RTW Budget Update: Africa

We’ve shared our RTW budget along with an update for Europe, but now it’s time to take a look at where our money went in Africa. Can you guess how we did? Can you guess? I bet you have your suspicions.

Part 1: Major Transportation

  • Estimated Expense: $1,000
  • Actual Expense: $1,615
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$615

Transportation in Africa is difficult to plan, sometimes dangerous, and uncomfortable. Outside our interesting train ride, we found ourselves hiring private transportation on many occasions rather than the public transportation options that the locals choose to partake in. If you’ve ever seen a dala dala in Zanzibar, you’ll understand why.

So the taxis, 1st class bus tickets, and private shuttle on our safari from Livingstone to Joburg cost quite a bit of cash. Throw in another $625 to rent a car and pay for gas all around South Africa and we’ve got one major budget issue. So next time (when we’re pricing out the cost of renting a 4×4 for our very own self-drive safari), we’ll have to keep in mind spending a little more money in the transportation department will be worth it.

A dala dala in Zanzibar

Part 2: In-Country Costs

  • Estimated Expense: $4,200 (35 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $5,218
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$1,018

But just like before, we have to account for the fact that our budget was based on a different time period spent in Africa. We spent a day less in Africa than originally planned and we should fudge the numbers to account for that.

  • Adjusted Estimated Expense: $4,080 (34 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $5,218
  • Adjusted Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$1,138

We had to change our way of thinking a little bit in Africa. Across Europe, it’s easy to spend your days strolling through city streets, observing the architecture or people watching. You could do this in Africa if you’d like as well, but you’ll miss out on the whole point of traveling to Africa. Everything is activity-based. And all of those activities have western-style pricing. With some even explicitly priced in US dollars or Euros instead of the local currency. So in order for us to go on game drives, a river cruise, swim at the top of Victoria Falls, take a surf lesson, or ride an ostrich we had to spend the money to do so. So key point on money while traveling through Africa: research your must do activities long beforehand to include in your budget. Our mistake was we just showed up and figured it out as we went.

True Cost for Eastern / Southern Africa: $77 / day / person

A zebra and her foal at the Khama Rhino Sancturary
A zebra and her foal at the Khama Rhino Sancturary

There to Here: Cape Town-> Oudtshoorn-> Knysna-> Storms River-> Jeffrey’s Bay-> Joburg

Oudtshoorn. (Night 7)
Approximate driving time: 5 hours
Location: Western Cape province
Accommodation: Paradise Backpackers
Accommodation Review: Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world. Naturally, this little home away from home hosts a nightly ostrich braai. Just make sure you sign up for it when you check in; it’s delicious and it doesn’t taste like chicken. Think red meat.

Paradise Backpackers also does their own daily joyrides down Swartberg Pass. From the hostel you are driven up to the top of Swartberg Mountain and from there you mountain bike back down at your leisure. This is something I wish we could have done. Many travel books said the trip to Swartberg Pass was worth it and based on all the other passes we drove through I’m sure this one would not disappoint, especially on a mountain bike. Do it if you have the time.

The other ‘to do’ activity here is the Cango Caves. We opted out of this because we were short on time, we wanted to go play with ostriches, and we knew we’d be running into more caves in cooler locations later on in our trip. The adventure tour is supposed to be fun but possibly horrifying for those with claustrophobia.

On to the main attraction: the ostrich! Like I said before, this is the ostrich capital of the world. All the boas and feather hats of the late 1800s and early 1900s along with the original version of the Swiffer duster most likely came from Oudtshoorn. Even though the demand for ostrich feathers has lessened over the years there are still plenty of breeding farms here that you can tour around. We chose Highgate Ostrich Show Farm and were happy with our pick. For a tour here all you have to do is show up. Tours happen every hour on the hour from 8AM until 5PM and last a little over an hour. The guide we had was very knowledgable. We were able to feed the big ones, hold the small ones, and ride the wild ones.




Knysna. (Night 8)
Approximate driving time: 1.5 hours
Location: Western Cape province
Accommodation: Jembjo’s
Accommodation Review: This was a very peaceful spot. Nice clean rooms, really short walk to the waterfront, really nice owner. The town in a whole was some place I wish we could have stayed longer.

