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.

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