Botswana is talked about as one of the best places to go on safari in Africa, and it was my favorite so far. It also can easily be one of the most expensive–one fellow traveler mentioned finding some lodges charging $1,000 per night. There are, however, some ways to visit Botswana on a much more limited budget.
One of those options is to go the self-driving route, renting a 4×4 car with a tent on the roof and exploring the parks on your own. That may be the least expensive choice, but it didn’t appeal to me as a solo traveler. The cost would have been significant without others to share the bill, and I would have had to do all my own driving, wildlife spotting, food prep and planning, and–potentially–flat tire changing. I also prefer to have the expertise of a guide–they know where to go, are better than me at spotting wildlife and have much more knowledge than I do about, well, everything I would be doing there, including the wildlife and the environment. My budget for Botswana was $2,000, and I came in about $150 under that. Here’s roughly what I spent and where:
4 nights at Old Bridge Backpackers in Maun: I stayed in a mini-meru walk-in tent for 125 pula/night (roughly $12.50/night). This gave me some privacy while also keeping down the costs. You can cook your own meals there to save on costs, but I ate most of my meals at their restaurant (I am loving not cooking). I also had my laundry done. Likewise, you can do your own laundry, but I am loving not doing much laundry. Traveling can take a lot out of you, and for me sometimes it’s best to pay a little extra to make a day easier. Meals were $5-$10 and laundry I can’t remember, but I’m thinking maybe $3-$5 total.
I loved staying at Old Bridge. It has an easy, relaxed vibe, and I would have been happy to spend several more nights there. They have a restaurant and bar area where you can meet people and couches under a huge tree by the river where I finally dug into Born of the Sun, a book I had bought a month before in Swakopmund, Namibia, but was always too tired to read after a long day feeding cheetahs and picking up dog poop at CCF. Some of the people staying at Old Bridge were travelers–I chatted many nights with a couple from South Africa; other guests were people working/looking for work in southern Africa–as in many places, I met a Peace Corps worker. I also talked with a British woman who was looking for work as a bush pilot in Botswana. She had a life dream of being a pilot in Africa. She was frustrated at not being able to find the work she wanted so far, but was at least able to get more flying hours and network with fellow pilots.
Two day/one night self-catered mokoro trip in the Okavango Delta: $90 plus the food and water I brought, which totalled maybe $40. Included in the $90 was the rental fee for a tent, sleeping bag and a bit of a sad excuse for a mattress. I booked this through Old Bridge and shared the trip with a group of four young Germans who were on holiday from teaching jobs in Namibia.
Scenic flight over the Okavango Delta: $90. I did this with a couple from Barcelona who had also left their jobs to travel. I was glad I got the perspective of seeing the Delta both from the air and from the ground, though I hear it is even more striking once more water comes into the area.
8 day/7 night safari with Bushways Safaris: Roughly $1450 total for the week (this includes the cost of the safari and the amount I tipped the guides). We spent 3 nights in Moremi Game Reserve, 1 night in Savuti (part of Chobe National Park) and two nights in another part of Chobe. We had great luck, seeing more than 30 lions (including two mating every 10-15 minutes), four leopards (two of them cubs!), tons of elephants, giraffe, buffalo, various antelope and plenty of beautiful birds. It was a semi-participatory camping trip, meaning we each had to pitch and break down our own tents, but other than that the guides did all the work.
Another option for group safaris is to book through a place like Old Bridge. I think Old Bridge would have been cheaper, but they didn’t have any group safaris I could join when I was there. In the end, I am happy I went with Bushways. They did a great job.