Unfortunately, the only thing we managed to sneak in here was a sunset cruise through Southern Cape Ocean Experience. Although it was very windy that day the cruise was very enjoyable. It was really small (only 7 of us total) which I like and you are able to bring something to drink as well. Karl was our skipper and was very welcoming to all of us. He had a lot of stories to tell and was very helpful if we had any questions about our stay in Knysna. We caught a rare glimpse of the endangered Black African Oyster Catcher bird and Karl even swung the boat around in a hurry so we could watch a seal catch and eat his dinner!



A word of note: Our sunset cruise took place in the Knysna lagoon. In order to get from the lagoon into the ocean you must go through what is called The Heads. Karl told us that The Heads are the 2nd most dangerous passage into the ocean in the world so please make sure you choose a reputable and safe charter if you go out looking for dolphins or some such.

Here in Knysna you have another opportunity to take a township tour if you missed it in Cape Town.

If you’re looking for something up close and personal but a little . . . cuter . . . slip on your fins and go snorkeling with seahorses! Knysna is home to these endangered little creatures that only live in certain estuaries on South Africa’s southern coastline. I don’t know how this could not be amazing. Please do it and send me pictures.

Storms River. (Night 9)
Approximate driving time: 30-45 minutes
Location: Eastern Cape province
Accommodation: Dijembe Backpackers
Accommodation Review: This place was probably one of my least favorites. It was way too hippie for me, so if you’re into the that, go here. That being said, several staff members went out of their way to get to know us while we were there which was really nice. The accommodations were fine as well, it just wasn’t our scene. The owner did ride a horse into the bar the night we were there and I’ve never seen a horse in a bar so that was cool/weird.

I think Storms River as a whole was a let down, but there’s a reason. Our original plans were going to take us to Hogsback which is a 5.5 hour drive from Knysna. As we were short on time, we received some recommendations that Storms River would offer the same nature we were looking for at a fraction of the distance, making it a more manageable option for us. Even though I haven’t seen Hogsback, I just don’t think the two are comparable. Hogsback is supposed to be the inspiration for the Lord of the Rings, fairies in forests, more forests, and more forests. Well, our hike at Storms River which is in Tsitsikamma National Park took us up a beautiful trail overlooking the ocean, but we just couldn’t find a forest. There were many forests around that were manmade, but not the mythical, enchanted forest I was dreaming about. I think we were just set up for a let down from the beginning. Or perhaps we just couldn’t find the trail we were looking for. Maybe you can find the forests in Storms River.



If you’re looking for more of an adventure you can go jump off a bridge. I mean with a bungee attached to you of course. Nick toyed with the idea of doing this; I knew exactly where I stood: H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS-N-O! I mean it is the highest bungee jump in the world, right? Well, it was. There just always have to be a one-upper (or 3) in the crowd doesn’t there? But who’s counting meters when you’re plunging headfirst into the earth, especially is you’re American? That’s what I thought. Either way, we didn’t pull the trigger this time.

Jeffreys Bay. (Night 10)
Approximate driving time: just about an hour
Location: Eastern Cape province
Accommodation: Island Vibe (also in Knysna and Port Elizabeth)
Accommodation Review: This place is like a compound. I’m not sure how many buildings they own but they seem to have their own section of the beach. The room we stayed in had a wonderful view of the beach but it did not have a lock. Make sure you bring your own lock if you want to stay here. Conveniently, they do have ones you can buy. Jeffreys Bay Surf School is also located at Island Vibe. They offer daily classes or a surf camp if you’re feeling extra surf-y.

So what do you do in Jeffrey’s Bay? Surf. Home of the Supertubes, this is one of the best places in the world to catch a wave. Nick’s been wanting to learn how to surf for a while and for the lack of something better to do I thought I’d give sandboarding a whirl so we signed up for lessons at Surf-JBay Surf School. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating that day. Rain and sand don’t go well together for sandboarding so my part of the day was a wash. Nick was still able to get tossed around by the ocean for a few hours and despite being a bit of soreness in the following days it was a fun experience. Much more practice is needed.


If you’re not really into physical activity, but you like the look of it, then head to the outlet stores. Billabong, Quicksilver, and Ripcurl are all in the line up.

And if you’re not into shopping, then go sit on the beach and start planning the next leg of your trip so you’re not pressed for time like we were!

It took us about 11.5 hours to get from Jeffrey’s Bay to Joburg. We left with the sun a little before 5AM. It was important that we didn’t get into Joburg after dark. It was our only option, as our flight for Bangkok was leaving the next day. But we were rewarded for our early morning start- after feeling really let down that I didn’t see any giraffes roaming under African skies during our entire safari, low and behold, there they were- right off of R75 eating their breakfast. It was a sign: we could finally leave Africa. And we did just that. Until next time, giraffes.


