It is said that travel broadens the mind and enriches the soul, and that being the case, there is no better way to accomplish both of these very worthwhile pursuits than by exploring the back roads of the African continent. However, exploring Africa, but more importantly, enjoying the experience requires careful planning, lots of preparation, and even more perseverance, not to mention starting things off right.
Therefore, to help foreign tourists make the right decisions right from the get-go, this guide, which is recommended reading for all prospective European off road tourists, the topics covered here will bring together in one place all relevant and germane information about where and how to hire a fully equipped 4×4 vehicle, what to look for in such a rental vehicle, how to use such a vehicle safely, what to do, and what NOT to do in an emergency, and much else besides.
In short, this guide will explain everything the foreign tourist needs to know about off-road tourism not only in South Africa, but also in the whole Southern African region, so let us start with the available choices when it comes to renting a 4×4 vehicle, starting with-
While it may be tempting to rent a vehicle from a private individual to save on costs, we do NOT recommend this option. Africa is notoriously unforgiving of a general lack of preparation, which means that you have to have as many things going for you as you can get when you venture onto the back roads.
Hiring a 4×4 privately means you have no back up should something go wrong. For instance, should your cheaply hired vehicle break down two hundred miles from anywhere; there is virtually nothing you can do to get back to civilization. The person who rented you the vehicle is almost certainly not going to drive several hundred miles to come fetch you, and he will definitely not give you a replacement vehicle. Simply put, hiring a vehicle privately means you forego the logistical and technical support that represents the difference between an enjoyable once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and being stuck in a strange country with no hope of rescue, unless of course, your Embassy rescues you, which could take virtually forever.
Thus, the advantage of renting a vehicle for an African safari from a reputable rental company (as opposed to bringing your own, or renting privately), is having the peace of mind that all legally required documentation is taken care of, that the vehicle will not let you down, that you will have proper support should something go wrong, and most important of all, that the company you rent the 4×4 from has a proven track record in dealing with, and overcoming the many unique challenges that travel in Africa brings.
Equally important is the fact that all reputable companies specializing in 4×4-vehicle hire in Southern Africa make a particular point of ensuring that their vehicles are up to the rigours of an African safari. No reputable company will offer you a vehicle that does not have reputation for being tough and durable- if ever a rental company offers you a Chinese-made 4×4 politely decline the offer, and look elsewhere.
There are of course also other issues to consider, such as that you may find that the “comprehensive insurance package” you thought you’d bought when you picked up the vehicle is worse than useless, or that you are missing a vitally important piece of recovery equipment, or worse, that the vehicle you hired belongs to a financial institution, and that you don’t have the required permission to take it across international borders.
The few points listed above are the tip of the proverbial iceberg that will almost certainly sink your once-in-a-lifetime African experience if you disregard them, but there are many more, equally horrible things that can happen when you rent a 4×4 vehicle privately, but let us not dwell on the negative any longer. Instead, let us focus on the positive, proactive measures you can, and should take when you are planning an African safari.
Bear in mind that the companies listed below are professional outfits that have your best interests at heart, regardless of whether you are planning a three-day weekend jaunt or an extended, several-week-long safari across several countries using your rented 4×4 vehicle as your home away from home. However, before you leave home, you need to know what the difference is between a camper vehicle, and a proper 4×4 vehicle.
Simply put, campers are vehicles that are adapted to carry the equivalent of a caravan, instead of a steel canopy and a rooftop tent. There are several advantages to this type of vehicle, such as the fact that everything you need to live is contained within the vehicle.
Most models are slightly bigger than a conventional 4×4 vehicle, and usually contains a full-sized fridge, a complete kitchen, a bathroom/shower cubicle, an enclosed toilet, fold-down bunks, sometimes even a full-sized double bed. However, an African camper vehicle should not be confused with an American RV or motor home. RV’s are usually a lot bigger than their African counter parts, and they are set up differently with regard to ride comfort and amenities. It would be fair to say that an American RV won’t last a day in the Africa bush, being made, as they are, to travel on smooth highways.
This is not to say that African camper vehicles are cramped and uncomfortable. Far from it: most models are extremely comfortable, but their suspensions are set up to cope with rough terrain, meaning that the ride might be choppy at times. Despite this though, a properly set-up camper vehicle is a viable, and popular alternative to a proper 4×4 vehicle, especially since you don’t have to set up camp every time the sun goes down. However, due to their design and construction, camper vehicles are NOT suitable for really tough off-road conditions, but the really tough bits are easily avoided with some advance route planning.
If you elect to hire a camper, everything you need is ready at hand within the vehicle, so all you need to do is find a suitable place to stop for the night. Moreover, almost all 4×4 vehicle rental companies in Southern Africa also rent out camper vehicles, as well as camping trailers, but more about those later. We need to start at the beginning, which is knowing…:
South Africa needs no introduction as a holiday destination, and particularly as an off-road tourism destination. The country has a vast network of back roads that all lead to a large number of privately owned game reserves, National Parks, and wilderness areas that all have one thing in common- vast open spaces, peace and tranquillity, large numbers of game, and perhaps most importantly, well-developed infrastructures that are the envy of the world.
However, while a 4×4 vehicle is not strictly required to move about within most South African Parks and/or wilderness areas, there are notable exceptions to this rule. In fact, some National Parks in the Northern Cape Province* will refuse you entry unless you arrive with a proper 4×4 vehicle, as will operators of some eco-routes in this, and other provinces.
Nonetheless, it must be stated that even though overall, South Africa has the best-developed infrastructure in the Southern African region, the country is not true safari country. Unless one spends a few weeks in the eastern reaches of South Africa, say, in Namaqualand and the far Northern Cape Province, South Africa is too well developed to spend days elsewhere in the country without coming across another living soul. However, what South Africa does offer, is a rich cultural and biodiversity that can often only be experienced by taking the roads less travelled, i.e., the back roads, of which there are hundreds to choose from.
Moreover, in South Africa, “backroads” equate to gravel roads that run the length and breadth of the country, and in fact, it is possible to drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town without ever driving on a paved road, except for the first hundred or so km’s from JHB, and the last 50 or so km’s leading into Cape Town.
This particular exercise in off-road tourism should be on the itinerary of any off-road tourist visiting South Africa, since on the one hand, it can only be done with a proper 4×4 vehicle, and because it takes in areas of South Africa that cannot be seen along any other route, on the other. There are many other examples of why off-road tourism in South Africa is such a rewarding experience, but we will conclude with this one; it is also possible to spend months on the South African back roads without even having to sleep under a solid roof if you are travelling with a properly equipped, rented off-road vehicle.
You can sleep under canvas in a different campsite every night, and the best part of that is that many campsites can only be reached with a proper4x4 vehicle. So, even though the country is not seen as traditional “safari” country, what’s not to like about off-road tourism in South Africa?
PLEASE NOTE: While every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that all information in this guide is relevant and accurate at the time of writing, (December 2016), it should be remembered that not all professional 4×4 vehicle hire companies offer all possible benefits and/or products all of the time. For instance, some hire companies offer seasonal discounts while others do not. Similarly, some companies may offer unlimited mileage options while others restrict vehicle usage to reasonable limits, while still others do not allow their vehicles to cross international borders.
Specific features and benefits relating to any rental option offered by any company listed here may change without notice, so any specific enquiries relating to rental fees, as well as the availability of vehicles and/or rental options MUST be made at the time of booking. With all of the above said, let us start by listing the premier 4×4 vehicle rental company in South Africa, which is-
Southern Off-Road 4×4 Hire
NOTE: Southern Off-Road 4×4 Hire is a member of SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), and therefore your rental deposits for future bookings are secured through third-party indemnity insurance.
- Website: https://www.4x4hire.co.za/
- Physical Address: Four Seasons Farm, Main Road, Hout Bay, South Africa
- Telephone: 0027 21 791 3904
- Mobile: 0027 72 2494 200
- Email: email@example.com
- Office hours:
- Monday to Friday: 8:00am – 17:00pm
- Saturday: 8:00am – 13:00pm
Overview of Southern Off-Road 4×4 Hire:
Southern Off-Road 4×4 Hire offers both fully equipped vehicles that are suitable for extended safaris, as well as basic, unequipped off-road vehicles that are suitable for quick jaunts or slightly longer trips. All equipped vehicles come with refrigerators/freezers, water tanks, as well as all kitchen equipment that includes crockery, cutlery, cookware, and fold-up tents. Other equipment includes recovery gear and spare wheels, and all standard equipment, which includes basic camping gear, is included in the daily rental fee.
Specific services offered by Southern Off-Road 4×4 Hire:
- An extensive range of tough, durable, and meticulously maintained off-road vehicles is available during most times of the year. Enquire here about special offers and discounted rates that may apply from time to time.
- All rentals include a comprehensive, 2.5-hour process of familiarisation with the vehicle and its equipment as well as a basic introduction to off-road driving and 4×4 recovery techniques.
- All rentals include a satellite phone and a GPS device that is loaded with the latest roadmaps of the entire Southern African region.
- Rentals could be either self-drive, or chauffeur-driven.
- Rental options include pickup/drop-off options in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.
- All documentation required to driving the vehicle across international borders between South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe is completed and provided by Southern Off-Road 4×4 Hire.
- All rentals are backed up by a 24/7 guaranteed vehicle recovery and/or replacement service should the vehicle break down and it cannot be repaired locally. This service is available from several branch offices across Southern Africa, which means that assistance is hours, rather than days away.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available.
- Mileage covered over the duration of the rental period is essentially unlimited, but be aware that exceptions may apply in some cases. Enquire about this at the time of booking.
- Major credit cards are accepted.
- Booking and enquiry forms are available online.
Drive South Africa
NOTE: The Discover Africa Group is a member of SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), and therefore your rental deposits for future bookings are secured through third-party indemnity insurance.
