Getting there and getting around Kalahari

It’s best not to drive in Botswana after dark to avoid collisions with wildlife. Credit: Lon Abbott and Terri Cook.It’s best not to drive in Botswana after dark to avoid collisions with wildlife. Credit: Lon Abbott and Terri Cook.

There are three gateway cities to the Kalahari, all of which are at least a day’s drive from the Okavango Delta. Although it’s the farthest (about 12 hours away), the O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, South Africa, is the region’s largest and often has the best airfares and car-rental rates. Two closer alternatives, each about an eight-hour drive away, are Botswana’s Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (GBE) in Gaborone and Namibia’s Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) in Windhoek. Maun (MUB) is Botswana’s primary tourist hub and the delta’s main service town. Most accommodations there provide a free minibus transfer from the airport.

By far the most convenient option for getting around, including to and from the national parks, is renting a vehicle. A campervan gives you the most flexibility in choosing accommodations, as nearly every town and park has at least one campground, where there is usually a per-person charge in addition to the site fee. The total cost for a family of four typically runs $20 to $30 per night for an unpowered site with basic amenities. In all three countries, vehicles drive on the left side of the road and road signs are in English. Be sure to leave your vehicle parked in a secure area, especially if you’re leaving it for a few days while on safari.

While all of the roads mentioned in this article are paved and suitable for two-wheel-drive vehicles, if you’d like to explore beyond the paved roads, it’s best to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Be forewarned that leaving paved roads behind is a serious undertaking. Websites such as Arrive Alive offer important road safety tips to read before you start. Don’t drive between dusk and dawn, for example, to minimize the chances of colliding with wildlife.

Four-wheel-drives with tents on top are the ideal Kalahari safari vehicle. Credit: Lon Abbott and Terri Cook. Four-wheel-drives with tents on top are the ideal Kalahari safari vehicle. Credit: Lon Abbott and Terri Cook.

Numerous operators offer a variety of Okavango safaris, ranging from week-long, fly-in trips based out of luxury lodges to one-day canoe adventures and multi-day Jeep trips. We found the Old Bridge Backpackers to be very helpful in arranging the right experiences for us. The most convenient way to visit Victoria Falls is on a day trip from Kasane, Botswana, which you can book through accommodations such as The Old House (www.oldhousekasane.com).

Americans currently do not need a visa to visit Botswana, South Africa or Namibia. Although Zimbabwe does require one, it’s available on arrival for $30, payable only in U.S. cash. Victoria Falls businesses accept credit cards, dollars, Euros, Botswanan pula and South African rand.

Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Terri Cook (www.down2earthscience.com) is a science and travel writer based in Colorado and an EARTH roving correspondent. Lon Abbott is a geology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Monday, June 12, 2017 - 06:00

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