This post is part four of four on our series on our South Africa road trip: Joburg -> en route to Cape Town -> Cape Town -> en route to Joburg.

There: –> Cape Town

Cape Town. (Nights 3-6)
Approximate driving distance: 7 hours
Location: Western Cape
Accommodation: The Backpack
Accommodation Review: This place has over 15 years under its belt. The staff is great and the rooms and facilities are kept very nice. It does have a backpacker’s vibe meaning it can get a little loud, but if you stay tucked into a corner of the hostel it really doesn’t matter. A private room will get you that; I think the dorms are a free for all.

Cape Town is a shock to the system after being in the middle of nowhere in Botswana. With its shiny buildings and 1st world infrastructure, you feel right at home, except you’re not. This place is very dangerous at night and the staff at the Backpack told us to never walk in the dark. Always take a taxi or travel in large numbers for safety. Now being in the big city and being hindered by crime kind of puts a damper on things, but it’s better to stay safe than put yourself out there.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s talk about what to do.

Table Mountain, as it looms, above you, is an obvious. We unfortunately missed our opportunity to hike up it as ‘the blanket’ as they call it was in full effect almost everyday we were there. There are a few ways to the top with the most popular being Platteklip Gorge. Even though it’s the most popular route, it isn’t the easiest and with a steep ascent it can give you a run for your money. Definitely bring some hiking shoes for Cape Town. Another option is hiking Lion’s Head which is supposed to be a better view from the top. If you’re feeling super adventurous you can hike the multi-day Hoerikwaggo Trail which would be a great way to see the coast. You’d definitely have to plan ahead for that, though.


Playing with the African Penguins at Boulder Beach is a must. It is very touristy so I invite you to ditch the tourist boardwalks and go find your own penguins. We found them under the stairs leading to the beach and if you go bouldering around Boulder’s beach you can get an up close view of their tuxedos.




On your way to see the penguins you can detour into a few towns depending on which way you go. You can either go the way of Hout Bay (M6) or shoot across to the eastern side of the peninsula (M4) and check out Muizenberg for its swimming beach, or Kalk Bay for some shopping and some lunch. We had some fish n chips at Lucky Fish in the harbor at Kalk Bay and were able to catch the tail end of some fishermen selling their day’s catch followed by a lot of fish chucking into the beds of pick up trucks. It was pretty cool to watch. We were there are 1:30 in the afternoon so maybe plan on a later lunch if you want to catch some action.



Finding a good place for sundowners is a thing here. Find a place to watch the sunset and grab a drink. We went to Camps Bay on the Western side of the peninsula. While it was a nice place to watch the sunset, I’d recommend paragliding from the top of Lion’s Head while the sun goes down. I don’t think anything can beat that. While paragliding requires very specific weather conditions, it’s recommended to contact a paragliding company the first day you’re in Cape Town so you for sure get a chance fly.


Another thing I really wish we could have done but did not have enough time to do was a Township Tour. During apartheid black people were evicted from their land that was designated as white-only and forced to designated non-white areas. Because apartheid ended only in 1994, these areas are still quite underdeveloped. Township tours are a safe way to explore the other side of the tracks to understand more about the history of South Africa and about the culture of the people who still live in the townships. There are several tour companies to go through but from my research it’s best to go with a tour where the tour guides are people who grew up in the townships. If you miss it in Cape Town there is also a township tour in Knysna. As a substitute for the tour I picked up the book, Khayelitsha, by Steven Otter to learn more about life in the townships. An easy read for anyone interested.

If you want to do the complete opposite head to the V & A Waterfront, a huge upscale shopping center in Cape Town’s harbor. Here you’ll find all your first world comforts. We stumbled upon the Market on the Wharf which is a high quality food market that looks/feels/tastes like it belongs in Chicago. Here you can pick up some lunch, a beer, some snacks, and even cooking utensils. Definitely a fun place to mosey around at the waterfront.

And, we’re out.

This post is part three of four on our series on our South Africa road trip: Joburg -> en route to Cape Town -> Cape Town -> en route to Joburg.

