Alan Murphy
Australia AU
Jan 5, 2016 January 5, 2016

Alan is a travel writer and author of over 20 Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Southern Africa and Zambia & Malawi.

Categories: From the team, Safari Planning Guide

Self-Drive Safari

Alan examines the benefits and drawbacks of branching out and doing part of your safari on your own. A so-called Self-Drive Safari.

Does driving in Africa sound scary? Well, it can be. But it also affords you a unique opportunity to tailor part of your safari package exactly the way you want. There's no doubt that organised safaris are the best way to see wildlife and have the holiday of a lifetime. Just imagine: all the organisation, all the logistics, all the worry taken out of your hands.

Driving in Southern Africa

It depends on the country too, of course – each holds its challenges. In South Africa, you have a great road network (including in many parks – in particular Kruger National Park). However you have to negotiate serious speeding and tailgating and follow a few rules for your personal safety.

In Zambia, it’s dirt tracks, speeding buses, and potholes that can look like meteor craters. And animals wandering onto the road that can test drivers. However, once out of the major urban centres, you will have the roads pretty much to yourself.

In Namibia, the road network is in really good condition. Even a lot of the dirt roads are fine. But the long distances and challenge of boggy, sandy tracks in more remote areas present their own challenge to drivers.

Why Do It?

The real advantage of doing a self-drive safari is that you can go exactly where you want. You spend your time in a wildlife park how and where you choose. Its great freedom and driving around can be a good way to meet locals too.

I remember being in Zambia when I didn’t have that much experience driving in Africa. I was advised that Zambia was not a good place to start if you're inexperienced at driving in Africa. What rubbish! It was a very fine introduction.

Yes, for sure you have to keep your wits about you, and get plenty of local advice on the roads, as well. But if you’re careful, it makes a great intro to driving in Africa. I loved it – with the exception of being terrified in some ‘all too close’ elephant experiences in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

Zambezi Elephants

I remember coming around a bend in the game management area, a buffer wilderness area to Lower Zambezi, and a huge bull elephant was standing in the middle of the road. I slammed on the brakes, almost hitting it. The elephant was startled and pissed off. It raised its trunk, let out a bellow, flapped its ears and came crashing towards the car. I slammed it into reverse, and got out of there fast.

Actually driving in reverse at high speed is difficult. I ended up coming off the track and flew backwards into the bush. Fortunately I didn’t hit anything substantial. And even more fortunately, the elephant tired of chasing us…

That taught me to really slow it down – especially around bends in wilderness areas. Taking a bit longer to get somewhere is worth the extra time to spot gaping potholes, wandering wildlife and even people. Encountering a drunk person on a bicycle or staggering along on foot is not unusual. Always be very careful when going through villages strung out on the sides of the road.

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Self-drive Safari: Let's examines the benefits and drawbacks of branching out and doing part of your safari on your own in Africa.

Self-drive Safari: Let's examines the benefits and drawbacks of branching out and doing part of your safari on your own in Africa.