- Website: https://www.drivesouthafrica.co.za/
- Physical address: 1st Floor, 38 Hout Street, Cape Town, South Africa
- Telephone: 021 423 6957
- SA Share-call: 0860 000 060
- United Kingdom: 0871 28 44 990
- International Tel: +27 21 423 6957
- International Fax: + 27 21 423 8657
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- After-Hours Number: 081 585 1227
Overview of Drive South Africa:
Although Drive South Africa has extensive experience of travel in Africa and has been in the 4×4 vehicle rental business since 2002/2003, the vehicles offered for rent are not their own. Vehicles are supplied by third party affiliates and partners, but it must be stated that Drive South Africa has a well-deserved reputation for delivering quality services at reasonable prices, even though most other hire companies either do not charge extra for items like different pick-up/drop-off options, or for the preparation of documentation required to drive vehicles across international borders.
Due to the fact that Drive South Africa depend on third party affiliates to supply vehicles for rent, prospective clients are strongly urged to confirm the availability of suitable vehicles, and to enquire about all additional charges that may apply to any given rental option. Also, be aware that some rental options require a minimum number of participants for the option to be available, and that some guided tour options require participants to undertake some camp chores.
Specific services offered by Drive South Africa:
- Guided tours with trained and experienced guides. Guides usually lead with a dedicated guide vehicle, while participants follow in their rented vehicle(s). In some cases, the guide may be required to travel in the rented vehicle.
- Guided tours that include catering also allow for dietary preferences to be catered for. This must be arranged at the time of booking.
- Self-drive, self-catering rental options are available, but note that drivers MUST be in possession of a valid, unendorsed driver’s license and be older than 24 years. Driver’s licences must be issued in English- if not; the driver will need an international driver’s license.
- While it is possible to drive rental vehicles across international borders, advance arrangements to do this MUST be made in advance, since Drive South Africa must pre-arrange a vehicle from a supplier whose vehicles are allowed to cross borders.
- Rental vehicles with automatic transmissions area available.
- All standard equipment is included in the rental fee, 25% of which must be paid at the time of booking, with the balance payable a minimum of 30 days before the actual rental commences. Prospective clients can ask for a list of included equipment, and in most cases, reasonable requests to change or add some items will be accommodated- at a suitable fee.
- While deposits are refundable, it should be noted that no standard procedure applies. All refunds, if any, are made in accordance with the refund policy of the affiliate who will supply the rental vehicle.
- Contact forms, vehicle search, and a cost calculator are available here.
Bushtrackers Self-Drive 4×4 Vehicle Hire
NOTE: Bushtrackers Self-Drive 4×4 Vehicle Hire is a member of SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), and therefore your rental deposits for future bookings are secured through third-party indemnity insurance.
- Website: http://www.bushtrackers.co.za/
- Physical Address (1): 89 Sterling Road, Kosmosdal, Samrand, Gauteng, South Africa
- Physical Address (2): Cnr. Govan Mbeki Rd & Strandfontein Rd (M9 and M17) Philippi, Cape Town, Western Cape Province, South Africa
- Contact Information Johannesburg Office:
+27 (0) 83 641 7672
+27 (0) 83 462 1835
- Contact Information Cape Town Office:
+27 (0) 83 641 7672
+27 (0) 83 462 1835
Overview of Bushtrackers Self-Drive 4×4 Vehicle Hire:
Bushtrackers 4×4 Vehicle Hire offers tough, durable, and fit-for-the-purpose Toyota vehicles for self-drive safaris within South Africa, as well as to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana. All vehicles are meticulously prepared and maintained, and all standard equipment is included, but be aware that additional items such as GPS devices and satellite phones (among several others), may be subject to a surcharge on the daily rental fee. Nonetheless, as with the other 4×4 hire companies listed here, Bushwhackers has a well-deserved reputation for providing excellent service at reasonable rates.
Specific services offered by Bushtrackers Self-Drive 4×4 Vehicle Hire:
- All vehicles are equipped with kitchen equipment, essential camping gear, as well as all legally required safety equipment.
- Mileage covered during the rental period is essentially unlimited, and there is no charge for adding additional drivers to the rental contract, although additional drivers have to be properly nominated at the time of booking.
- All documentation required for cross-border travel is supplied by Bushtrackers.
- Comprehensive insurance is available, but be aware that certain exclusions may apply under certain conditions. View the relevant terms and conditions here.
- Bushtrackers offers assistance with arranging and planning tour itineraries and routes. Also on offer are several pre-planned routes, the details of which are available here.
- 4×4 recovery/repair/replacement services are available within the countries served by Bushtrackers, but note that in some cases, such as where the client is responsible for damage to a vehicle, the recovery and/or repair costs will be for the client’s account. Prospective clients are strongly urged to discuss this issue with Bushtrackers before making a booking or reservation.
- Shuttle services to and from airports are available, but note that this service is subject to a hefty additional charge.
- There is no additional charge for picking up a rental vehicle over weekends.
- Contact forms, vehicle search, and requests for price quotations are available here.
Bushlore Africa Self-drive Safaris
NOTE: Bushlore Africa is a member of SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), and therefore your rental deposits for future bookings are secured through third-party indemnity insurance.
- Website: http://bushlore.com/
- Physical Address: 31 Gallagher Ave, Midrand Gauteng, South Africa
- Postal Address: P.O. Box 552, Ferndale, 2160
- Telephone: +27 11 312 8084/8017
- Mobile Phone: 083 626-9409 / 083 644 5228
- Fax: +27 11 312 5606
- Email: email@example.com
Overview of Bushlore Africa:
Bushlore Africa offers fully equipped vehicles for self-drive safaris to destinations throughout Southern Africa, but with the added bonus that vehicles can be collected and dropped off at several locations, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Kasane in Botswana, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe/Zambia, and Windhoek in Namibia. Only Toyota and Land Rover vehicles are offered due to their reputation for durability, their off-road capabilities, and the high level of technical support that is available for these vehicles in Southern Africa.
Bushlore Africa almost always has fully equipped vehicles for sale at substantially reduced prices. Vehicles are removed from the fleet after 2.5 years of service, which offers an excellent opportunity to acquire a 4×4 for longer excursions over several months, especially since all sales come with a guaranteed buy-back option. However, bear in mind that should you purchase a vehicle from Bushlore Africa you forego the technical and logistical support that comes with all rentals.
Specific services offered by Bushlore Africa:
- Fully equipped camper vehicles for self-drive safaris.
- Rental fees include unlimited mileage, and full technical backup services throughout Southern Africa.
- Comprehensive introduction to the 4×4 and all its equipment and features. Basic off-road driving training can be provided where this is required.
- AA fleet-care plus 24 hour roadside assistance and medical assistance
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available.
- Guided tours and safaris are available.
- Assistance with route planning, as well as assistance with bookings for accommodation in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia
- All required documentation for cross-border travel between South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Angola is provided.
- Bushlore Africa will do your shopping for you prior to arrival: however, this is for your account and it must be arranged at the time of booking.
- Airport transfer services are available, albeit at an additional charge in some cases.
- Contact/enquiry form is available here.
- Full details on daily rental rates for 2017, insurance options, and other applicable charges/services are available here
Self Drive Africa
NOTE: Self Drive Africa is a member of SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), and therefore your rental deposits for future bookings are secured through third-party indemnity insurance.
- Website: http://selfdriveafricarentals.com/
- Physical Address: 121 Dundalk Avenue, Parkview 2193, Gauteng, South Africa
- Telephone: +27 82 346 4908
- Mobile Phone: +27 82 346 4908
- Fax: +27 11 646 1015
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com
- Office Hours: 07:30 to 16:00 Mon-Fri / 08:00 to 12:00 Sat
Overview of Self Drive Africa:
Self Drive Africa offers fully equipped Toyota 4×4 vehicles for self-drive safaris. All vehicles offered for rental are covered by the manufacturers’ warranty, and as such, all vehicles are maintained in strict accordance with the manufacturers’ prescribed maintenance schedule. All routine servicing and maintenance is performed by Toyota dealers, which means that your Self Drive Africa rental 4×4 will be up to the rigours of an African safari.
Take note: Self Drive Africa hire vehicles can only be used for travel in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. Special authorisations and clearances must be obtained for travel to all other Southern African countries, which clearances and authorisations may, or may not be forthcoming and/or available.
Specific services offered by Self Drive Africa:
- Rental of fully equipped Toyota 4×4 vehicles for self-drive safaris to specified countries in Southern Africa.
- Documentation for cross-border travel will be provided at a nominal fee.
- Airport transfers at no charge are available.
- Mileage covered during the rental period is essentially unlimited.
- Assistance with route planning and accommodation bookings.
- Pre-planned tour options are available, as are guided tours.
- GPS devices and satellite phones are available for hire at additional charges.
- Contact and quotation request forms are available here.
- Full equipment lists are available here.
- Terms and Conditions, as well as a sample rental agreement are available here. Note that this is required reading.
Ivory 4×4 Hire
NOTE: Ivory 4×4 Hire does NOT appear to be registered with SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), which means that the security of deposits for future rentals may not be guaranteed. Prospective clients are advised to discuss this very important issue with Ivory 4×4 Hire before making any booking or reservation.
- Website: http://www.ivory4x4hire.co.za/
- Physical Address: 53 Sesde St, Fochville, South Africa
- Telephone: +27 82 450 5769
- Email: info@ivory4×4hire.co.za
- Office Hours:
08h00 AM – 17h00 PM Monday to Friday
Closed Sundays unless by prior arrangement
Overview of Ivory 4×4 Hire:
Ivory 4×4 Hire offers only double-cab Toyota vehicles for self-drive safaris in nine countries in Southern Africa, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. All vehicles are fully equipped, and meticulously maintained to ensure the successful completion of your African adventure. Ivory 4×4 Hire also offers convenient pick-up/drop-off facilities in all the countries in which the company has a presence.
Specific services offered by Ivory 4×4 Hire:
- Fully equipped Toyota double cab 4×4 vehicles.
- Ivory4×4 Hire now accepts PayPal, which is a novel method of payment among 4×4 rental companies.