From Here to There: Joburg–> Ficksburg–> Graaff-Reinet–> Cape Town

After hearing enough stories of this crime ridden city we just used it as a jumping off point. Our safari dropped us off at the MoAfrika Lodge which was nice enough. Gave us enough time to do laundry and relax a little after our week long safari. The next morning we said goodbye to Joburg. Didn’t even stop in to say hello. Now there are many ways you can get from Joburg to Cape Town, if that’s where you’re trying to go. N1 is the most direct even though it’s probably the least scenic. But we weren’t on it the whole way and took some other smaller roads on the way that showed off the landscape a lot more. You can also opt for N3 southeast down to Durban and then follow the coast the whole way down. But for the way there, we hopped on the N1 and made our way to Ficksburg.

Ficksburg. (Night 1)
Approximate driving time: 4.5 hours
Location: Free State province
Accommodation: Buzz Backpackers
Accommodation Review: When it rained, it rained in our room. The Russian owner moved here with/for her boyfriend and also to be here for the end of the world in 2012 (I don’t think she’s too happy that it’s 2013). John, who runs the kitchen at their Buzz Tavern makes an AWESOME braai. Ours consisted of boerewors, sosaties, pap en sous, pork rashers, and some garlic bread and salad. Even if you don’t stay here, because it was in the process of being sold we were there, find John to make you dinner.


So why Ficksburg? There’s many other small towns around the Free State, but there was actually something going on in Ficksburg. We went because of the annual Cherry Festival. It happens every year at the end of November and it just happened to be going on while we would be driving through so we decided to check it out.

This is the longest running harvest festival in South Africa. It’s about a week long and filled with all sorts of different activities. The real festivities really happen on the weekend so if you want to go to this I’d plan on arriving on Friday and hanging out at night and then all day Saturday. While the festival takes place in town, several cherry farms outside of town offer tours where you can pick your own cherries and learn a little bit more about the farm itself. These are coordinated through the festival (you just have to sign up for a time slot) or you can call the farm and coordinate yourself. Some names are Constantia, Ionia, and Ben Nevis farms. Unfortunately we did not get to do this.


The cherry festival has a lot on offer including a wing eating contest where the kids do the gobbling, cherry pit spitting contest, a circus routine, for those willing to shell out a little more dough- the tours mentioned above, a cherry cooking class, and a wine pairing. A few of the farms also make their own cherry wine which is fun to try in the spirit of things.

Another thing to note is that The Cabin Farm Stall has its own celebration, called The Cabin Kersie Kapperjolle, during this weekend celebrating summer, creativity, and the cherry harvest. In its second year, it seems to be a fun place to spend an afternoon.

We did eat breakfast at Constantia Cherry Farm on our way out of the city. It was delicious and really affordable. There are a million cherry things to purchase in their gift shop as well if you’re looking for a souvenir or two. (picture of breakfast)


If this wasn’t going on in Ficksburg we may not have stopped there, but Ficksburg is a good jumping off point for spending time in Lesotho (pronounced less-oo-too). Lesotho, although completely surrounded by South Africa, is not a part of South Africa. It is indeed its own country, a kingdom in fact. The Kingdom of Lesotho.

You can either stay in caves in Lesotho or stay in Ficksburg as it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump away. I’m not sure what the whole border crossing entails but whatever floats your boat. Here you can really rough it by taking a multi-day pony riding adventure across the rugged landscape of the remote Sehlabathebe Nation Park.

Graaff-Reinet. (Night 2)
Approximate driving time: 6 hours
Location: Eastern Cape Province
Accommodation: Aa’Qtansisi Guest House
Accommodation Review: A true BnB. Old people everywhere. Very quiet. A beautiful place, though, and a lot of care has been taken to really make you feel at home. Staff is wonderful and you might as well just eat there for every meal because the chef knows what he’s doing. We had springbok and ostrich. Yum! Oh, and while it’s a little pricier than say, a backpackers, they throw in a free cocktail on arrival. Why not?


Graaff-Reinet is picturesque. It is called the gem of the Karoo after all. Surrounded by Cambedoo National Park, beautiful Jacaranda trees in their purple bloom and old Victorian buildings line the streets. We stayed the night and visited the Valley of Desolation in the morning.




I think one of the greatest parts of the road trip we took was the scenery. I had no expectations going into South Africa because I really didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the beautiful landscape of farm land set against plateaus and mountains, billowing clouds, wild animals, monkeys, and the occasional tortoise. The windmills though, those were the best part.


Off to Cape Town!

This post is part two of four on our series on our South Africa road trip: Joburg -> en route to Cape Town -> Cape Town -> en route to Joburg.

