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Botswana is one of the countries I was most excited to visit in 2018 and it was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. Wild elephants roam the highways, hippos inhabit the rivers and you may even be joined by a baboon or two while you cross the border. But the real highlight of our Botswana trip was the Okavango Delta.
Although every safari destination is different, Botswana really is one of a kind. It has some of the friendliest people, safest streets and the people really live at one with nature. It’s a one of a kind trip – and many travellers pay over the odds to experience its uniqueness.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure it’s completely worth it. The lodges we saw looked incredible, sprinkled along the edge of the Delta. But at $2000 per night, it’s not something the average human being will ever be able to afford.
Given the sky high prices of staying in an Okavango Delta lodge, it’s no surprise I assumed going on safari was only for rich people. It was only when I moved to South Africa for three months that I realised how affordable a safari could be, especially if you’re willing to self drive.
And while some safari destinations are definitely going to make a bigger dent in your travel budget than others, Botswana isn’t completely inaccessible to people like you and me.
A budget-friendly way to visit the Okavango Delta
If you’re willing to put in a little bit of work, visiting the Okavango Delta can be surprisingly affordable.
By work, I mean a little bit of organisation and forward planning, a fair amount of 4×4 driving and a lot of courage if the thought of bush camping scares you. The good news is it probably won’t scare you as much as it scared me:
Okavango Delta safari prices
One of the great things about the Okavango Delta is that, like many African safari spots, you can see it all by yourself. All you need is a 4×4 and enough fuel to make sure you won’t get stuck!
Aside from the car you’re driving, the only cost of visiting is the park entrance fees. Entrance to Moremi Game Reserve, where we camped, costs around £9 ($11.49) per person per day. It’s almost impossible to visit in just one day, but even a 3-day trip will set you back less than £30 in total!
Once inside the park, you have access to all the same roads and trails as the safari companies that operate there. That means you can visit the exact same areas and have the chance to see the same wildlife, including lions, leopards and elephants.
There’s only one place you won’t be able to visit without a guide: the Delta itself.
If you’re visiting the Okavango Delta, there’s a good chance you want to take to the waters. After all, it’s what you’re visiting for! It would be a shame to venture all the way there (like I said, it’s not easy!) and not get to see the Delta from the water.
We took a 2-hour boat safari and loved it so much that we extended it to 3 hours. At $40 (about £31) per hour, it wasn’t super cheap. But given that we had the entire boat, $120 was a very reasonable price to pay for such a unique experience. You just can’t see elephants and hippos up close in the water like that any other way.
If you’re visiting the Okavango Delta on a budget, make sure you set aside a little bit of cash for a boat safari. It will definitely be money well spent!
Okavango Delta camping prices
The only other necessary expense you’ll need to think about is where you’re going to sleep. If you’re on a budget, the lodges and tented camps will definitely be out of the question, and the only other option is wilderness camping.
Wilderness camping – or wild camping – is exactly what it sounds like. Even though the camp sites are in designated areas, with ablutions and numbered sites, they’re completely wild. You’re out in the open, just like the animals. Or, another to look at it, you’re out in the open with the wild animals.
Some people might find that pretty exciting and others might find it terrifying. I fell firmly into the latter, but it’s still something I would do again – provided I had the right gear!
We rocked up with a ground tent and, on seeing an elephant occupying our site, I decided there was no way I was sleeping in it. We ended up sleeping in the car and had a great night’s sleep in the end, but next time I would take a vehicle with a pop-up tent. When there are elephants walking around, it’s just a lot more sensible!
There are three wild camp sites in Moremi Game Reserve and they all cost 200 Pula (£15/$20) per person per night. Again, a very reasonable rate to pay given the $2000 alternative!
Total cost of visiting the Okavango Delta
If you were to spend one night wild camping at the Okavango Delta, it would come to roughly £33 per person (one camp fee plus two day rates). Throw in a 2-hour boat safari, shared by two people, and you’re still only looking at around £64 for the whole thing. And given what a special experience it is, that’s incredibly cheap!
Of course, you’ll need to stock up on a few things before you head into the park. You’ll need the car, a full tank of fuel and enough food and water to get you through your time there. There are no shops or restaurants inside the Game Reserve so you’ll need to go in prepared. It really is as wild as it comes!
Botswana on a budget
In general, Botswana is a very budget-friendly destination. Even though an organised trip to Chobe might set you back a fair bit – and a night in an Okavango Delta lodge definitely will – it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think.
We noticed that there isn’t a whole lot of information about self driving Botswana online, so it’s hard to know what to expect. But unless you want to take any organised safaris or trips, the Okavango Delta is about as expensive as it gets. Accommodation can be fairly pricey throughout the country (budget around £80 per night) and is rarely good value for money, and you can easily eat for £20 per day.
So while it’s not the cheapest place to visit in Southern Africa, but it’s far from expensive compared to other destinations.
Other African budget safaris
Botswana isn’t the only safari destination that’s surprisingly affordable. Check out my post about Southern Africa’s most affordable self drive safari destinations if you want to see where else you could go on a budget.