Botswana is a notoriously expensive country to travel in, but travelling in Botswana on a budget is possible!
There aren’t many backpacker hostels and, like in Namibia, the public transport network isn’t great for getting to the places you probably want to go to. The Botswanan government also takes a more sustainable approach, not allowing the land to become overfilled with development and lodges, keeping the country wild and untouched.
Many of the best places to visit in Botswana are quite remote, and remote often equals expensive due to the logistics involved. If you do private or fly-in safaris, staying in high-end lodges, the costs can be crazy.
There are even some lodges that cost almost as much per night (per person) as I charge for a 2-week Botswana tour! Mombo Camp in the Okavango Delta costs around $4,070 per person, per night in peak season. Seriously.
However, there are ways to keep the costs within a reasonable budget. So here are a few of my top tips to help you plan a budget trip to Botswana.
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How to Visit Botswana on a Budget – My Top Tips
There are two main ways to get around Botswana – by road and by air. If you take a fly-in safari trip (which I mention below), you’ll likely be paying quite a lot for your accommodations, so if you’re travelling Botswana on a shoestring, this will probably be out of budget.
Driving around the country is more time-consuming than flying but much cheaper! And if you need some inspiration for where to go on your trip, you can find my recommended Botswana itineraries here.
So let’s look at getting around Botswana by road (for the most part – the Okavango Delta is mostly only accessible by canoe or plane).
Joining a Tour
The easiest (and often cheapest) way to get around Botswana is to take a tour.
Budget camping/overland safari tours are usually the most cost-effective. This usually involves you putting up your tent yourselves, pitching in with cooking, cleaning etc and shared bathrooms.
The next is a non-participatory, fully-catered mobile camping safari tour, which is what we do on the Rock My Botswana & Victoria Falls Adventure tour. This is luxury camping – tents are put up for you, you have an ensuite bathroom and you have a team to cook for you. We also stay in some lodges too! I’ll explain more about this under ‘Accommodation’ below.
Then there are the more luxurious safari tours where you stay in static tents or lodges.
The great thing about taking a tour is that everything is done for you. You don’t need to worry about driving, hiring cars, insurance, park fees, booking campsites and activities… it’s all taken care of as part of your package. And you can easily budget for your trip in advance.
If you want to join a tour for most of your Botswana trip, you can take an overland tour (these generally stick to the main road route) or a group safari tour like my Botswana & Victoria Falls tour (which goes through some of the major national parks and comes highly recommended by me, obviously – but you can also read my client testimonials here).
Or, if you are travelling independently (if you’re backpacking or self-driving), you can join these for a day or two to get to places that aren’t as accessible to get to without a tour.
For example, if you are travelling by public transport without any way to get to the more remote destinations, you can take a 2-day Okavango Delta trip from Maun (booking through one of the safari companies in town or the Old Bridge Backpackers – this is a good bet if you want to join a group) or a 2 or 3-day camping trip to Chobe National Park from Kasane (I recommend booking with Kalahari Tours as they have group joining tours daily).
Self-driving is a great option if you want to explore at your own pace and if there’s a group of you (4 or 5) this can be very economical as you will share the costs of the car. But it will take some preparation and planning, especially with regard to your route, accommodations and equipment.
If you want to self-drive, I would highly recommend getting a 4×4, like a Toyota Land Cruiser or Toyota Hilux.
You can use a 2-wheel drive car, but just be aware that Botswana can be very sandy and muddy in places, so driving a 2-wheel drive car can be very limiting. It is possible, I’ve done it myself and on the main roads you’ll be fine – but we did get stuck in the sand numerous times.
Most of the time we were able to free ourselves with some cleverly placed pieces of wood, but there was one time when we needed a tow. And that wasn’t even in a national park, it was on a side road going to our lodge near Kasane.
So what I’m trying to say, is that not having a 4×4 will limit where you can go, as most of the national parks require a 4×4 drive car. Even if you have a 4×4, you will need to take a tour to some places, such as the Okavango Delta as it’s mostly waterways and you take a mokoro (canoe) to get there.
You can pick up a car from pretty much any rental company in Maun or Kasane (or if coming from the south, in Gaborone, Francistown or even in South Africa). All the usual favourites are there like Europcar and Hertz. If coming from elsewhere, check your rental agreement to ensure you can cross borders.