Road Rules: South African Edition


Prior to hittin’ the dusty trail (this is sometimes more of a reality than a saying in these parts) there are a few things to lay out (in no particular order):

  1. You need a map. I guess if you have a GPS you can use that but since we were low on technology we went the old school route and bought the AA South Africa Atlas. We did look up directions on Google maps when we had access to Internet before we started driving because this atlas didn’t provide detail on the small towns we passed through, but we relied a lot on this paper map to plan routes and see where we were. One particularly nice feature was that it had all the big rest stops marked so you could see the distance between them. You can drive for quite a while without seeing much so this is really important in things related to keeping your tank full.
  2. About gas. At every gas station everywhere in Africa you will have a gas attendant. This is not optional. You can’t pump gas yourself. Just tell them how full you want it, the type of gas, and they’ll do the rest. Of course, they’ll want a small tip for their service. Depending on what they do for you – pumping gas, window washing, etc. you can give them anywhere between 1 and 5 rand.
  3. Another good thing to note is that there are many small picnic areas along the roads that occur more frequently than rest stops or small towns. This is nice for stretching your legs, or if you really need to, answer the call of nature. There’s not much traffic out there so it’s pretty private, even though it’s on the side of the road.
  4. Don’t pick up hitchhikers or stop for anyone. Just don’t.
  5. Oh yes, you’ll need a car. We had a Fiat Punto (see above). A small car, economical, light on gas, but you might want something with a little more giddy up. Most of the roads you will experience are one lane highways meaning there’s a lot of passing going on and you’re going to need some more power to blow some peoples’ doors off.
  6. They drive in the left lane here. For those of you new to this, the hardest part is centering yourself in the lane by using the right lane line as opposed to the left like we’re used too. For the first half hour or so my side of the car was considerably over the line. Now, there’s a time for that (see below) but it’s definitely not when we’re screaming through Joburg on a six lane highway.
  7. When a ve-hickle is trying to pass you, you need to move onto the shoulder. Yes, this is crossing the line. When a ve-hickle successfully passes you or you successfully pass it, the universal language to say ‘thank you’ is a flash of your hazards. I’m not sure why the wave didn’t catch on here- maybe in the next decade?
  8. As far as deciding how far to drive in a day: we were told that the road works (construction) were going to slow down our time considerably. This turned out to not really affect us. I’m not sure if we were just lucky or if we drove during the right times on the right days but the Google time and the real time it took us were pretty accurate for the most part. Never under, but never over by more than an hour or hour and a half. Seeing as being held up by road works is a possibility though, always start driving early enough so that you’re not driving in the dark.
  9. Don’t drive in the dark. There are too many dangers when the sun goes down and the monsters come out to play.
  10. It’s probably worth it to take your own food with you for lunch and to snack on while driving. There aren’t many options and the options aren’t very good. You have Steers and you have Wimpys and you have gas station snacks. But there is biltong. And there are farm stalls here and there that might be selling something a little more nutritious. We bought a cooler but alas, there is apparently nowhere that sells ice so that was kind of a bust. At least we had a cool carrier.
  11. Go the speed limit. We were warned to not stop for cops even if they are trying to pull you over because of their level of corruption. There are apparently also other people who pretend they are cops and then go on and hi-jack you. Just don’t give anyone any reason to pull you over.
  12. Never leave anything of value visible in the car even if you’re just running in for a bathroom break. Either throw it in the trunk or take it with you.
  13. If you don’t know how to drive stick, maybe you should consider it. Most car rentals places only offer manual unless you get lucky. I can’t do it and after my first failed lesson and put-putting my way across an intersection at .1MPH Nick was subjected to driving the entire trip. Whoops.
  14. Most importantly, remember that South Africa is quite large. We allotted two weeks and were incredibly rushed. We could have easily spent many months driving around this country. There are mountains, beaches, ostriches to ride, animal kingdoms to explore. Take the time to dig in. I can’t wait to go back.

This post is part one of four on our series on our South Africa road trip: Joburg -> en route to Cape Town -> Cape Town -> en route to Joburg.

Zanzibar for the Backpacker: Paje Beach


White sand beaches and a few dashes of spices and culture provide an ultimate island paradise. Zanzibar was our first stop in Africa. A sheltered prelude to five weeks in Africa, but an introduction to local foods and people. Many make Stone Town their first stop in Zanzibar, but why do that when you’ll find the hustle and bustle of crowded dirt alleys and frenzied street markets and shops all across Africa. The real reason to go to Zanzibar is to relax on a quiet beach. Grab a drink, lay in the hammock, soak up some rays, eat, sleep, repeat.

