Self-drive safaris – Discover the 10 best safari drives in Africa

A Land Cruiser is one of the best options for a self-drive safari throughout Africa

Self-drive safaris are a great way to experience the raw beauty of Africa. It provides you with the freedom to explore the continent’s diverse landscapes on your own terms.

Spot different animals, take pictures, and immerse yourself in the wonders of nature—all at your own pace.

You’ll find some of the best self-drive safaris in Africa in countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

With so many amazing places to choose from, finding the perfect destination for your ideal safari drive can be challenging.

To ease your search, this article highlights the best self-drive safaris in Africa, as well as tips for driving in the wild. So whether you’re an avid safari-goer or a first-timer, you’re sure to have a memorable trip.

What is a Self-Drive Safari?

Land Cruiser with rainbow in the background - self-drive safari in Upington, South Africa

A self-drive safari is exactly as its name suggests. It is a type of safari where you are in the driver’s seat. There is no tour guide or driver, allowing for a truly unique game-viewing experience.

On a self-drive safari, you’re in control of where you go and what you see. Imagine driving through the African savanna and spotting a lion or herd of elephants roaming freely in their natural habitat.

Go-to African safari vehicles are typically 4WDs, as they provide you with the means to tackle the various terrain found in the wild safely.

However, 2WDs are suitable in some destinations, including parts of South Africa and Botswana.

Benefits of Self-Drive Safaris

While all safari experiences are spectacular, self-drive safaris have several unique benefits, including:

  • The flexibility to create your own itinerary.
  • A more intimate experience without the distraction or noise of other people.
  • A more cost-effective safari experience compared to guided safaris.

Best Self-Drive Safaris in Africa

Ready to find your next self-drive safari adventure? Here are some of Africa’s most thrilling safari destinations.


Setting up camp in the wilderness, Moremi Game Reserve

Botswana is one of Africa’s best self-drive safari destinations—and for good reason. It is home to some of the continent’s most pristine natural wonders, including the UNESCO-listed Okavango Delta.

The vast wetland attracts many tourists annually and is home to some of Africa’s most endangered species. Among these are the cheetah, African wild dog, and black and white rhinos, which have been reintroduced to the region.

Other must-see attractions on a Botswana safari include the Caprivi Strip and Chobe National Park. Along this journey, you’ll encounter the world’s largest elephant population, along with other members of the Big Five.

For the ultimate adventure, book your self-drive Botswana safari here.

Tip: The best time to visit Botswana for a self-drive safari is between July and October, as it is ideal for wildlife viewing. Flooding is also high, allowing for fun mokoro rides.


Car driving the sharp turns of the Sani Pass, on the border of South Africa and Lesotho

Self-drive safaris are a great way to experience Lesotho. Known as the “Kingdom of the Sky”, this high-altitude, landlocked destination offers a myriad of scenic attractions. With an expansive network of rivers and mountain ranges, there’s plenty to explore.

A must on your Lesotho itinerary is Sani Pass. This is a winding mountain pass that connects Lesotho with South Africa and provides stunning views of the Drakensberg Mountains. The drive here can be challenging, so a 4WD is best.

There are also several natural wonders, including the 192-meter-tall Maletsunyane Falls and the remote Sehlabathebe National Park.

This is a great location for wildlife spotting. Expect to see eland, baboons, wildcats, and many other intriguing animals.

Lesotho is also renowned for its history and culture. Visit Thaba Bosiu plateau near Maseru and discover ruins dating back to the 19th-century reign of King Moshoeshoe I.

For a memorable experience, book your self-drive Lesotho safari here.


Mount Mulanje (or Mulanje Massif) in Malawi

Malawi offers some of the most unique and thrilling self-drive safari experiences in Africa.

The country’s vast wilderness boasts diverse landscapes and a wide variety of animals. Popular sightings include elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas, and different antelope species.

One of the most popular self-drive safari routes in Malawi is the M1 road, which runs from the capital city of Lilongwe.

Popular stops along the way include Liwonde National Park, Majete Wildlife Reserve, and Nyika National Park—a scenic destination located on the high plateau of northern Malawi.

Another favorite is the Mulanje Mountain route. This takes visitors to Mount Mulanje, one of the highest mountains in south-central Africa.

Along the way, pass through forests with large cedar trees, explore charming villages, and immerse yourself in the region’s unique flora and fauna.

Overall, self-drive safaris provide you with the flexibility to discover Malawi’s many off-the-beaten-track areas and hidden gems. Just ensure you have a 4WD vehicle and your safari gear.

For an unforgettable trip, book your self-drive Malawi safari here.


Spectacular sunset over Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique

For a more laid-back self-drive safari experience, head to Mozambique. Here you’ll find well-maintained roads stretching from the country’s pristine coast and through its vast wilderness interior.