However, if you want a fully equipped 4×4, I’d consider a company like Bushlore. They are experts in 4×4 car rental (including ones with roof tents) in Southern Africa, they have camping equipment for hire, 24-hour assistance and they can even book your accommodation/campsites for you.
Bushlore has options to pick up vehicles in Maun and Kasane (as well as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Windhoek & Victoria Falls). Most car hire companies will let you pick up in one location and drop off in another, meaning that you don’t have to go back on yourself!
To self-drive, you usually need to be over 25 and hold an International Driver’s Licence. And don’t forget to factor in fuel, a GPS and insurance into your costs.
You can read more about self-driving in Africa in my book The Independent Traveller’s Guide to Backpacking Africa.
You can take public transport (minibuses known as combis) between the main towns in Botswana. However, they’re not going to get you to the more remote places and if you want to go on safari (and believe me, you do want to go on safari) you’ll need to pay for a few tours anyway. You can do day tours and safari tours from lodges and places like Maun, Kasane and Gweta.
Minibuses aren’t as frequent as they are in East Africa, so you will really need to be on the ball as there may only be one or two buses a day, so if you miss them, you may struggle to get where you need to go. And if your camp/lodge is off the main road or out of town you’re going to have to figure out how to get there too.
But don’t let that stop you! This is Africa, there’s always a way to get from A to B and you can usually get your lodge to organise a pick up for the last little bit. Walking isn’t usually an option due to the wildlife around.
Saying all that, whilst I’m generally a massive advocate for backpacking and solo travel – if your budget (or age) will allow you to hire a car or take a tour of Botswana – I’d recommend doing that, rather than taking public transport as you’ll get to experience more of what there is on offer.
The other option in Botswana is to do a fly-in safari. Doing one of these allows you to hop around from national park to national park.
But…and it’s a big but, these are always at the very high-end of the spectrum and usually for those staying at pretty expensive lodges that cost a minimum of £500 per person, per night (and often much more) excluding the flights.
The reason these lodges are expensive is due to the fact that they are very luxurious and also very remote, therefore a logistical nightmare to run. But you will have a lot of stuff included in your stays, such as food, drinks and activities.
The budget outfitters tend to drive (or sometimes canoe) to the campsites and bring everything in with them. This is also a logistical challenge (which is why Botswana is expensive in general) but it’s cheaper overall!
Where To Stay
Botswana has plenty of accommodation options, with a mix of campsites, lodges and hotels.
You won’t find an abundance of hostels, but there are a few in major towns. A lot of the lodges tend to cater to the luxury market, but there is some good value budget to mid-range places too. If you have your own equipment, camping is usually the cheapest option.
Just be aware that Botswana accommodation can book up months and months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead and get your spots booked if you can (remember that some vehicle hire companies can help you book your campsites too).
You can book a lot of your Botswana accommodation on SafariNow website (including campsites) and I’ve also listed some of my favourite hostels and lodges below.
Camping is a great option for travelling to Botswana on a budget.
If you’re on a Botswana tour, your tour company will provide all (or most) of your camping equipment. On the budget camping tours, you may need to bring some things, like sleeping bags/mats or you can usually hire stuff. On more mid-range camping trips, they usually provide everything for you.
On my Rock My Botswana group tours, I like to mix it up between mid-range lodges and what I call ‘comfortable, luxury camping’.
To explain what this is… whilst on safari, we stay in mobile bush camps, deep in the heart of Botswana. We have a guide, cook, and support team. The trip is non-participatory, so the tents and camp are set up by our crew. There are 2 people in a tent and we sleep on cot beds with mattresses with bedding & towels provided.
The tents have an ensuite bathroom with a pit toilet and warm bucket shower every evening. We all eat together in a mess tent (shown in the picture above) and all meals are provided by the crew (the food is amazing, with homemade fresh bread most days).
On my first trip to Botswana in 2009, I was on an overland tour and we did a budget camping trip into the Delta. We put up our own tents, did our own cooking, didn’t have chairs to sit on and our toilet was a hole and a shovel. It was a very different experience, so just be aware of what you are booking.