How to relax on the beach in Zanzibar
How to relax on the beach in Zanzibar

But when we started looking for accommodation, I found rates much higher than I expected with most places hovering around the $300 / night range. Crazy. So I dug deeper and found the east cost of Unguja (the main and largest island of the two islands of Zanzibar) littered with more affordable accommodation. So that’s where we went and boy were we happy. If you’re considering a trip take a look at a few of these backpacker hotspots.


Paje became our home away from home for 7 nights. The beach has several accommodation options within 1km of each other so if you don’t like having a plan just show up and negotiate a price. A few highly rated, popular spots:

Early morning sunrise
Early morning sunrise

This beach is pristine with the closest thing to a nuisance are the immigrated Maasai trying to sell you things from their over-the-shoulder ‘shops’ or the kids who will drink all of your water, thirsty after splashing around in the water. During some parts of the year this is a haven for kite surfing with several outfitters along the strip willing to charge you western dollars for rentals and/or lessons.

During low tide, the ocean nearly disappears turning what seems are miles of water into a fine, sandy mud. When this happens the locals come out to fish or tend to their seaweed farms. But be careful! Stingrays hide underneath the sand and if you’re unlucky a nasty sting will leave your leg numb and you’ll have some difficulty walking for a few days. This really did happen to a girl while we were there and a local was left sucking the poison out of her foot and crushing up some of the ‘local medicine’ (some sort of plant) to provide some anesthetic to the area.

One of the many seaweed farms along the coast
One of the many seaweed farms along the coast
A stranded boat during low tide
A stranded boat during low tide

Around Paje

There are several other beaches around Paje that are also popular with backpackers. Most notably: Jambiani and Bwejuu.


Just 6km down the coast from Paje, this sleepy fishing village can offer a little more privacy if your budget allows. The top rated places I looked at are running $10 – $20 higher than Paje for comparable digs.

  • Jambiani Whitesand Bungalows (single $50 / double $70)
  • Dude’s Guesthouse (double $50)
  • Ndame Beach Lodge (single $50 / twin $75 / double $95)
  • Jambiani Guesthouse (twin $50)
  • Zanzibar Fairytale Guesthouse (double $70)


3km north of Paje and practically in walking distance (sharing the same beach) is Bwejuu. We didn’t get a chance to visit, but one traveler noted that you could spend your days there watching the palms trees sway without speaking a word to anyone else.

Train Tracks Across Africa

Trains bring about a sense of wonder, more so than the car or the airplane. It’s the thing about the pace of travel, the sound of tons of steel heaving over the earth, the getting to see the in between that is lost on the air planes’ wings and the cars’ paved roads. It’s the freeness to move about, to stretch your legs, to succumb to the rhythm of the wheels, to be spirited away into yesteryear, to feel the wind in your hair. Trains are magical man-made caterpillars. In the case of the train, the journey is the experience. This four day train trek took us through the African bush, rural villages, and the wilds of the animal kingdom. It was wild alright.

Independent Travel in Africa: A Cost Comparison

When we arrived in Livingstone, Zambia to see the Victoria Falls, we had no definitive plans for onward travel. We had to get to South Africa, but in between was up in the air. Should we visit Botswana for Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta or should we visit Namibia for Etosha National Park, Sussovelia Dunes, and maybe Fish River Canyon.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), our decision was made for us when we discussed with our hostel manager about options for visiting Botswana. Getting to Kasane (the jumping off point for Chobe National Park) would involve a taxi to the border, a ferry crossing, and another taxi from the border into town. From Kasane to Maun (the jumping off point for the Okavanga Delta) would involve some sort of minibus, in which we would not be able to sort out until we arrived into town and started to ask around.

My point is that independent travel around Africa is sometimes not too easy. It involves lots of time, patience, and often deep pockets. So we reviewed other options for getting to South Africa and decided on an overland safari. It would take us from Livingstone, Zambia to Johannesburg, South Africa with stops through Botswana along the way. Transportation and tours all included.

We took this journey and throughout I found myself asking myself what it would have cost to do this all on our own, booking as we go, and what kind of cut the safari operator was taking for the sake of convenience. Our safari had a total up front cost of $1,065 per person, so what would this cost independently? Let’s find out.

The Itinerary

Tent Camping in Botswana
Trying out our tent the first night in Botswana

Step 1: Depart Livingstone for Kasane, crossing into Botswana at the Kazungula Ferry post.