- All documentation required for cross border travel is provided.
- No additional charges apply to one properly nominated additional driver.
- All rentals include one night’s free complimentary accommodation at a guesthouse for two persons.
- Airport transfers are included in the rental fee.
- All standard kitchen and camping equipment is included in the rental fee. Note that the comprehensive equipment list, which is available here, includes several items that other 4×4 hire companies do not supply free of charge.
- GPS devices and satellite phones are available at an additional charge
DIESEL CAR HIRE
NOTE: DIESEL CAR HIRE does NOT appear to be registered with SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), which means that the security of deposits for future rentals may not be guaranteed. Prospective clients are advised to discuss this very important issue with DIESEL CAR HIRE before making any booking or reservation.
- Website: http://www.dieselcarhire.co.za/
- Physical Address: Unit A5 Sanlam Industrial Park, Masjien Street, Strydom Park, Randburg, South Africa
- Telephone: 073 790 8965 / 073 790 8965
- Mobile Phone: + 27 73 790 8965
- Fax: + 27 11 792 3947
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Overview of DIESEL CAR HIRE:
DIESEL CAR HIRE offers a comprehensive range of fully equipped, meticulously maintained 4×4 vehicles from their own fleet, but also vehicles sourced from other suppliers, which means that DIESEL CAR HIRE is almost always able to meet specific demands to satisfy any budget, preference, or need.
Specific services offered by DIESEL CAR HIRE:
- Comprehensive range of Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Land Rover vehicles for self-drive safaris in all the countries of Southern Africa. Vehicles are available in different configurations with regard to equipment. All standard equipment is included in the rental fee, but additional items can be hired at additional charges.
- Airport transfers are available.
- DIESEL CAR HIRE will do your shopping for you prior to your arrival, but note that this will be for your account, and it must be arranged at the time of booking.
- Comprehensive introduction to the 4×4 and its equipment, which includes all legally required safety equipment and recovery gear.
- 24-hour roadside assistance and technical backup is available.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available.
- All rentals include a travel pack that contains road maps, selected books, and all required documentation for cross-border travel, but note that an additional charge for cross-border documentation may be levied in some cases.
- Luggage and vehicle storage facilities are available should you require this.
- Assistance and guidance with route planning and accommodation bookings is available.
- Contact forms and requests for price quotes are available here.
- Full terms and Conditions are available here.
Berg 4×4 Rentals
NOTE: Berg 4×4 Rentals does NOT appear to be registered with SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), which means that the security of deposits for future rentals may not be guaranteed. Prospective clients are advised to discuss this very important issue with Berg 4×4 Rentals before making any booking or reservation.
- Website: http://www.berg4x4rentals.co.za/
- Physical Address: 352 Voortrekker Road, Goodwood, Western Province, South Africa
- Telephone: + 27 82 928 8822 / + 27 21 5916678
- Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Skype: 4x4Hire
- Twitter: @Berg4x4Rentals
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/berg4x4rentals
Overview of Berg 4×4 Rentals:
Berg 4×4 Rentals only offers their own low-mileage, fully equipped 4×4 vehicles for self-drive safaris within South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Being a family owned business Berg 4×4 Rentals can customize available rental options/packages within certain limits, but the wide range of available destinations and rental options should satisfy every need, budget, and preference.
Take note that Berg 4×4 Rentals offers two rental options- the first being the LOW RISK option that carries higher daily rental rates but lower deposits, and the other being the HIGH RISK option that carries lower daily rates, but substantially higher deposits.
Specific services offered by Berg 4×4 Rentals:
- Fully equipped 4×4 vehicles from their own fleet.
- Vehicle deliveries and pick-ups can be made to, and from any airport within South Africa and Namibia, depending on the chosen rental option.
- Comprehensive introduction to the vehicle and its equipment, as well as basic off-road driving training should this be required.
- Roadside assistance is available.
- Documentation required for cross-border travel is included in the rental fee.
- Guidance and assistance with route planning is available.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available.
- Full equipment lists are available here.
- Contact forms and requests for price quotes are available here.
- Full Terms and Conditions are available here. Note that this is required reading, given the huge amount of information contained in this document.
SAFARI 4×4 HIRE
NOTE: SAFARI 4×4 HIRE is a member of SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association), and therefore your rental deposits for future bookings are secured through third-party indemnity insurance.
- Website: http://www.safari4x4hire.com/
- Physical Address: Shop B2D Wonderboom Car Venience, C/O Lavender Road & Braam Pretorius Streets, Wonderboom, Gauteng, South Africa, 0182
- GPS: 25.6843174 / 28.1924849
- Postal Address: PO Box 38266, Faerie Glen x8, Pretoria East, Gauteng, South Africa, 0043
- Telephone: +27 072 388 1536
- Fax2Email: +27 086 743 1498
- Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Vehicle Depot (South Africa Vehicle Collections & Returns):
- Telephone: +27 (0) 76 878 439
- Business Hours: Mon – Fri: 08:00 – 16:00 / Sat: 09:00 – 12:00
- Physical Address (Namibia): No. 117 Mandume Ndemufayo, South Industrial Area, Windhoek, Namibia,
Contact Information (Namibia):
- Telephone: +264 81 234 6616
- Email: email@example.com
- Business Hours: Mon. – Fri: 08h00 – 16h00
- Saturdays: Closed
- Sunday/Public Holidays: Closed
Overview of SAFARI 4×4 HIRE:
SAFARI 4×4 HIRE offers fully equipped Land Rover vehicles for self-drive safaris to nine countries in Southern Africa; South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. SAFARI 4×4 HIRE also offers unequipped vehicles for quick jaunts, but what makes this company unique among off-road/4×4 vehicle rental companies is the fact that they also offer off-road-capable motorcycles for either short hops, or long-haul safaris.
Specific services offered by SAFARI 4×4 HIRE:
- Fully equipped, as well as unequipped 4×4 vehicles.
- Guided tours and safaris are available.
- Motor cycle rentals and guided motor cycle tours.
- Tours and safaris can be adapted to suit special needs and preferences.
- Airport and lodge transfers are available.
- Contact form, and requests for price quotes are available here.
While the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland are both well worth including in any self-drive safari, if only to drive the famous Sani Pass between South Africa and Lesotho, these little countries can by no stretch of the imagination be seen as safari country. As a result, neither Lesotho nor Swaziland have any self-drive safari operators, nor are the tourism industries in these countries set up to supply the special needs and requirements that come with self-drive safaris.
However, this is not to say that these mountain kingdoms must be avoided. On the contrary, both countries offer spectacular scenery and cultural experiences that makes the effort to see them more than worthwhile. The downside is however that for various reasons not many, if any of the self-drive operators mentioned in this guide allow their vehicles to enter either country.
This is no great hardship, since both countries are small enough to be covered in one or at most two days, so the solution is obvious- leave your safari rental vehicle in South Africa, and hire a vehicle from one of any number of car hire firms that do allow their vehicles to enter either, or both countries. As a rule, most car hire rules apply to vehicle rental in these countries, and apart from your passport and possibly a visa, you don’t need special permissions to tour either country.
Let’s take a break…
Astute readers will no doubt have noticed that the list of 4×4 vehicle hire companies up to this point only rent out specialised and fully equipped expedition-grade vehicles, although some also rent out unequipped vehicles, which fulfil an important role in the off-road driving universe. Although these vehicles are not suitable for extended periods of living off the land, so to speak, they are nevertheless suitable for off-road tours that do not require camping.
It is entirely possible to see all, or most of Southern Africa from the back roads without ever sleeping under the stars, since with a little advance planning it is possible to be always within reach (a days’ driving) of a lodge, or other non-camping accommodation. Almost all rental companies offer assistance with route planning and making arrangements for accommodation on the renter’s behalf, which goes a long way towards making an African safari an unforgettable experience.
However, it must be borne in mind that the lower rental fee of an unequipped vehicle can be absorbed by the increased costs of sleeping under a solid roof. In fact, in some cases, it could be significantly more expensive to rent an unequipped vehicle, as opposed to a fully equipped one, due to the higher accommodation costs that go with renting an unequipped vehicle. The increased costs of accommodation could have a significant impact on the overall costs of an African safari, so be sure to explore all possible rental options when you contact any of the rental companies on this list.
Astute readers will no doubt also have noticed that most, if not all South African-based 4×4 vehicle rental companies also maintain a presence in other countries, and most notably in Namibia and Botswana. This is mainly due to the high demand for reliable rental 4×4 vehicles, but it also involves various agreements on tourism (or the lack of agreements) between the countries of Southern Africa.
We need not go into the details of this issue here: suffice to say that some 4×4 vehicle hire companies in countries like Namibia and Botswana do not allow their vehicles to cross into South Africa for legal reasons, so if you are in the fortunate position of having seen all of South Africa before, you can rent a suitable 4×4 vehicle in another Southern African country without having to jump through the legal loops that are involved in crossing the borders between South Africa and her neighbours. Below then, are some details of the best…
From the off-road tourism perspective, Namibia has been described as many things; the land of Blue Mountains, the land of four seasons in a single day, the empty land, but perhaps most fittingly, as the Land the Creator made when He was in a particularly good mood.
Namibia offers something for everyone- from sub-tropical rain forests in the far north, the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, which stretches far into Angola, pristine wetlands in the Okavango Delta, immense stone deserts in the south, and brilliant fishing along the several-hundred-kilometre-long Atlantic Coast that is dotted with ghost towns, deserted fishing villages, and hundreds of shipwrecks.
While it is possible to see and experience most of what Namibia has to offer from the beaten track or with a guided tour, there is no real substitute for a self-drive safari through this vast, silent landscape. In this country, it is indeed possible to spend days on the road without ever seeing another living soul, and while it may sound like heaven on earth, the sheer, overwhelmingly big surface area of Namibia hold dangers that do not occur elsewhere in the Southern Africa. 4×4 vehicle rental companies in Namibia are well aware of this, since much of the country still has no, to little mobile phone coverage, which can make communication difficult in emergency situations
For this reason, 4×4 vehicle rental companies go beyond the proverbial extra mile to ensure that their vehicles are reliable, that proper support systems are in place to assist off-road tourists when something does go wrong, and to make doubly sure that all rentals are supported by proper route planning, but most importantly, that visitors who rent their vehicles know exactly which areas are safe to go into, and which areas are best avoided.
