A Low-Cost Safari
Stretched upon the shores of the mighty Okavango River, Chobe National Park
offers you exciting wildlife sightings: elephants, lions, buffalos, and if you're very lucky: leopards. So far the 'big five' specimens you might encounter. You'll also find plenty of hippos close to the river, and crocodiles sunbathing under the morning sun. Although Botswana is a rather expensive country according to many tourists, you can save a lot of money if you are willing to sleep in a tent and arrange safaris by yourself.
The shores of the Okavango River
THE OTHER SIDE
Our trip to Chobe came rather unexpectedly. We just visited the Victoria Falls and were still lingering in the neighboring city of Livingstone – in the south of Zambia – when two Australian backpackers shared with us their knowledge of this park in Botswana. They promoted it as a cheap but exciting trip, which came to our surprise since, in our hotel (Jollyboys backpackers), tours in Chobe were advertised at $150 per person. Together with two Swedish friends we met on the road, we decided to give it a shot. Taking a shared taxi from Livingstone to the Motswana border (yes, “Motswana” is truly the adjective of “Botswana”) will cost you about $3.5, and Botswana has no visa fees! You enter the country by crossing a river on a ferry that can also transport one truck at the time. Hence, there is a waiting queue of up to six weeks if you want to cross the border with cargo. From the border to Kasane, the ideal operating base to visit Chobe National Park, you can take a taxi. Taxis in Botswana, or at least in the area around Kasane, are extremely cheap. The ten-kilometer drive to Kasane cost barely $2. We were dropped off at the 'Chobe Safari Lodge', an extremely luxurious resort with surprisingly cheap accommodation for backpackers. A night in the tented camp can be arranged for $10 per person – and you have still access to the swimming pool! In this camp, you can overlook the Okavango and already see a glimpse of Chobe. Wild animals such as warthogs and monkeys roam freely between the tents as if no one was there. Just next to the lodge, 4×4 cars can be rented at a rate of $75 per day. We picked up the car at 4 p.m. and agreed with the rental company to bring it back the next day at 6:00 p.m.
Crossing the border between Zambia and Botswana
CHEEKY MONKEYS AND EDGY ELEPHANTS
The next morning, we got up early with the prospects of witnessing the sunrise within the national park. However, the park only opens at 6:00 a.m., so waiting at the entrance gate, we missed the birth of a new day. Nevertheless, this minor setback could not compromise the pleasure of self-driving a proper 4×4 in a park filled with ferocious animals.We started off on the road that guided us along the Okavango. Not long after reaching the river banks, we saw the first hippopotamuses, floating in the shallow waters. In the trees that look over the shores, many fish eagles were overlooking the rivers to prey on the fish. All kinds of other birds, gooses, hornbills, and hummingbirds showed themselves and brightened the hearts of the bird lovers amongst us.
A female hippopotamus
The African fish eagle
After a short break and some quarrel with monkeys that stole our bread, we continued on our path next to the river. After witnessing huge herds of Impalas, lazy crocodiles and some buffalos, we decided to take the vehicle inland, hoping to spot some other wildlife like elephants and lions. Not long after this call, we saw the first giraffes and a troop of baboons. There are many roads to cover the park area. Alas, some parts of the park were not accessible due to heavy rainfall. Some other tourists got stuck in a remote area that day and had to be rescued by rangers. The more exciting game did not reveal itself to us until our very last hour in the park. After steering the car over a narrow road through a dense forest, a solitary male elephant almost caught us by surprise. Luckily, it allowed us to take some pictures and peacefully resumed its way.
The one that stole our bread
Dinner is served
One of the rangers in the other car noticed this and speeded of with a lot of noise. This really messed with the temper of the elephant and it became more or less aggressive. He ran into the thorny bushes after some feigned attacks, while we were struggling to get the car started – we're not quite used to driving cars with an automatic gear. Lions were not seen that day, though we found some tracks that indicated at least the presence of such predators in the park. On the way out, we encountered a family of hippos, babies included. We managed to come pretty close and shoot a series of nice pictures. Unfortunately, the park closes at 6:00 p.m., so we had to rush to get out.
A peaceful encounter
The edgy elephant
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
In short, the visit to Chobe National Park was very rewarding. The safari itself can be done on a low budget. The car, gasoline, entrance fees for four persons, and a car, cost only $144, which has to be divided into four persons. Especially to lower the cost of renting a car, it is very beneficial to do this trip with four to five persons. If you feel like you've deserved a little extra, then Chobe Safari Lodge also offers more luxurious (and expensive) sleeping accommodation, safari tours, and even wellness. The location of Chobe National Park makes it ideal to combine a visit to the Victoria Waterfalls. Crossing the borders is very easy. Although the visa for Botswana is for free, don't forget that the one for Zambia is not! If you are traveling in Zambia, it's almost always better to buy a multiple entries visa (multiple entries is $80, a single entry $50). Not only will it allow you to go forth and back to Botswana, it will also save money if you visit the Zimbabwean side of the Victoria Waterfalls.