Although Botswana is one of the most expensive destinations to visit in Africa, it’s on every safari-goer’s bucket list for some very good reasons: 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. There is no shortage of expensive lodges: butlers to draw your bath; tasting menus to rival Michelin-star restaurants; well-stocked wine cellars that wouldn’t look out of place in either 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.

Group of african kids jumping in the sunset, Botswana
TFW you've just saved some money during your trip to Botswana © poco_bw / Getty Images

Daily costs in Botswana

  • 4WD rental per day: from US$150
  • Camping in national parks and reserves: from US$20 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
  • Intercity bus: from US$25
  • Coffee: US$2.50
  • Sandwich: US$4
  • Dinner for two: US$22
  • Beer/pint at the bar: US$3
  • Scheduled flight from Maun to Kasane: around US$65
  • Scenic flight in the Okavango Delta (45 minutes): around US$100
  • Canoe trip in the Okavango Delta: around US$100

Travel to luxury lodges during the safari shoulder season

Good deals are rarer than black rhino sightings during Botswana’s peak season (June and September). Consider traveling in the shoulder season instead (April–May and October–November). This is when you can bag a bargain on accommodations and 4WD car rentals. 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.

Also, ensure you check the flight distance of your chosen luxury lodge from Maun. It's faster to fly, but the further your lodge, the more fuel and the pricier the return ticket. To bring the costs down you can drive to some luxury stays in the southeastern delta and Khwai areas, or even ask about boating access between camps.

Embrace the rainy season for a great Botswana deal

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

A Land Cruiser cuts through the Bush in Botswana, following a dirt track with a women sat inside
Take a DIY 4WD safari in Botswana to save some money © Poncho / Getty Images

Set off on a self-drive safari and save

If you’re confident behind the wheel of a 4WD, a self-drive safari is one of the most wallet-friendly ways to explore Botswana: 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.

You still need to be fully 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 adventurous mobile safari

Join a small-group 4WD tour and you’ll set up camp in different bush locations while eating under the stars and leaving 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$3725 per person during the green season).

A mokoro (traditional canoe) tour through the waters of the Okavango Delta in Botswana
Book your mokoro (canoe) tour directly with a poler to save money © Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

Hop onto a mokoro canoe campout from Maun

Most (pricey) luxury lodges in the delta organize mokoro (canoe) trips, but you can also arrange your own mokoro adventure from Maun. The Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust is an overarching association for all local polers and operates in the eastern Okavango in the NG32 concession, which is roughly an hour's drive north of Maun, depending on water levels.

Outings range from day trips (with a round-trip 4WD drive of two to three hours to the point of embarkation) to affordable multi-day camping excursions on islands encircled by floodwaters, which makes carefully considered planning an absolute must. Most trips also include guided nature walks, so please bring a hat, decent shoes and sunscreen.

There are two ways to support these community polers. Book directly with the trust office in Maun and bring all your own gear, such as tents, food and cooking equipment to overnight in the delta. Alternatively, use a mobile safari operator, which provides all the camping kit (down to en suite pit latrine ablutions and stretchers for a decent sleep) plus excellent meals, so all you have to do is kick back and enjoy the ride.

Board an overland truck to tick off major sights

Group safaris come in all shapes and sizes: 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 and stays that can be easily reached by road, such as the wildlife-rich Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai area, the easy-to-access Chobe National Park, or visit Baines’ Baobabs Nxai Pan National Park.

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, head to Gweta and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.

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 to encounter 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 make sure you 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 that look a lot like the eternally wise Deku Tree from the Legend of Zelda game series.

Happy African street vendor in Botswana smiling at a customer, shack with vegetables and fruits
Buying food from roadside stalls and markets will save you cash © poco_bw / Getty Images

Save money by basing 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.

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, sure, but they’ll share the same landscapes and wild encounters.

For example, 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.

Wildlife watching can be done from the road

With no fences keeping wildlife contained to reserve boundaries, wildlife often crosses the major highway routes in Northern Botswana between Nata and Kasane as you drive towards Chobe National Park, and also Nata and Maun, which passes through the Makgadikgadi National Park. It’s not uncommon to encounter elephants, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, sables and even Southern ground hornbills on these tarred roads.

This article was first published Aug 14, 2022 and updated Oct 27, 2023.

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