This is because despite the sheer “spectacular-ness” of this vast country that houses fewer than two million people, there are certain areas that must be avoided, simply because finding you in time, and rescuing you from that area may be close to impossible if something should go wrong. One such area is the Namib Desert, which is not merely a stretch of “badlands” as one might find in parts of the USA. This is a real, honest-to-goodness ocean of sand dunes that will almost certainly bury you without trace under its constantly shifting sand should you venture into it further than its fringes.
However, there are ways to enjoy this desert. One such way is to join a guided tour under the leadership of an experienced and knowledgeable guide. Nonetheless, even the most experienced guides never venture deep into the desert, and will only show you the outskirts of this magnificent landscape
One other such area is the strip, or “point of contact” between the Atlantic Ocean and the Namib Desert. There is no real separation between the sea and the desert except for a few short stretches where a road and/or railway line separates sea and desert. Thus, if you are caught between high tide and dunes that run down into the sea, there is no continuing, and no turning back. Many unwary explorers of the Namibian coast have found themselves trapped in this way, and dozens have not made it back to recount the tale.
Do not let it happen to you- in fact, there is no logical reason why it should happen to you, provided of course that you use a fair measure of common sense, and strictly follow the advice of the rental company when it comes to avoiding potentially sticky situations.
The rest of Namibia will amaze, and astound you. It will also invite you to come back next year, or as soon as you can, and to stay [much] longer the next time. So, if Namibia is on your list of Southern African countries to visit, consider renting a fully equipped, proper 4×4 vehicle from one of the rental companies below-
Safari Car Rental Namibia
NOTE: Safari Car Rental Namibia is registered with the Namibia Tourism Board, which means that you will always receive the highest level of professional service and support.
- Website: https://safaricarrentalnamibia.com/
- Physical Address: Kapps Farm, Trunk Road, Highway B6 East, Windhoek, Namibia
- Mobile Phone: +264 (0)81 126 46 08 / +264 (0)81 126 42 48
- Email: info@SafariCarRentalNamibia.com
Overview of Safari Car Rental Namibia:
Safari Car Rental offers only new fully equipped 2015/2016 model year Toyota 4×4 vehicles for self-drive safaris within Namibia only, which, given the sheer size and diversity of Namibia, makes not being able to cross into neighbouring countries no great hardship to bear. All vehicles are maintained by the Toyota dealer network, and all rentals are supported by a 24/7 roadside assistance/repair plan.
Specific services offered by Safari Car Rental Namibia:
- Fully equipped, late model Toyota 4×4 vehicles boasting the biggest rooftop tents in the industry.
- Comprehensive introduction to the vehicle and its equipment.
- All standard camping, kitchen, and recovery gear is included in the rental fee.
- All rentals are subject to a “Limitless Price Drop Security”, which means that you will always pay the price quoted at the time of booking, as well as that should the rental fee for the vehicle be reduced after the rental agreement had taken affect, you will be credited with the difference.
- Airport transfers are included in the rental fee.
- All rentals are supported by a 24/7 roadside assistance plan.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available, which packages can be adapted to cover damage to tyres, glass, and even the vehicles’ paintwork.
- GPS devices and air compressors are included in the rental fee.
- Visit Safari Rental website for more information on pricing, vehicle availability, and rental options.
African Tracks 4×4 Car Hire
NOTE: African Tracks 4×4 Car Hire is registered with the Namibia Tourism Board, which means that you will always receive the highest level of professional service and support.
- Website: http://www.africantracks.com/
- Physical Address: 10 Pettenkofer Street Windhoek West, Namibia
- GPS: Lat: 22.5581 / Long: 17.0797
- Telephone: +264 61 245 072
- Mobile: +264 81 128 0266
- Fax: +264 61 230 593
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Overview of African Tracks 4×4 Car Hire:
African Tracks 4×4 Car Hire offers late model, fully equipped Toyota vehicles for self-drive safaris within Namibia, but also to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Permissions to cross into other countries must be arranged at the time of booking, or earlier. Note that documentation required for cross-border travel is not included in the rental fee.
Specific services offered by African Tracks 4×4 Car Hire:
- Late model, fully equipped, as well as unequipped Toyota vehicles.
- All standard camping, kitchen, and recovery equipment is included in the hire fee, as is a second spare wheel.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available. Note that the excess payable by the renter in the event of a claim can be adapted to suit specific requirements.
- All rentals are supported by a 24/7 roadside assistance plan.
- Free airport transfers to and from places of accommodation within the city of Windhoek.
- No charge to add a second, properly licensed driver to the rental agreement.
- Assistance with route planning and accommodation bookings within Namibia is available.
- Enquiry and booking form is available here.
Africa on Wheels Car Hire
NOTE: Africa on Wheels Car Hire is registered with the Namibia Tourism Board, which means that you will always receive the highest level of professional service and support.
- Website: http://www.africa-on-wheels.com/
- Physical Address: 135 Sam Nujoma Drive, Windhoek, Namibia
- Telephone: +264 61 232871
- Fax: +264 61 232374
- E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Overview of Africa on Wheels Car Hire:
Africa on Wheels Car Hire offers specialised vehicles that include fully equipped pick-up style 4×4 vehicles, as well as equipped SUV’s that are specially adapted to suit the harsh Namibian terrain and conditions. In addition, Africa on Wheels Car Hire allows their vehicles to cross into Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Special permission is however required to cross into Angola. The company also offers special Off-Road-Dune-Driving routes through restricted areas of Namibia, but note that these routes can only be undertaken as guided tours. Note that documentation for cross-border travel is not included in the rental fee.
Specific service offered by Africa on Wheels Car Hire:
- Rental of fully equipped off road vehicles for self-drive safaris.
- Standard equipment includes GPS devices loaded with the latest road map information.
- All standard camping, kitchen, and recovery gear is included in the rental fee. Note that quantities of certain items can be added or removed from the basic equipment list by prior arrangement.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available
- Free airport transfers to accommodation within the city of Windhoek are available, with a maximum of two transfers per rental.
- Comprehensive introduction to the vehicle and all its equipment. Basic off-road driver training is available.
- Rentals include a tracking and route logging service that can be used with Google Earth to create an interactive photo album of your tour. This service must however be arranged at the time of booking.
- Contact, enquiry, and booking forms are available here.
- Terms and conditions are available here.
It should be noted that while Botswana is the destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of 4×4 enthusiasts from all over the world, the country offers relatively few expedition-grade 4×4 vehicle rental companies that operate solely within the borders of the country. This is because many, if not most 4×4-vehicle rental companies that operate in South Africa and Namibia have a presence in the form of depots and offices in Botswana as well.
In addition, most 4×4-vehicle rental companies that operate in countries neighbouring on Botswana allow their vehicles to cross into Botswana, which further reduces the number of rental companies that are unique to Botswana.
Nonetheless, Botswana does offer some homegrown 4×4-vehicle rental companies, but as a purely practical matter, it matters little where you hire your fully equipped 4×4-vehicle. Most South African-based rental companies allow their vehicles to cross into Botswana, and in any case, the nearest border crossing from Pretoria is only a couple of hours’ driving away.
With that said, once you are in Botswana it soon becomes clear why this country is the destination of choice for so many off-road driving enthusiasts. Here, the African bush has not yet given way to superhighways, urban sprawl, and industrial development as it has done elsewhere in the region. In fact, as soon as you leave a big town (of which there are a few), you are back in the pristine bush in a matter of minutes, and since Botswana has no significant sources of air pollution, you don’t even see a town until you are virtually in the middle of it.
From an off-road tourism perspective, it is very difficult to pinpoint the main reasons why so many people return to Botswana year after year. Some cite the silence and clear skies at night, others come for the excellent game viewing, still others enjoy exploring the massive National Parks, but all are in agreement that what Botswana offers is best experienced on a self-drive safari.
Self-drive safaris have therefore become hugely popular, and with good reason, one of which is that you are free to roam across the country at will. Unless you absolutely must stay at lodges and roofed accommodation, there is no need for human interactions on a self-drive trip, since a properly equipped vehicle contains everything you will ever need during your stay in Botswana- excepting fresh food and water of course.
While foodstuffs of all descriptions are freely available in supermarkets in all the towns you may want to pass through, but if you want to really experience Botswana, you can buy what you need from roadside stalls, and village markets along your planned (or unplanned) routes. However, when you enter Botswana, make sure you don’t have any dairy products with you, as there are severe restrictions on the movements of these items to prevent the spread of animal diseases.
So, if Botswana sounds like the kind of country you want to explore during a self-drive safari, below are the details of two indigenous 4×4-vehicle rental companies from whom you can hire a suitable vehicle with which to do it-
Maun Self Drive 4×4 (a.k.a McKenzie 4×4)
- Website: http://www.maunselfdrive4x4.com/
- Physical Address: Plot 6496, Office 1A Chelford Centre, Sir Seretse Khama Road, Maun
- Telephone/Fax: +267 6861875
- Skype: MCKENZIE 4X4
- Email: email@example.com
- GPS: S19 58.493 ǀ E23 26.068
- Business hours: Mon – Fri – 8 AM – 4:30 PM
Overview of Maun Self Drive 4×4:
Maun Self Drive 4×4 offers meticulously maintained and fully equipped Nissan Hardbody off-road vehicles for self-drive safaris only within the borders of Botswana. The advantage of this is that visitors receive substantial discounts on National park entrance and vehicle fees. The company offers several pre-planned self-drive camping tour itineraries, as well as lodge-to-lodge self-drive routes within Botswana. Complimentary airport transfers to and from Maun airport are available. Note that special arrangements must be made for vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs on Saturdays and public holidays.