  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in safari price.
  2. Independent: The trip can be had by pre-booking a shuttle at a rate of around $75 per person. A cheaper option would be to take a taxi from Livingstone to the border ($50), take the vehicle ferry across the water, walk to 200m to the Botswana border post, and catch another taxi to Kasane ($5).

Step 2: Stay at Thebe River Safaris in Kasane and go on a boat cruise and game drive in Chobe National Park.

Chobe River Sunset
Sunset on the Chobe River
Elephants Bathing Themselves in Chobe National Park
Elephants giving themselves a morning bath
  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in safari price.
  2. Independent: Camping at Thebe River Safaris will cost you $12. The boat cruise and game drive are both $34 each.

Step 3: Depart Kasane for Maun.

  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in the safari price.
  2. Independent: There are no direct routes from Kasane to Maun, so the trip will require changing buses in Nata. Total cost for the ride is around $20.

Step 4: Enjoy “The Delta Adventurer” safari offered by Delta Rain Safaris. The safari includes 2 nights of en-suite accommodation and 2 nights in a permanent tent with shared facilities. 2 full days are spent in the Okavango Delta exploring the landscape by mokoro (a dugout canoe) and foot and day and a half at the Sitatunga Camp in Maun.

Bush Babies in Tree in Botswana
Bush babies eyeing us down from their nest
Giraffe Toes Size Comparison
Remnants of a giraffe
Grass on Okavango Delta Walking Safari
Enjoying our walking safari
Painted Reef Frog Okavango Delta Botswana
Painted reef frog found during our mokoro cruise
  1. On Tour: Requires upgrade from self camping to a permanent tent for 2 nights at a total cost of $28 additional to the safari price.
  2. Independent: The all-inclusive safari runs $485 per person.

Step 5: Drive from Maun to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Complete a 2 hour game drive and stay at Camp Itumela in Palapye.

Rhino in Khama Rhino Sanctuary
Rhino found in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary
  1. On Tour: Requires upgrade from self camping to a permanent tent for 1 night at a total cost of $18 additional to the safari price.
  2. Independent: Here’s where independent travel just doesn’t cut it. Public transportation on this route would require a bus from Maun to Francistown ($12) and then jumping off in Palapye from the bus to Gabarone ($8). Once in Palapye, a taxi would be needed to get to the park ($60 round trip). A visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary will cost $40 including park entrance fees and the game drive. A permanent tent at Camp Itumela costs $23.

Step 6: Drive from Palapye to Johannesburg.

  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in the safari price.
  2. Independent: That same bus from Francistown to Gabarone will be on it’s way through again if you’re lucky so hop on that ($10). From Gabarone, the South African company, Intercape, runs service to Johannesburg for $31.

Running the Numbers

So let’s add all of this up.

  1. On Tour: $1,065 up front payment+ $46 in upgraded accommodation = $1,111.
  2. Independent: $844 + ~$50 in additional meals included on the overland safari = $894.

Difference: It would have been $217 less to complete this adventure on our own. This would have left us wandering around the Botswana border post trying to figure out where immigration was, on the sides of numerous roads and unmarked bus stops crossing our fingers that someone was coming to pick us up, hassling with taxis over price, and drained and exhausted from continuing to pretend that Africa operates like the westernized countries that we’re used to. This is why the $217 was worth it: door to door service, interesting facts and stories from our tour leader while on the road, the chance to try a whole slew of home-made African meals that we would have never been able to cook for ourselves (it is also worth mentioning that all camping and cooking supplies were included which we would have had to buy to feed / shelter ourselves if we were on our own), good company, and peace of mind while we were traveling.

If we would have done this independently, I’d bet we’d still be sitting on the Zambian border trying to figure out how to get over the river to Botswana without being eaten by a crocodile.

Danger and Despair in Dar es Salaam

Dar Es Salaam City Scape

Before I begin this story, I would like to tell my mother that we are safe and nothing remotely dangerous occurred to us while we were in Dar es Salaam. Please don’t worry.

And we continue – before we arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I read a post on a Lonely Planet forum where someone described her experience of getting kidnapped and robbed while in Dar es Salaam. I of course assumed that she was not taking the proper precautions – be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk alone at night, don’t obviously flaunt money or valuables, use common sense. All the types of things that living in a city like Chicago we’ve learned to do without thinking.

