this dry period.
How long you need
At least 2 weeks for a fulfilling road trip taking in most of the sights. To spend a decent amount of time at the destinations and enjoy the wonders along the way at an easy pace, 3 weeks is recommended.
What to drive
Most destinations can be reached by sedan, however many of the roads in Namibia are gravel with sandy conditions and hard stones. You are almost guaranteed to get a puncture on these roads no matter what vehicle you drive. Taking two spares is advised if you plan on extended trips on gravel. If you are renting check if this is possible with your agent. Excursions to the more inaccessible sights such as Sossusvlei in Namibia, and Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana, can be arranged with local tour operators.
To fully appreciate the region on your own, a four wheel drive is recommended.
Rental agents at the key towns in Namibia (Windhoek and Swakopmund) and Botswana (Maun, Kasane and Gaborone) can facilitate this. If travelling from South Africa there are many rental agents in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
– Both Botswana and Namibia are malaria areas. Risk is lowest during the dry winter months.
– Carry plenty of bottled water to avoid dehydration and avoid drinking tap water.
– Use sunscreen and wear a hat and clothing that protects you from the sun.
– Be wary of petty thieves in the towns and cities, but you can feel secure about your personal safety in these friendly countries.
– Botswana traffic officials are vigilant. Drive within the speed limit.
– Always be on the lookout for animals crossing or walking in the road.
– When driving on the gravel roads in Namibia, take particular care due to loose gravel and sand.