A popular route among safari enthusiasts is the EN1 highway, which takes visitors from the capital city of Maputo to the Mozambique and Tanzania border. You can visit several attractions in Mozambique, including Gorongosa National Park and the large Niassa National Park.

Both of these destinations are famous for housing a broad range of animals. You can expect to see Nile crocodiles, elephants, lions, hippos, and plenty more.

It’s also an incredible place for birdwatching, with over 600 bird species recorded in the country.

For something different, take the coastal route. This follows Mozambique’s eastern coast, making its way past several beach towns and fishing villages.

You’ll also pass by the beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, created to protect the country’s diverse marine life.

For a seamless experience, book your self-drive Mozambique safari here.


An elephant crosses the road in front of a 4x4, Etosha National Park

Known for providing some of the best safari experiences, Namibia is a must for anyone seeking a self-drive adventure.

When it comes to getting around, the Northern Circuit is the most popular. This takes visitors through some of the country’s top attractions.

The first is Etosha National Park, one of Africa’s largest preserves. Here you’ll see lions, giraffes, cheetahs, and many other mammal and bird species.

You’ll also explore Damaraland, a mountainous region known for its unusual geological features, and the hauntingly beautiful Skeleton Coast.

The Southern Circuit is also a good pick as it takes you through the Namib Desert, which is home to the famous Sossusvlei.

It also covers the Fish River Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of Africa, due to its sheer size.

For even greater diversity, travel the Trans-Kalahari route, where you’ll discover various desert animals or experience the lush wetlands of the Caprivi Strip.

For an action-packed trip, book your self-drive Namibia safari here.

South Africa

Kgalagadi landscape, sand and gravel road

South Africa offers a wide range of self-drive safari opportunities. Here, visitors can experience the country’s rich flora and fauna and diverse cultures in a unique and exciting way. 

One of the most popular destinations for a self-drive safari is the iconic Kruger National Park.

Each year, approximately 950 000 people visit the massive game reserve to discover its landscapes and see the Big Five up close. Many of the roads here are suitable for a 2WD vehicle, making it very accessible.

Another easily accessible destination for wildlife viewing is Pilanesberg National Park near Johannesburg. The park is set within the crater of an ancient volcano and is home to a wide variety of animals, including Cape buffaloes, giraffes, sable antelope, wild dogs, and more.

For a unique self-drive safari, make your way to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which lies in the Kalahari Desert region of South Africa and Botswana. From your 4WD, spot black-maned Kalahari lions and other interesting animals wandering through the park’s red landscape.

To discover the beauty of South Africa, book your self-drive safari here.

Swaziland (Eswatini)

Natural landscape in Hlane Royal National Park, Eswatini (Swaziland)

Eswatini (formerly named Swaziland) is a popular destination among safari enthusiasts. Its borders house some of Africa’s most incredible landscapes and an abundance of wildlife.

For your self-drive safari, begin at Hlane Royal National Park. This is a popular route providing ample opportunities to witness the true beauty of nature. See African elephants taking a bath, big cats stalking their prey, and so much more.

From here, consider visiting Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. As one of Swaziland’s oldest reserves, it is a favorite with many safari-goers. Several visitors spend the night at Mlilwane Rest Camp.

Alternatively, make your way to Malolotja Nature Reserve and see Malolotja Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Swaziland.

For a memorable experience, book your self-drive Swaziland (Eswatini) safari here.


Herd of wildebeest crossing the Grumeti region of the Serengeti, Tanzania

Self-drive safaris are a great way to experience Tanzania, one of Africa’s top safari destinations.

Located within its borders is the iconic Serengeti National Park. Each year, around 200 000 people visit the region, with many hoping to catch the Great Migration.

This is an annual natural phenomenon that sees more than 2 million animals migrating in a clockwise direction across the endless Serengeti plains.

To journey through the Serengeti, take the Northern Circuit route. You’ll also get to cross other popular destinations, including Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Alternatively, you can travel along the Southern Circuit route, where you’ll have the opportunity to see some of the country’s hidden gems, like Mikumi National Park.

You can also tour Selous Game Reserve, which spans an impressive 50 000 square kilometers and boasts a broad range of flora and fauna.

For the ultimate Tanzania trip, book your self-drive safari here.


Woman observing animals from the top of a 4x4, Lower Zambezi

Zambia hosts many incredible self-drive safari routes, which provide visitors with a fresh look into the country’s magnificent natural wonders and diverse wildlife.

To begin your itinerary, make your way to the South Luangwa National Park. This destination is a popular wildlife sanctuary, providing protection to around 378 animal species.

This includes big cats like the lion and leopard, as well as even bigger mammals like the elephant and hippopotamus. There are more than 400 bird species, so remember to look up as you may spot one soaring in the sky.

The national park is also a favorite because of its well-maintained roads, campsites, and lodges.