Specific services offered by Maun Self Drive 4×4:
• All rentals include all required equipment, comprehensive insurance, unlimited usage, in-country road assistance and technical support, as well as GPS devices and satellite phones.
• All rentals include a comprehensive introduction to the vehicle and its equipment.
• Vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs can be arranged almost anywhere within Botswana, including at Gaborone, Kasane and Francistown. Pick-ups and drop-offs in South Africa and Namibia can be arranged, but this carries a very hefty surcharge.
• Assistance and guidance with route planning and booking camping sites, accommodation in National Parks and arranging extreme sporting activities is available.
• Contact forms and requests for additional information are available here.
- Website: http://www.thesafaricompany.co.za/travel_adventures_botswana.htm
- Physical Address: Maun, Botswana.
- Telephone: 00267 6861 211
- Mobile: 00267 72311132
- Email: The only way to email Travel Adventures Botswana is to use this link.
Overview of Travel Adventures Botswana:
Travel Adventures Botswana boasts several decades of experience in offering self-drive safaris in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia and the company offers well maintained, reliable, and fully equipped Toyota off-road vehicles suitable for self-drive safaris through even the harshest terrain in Southern Africa.
NOTE: While Travel Adventures Botswana has a well-deserved reputation for delivering top-notch services, it is imperative that all prospective clients obtain all relevant information on vehicle availability, current daily rental rates, additional charges, details of insurance packages, and especially the Terms and Conditions pertaining to vehicle rentals from the company before making any booking, since this information is NOT apparent on the company’s website.
Specific services offered by Travel Adventures Botswana:
• Vehicles are available right through the year- peak periods included.
• Assistance with route planning and arranging of accommodation in campsites is available.
• All rentals include a comprehensive introduction to the vehicle and its equipment, as well as a detailed analysis and discussion of the most popular routes.
• All rentals include basic camping gear and recovery equipment, but note that some additional equipment such as GPS devices, satellite phones, and air compressors may only be available at an additional charge.
• Contact forms and requests for more information are available here.
There is a good reason why more movies about Africa have been shot in Kenya than in any other African country, and it is this; Kenya has it all. It has 45 National Parks, some of which are Marine Reserves. It has vast expanses of typically east-African savannah, it has tropical rain forests, and it has dry, arid desert terrain in the northwest.
Kenya also has one of the biggest tourism industries in Africa, which means that you almost have to go on a self-drive safari to avoid the proverbial madding crowds in and around the big cities and run-of-the-mill tourist attractions, right? Right, and as luck would have it, the self-drive safari industry is serviced by some of the best operators on the African continent, which means that you get the benefit of their vast experience in planning and supporting all and any self-drive safaris.
Some safari operators in Kenya also allow their vehicles to cross into Uganda and Tanzania, which adds considerable value to an East African expedition, since this region of Africa is known for the hospitality and friendliness of the locals. Therefore, for a dollar or two, you can hire a local guide to show you parts of these countries that are not marked on maps, or are included in the itineraries of guided tours.
It should also be noted that Kenya has one of the best-maintained road networks in Africa, and while it may not compare to the road networks of Europe, there is a road in Kenya that will take you to where you want to go, except perhaps to points within 100 km or so from the Somali border. The security situation in these areas is never as stable as all tourists would have liked, but to compensate, the rest of Kenya is safe, and freely accessible to proper 4×4 vehicles.
However, embarking on a self-drive safari during the wet monsoon season that runs from April/May to October is not recommended, since all but the best-drained gravel roads turn into mud obstacles during this time. Nonetheless, all other seasons are perfect for a self-drive safari, for which you can hire a suitable vehicle from-
- Website: http://www.4×4-kenya.com/
- Physical Address: NCM Building, Opp. Odeon Cinema, Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi
- Postal Address: P.O Box 22129-00400, Nairobi
- Telephone: 254-20-2228725 / 2251427
- Mobile: 0722-529228
- Telephone/Fax: 254-20-2228275
- Email: info@4X4-kenya.com
Overview of 4×4 Kenya Ltd:
4X4 Kenya Ltd offers Land Rover and Toyota off-road vehicles for self-drive safaris within Kenya, as well as in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda.
Specific services offered by 4×4 Kenya Ltd:
• Basic camping equipment is included in the daily rental fee. List of included equipment is available here.
• Vehicle collections and drop-offs can be arranged in Nairobi, Kisimu, Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Moshi, and Mombassa.
• Free airport shuttle services are available only in Nairobi.
• Contact form and requests for additional information is available here.
If your primary reason for undertaking a self-drive safari is to do game and bird watching, then Tanzania is the right place to go. For instance, at 28%, Tanzania is the country that devotes the largest percentage of its surface area to wildlife conservation in the world, and apart from anything else, the world-famous Serengeti Park is home to an astounding 500+ species of birds
However, despite this embarrassment of riches, which includes the equally famous Ngorongoro Crater that accommodates one of the largest free-roaming concentrations of game in the world, Tanzania does not offer a range of self-drive safari operators that is commensurate with the number of places to go, and things to see in the country.
In light of the above, we would be remiss if we did not clearly state that only one safari operator is worth considering in Tanzania, and even more so, if we did not point out that not all of Tanzania is (easily) accessible with vehicles belonging to this company. Nonetheless, while Fortes Safaris operates mainly in the northern reaches of Tanzania, it is possible to arrange permission to take their vehicles into other areas of this wildlife paradise. Note however, that permission may not always be granted due to circumstances outside of the company’s control, such as border tensions with neighbouring Burundi, so be sure to enquire well in advance.
Despite these possible limitations though, Tanzania is well worth considering as a destination for an extended self-drive safari, since the area that can be visited without restrictions is well endowed with National Parks, diverse cultural experiences, and a natural beauty that sometimes defies description. However, the period from March until the end of May is not recommended for self-drive safaris, since the heavy rains during this time often makes vast areas totally inaccessible, with the corollary that if you are trapped in such an area, you cannot get out.
If this sounds like your type of adventure, consider hiring a fully-equipped safari-grade vehicle from-
- Website: http://fortes-safaris.com/
- Physical Address: Plot No. 173 DD, Nairobi-Moshi Road, Arusha, Tanzania
- Postal Address: PO Box 1364
- Telephone: + 255 27 250 6094 / +255 254 4887
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Overview of Fortes Safaris:
Fortes Safaris has a distinguished history and an extensive record of accomplishment in the safari industry within Tanzania. For self-drive safaris, the company offers meticulously maintained Land Rover and Toyota vehicles for hire, but note that the rental fee includes only basic camping equipment.
Specific services offered by Fortes Safaris:
• Fortes Safaris offers specialised consulting services on a one-on-one basis with a “personal” consultant to ensure that each rental is completed successfully. This service includes assistance with route planning, arranging accommodation at campsites and in National Parks, and arranging sightseeing tours.
• Comprehensive third-party insurance packages are available.
• Vehicle exchange or replacement service is available in the event that a rental vehicle becomes unserviceable, albeit only in the Northern Circuit. Special permission is required to operate Fortes Safari a rental vehicle outside of the Northern Circuit Area.
• The company also offers specialised medical insurance that includes medical evacuation in emergencies. Note that this medical insurance is compulsory with all rentals, regardless of your existing level of medical cover.
• Note that each of the Terms and Conditions, Driver Liability Waiver, and Rental Vehicle Pages are required reading for ALL prospective clients.
While the term “unspoilt wilderness” has lost some of its meaning in some parts of Southern Africa, this does not apply to Zambia. For one thing, the country has one of the least developed public transport networks in Africa, which means that the 19 National Parks in the country are largely inaccessible to the local population. It also means that visitors to these unspoilt areas (some of which are bigger than some European countries) are often counted only in hundreds, instead of the thousands that descend on the more accessible National Parks in other Southern African countries, of which the National Parks in Kenya is a prime example.
Moreover, Zambia is in the unique position that it borders on eight other Southern African countries, some of these countries being Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. The advantage to you, as a tourist on a self-drive safari, is that if you use Zambia as a base, you have access to almost all of Southern Africa. This is a point that counts hugely in favour of Zambia as an off-road tourism destination, given the fact that different parts of Southern Africa become either accessible or inaccessible during different times of the year.
In practice then, this means that it hardly matters what time of the year you book your self-drive safari because depending only on the actual time of the year you choose to visit, much of Southern Africa remains accessible from Zambia right through the year. Of course, you can remain in Zambia for your entire self-drive safari, which is recommended during the rainy season because of the multitude of magnificent waterfalls besides the Victoria Falls that grace the country.
So, does Zambia interest you as a destination for your self-drive safari? We certainly hope so, because Zambia is home to one of the biggest, best, and most reliable self-drive safari operators on the continent. See the details below:
- Website: http://www.hemingwayszambia.com/
- Postal Address: P.O. Box 60810, Livingstone, Zambia
- Telephone: 260 (0) 213 323 097
- Mobile 1: 260 (0) 977 866 492
- Mobile 2: 260 (0) 977 870 232
- Email: email@example.com
Overview of Hemingways:
Hemingways offers fully equipped and specially adapted Toyota off-road vehicles for self-drive safaris within Zambia, but also in other Southern African countries, such as Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa. All required documentation to cross into other countries is completed and supplied by Hemingways, but booking well in advance is recommended if you are planning on crossing into other countries from Zambia.
Specific services offered by Hemingways:
- All required documentation for border crossings, including INTERPOL clearances and COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) insurance, is included in the rental fee.
- All rentals include unlimited mileage use of the vehicle.
- Fully comprehensive insurance packages are available, including insurance extensions for other countries if the vehicle is to be taken out of Zambia.
- Rentals include permission for up to four designated drivers over the age of 25, which is unique among self-drive rental packages in Southern Africa.
- Equipment included with the vehicle include many items not available from other rental companies such as shovels, a machete, an axe, sand mats as traction aids, and others, down to tea towels and a potato peeler. Equipment list is available here.