But then we showed up in Zanzibar. A young couple showed up a day or two after us and shared their experience of getting kidnapped and robbed as well. The story sounded all too familiar. Exactly as the Lonely Planet post described:

You get into a taxi and someone jumps into the passenger seat immediately or a few minutes down the road. The doors have childproof locks so you cannot get out and the driver doesn’t let you when you tell him you want to leave. It’s dark and you start going down quiet, unfamiliar streets. A van pulls in front of you and a few more guys get out. They threaten you and tell you exactly what is going to happen next. They are going to drive you around to a few ATMs. You’re going to take out the maximum amount from the ATM – 400,000 Tanzanian Schillings (~$240) at most. They’ll continue to take you around until your account is dry or they’ve felt they’ve gotten enough out of you. If you cooperate, you’ll go home safely. Don’t ask what happens if you decide not to.

A few different guys will take turns driving you around to each ATM. Some will be nice and friendly and try to talk to you. Others will be completely quiet. Once they’ve drained your account, you might get lucky and they’ll give you a few bucks of your own cash to catch another taxi home. You won’t get robbed in that other taxi, because they all work together. You’ll keep all of your valuables in your bag, because cold hard cash is much more valuable.

When you file a police report, if you show no scuffs or scrapes from a beating, the police won’t help. All they got was money and your dignity, but you walked away unharmed.

These taxi drivers call themselves the “Little Mafia” and they operate all around Dar es Salaam.

At our hostel over the next five days we heard more stories of what happened to people in Dar. One guy showed up with two black eyes after taking a beating. I didn’t hear the details of this, but I had to assume the mugging went wrong when he put up a fight. Another couple showed up trying to find a computer to check their email as they had lost their computer, phones, and camera after being robbed in Dar.

Three different stories of being kidnapped or robbed or beaten or all of the above in just a matter of days. So I dug a little deeper and found more stories of recent events on the US Embassy website:

Monday, September 16, 1930 hours: A white Toyota with tinted windows, driving on the wrong side of the road, conducted a vehicular bag snatch on a U.S. citizen in front of the Colosseum Hotel on Haile Selassie. Fortunately, she wasn’t injured.

Monday, September 2, 1930 hours: Several U.S. citizens went to dinner at Osaka restaurant. They walked down Chaza Lane towards Touré Drive, looking for a bajaji taxi to take them home. As they neared Touré, they were surrounded by four men who hit one victim over the head with a bottle and the assailants stole an iPhone, BlackBerry, and a few thousand Tanzanian Shillings. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

Wednesday, August 14, morning: A young man apparently under the influence of drugs smashed the side view mirror of a U.S. citizen’s vehicle when she was stuck in downtown traffic. A nearby police officer refused to pursue the man.

Saturday, July 12, 2330 hours: An expat woman left a Msasani bar and took a bajaji taxi home alone. The driver stopped on a dirt road and pushed her out. A van immediately pulled up and several assailants raped and robbed her.

There are several more stories like the above of incidents that occurred to US citizens. But while at our hostel we were the only Americans there. It’s impossible to know how many tourists leave Dar es Salaam with empty pockets and a wounded ego.

This is how we made it out of Dar es Salaam unscathed:

  • We paid some extra cash to stay at a reputable business class hotel.
  • This hotel came with the perk of a free shuttle to pick us up from the ferry from Zanzibar. A well dressed man had a sign waiting for us when we arrived at the terminal. If you do not have someone waiting for you it’s a madhouse of taxi drivers trying to get you into their cab. This is what a real cab should look like and it’s worth it to do a proper inspection:
    • a white car with a white (never yellow) license plate
    • a colored stripe running laterally on the side panels of the vehicle
    • a number inside a circle on both passenger doors.
    • specific windshield stickers, namely: a valid insurance certificate, TRA sticker indicating maximum number of passengers, a motor vehicle license certificate, a municipal council parking stand sticker
    • make sure the driver’s I.D. matches the name of the car registration and taxi licenses.
  • We hired a porter from the hotel to walk with us to the grocery store for our first walk about town so we could get our bearings and gauge the situation.
  • When we walked alone, I walked without my daypack, Kristin without her purse, no ATM card, little cash, and we walked deliberately- to our destination and back and that was it.
  • We ordered dinner in and went nowhere at night.
  • We had the hotel choose a taxi for us for our trip to the train station.

Overly cautious? Maybe. But we made it through Dar es Salaam safely. I say, it’s worth the extra few bucks.