If you are travelling Botswana independently, some of the backpacker hostels/lodges also have space for camping – the best of both worlds. This is great if you are travelling by public transport, as all you’ll need is a tent, then you can use the shared bathrooms and eat at the lodge restaurant or cook in their self-catering kitchen (if they have one).
There are a number of public campsites within the national parks – some are well equipped and have lots of facilities and some are literally just a pitch of land in the bush. But for most of them, you’ll need your own transport and your own equipment.
This could include anything from cooking equipment to a portaloo – so always check the facilities available before you book. The toilet could be a drive away (and it’s not safe to walk around the Botswanan bush, especially at night).
As mentioned above, companies like Bushlore hire equipment too, so it’s a bit of a one-stop shop. There are also companies like Kalahari Canvas in Maun who hire out camping equipment for self-drivers.
Hostels & Budget/Mid-Range Lodges
If you are backpacking using public transport or travelling in a 2-wheel drive car, or you’re not travelling with a tent, staying at hostels or cheaper lodges is a good way to keep costs down. They’re also good places to meet other travellers and to find group joining tours.
A few great ones that I would recommend and that are easily accessible are:
- The Old Bridge Backpackers: This is a great backpackers hostel, overlooking the water where you can often see hippos and crocs. They have a sometimes chilled, sometimes lively bar that’s great fun and you’re always guaranteed to make a new friend. They serve cold beer and delicious pizza, what more could you ask for. They have several furnished tents (some ensuite) and space for camping. They also own Maun Rest Camp which has more space for camping.
- Motsebe Backpackers: A basic camp, near the centre of town. They have basic tents (with no beds) to luxury tents. They have a pool, a bar/lounge and coffee/tea in a common area.
- Jump Street Chalets: This is a lovely place, with reasonably priced and clean chalets. All rooms are twins. They have a bar and restaurant which overlooks the pool.
- Sedia Riverside Hotel: This is a nice hotel, with a pool and restaurant. They also have bathroom facilities and campsites for overlanders.
- The Waterfront: One of my favourite places in Maun, is The Waterfront. This is a beautiful boutique hotel on the Thamalakane River which has a nice restaurant and a pool. They have twin and double rooms.
- Bananyana Backpackers Camp: This is a good choice for budget backpackers in Kasane, with dorms starting from around $15 per night. They also have private rooms too. They have a self-catering kitchen and space for campers. They can help you organise safaris to Chobe National Park.
- Elephant Trail Guesthouse & Backpackers: They have space for camping and self-drivers, as well as dorms and private rooms. If you want to cook for yourself, you can use their self-catering kitchen. They can organise lots of activities in the area and further afield.
- Kuminda Farm & Cultural Village: 45 minutes outside of Francistown, Kuminda offers a glimpse of traditional rural life in Botswana. They have chalets, rondavels, traditional huts, tents and camping with your own tent. They offer a whole host of activities including rain dancers, cultural interaction, farming and village walks.
- Elephant Sands: Elephants Sands (shown at the top of the post) is a wonderful place to add to your itinerary if you can – we stay here on my Botswana tour. They have a mix of safari tents, plus space for camping and a great bar and restaurant. However, the main attraction is the floodlit waterhole next to the bar, which attracts elephants each day. Magical! It’s about 45 minutes north of Nata.
- Eselbe Lodge: This is a lovely, rustic eco-camp about 5 minutes outside of central Nata. They have 1 chalet, 2 bedded tents, camping facilities and a self-catering kitchen. There is a lovely communal fire pit where you can chat with other guests and do some open-air cooking. They also have a zip line, a volleyball court and canoe rental.
- Mokolodi Backpackers: They have a variety of rooms, including 4-person dorms, twin chalets and luxury rondavels. Some have shared facilities and some have private facilities. Camping is available in shady spots in the garden. Don’t worry if you don’t have a tent as you can rent one from them complete with single beds and bedding. They also have a communal kitchen and braai facilities, with free tea and coffee to get you going in the morning.
- Planet Baobab: In between Maun and Nata lies Planet Baobab, a wonderful and quirky lodge. From here you can arrange several activities including overnight quad biking expeditions across the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park to see the meerkats. They have lovely chalets and space for camping.