- GPS devices are available at a nominal additional charge.
- Note that while it is possible to end a self-drive rental almost anywhere in Southern Africa, relocation fees apply if the vehicle is not dropped off, or returned to Livingstone at the end of the rental period.
- Contact form is available here.
Despite the fact that Mozambique has become a major tourist destination in last decade or so, mainly because of major upgrades to the road network and other infrastructure, the country does not have indigenous self-drive safari operators that we would feel comfortable recommending.
Take note however that this does NOT mean that Mozambique poses more, or more serious dangers and/or threats to life and limb than are found in other Southern African countries. Quite the opposite is true; Mozambique has gotten over the worst tensions of the civil war, and many visitors to this beautiful country report that they felt safer in Mozambique than they did in their own countries.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that it is near impossible to rent a fully equipped safari grade vehicle in Mozambique, but this does not present any sort of problem to visitors who have their heart set on exploring this country. Most, if not all self-drive safari operators allow their vehicles to cross into Mozambique, or they operate depots and/or bases in the country. See the details of each individual operator in this guide for more details.
From a practical perspective, off-road driving in Mozambique present few problems and issues, provided some basic precautions and safety considerations are borne in mind. Below are some pointers on what to do, and what NOT to do while exploring Mozambique-
What to do:
- Visit the country in the dry season between the months of April and September, when temperatures are bearable, and generally below 30 degrees Celsius.
- Adhere to speed limits at all times, since the police are known to be sticklers for the rules of the road here, and especially with regard to speed limits and the wearing of seatbelts. Also, ensure that all required identification marks such as the required triangles when towing a trailer are clearly visible. You could be arrested if you don’t display these identifying triangles on your vehicle.
- Stick to the import regulations with regard to personal items such as electronic devices like computers, cameras, and mobile phones. You will be given a receipt for all such items, and should you try to leave the country without them, you could end up being accused of smuggling.
- Take all reasonable steps to avoid contracting malaria. Use mosquito nets, insect repellents, and be sure to start a course of anti-malarial prophylactics at least six weeks before entering the country.
What not to do:
- Do NOT drive on roads that are not clearly marked as safe. Despite efforts in recent years to clear the millions of landmines planted during the civil war from all roads, many remain in place in deep rural areas, and the huge number of amputees in Mozambique bears testimony to the fact that much remains to be done to rid the country of landmines.
- Do NOT eat raw fruit and vegetables, drink tap water, or drink anything with ice in it. ALWAYS peel or cook everything you eat, and avoid tap water or ice to prevent contacting any number of gastro-intestinal maladies, some of which can be serious, and even life threatening.
Never present police, or Government officials with original documents. Always make copies, and have these copies certified before entering the country. Your documents represent your life in much of Southern Africa, so make sure you always have sufficient copies of all relevant documentation to prevent you having to give out the originals.
NOTE: While Angola is not a popular self-drive safari destination despite its natural beauty, the country does offer one indigenous safari operator. However, we cannot, and do not make any representation as to the quality, or lack of quality of the services offered by this company. Therefore, we recommend neither that prospective clients deal with this company, nor do we discourage prospective clients from dealing with this company, beyond saying that there is often good reason to fear the unknown. It is also worth noting that few, if any self-drive safari operators allow their vehicles to enter Angola.
Nonetheless, as for the country itself, almost everything that applies to Mozambique (see 4×4 Vehicle Rental Companies in Mozambique above), applies to Angola as well, with the possible exception of the fact that Angola has more undiscovered landmines than any other country in Africa, or the rest of the world, for that matter.
Despite this, many visitors to Angola, and particularly visitors who have completed self-drive safaris there, have reported that their trip in Angola was no more strenuous or dangerous than similar trips in other Southern African countries had been. However, while we cannot, and do not vouch for the accuracy of the opinion of others, we would certainly not go as far as saying that Angola is best avoided. What we are saying though, is that should you decide to visit Angola, you need to take great care during the preparation phase, and be ready and willing to lose your money should the need arise to abandon the trip at any point.
Apart from anything else, Angola is the perfect destination for students of military history in general, or the history of armed conflicts in Southern Africa in particular. Much of the southern parts of Angola are strewn with the relics of war, and while the sight of children playing on burnt-out tanks and armoured personnel carriers is particularly poignant, it also serves as a potent reminder NOT to stray from established roads and tracks, lest you encounter one or more of the estimated one million landmines that have yet to be cleared.
Thus, with all of the above said, below are the details of the only self-drive safari operator in Angola that is even remotely worth considering-
NOTE: We strongly advise prospective clients to make initial contact with the UK office before making any contact, or finalizing any arrangements with Habari Rentals via their website.
- Website: http://carhireandholidays.com/index.php/car-hire-angola
- UK Client Services Office: 87 Caernarvon Close, Mitcham, Surrey, CR4 1XE, United Kingdom.NOTE: We strongly advise prospective clients to make initial contact with the UK office before making any contact, or finalizing any arrangements with Habari Rentals via their website.
- Telelphone: +44.208.765.1058
- Mobile Emergency: +44.790.863.9450 (Available 24/7)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Overview of Habari Rentals:
According to available information, Habari Rentals offers a fleet of equipped 4WD vehicles for self-drive safaris in Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Zambia and other African countries. The company also claims that all charges are included in the rental fee, but since we cannot express any guarantees in this regard, we advise caution.
Specific services offered by Habari Rentals:
- Unless stated otherwise, all rentals include free, unlimited mileage during the rental period.
- All rentals include third-party insurance, local airport taxes/surcharges, local Government taxes, and airport transfers.
- Local roadmaps are included in the rental fee.
- All rentals are supported by a 24/7 vehicle breakdown/replacement service.
- Note that while comprehensive insurance packages are available, the specifics and cost of insurance is dependent on which countries the rental vehicle will be operated in.
Despite Malawi’s popularity as a tourist destination, this beautiful little country does not offer indigenous self-drive safari operators. Safaris in this country are almost exclusively of the guided type, and while there are some companies that rent out unequipped 4×4 vehicles for quick jaunts around the main centres, we do not recommend this option.
However, the term “quick jaunt” means different things to different people, and while some may be tempted to rent a 4×4 for several days to explore the country, the hassle (and cost) of gathering basic equipment like a tent, camping gear, and the like, makes this an unattractive option. Fortunately, though, one company, Safari Drive Africa, which is based in the UK, operates a base in Malawi, and it is possible to rent a fully equipped, safari-grade vehicle from them if you have your heart set on a self-drive safari through Malawi. See the following section of this guide for more details about Safari Drive Africa.
The company also allows its vehicles to cross into most of Malawi’s neighbours, with a further option of dropping the vehicle off in any of the neighbouring countries. There are several advantages to this, not the least of which is the fact that it is possible for one company to arrange all the documentation required for an extended self-drive safari through almost all the countries in Southern Africa. This means that there are no third and even fourth parties involved, and given the fact that Safari Drive Africa has been arranging just this type of safari successfully for several decades, it just doesn’t make sense to deal with anybody else.
Although this guide is mainly concerned with self-drive safaris in Southern Africa, it would not be complete without mentioning the fact that it is possible to undertake such a safari elsewhere in Africa. However, providing detailed information on the process of arranging a self-dive safari in each of the 50-odd countries of Africa falls outside the scope of this guide, so instead, we will concentrate on two self-drive safari operators that are based in Europe, and whose core business is the arranging of self-drive safaris in most countries in Africa.
While there is no denying that arranging a self-drive safari from your home country has major advantages and benefits, the possibility nevertheless exists that if something should go wrong during a safari in a country where an European-based company does not have a physical presence, the problem (whatever it may be), can go from bad, to worse, to being insurmountable very quickly.
However, we are NOT suggesting that this will happen to you, or that it happens often with other people. What we are saying though, is that undertaking a self-drive safari in a country where the operator does not have a presence is NOT for the faint-hearted, and as such, the planning and preparation for such an endeavour must be immaculate, because Africa is unlike anything you have ever experienced before.
In the interest of fairness though, it must be stated that although Africa no longer deserves to be called the Dark Continent, it still has a very long way to go before tourism here becomes as trouble free as in say, the USA, Europe, or even South America. For instance, if you are caught with “incorrect papers”, or “committing suspicious acts” such as taking pictures of Government buildings, members of the armed forces/police, or even of bridges in some African countries, you usually do not have automatic recourse to the law (such as it is in that particular country), or automatic access to your embassy or consulate should you be arrested.
Being arrested in most African countries is no laughing matter, and self-drive safari operators are well aware of this. Which is why so few of them operate outside of the relative safety of the Southern African region, or allow their vehicles to be driven across some borders, because in some cases, there is a more than even chance that they will never see you, or their vehicle ever again if they did allow it.
Why are we telling you all of this; you may well ask, especially since you have no intention of carrying “incorrect” papers, or committing “suspicious” acts?
The answer is simple, really. We are telling you this because hiring a fully equipped vehicle to undertake a self-drive safari through say, West -, or Central Africa is a viable, and popular alternative to buying and equipping your own vehicle in Africa, or bringing an already equipped vehicle with you from Europe.
Hiring a vehicle is definitely the way to go if you want to travel outside of Southern Africa, especially since the initial contact and preparations happen in your home country. This means that you have full control over all arrangements, and all the problems that come with miscommunication, misunderstandings due to language barriers, and conflicting intentions can be taken care of, and resolved in your own backyard, so to speak, instead of flying halfway around the world only to find that somebody had gotten your safari dates wrong, and that the vehicle you thought you had hired is therefore not available.