Another park offering a similar experience is the Lower Zambezi National Park. However, the difference lies in the setting, as this destination takes you along the banks of the beautiful Zambezi River.

If you have time, do not miss out on Kafue National Park. This area is home to a wide variety of ungulate species, including sitatunga, lechwe, blue and yellow-backed duikers, and plenty more.

To experience Zambia’s wildlife, book your self-drive safari here.


The Runde River flowing past the majestic Chilojo Cliffs, Gonarezhou

For an authentic African experience, embark on a self-drive safari through Zimbabwe. Along the various routes, you’ll discover gorgeous landscapes, wild animals, and Zimbabwe’s rich history and culture.

Begin your journey at Hwange National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Here you’ll find more than 100 species of mammals, including rare finds like the serval, pangolin, and aardvark.

Another popular destination is Mana Pools National Park, which guarantees breathtaking views of the Zambezi River. You’ll see many animals, including elephants and buffaloes, situated along the river bank.

For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, visit Gonarezhou National Park. Considered a hidden gem, this park boasts a range of unique sightings. Apart from the diverse wildlife is the park’s stunning red sandstone cliffs and uniquely-shaped baobab trees.

Each of the routes above features well-maintained roads and a range of campsites, lodges, and other accommodations. This allows for a convenient and safe self-drive safari experience.

To see the beauty of Zimbabwe, book your self-drive safari here.

Tips for Driving in Africa

While self-drive safaris provide an authentic African experience, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure a safe and relaxing visit.

  • Plan ahead: Many countries feature a variety of different self-drive safari routes. To ensure you have a seamless experience, research and plan your route ahead of time.
  • Bring a map: While you’ll be able to rely on your GPS a lot of the time, it helps to have a paper map as a backup. The last thing you want is to get lost in unfamiliar territory.
  • Manage your time: When enjoying a self-drive safari, it’s easy to lose track of time. Despite the fun, it is important to ensure you’re not on the roads too late. Come sunset, ensure you’re near your campsite or accommodation.
  • Pack your essentials: Make sure that you have packed in all your safari travel essentials, including water, food, clothing, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit.
  • Rent a reliable vehicle: While some roads in Africa are safe for a 2WD, it is generally safer to go with a 4WD. These vehicles can withstand unfamiliar roads and the extremities of mother nature.
  • Keep a distance: Remember that you are in the wild, not in a zoo. As such, it is important to keep a safe distance between yourself and the animals. It is also best to remain in your vehicle.
  • Have emergency contacts: Ensure you have the contacts of park authorities, local law enforcement, and medical facilities in case of an emergency. It also helps to let others know about your travel routes before embarking on your journey.
  • Take out travel insurance: It’s best to take out insurance to cover yourself in case of a medical emergency, accident, or vehicle breakdown.
  • Follow the rules: Different countries, national parks, and game reserves have distinct rules and regulations, particularly around driving. It is important to familiarize yourself with these before your visit.
  • Engage with others: You’ll likely see many other safari-goers during your visit. Talk to them and share your experiences. They may even point out sightings that you might have missed.

Self-Drive Safari in Africa | FAQs

Black-backed jackal hunting doves in the Kgalagadi

To ensure you’re all clued up on self-drive safaris, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

What countries are best for self-drive safaris?

All of the African countries listed above are great for self-drive safaris. However, for first-timers, the best countries for self-drive safaris are Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, and Tanzania.

What is the safest country to go on a self-drive safari?

Botswana is the safest place to visit in Africa for a self-drive safari. It features well-maintained roads and attracts many tourists, particularly within major game parks like Chobe, Moremi Game Reserve, and the Okavango Delta.

What months are best for self-drive safaris in Africa?

The best time to go will depend on the country you visit. However, for the most part, June to October is best as this is the dry season.

During this time, the weather is pleasant, and many animals are out searching for water sources, allowing for easy game viewing.

Ready for Your Self-Drive Safari in Africa?

Self-drive safaris offer a unique and exciting experience. It provides you with the freedom to explore Africa’s endless beauty without a fixed program or large groups of tourists. You can customize your itinerary to your liking, making sure you see all your favorite animals and more.

From famous savannas like the Serengeti to vast wetlands like the great Okavango Delta, there are so many thrilling adventures to enjoy. However, with this guide, you’re sure to find what self-drive safari is best for you.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, hop in your 4WD vehicle, and get ready for the journey of a lifetime!

Interested in a guided safari instead? Check out these incredible African safari deals.

About The Author

2 thoughts on “Self-drive safaris – Discover the 10 best safari drives in Africa”

  1. Great article about the self-drive in Africa. I enjoyed it very much, so on the dot. I especially enjoy my freedom on my self-drive safaris in Africa. It is a bliss to drive in peace in so many African countries to explore the landscapes and wildlife. As you said, the beauty of Africa.
    Cheers Anette

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