Botswana is one of the most expensive destinations to visit in Africa, but it’s on every safari-goer’s bucket list for a reason: its vast swathes of untamed wilderness, fence-free national parks and wealth of wildlife.

The country has adopted a conservation strategy based on high-end, low-volume tourism, which means it’s free of crowds and mass-market resorts. It has no shortage of eye-wateringly expensive lodges with butlers to draw your bath, tasting menus to rival Michelin-star restaurants and well-stocked wine cellars that wouldn’t look out of place in London or New York. But with some savvy planning, Botswana doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are our top tips to stretch your budget further in Botswana.

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Avoid the high season and the highest prices

Between June and September it's the peak season in Botswana, and deals are rarer than black rhino sightings, so consider traveling in the shoulder season – roughly April, May, October and November – when you can bag a bargain on accommodations and 4WD rental. The weather can be unpredictable as the seasons change from wet to dry and back again, but Botswana has no shortage of wildlife action, especially around permanent water sources. 

Green season (aka the wet season) from December to March is cheaper still, as some lodges slash their rates by up to 40% – though some close up entirely, especially in the wettest months of January and February. Some roads and tracks can become difficult to navigate, but the rains bring lush landscapes, and areas like Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta are so jam-packed with wild creatures that it doesn’t matter which time of year you go.

Set off on a self-drive safari

If you’re confident behind the wheel of a 4WD, a self-drive safari is one of the most wallet-friendly ways to explore: a week’s rental can cost less than a night in a luxury lodge. As a bonus, you can go from desert to delta at your own speed. Want to spend a couple of hours watching a playful pride of lions, or staking out a wild dog den? No problem. 

But like a good scout, you need to be prepared. Plan your route (no driving after dark) and arrange your campsite reservations and national-park permits in advance, download an offline map such as Tracks4Africa and consider renting a satellite phone for any off-the-grid emergencies.

Rent the vehicle from a company such as Avis, or pay a bit more for a fully equipped 4WD, complete with a rooftop tent and cooking gear, from a self-drive safari specialist such as Drive Botswana, which can also organize your itinerary and book accommodation for you. The only extra costs will be fuel, food, drinking water and firewood, which you can pick up cheaply in Kasane or Maun.

Join a small-group mobile safari

Join a small-group 4WD tour and you’ll set up camp in different bush locations, eat under the stars and leave no footprint. You’ll be surrounded by the wilderness from the moment you unzip your tent, and you’ll travel with a top-notch guide who makes wildlife spotting easy. 

If you’re happy being hands-on – pitching and taking down your tent, washing dishes and helping dismantle and set up camp – a semi-participation safari is the cheapest option. You’ll share your two-person tent, the bush toilet and bucket shower; all you need is a sleeping bag.

Otherwise, you can upgrade to a fully serviced mobile safari – still a fraction of the price of a high-end lodge – where your walk-in tent comes with a camp bed and an en-suite bathroom. Look into Letaka Safaris’ 10-day Northern Highlights all-inclusive safari (from US$3445 per person).

Get on board an overlanding truck

Group safaris come in all shapes and sizes, and if you’re time-rich and cash-poor, overlanding in a purpose-built truck is a time-honored way to explore the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town and all points in between.

With companies such as On the Go Tours and Intrepid, Botswana is usually teamed up with Victoria Falls, Namibia and South Africa for 10-day itineraries and longer. These options are not only cheaper than a small-group tour, with campsites, meals and some excursions included, but they’re also a great way to meet fellow travelers, especially if you’re visiting Botswana solo. 

Choose a drive-in instead of a fly-in camp

Because of Botswana’s sheer size and the remoteness of some of its parks and reserves, some camps can only be accessed by budget-busting charter flights, so choose protected spaces that can be easily reached by road, such as the wildlife-rich Moremi Game Reserve or Nxai Pans National Park.

Meerkat in the open veld
If you want to mingle with meerkats, make for Makgadikgadi Pans National Park © 2630ben / Getty Images

Focus on one national park or reserve

You don’t have to dip into different national parks and reserves to experience a range of habitats and wildlife, and focusing on a single region cuts down on the cost of vehicle rental or transfers.

Decide your priorities: if you’ve got an urge to see elephants, head to Chobe. If you’re desperate to see African wild dogs, try Moremi Game Reserve. If you want to mingle with meerkats, make it Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

two travelers prepare lunch after preparing the tent camp at Chobe National Park in Botswana
Wild camping is illegal in Botswana, but the country has no shortage of great campsites, like this one at Chobe National Park © Stefano Barzellotti / Getty Images

Swap a luxury lodge for a tent 

Wild camping is illegal in Botswana, but the country has no shortage of brilliant campsites. If you want to be immersed in nature, opt for an unfenced area of a national park or reserve and expect numerous wild visitors. Some sites have a water faucet and a fire pit, and they all have an ablution area with shared bathrooms and showers. You need to book a space in advance, especially from June through September, and set up camp before it gets dark. 

Or you can opt for somewhere livelier to pitch your tent, like Planet Baobab, and enjoy the open-air bar-cum-restaurant and smart facilities, all towered over by statuesque baobab trees.

Thatched hut painted with traditionally styled Bakalanga decorative designs. Planet Baobab, Botswana. (PR: Property Released)
If you don’t want to camp, you can book into a rondavel-style room at Planet Baobab © Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Look out for budget-friendly lodges in five-star locations 

If you’d be happier with four solid walls and a roof, you can still save money on your trip to Botswana. Savvy travelers should seek out less pricey accommodations in the same vicinity as the super-luxe safari lodges: budget-oriented digs might not have all the bells and whistles, but they’ll share the same landscapes and wild encounters.

Planet Baobab is the cheaper cousin of the renowned Jack’s Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans. If you don’t want to camp, you can book into a rondavel-style room. Game drives will get you up close to desert-adapted lions, meerkats and the dazzling zebra migration. 

Base yourself in the urban jungle 

It might not be as atmospheric as wilderness camping, but basing yourself in Maun – the gateway to the Okavango Delta, Nxai Pans and the Central Kalahari – or Kasane, a pebbles-throw from Chobe riverfront, will give you access to more wallet-friendly accommodations, grocery stores and local restaurants. Use the money you save to splurge on day-long game drives, sunset cruises and even scenic flights. 

Carry a water-filter bottle

With Botswana’s mix of heat and humidity, it’s important to keep hydrated, so save money on bottled water and reduce plastic pollution by investing in a water-filter bottle such as LifeStraw Go, which you can fill up from almost any water source.

Daily costs in Botswana

  • 4WD rental per day: from US$100
  • Camping in national parks and reserves: from US$18 per person
  • Camping in a campsite: around US$30 per tent
  • Double room in a campsite (self-catering): from US$50
  • Double room in a mid-range lodge (half-board): from US$100 per person
  • Double room in a four-star lodge (all-inclusive): from US$500 per person
  • Suite in a luxury lodge (all-inclusive): from US$1000 per person
  • Scheduled flight from Maun to Kasane: around US$40
  • Scenic flight in the Okavango Delta (45 minutes): around US$100
  • Canoe trip in the Okavango Delta: around US$100
  • Intercity bus: from US$25
  • Dinner for two in a budget restaurant: around US$10–20
  • Dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant: around US$25–30

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