In addition to the above, we must also state that the owners/operators of the 4×4 vehicle rental companies listed in this section are experienced African travellers, and as a result, they know everything there is to know about self-drive safaris in Africa, whether it be in the Southern African region, or outside of it. Below are more details-
NOTE: Self Drive Africa simply offers too many services for a guide of this nature to do full justice to the wide range of services on offer. For this reason, we will merely reproduce the basics from their FAQ page-
- Website: http://www.safaridrive.com/about-us/ourstory/
- Physical Address: Note that while Safari Drive Africa is located in the UK, the company has a base in each of the countries in which it operates. However, it is recommended that initial contact be made at the company’s offices in Berkshire, the directions to which can be found on Google Maps here.
- The company can also be contacted via email, using this link.
- Telephone: +44 (0) 1488 71140.
Overview of Self Drive Africa:
Self Drive offers meticulously maintained and reliable Land Rover vehicles for self-drive safaris in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. Apart from these countries, Self Drive will also place a suitable vehicle anywhere in Africa, but this must be arranged well in advance. The company also specializes in one-way trips, which means that with sufficient advance planning, your self-drive safari can start at end at Cape Town, Windhoek, Maun, Livingstone, Lilongwe, and Arusha.
Specific services offered by Safari Drive Africa:
“We supply everything that is required for a complete and safe self drive holiday in Africa, including the flights, the vehicle, National Parks reservations, and importantly the back up. While we tailor every holiday to fit with your plans you can also select one of the special trips that we have already put together, or start from scratch. Generally we supply: The inspiration & itinerary for the holiday, International flights, Airport transfers, Briefings, A fully equipped Land Rover, All camping equipment including: Linen & towels, Cooking equipment, A starter kit of food, Lodge, hotel & camp accommodation where requested, Camp site bookings, National Parks bookings, The backup including free use of a satellite phone to contact us in the case of an emergency. We also supply many other parts that you probably won’t see such as vehicle insurance, flying doctor service, servicing, preparing and equipping of vehicles and even bonding your holiday so that you have financial security.”
However, it must be noted that not all services listed above are included in the daily rental fee, nor are all available services listed here. For more information than can be provided here, visit the company’s website.
- NOTE: that this website is also available in Dutch: http://www.selfdrive4x4.com/
- NOTE: that calling ahead for an appointment is recommended to ensure personal attention.
- Website: http://www.selfdrive4x4.com/en/
- Physical Address: Noorderweg 2, 1221 AA Hilversum, The Netherlands.
- Telephone: 31357600418
- Email: email@example.com
Overview of Selfdrive4x4.com:
Selfdrive4x4.com offers for hire fully equipped, and meticulously maintained Toyota and Land Rover vehicles that are suitable for self-drive safaris in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, and Tanzania. The company offers several pre-planned itineraries in all the counties in which it operates, but assistance with custom routes and itineraries is available.
Specific services offered by Selfdrive4x4.com:
- Suitable vehicles are available right through the year.
- Rentals include assistance with route planning and arrangements for accommodation in lodges and campsites.
- Rentals include a comprehensive travel guide packed with useful information, a GPS device loaded with the latest route information, a complete set of road maps, and a 12/220v inverter that makes camp life considerably easier.
- Comprehensive insurance packages are available.
- All rentals are supported by 24/7 support during the rental period.
- Contact form is available
The state of the Zimbabwean economy has all but destroyed the tourism industry in that country in recent years, and today it is all but impossible to find indigenous safari operators that still offer self-drive safaris there. The casualty rate among self-drive safari operators in that benighted country has been 100%, and the closest thing to self-drive safaris to be had today, are a few guided tours on routes around the major centres that can (and do) change almost daily, with the availability of fuel being the main factor that determines whether a particular route can be completed or not.
Note that “guided tour” can mean one of two things in Zimbabwe; one, that you can follow a guide with your own vehicle, and, two, that the guide accompanies you in your vehicle. For obvious reasons, the latter option is not a good idea, especially if you are using a rental vehicle from outside of Zimbabwe and the rental agreement limits the number of passengers/occupants to those that are covered by the insurance policy you bought when you rented the vehicle.
We are not suggesting that Zimbabwe should not be included in a self-drive safari through Southern Africa. In fact, many self-drive safari operators in South Africa, Botswana, and even Namibia allow their vehicles to cross into Zimbabwe, but be aware that the issue with unpredictable fuel availability remains one of the biggest problems when it comes to planning routes and itineraries in Zimbabwe.
However, extreme care, and a great deal of circumspection should be exercised before making the decision to cross into Zimbabwe. Here are some very important considerations to keep in mind should you decide to visit Zimbabwe-
– Ensure you can exchange your rental vehicle in Zimbabwe:
ONLY use self-drive safari operators from neighbouring countries that offer a vehicle exchange service in Zimbabwe, because there is a very big possibility that if you break down or the vehicle becomes unserviceable for any reason, you will not be able to have it repaired.
– Ensure there is fuel available on your planned route:
The shortage of fuel in the country is more serious and widespread than you might think, so DO NOT enter the country if you are not absolutely certain that you will have access to fuel along the route you are planning to drive.
– Ensure that you can access usable funds in Zimbabwe:
The Zimbabwean Government has recently introduced strict currency control regulations that severely limit the amount of cash people can draw at banks and ATM machines. These regulations exist because it happens from time to time that neither US Dollars, nor South African Rands, (both of which have almost completely replaced the Zimbabwe dollar), is available. In fact, many vendors in Zimbabwe no longer accept the Zimbabwe dollar, so make absolutely sure that you either have enough money, or can access usable currency while you are in the country.
– Always travel in convoy:
While the security situation in Zimbabwe has not quite reached the point of total lawlessness yet, it is never a good idea to travel alone in that country. There is simply no telling what might happen when you come across a gang of brigands, or worse, a roadblock manned by police officers who have not been paid for months, so NEVER travel alone, and ALWAYS make sure that someone outside of the country ALWAYS knows EXACTLY where in Zimbabwe you are at ALL times.
One more thing…
The list of 4×4 vehicle rental presented here is probably not complete, nor exhaustive, but this list is the result of extensive research into the best and most reliable off-road vehicle rental companies in Southern Africa. As stated elsewhere, you can hire an off-road vehicle almost anywhere, including from operators that do not appear on this list, but we do NOT recommend this option, for reasons that are explained below.
Therefore, now that you know where, and from whom you should be renting a 4×4 vehicle for your African adventure, you need to know a little more, such as-
At this point, some words of caution are appropriate. While it is not the purpose of this guide to promote one particular 4×4 vehicle rental company over any other, it is a fact-of-life that some 4×4 rental companies are better at what they do than others. Therefore, if you are a European citizen planning self-drive safari, and this is your first visit to Africa, you need to exercise extreme care in choosing the right service provider, or your once-in-a-lifetime experience could very easily turn into a never-to-be-forgotten nightmare.
At issue is the fact that there are several dozen vehicle hire companies all over Southern Africa that are only too willing to rent you a “meticulously maintained, fully-equipped, and reliable” off-road vehicle, but what they often do not tell you is that 4×4 vehicle rentals is not their core business, and even though some of these companies have a global footprint, their 4×4 vehicle hire division very often forms only a miniscule part of their overall operation. For you, as a prospective European tourist who has never had any exposure to the African off-road experience, this is very bad news indeed.
Unless you know which questions to ask during your initial contact with a 4×4 vehicle rental company, you could very easily end up with a vehicle that a globally-active company had rented from a third party, and while the vehicle itself may be fit for its purpose, the technical, logistical, legal, and other forms of support that represent the difference between a successful trip and a nightmare are very often of a very poor standard, if not totally absent in some cases.
In practice then, it is entirely possible you may find yourself renting a vehicle from a sales clerk who has absolutely no knowledge of the route(s) you are going to travel, the effects of adverse weather conditions on those routes, border-crossing procedures, or off-road driving best practices. Even worse though, you may end up renting vehicle from a sales clerk who has likely never been off-road, and who has no interest whatsoever in how well (or not) your adventure turns out.
Renting a meticulously maintained, fully equipped, and reliable 4×4 vehicle from a specialist operator on the other hand, instantly removes all of these issues and problems because the continued existence of his operation depends on both the successful completion of your adventure, and the business that flows from your positive review of the vehicle, its equipment, the overall level of support you’ve received, as well as your impressions of the entire experience.
These operators have a huge vested financial interest in the positive outcome of your self-drive safari, since they cannot subsidise or recover a refund (if something should go wrong) by renting out a few dozen compact cars at the local international airport(s). Their livelihood depends on how well they choose which vehicles to use, how well they equip and maintain those vehicles, how well they know the routes their vehicles are likely to be driven on, how well they know the tourist industry in the areas they operate in, and most important of all, how well they support a rental contract.
Therefore, if you have chosen a professional 4×4 vehicle rental company-
Receiving full value for your money is not difficult to do, but to explain the process of actually achieving this, let us sketch a typical scenario to put everything in perspective-
Imagine for a moment that you, as a prospective European tourist who had never driven a 4×4 vehicle, much less a fully loaded, fully equipped expedition-grade 4×4 vehicle with a manual transmission in African conditions, make a booking with a 4×4 vehicle rental company, and pay your deposit. You receive confirmation of the booking soon after, and proceed to finalise the preparations for your self-drive safari. So far, so good – assuming of course that you have chosen to rent a 4×4 vehicle from a specialist safari operator and that you are sure that this is the operator you want to deal with.
So you arrive in Africa, and if you have been dealing with a professional operator, you will be met at the airport, and driven to the rental company’s offices where you will complete the paper work, and pay any outstanding fees and charges. During this process, the various available insurance options will be explained to you, as well as the possible consequences of choosing one product or package over another. Bear in mind that the vehicle you are renting represents a huge capital outlay for the operator, which is why he is anxious to make sure that both you and the vehicle are properly insured against everything Africa and unfortunate circumstances can throw at you.
Next, you will be introduced to the vehicle, and the operator will now make sure that you know the basics of driving a manual vehicle. He will also make sure that you understand all the controls and switches, and that you know how and when to use them. At this point, he may ask you to demonstrate your driving skills. This is not to check if you can drive: this step is to check if you can drive his vehicle safely.