- Dqae Qare San Lodge: This is a great lodge, run by the San people in Dekar (aka D’kar). They have reasonably priced accommodation and you get the opportunity to spend time with the San tribe.
When to Travel
If you travel in the off-peak seasons, things are usually a bit cheaper!
The Peak Season is from July to October. This is when everything is at the most expensive. Green Season is from December to March. This is when you will find everything at the cheapest rates. But, it’s also rainy! So just bear this in mind when planning your trip – especially if driving yourself! Some roads can become impassable in the rainy season.
A good alternative is Shoulder Season from April – June and November. The weather is usually ok and prices are somewhere in the middle.
If you are camping in May-August, it is winter in Botswana and while it’s warm in the daytime, it’s freezing at night so you’ll need a good sleeping bag and warm clothing (thermals, fleece and a down jacket).
Whatever you do, make sure you take out travel insurance to cover you in case you get sick or injured. It may seem like an annoying expense, but it will be a lot more annoying if you need to pay for expensive medical treatment or air evacuation out of your own pocket (which could be thousands of dollars).
If you are driving, I would also ensure that you take out insurance to cover the vehicle as cars can easily get damaged in Africa. Just be aware that some rental vehicles do not allow you to cross borders for insurance reasons, so be sure to check before you hop across the border to visit Victoria Falls!
Other Ways to Cut Costs
So what else can you do to save some money in Botswana?
Food & Drink
If you want to save some money on your Botswana trip, cooking for yourself will definitely help! There are supermarkets in major towns and smaller shops elsewhere. But, you will need to make sure you have your own cooking equipment or access to some at the campsites/hostels.
Lodges and restaurants are priced similarly to the UK, so they will ‘eat’ into your budget! As a compromise, you could always have a drink at the lodges (if staying near one or if they allow visitors) and then cook for yourself at camp.
On organised safaris, food will be provided. If you join a participatory tour where you help with the cooking, this will be cheaper than if you join a fully serviced tour where you have a chef.
If you want to save money on drinks, buy your beers and alcohol from the supermarket and invest in a filtered water bottle to save on buying bottled water everywhere.
Some activities have to be booked via a safari company or lodge, but if you have your own car, it’s quite possible to explore many of the national parks yourself. This will save you quite a bit of money (you still have to pay the park fees though).
However, having a guide, especially on safari, is invaluable in my opinion, so you could maybe do some game drives yourself, and organise others through the lodges, parks or local safari companies.
Choosing the Right Travel Style for You
When deciding on how to travel maybe think about these things:
- What are the pros and cons of each type of trip?
- Public transport is going to be a lot cheaper than hiring a car but could be hard work and you’ll need to take tours for some of your trip anyway.
- Driving yourself will take a lot of preparation and comes with a lot of responsibility. You may also miss having a safari guide to point out the animals.
- A tour takes away a lot of the stress of organising the trip, can be very cost-effective and will help you determine your costs in advance. Plus they’re good if you are limited on time, but you won’t have total freedom.
- What are the costs? When you add it all up, taking a tour might be more cost-effective than hiring a car and equipment or travelling by bus and taking lots of little tours.
- Do you want to relax on your trip (then join a comfy camping tour or stay in catered accommodation)? Or are you ok with doing a bit of work (then maybe do a participatory camping trip or do a self-drive)?
- 2-wheel v’s 4-wheel drive car? A 4×4 is going to be more expensive, but you may need to add in the cost of tours to the places where you can’t take a normal car (although regardless, I usually prefer taking tours into some areas anyway as the guides will usually give you a much better experience than if you do it yourself).
- Do you even like camping? It can be super cold in the cold winter months so if you’re not a camping fan anyway, you might not enjoy it.
- Are you a group tour kind of person? If other people get on your nerves a lot or you like everything your own way, group tours may not be for you.
- Do you have the driving ability to handle a 4×4 in tough conditions? Also, remember it’s not advisable to travel by night due to animals on the road and some bad road conditions in places.
- Are you over 25 and do you have an in-date, international driver’s license to hire a car in Botswana? If not, self-driving may not be an option.
I hope this post gives you some ideas about how to travel to Botswana on a budget! If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments below!
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