Riding and camping
with Elephants
(Bikepacking Botswana)

Arriving in Botswana

I arrived into Botswana up north from the Namibian town of Divindu.

The last 14km to the border is national park and the park officials wouldn’t allow me to cross by bicycle as she said there were two many lions and elephants and it would be too dangerous.

I would have to wait for someone to give me and my bicycle a lift to the border…so I waited…and waited for more than 2 hours.

Around 11am, when it started getting hot, I decided to just go for it and ride through when the lady at the border post was distracted. I quickly rode the 14km without stopping as I was nervous riding through the park…but little did I know that much of Botswana would be riding through places like this.

I made it to the border post, stamped at immigration and continued into Botswana. Straight away I knew I was going to like the country. There were farm animals lining the streets roaming free and the locals were all waving and saying hello.

It was really nice and I immediately felt relaxed.

I continued for the rest of the day until it was dark. I was looking for a place to wild camp but there were quite a few villages and I couldn’t find a perfect spot. In the end, I found somewhere and pulled off the road. There was elephant poo and tracks everywhere.

I was in prime elephant territory.

Everyone I spoke to repeated how dangerous elephants were so I was obviously nervous.

But everywhere I looked there were signs of elephants either from their poo, tracks or the trees they’d broken down.

Finally, I found a spot between 2 elephant tracks 10m on either side, set up my tent and hid inside.

I heard elephants the whole night, some right next to my tent. It was quite a thrill! I realised after that night that I would be fine wild camping in Botswana. The elephants left me alone and they were right next to me.

The next 5 days continued like this. Long days along the highway and then going off into the bushes before dark, setting up the tent between elephant tracks and hearing them walk passed and eating right by my tent.

It became quite relaxing. So much in fact that the one night I didn’t hear any elephants at night, I felt like something was missing.

I continued towards the town of Maun which is the town where there are a lot of tours leaving to see the Okavenga Delta. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough money to do any safaris but I still enjoyed my time there for a day.

I then headed for the Makgadigadi salt pans. I wanted to ride across them. I had such a great time riding across the salt pans of Bolivia back on my first bike trip in 2017, that I knew I had to make the detour to go and ride across them here in Botswana.

And they didn’t disappoint. I spent a night camped on the salt flats in the middle of nowhere with the brightest stars and quietest night I could remember for a while.

The next day I continued riding along the salt pans until the head wind became too unbearable and I searched for a sandy road that I could take back towards the highway.

The sandy road was really sandy and I was going even slower than I was on the salt pans. I didn’t make it to the end of the road but instead spent another night, next to the sand road hidden in the bushes. I luckily found a farm that was able to give me some yellowish water, but was enough to get me through another night and the next morning before making it to a town.

The elephant highway

I made it to Nata and the start of the Elephant highway.

I spent a night at Elephant sands Lodge where they have a waterhole. I was told that it was too dangerous to wild camp along the elephant highway as the elephants are too dangerous. But I knew that I would be fine…I’d already camped with them in the bushes for more than 5 nights.

So the next few days I spent riding along the highway, seeing groups of elephants several times per day. It was really special. I love elephants, I think they’re my new favourite animal.

They are so cute but also quite intelligent. And unless you’re bothering them, they aren’t aggressive (at least that was my encounters with over 20 different groups of them in the wild)

Once I reached Palermo, I decided that I would take a dirt road towards Hunters road, a sandy road that winds along the Zimbabwe border all the way to Lesoma. There were signs of elephants everywhere. Already in the first 1km of the road, I rode up to 3 solo elephants all minding their own business.

I was getting as close as 10m away from them as I passed by them on my bicycle. That was actually the most nervous that I got near them, because from there, they could easily attack, without having enough distance to run away. But once again, they were very relaxed and just watched me out of the side of their eye as I walked passed.

Hunters road went through a forest reserve and I was originally going to camp in the reserve but there were so many hyena and lion tracks that I decided to turn back and camp 500m up the sandy road that led to Hunters road. My gut was telling me to turn around…there weren’t as many tracks back up the road so I felt better about it.

I thought I might just go back to the highway as hunters road had been abandoned and no cars had driven along there for a very long time which made the path extremely sandy and difficult to ride along.

But after waking up the next morning, I decided that my last day riding in Botswana needed to be an adventure. I couldn’t just ride along the highway, I had to finish this the right way. Botswana had already given me so much and it was about to give me even more.

I lower the tyre pressure on my tyres to as low as possible and started riding along the road. Already my bike tracks from yesterday were covered in tracks from elephants and a big cat/dog (lion/hyena).

After a while I decided to hop the border and ride along the road on the Zimbabwe side. It was less sandy and more rideable. It was only 15m through the bushes to make it to the other side and there was no fence.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon riding along that side. It was magical, I saw giraffes and at one stage I gave myself a bit of a freight when I ran over a snake. I went to check on it and it had slithered away into the bushes so hopefully it was okay.

I then started seeing more lion tracks and eventually saw a lion in the distance. It was moving pretty slow so I didn’t feel threatened.

I made it to Lesoma after 50km along the sandy road and decided that once again I didn’t want to take the highway to Kasane, I wanted to take a dirt road.

On my map I found a road that crossed more directly towards Kasane that looked like it would be fun…and it was!

It was a 15km sandy road that also looked like it hadn’t been used in years. It was so nice riding through the forest. At one point a family of elephants were along the road and I watched as they all crossed in front of me.

I continued along and saw a herd of Kudu.

I eventually made it to a tar road and was only 10km away from Kasane. However after only 2km, I came towards a roadblock. I was stopped as I was trying to pass.

Turns out it was the entry for the Chobe National Park and I was leaving. When I left the highway in Lesoma and took that small road, apparently that was the start of the National park.

Anyway I was escorted to the National Park office and yelled at by the lady there saying it was illegal and dangerous to be cycling through the park because of elephants and lions etc.

I told her I didn’t know it was a national park and there were no signs or gates that I passed…I then showed her on the map the road that I took.

She continued saying it doesn’t matter there were no signs or gate, under the Botswana national park act, it’s illegal.

In the end she let me go without paying anything. She realised that I had unintentionally entered the park.

I then continued and made my way to Kasane where I did a 3 hour sunset cruise seeing elephants, hippos etc. It was really nice.

What a great last day Bikepacking in Botswana. This country treated me so well and I already want to return there.

There aren’t many places you see elephants everyday, ride along with lions and sleep with them all at night.

Crazy!

And just like that my Bikepacking journey in Botswana had come to a close.

The next day I made my way to Kazungula where I crossed the border into Zambia. Looking forward to what it has to offer!

MSR Hubba Hubba with Elephants
Elephants Playing Hunters Road
Elephant Drinking Hunters Road
Elephant Drinking Hunters Road
Footprint Hunters Road
Priority 600x Zimbabwe side of Border
Kasane Sunset
Hornbills Kasane Botswana
giraffes elephant highway

Route through botswana

Route through africa (SO FAR)

Matthias watching the sunset
Africa
Lewi

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