4×4 Self Drive To Botswana – Safety Tips
These Botswana 4×4 safety tips may apply to other countries, especially Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia so it’s worth a read if you are planning a 4WD adventure into Africa.
So essential is a 4×4 to Botswana that it has almost become synonymous to any form of travel in Botswana.
The moment you leave one of the few tar roads in the country you face thick Kalahari sands which make a 4×4 compulsory for visiting any of the parks and highlights in Botswana. The limited facilities, unspoiled nature and great wildlife opportunities make this the ideal country for a self-drive safari in a Bushlore 4×4 but for those travellers with limited experience we recommend reading the below.
Botswana is a very safe country to travel but you will encounter some genuine 4×4 terrain and it is recommended to be better prepared for what can be expected.
To the novice it may sound a little daunting but with cautious driving and some common sense you should prevent any major problems.
In terms of security or crime it is very safe but you must still be diligent in any urban area. There are petty thefts and other incidence in areas where you find more people and usually close to the cities or borders where they may be higher populations.
Avoid driving at night or strictly reduce travel speed when having to drive at night. There are very few fences in Botswana so animals roam freely across the roads and they present a major risk to vehicles travelling at night. You cannot consider driving at the marked speed limit of 120kph on a tar road at night as you will definitely collide with an animal. Maximum speed limit on a good road should be 80 kph which should allow adequate braking time to avoid a collision with an animal. These incidences happen more on the open tar roads and in most cases at higher speed but one can also be aware in the parks or wilderness areas where driving is not allowed or one should drive slowly and cautiously.
Botswana 4×4 Safety Tips
How to handle the water crossings – the Okavango Delta area and Moremi Game Reserve especially around the Kwhai river area is well known for its water crossings. The delta water levels rise and fall depending on the season but all year around there is the risk of deep water crossings. The first rule is to stick to the main tracks and never just drive through a water crossing without assessing it completely. If you are not comfortable to cross the water rather turn around or wait for another vehicle. You can access South gate of Moremi cross through most camps and exit at north gate without crossing any excessively deep water. Insurance does not cover water damages unless flash floods so you are fully responsible for any damages caused by water crossings in Botswana where flash floods do not occur. The vehicles can manage 700 mm water depth maximum and due to the flat nature of the area the water is not usually flowing fast so it is water depth and not the flow which is the main concern. You must walk through a water crossing before you drive a vehicle through the water. Walk through the crossing where your left wheel will drive and return on the path of the right wheel to ensure you pick up any holes or drop offs. Once you are confident that the water is shallow enough and the surface of the river is not too muddy you can drive slowly but steadily across the river. Engage 4×4 low and possibly your diff lock prior to entering the water and keep your momentum. Do not use very high revs or drive to fast as the engine fan can be broken by the water which is far more dense than air. Keep the RPM to around maximum torque which is 2200 to 2500 on most diesel vehicles.
Avoid mud wherever possible and don’t drive through mud holes if there is any possibility to drive around. At times depressions or water holes along the roads are very muddy and this presents further risks to the vehicles. This mud can bake and dry on the radiator and cause major overheating. The car must be cleaned off and the temperature gauge carefully monitored if you have been in this situation. In most cases there are tracks around the mud and these must be used to avoid unnecessary mud contamination. The area around the Makgadigadi pans and other muddy pans you may find in the central Kalahari must be avoided in the wet season between December and April.
The Bushlore 4wd vehicles have upgraded tyres and are selected around good 4wd capabilities so driving the sandy tracks does not usually present major problems. You should lower your tyre pressures to 1.8 bar for any gravel or sand road driving and if still struggling in thick sand you can drop them further to as low as 1.0 bar which will give you more traction in the sand. Driving is thick sand is all about keeping your momentum and forward motion and this will allow you to pass the thick sandy depressions without bogging down. Try and avoid stopping in very sandy areas as this is when you generally get stuck. Keeping your momentum does not mean speeding as you must always drive slowly to avoid any chance of going off the road or creating excessive body roll. The wheels of the vehicle will follow the deep ruts in the sand so be cautious if you need to ‘change lanes’ as you need to turn the steering wheel more than normal to get any reaction. Do not try and do this at high speed, slow right down and then move lanes to avoid excessive body roll.
You will be camping alongside wild animals which generally have a natural fear of man but you must still be cautious. In 17 years we have not had any incidence accept where negligence was involved.
The following are guidelines to follow:
1. Avoid feeding any animals
2. Do not walk around at night and stay close to the campsite, vehicle or buildings when dark
3. Always zip up your tents when going to sleep and when the tents are left unattended.
4. Do not store food in the tents.
5. In the dry season when food is scarce place all food in the fridge and close properly or keep in a sealed area where elephants cannot smell the food where they may try and approach at night.
6. Don’t walk around far from the car in game parks and wilderness areas.
7. Keep children close by to the camp and yourselves. Again night time is the higher risk.
There are areas where it is recommended to travel with 2 vehicles minimum and this would include the Southern section of the central Kalahari or if you plan crossing the entire Central Kalahari game reserve. For peace of mind consider a satellite phone.
Recommended 4×4 route to explore Botswana:
Have a look at our destination guide to see the Botswana 4×4 self-drive routes we recommend. You will also find the most suitable 4WD vehicles for a Botswana safari.