The next two hours or so will be taken up by the operator demonstrating the vehicles’ recovery equipment, water storage system, kitchen, and related equipment such as the fridge/freezer, how to pitch the tent, and explaining other camping related issues. You will also be shown a video/slideshow, or a practical demonstration of basic off-road driving and vehicle recovery techniques; we recommend that you pay proper attention during this part of the familiarisation process- it could save your life if you are stuck, or, it could kill you if you get it wrong.
All professional operators will also tell you about the importance of maintaining the correct tyre pressures at all times, as well as show you how to perform basic preventative maintenance checks, such as ensuring that the engine oil and coolant levels are always up to their respective marks. During all of this, the operator will encourage you to ask questions. This is not to check your intelligence; he is doing this to ensure that you understand the vehicle and that you will be able to operate it safely, so use this opportunity to learn as much as you can about the vehicle and its equipment- and of course, how to operate all of it safely.
The next step in this scenario will only start when the operator is sure that you can operate the vehicle safely. When the operator is sure of this, the route(s) you plan to drive will be discussed in minute detail, using appropriate maps to give you sense of where you are, and where you will be going. This is not done to bore you to tears, this is done both to ensure that you do not get lost, and to make sure that you are aware of all road closures, route deviations, or tricky spots that require careful driving, and the like. If you require assistance with booking accommodation on the route, or with planning alternative routes, this will be taken care of as well.
Many operators also provide a shopping service (for your account), which takes much of the hassle out of actually leaving on your trip. Long experience in the safari industry has taught operators which products and food stuffs are essential, which are good to have available, which are merely nice to have available, and which are likely to spoil or slow you down. We recommend that you defer to the operator’s experience in this regard, so when you do negotiate with 4×4 rental companies, ask if they provide this service. If they do, make use of it even if does cost a little extra, since the convenience of this service is worth way more than the added expense.
The last step usually involves double-checking that all your documentation is in order. If you are planning to cross international borders, the operator will explain the process, as well as make sure that the required documentation is in order, because the last thing he wants is for his vehicle to be impounded, or for you and your passenger(s) to be arrested. You will also be provided with emergency contact numbers, as well as details on who to contact in the unlikely event that the vehicle breaks down, or you are involved in a traffic accident.
Next, the operator will check that your GPS device is programmed correctly, and that your satellite phone is working properly. Remember that not all operators include satellite phones and GPS devices in the daily rental fee, but all professional operators will have these devices available for hire, and we strongly recommend that you rent them, since large parts of Southern Africa have no mobile phone coverage, which means that if you don’t have a satellite phone in these areas, you are effectively cut off from the rest of the world.
Depending on your particular rental package, there may be other steps and procedures in addition to the ones described up to this point. However, it is very likely that none (or very little) of what has been described above will happen when you rent a 4×4 vehicle from a private individual, or from a rental company whose core business is not the rental of safari vehicles.
In these cases, all that will almost certainly happen is that the rental company will make you sign a rental agreement and an insurance policy that may or may not answer your needs, and hand you the vehicles’ keys along with an “Information Package” that may or may not include all required documentation. Basically, you are very likely to be sent on your way without knowing how the vehicle (or its equipment) works, where you are going, how to get there, what to do and who to contact if you are stuck, the vehicle breaks down, or worse, you are involved in a traffic accident.
You may possibly be sent on your way with a breezy “Bon Voyage!”, but do not rely on it. You are more likely to be reminded not to forget to return the vehicle with a full tank of fuel, instead. Levity aside though, and depending on the actual situation if something does go wrong (several days into your trip) when you deal with the wrong rental company, the only viable course of action available to you might be to contact your embassy. However, long experience has taught that depending on where you are, personnel from your embassy can sometimes take days to reach you in the African hinterland, with no guarantee that they will be able to extricate you from what could potentially be a very serious situation.
One typical example of such a disaster would be the rental company’s failure to either provide all the documentation required to drive a rental vehicle across an international border, or to fail to complete the documentation correctly. In practical terms, this amounts to the same thing, and either situation means big trouble for you. If you are caught on good day, you might merely be prevented from leaving the country until the problem is resolved, but do not rely on the possibility that this will happen on a good day.
Vehicle theft and the smuggling of stolen vehicles is big business in Africa, so what is more likely to happen is that you will be arrested, and the vehicle impounded along with all your personal effects and belongings. Worse, though, if your visa expires on the same day, you might also be arrested for violating your visa conditions if the problem cannot be resolved before your visa expires. In situations like this, there is nothing your embassy can do to help you beyond trying to ensure that you get a fair trial, which you may or may not get. On an even more serious note, bear in mind that in Africa, a criminal trial such as this usually takes months, rather than weeks to finalise.
Does this particular scenario sound like an exaggeration, or scare tactics, perhaps? To the uninitiated, it might sound farfetched, but the reality is that horror stories like this (and others) have occurred many times in the past all over Africa, and they will continue to occur for as long as there are vehicle rental companies who either do not understand the self-drive safari industry, or are not interested in learning the finer points of supporting a self-drive safari.
Trust us, reputable 4×4 vehicle rental companies do NOT want you to be the main character in a disaster such as the one described above, which is why all professional safari companies go to great lengths to ensure that both you, and the vehicle you are renting are fully prepared for the trip of a lifetime by ensuring that all formalities and legalities are observed.
Put simply, in stark contrast to most generic vehicle rental companies, all specialist professional vehicle rental companies that rent out safari-grade 4×4 vehicles always take all reasonable measures to ensure that all foreseeable eventualities and/or catastrophes are covered, or prevented from happening in the first place. Their good reputation, continued business, and most importantly, your safety, depend on it, which brings us to another critically important facet of self-drive safaris, this point being-
Astute readers will no doubt have noticed that the off-road vehicles offered by all the operators on this list are limited to Toyota, Land Rover, and a few Nissan models. There is a very good reason for this, because although technical, logistical, and other forms of support all combine to make a self-drive safari safe and enjoyable, the most important factor in this equation involves the vehicle itself.
To a tourist in a strange and intimidating environment, no amount of back up means anything when that vehicle breaks down several hundred kilometres from anywhere, since even the best and most efficient safari operator can only reach you in several hours’ time. Self-drive safari operators are acutely aware of this fact, which is why responsible operators only use vehicles that have proven themselves to be tough, durable, reliable, and capable of performing at their peak day after day, week after week, and month after month. Also, bear in mind that the cost of recovering, and replacing a broken-down vehicle is so high for the operator that all operators do everything in their power to prevent this cost to themselves simply by maintaining their vehicles to extremely high standards.
Nonetheless, the business of operating a self-drive safari company is a hugely expensive one, and Africa is an extremely tough environment that eventually wears down even the toughest off-road vehicles. Thus, to stay ahead, responsible safari operators only use vehicles that are capable of coping with the harsh African conditions for several years, while providing a comfortable ride.
Of course, even the toughest off-road vehicle requires regular maintenance and servicing, and while many operators use in-house facilities, others use the official dealer network to service, maintain, and repair their vehicles. Moreover, it is rare to find a self-drive safari rental vehicle that is older than 3 years, which is well within the manufacturers’ warranty period. From a purely technical perspective though, there is little to choose between a Toyota, Nissan, or Land Rover off-road vehicle, but safari operators are well aware of the fact that comfort, ride quality, and ease of use are just as important as technical reliability is.
In terms of ride quality however, Land Rovers fall way behind Toyota and Nissan products, but then again, there is nothing that screams “Adventure” as loudly as a fully kitted-out Land Rover does. Nonetheless, image should, and must, take a back seat to comfort and having enough space to accommodate all your passengers and their belongings comfortably, since the vast majority of safari operators will NOT allow you to tow a trailer, even though some vehicles are fitted with tow bars.
Having enough space in the vehicle is crucially important- if you have never spent a couple of weeks cooped up in a cramped vehicle with people who you like a little less each day, a self-drive safari through Southern Africa is not the time to discover that you should have brought someone else instead. During your initial conversations with rental companies, you will be asked how many people are coming on the safari, so choose your companions wisely, but we digress.
The point is that the amount of space available for personal effects is limited in safari-grade vehicles, and Land Rovers generally have less space available than Toyota or Nissan vehicles, because Land Rovers are fitted out differently. In addition, fitting four people into a double cab Toyota or Nissan pick-up truck leaves almost no space for personal effects. Therefore, even if you bring the minimum in clothes, cameras, books, and other paraphernalia, you MUST chose a vehicle that will seat the driver and ALL passengers comfortably.
Put in another way; even though a double cab vehicle can comfortably seat four people in normal circumstances, four people take a lot of luggage on a self-drive safari. In most cases, a double cab vehicle just cannot accommodate four people and their luggage, which means that either you have to leave two people behind, or you must rent two vehicles. You could of course rent a camper vehicle, but campers are not the same as safari-grade 4×4 vehicles, even though some campers may feature AWD capabilities. Campers will be discussed in more depth later on.
Apart from having enough space, safari-grade vehicles are also invariably fitted with long-range fuel tanks. The average fuel capacity of these vehicles is around 140 litres, which is enough to get you from point A, to wherever you are going without running out of fuel, with the possible exception of points in Zimbabwe.
In the final analysis, a properly fitted out and equipped safari vehicle is self-contained life support system, which, from your perspective as a tourist in a strange and often forbidding country, gives you the benefit of driving into the African hinterland with a tough, durable, and meticulously maintained vehicle that is so reliable that the chances of it breaking down under “normal” operating conditions are vanishingly small.
However, there is a lot more to having a successful self-drive safari than merely hiring a reliable, fully equipped 4 × 4 vehicle from a reputable operator. In fact, doing this is only one of the first steps in a long process of planning and preparing for an adventure of a lifetime.
The problem with planning an undertaking of this nature is that many rental companies often assume that you have done all the research, and that having done so, you know what to expect once you arrive. The truth is however that in many cases, rental companies assume too much, and since Africa is like nothing you have ever experienced before, it is more than likely that you won’t ask the right questions when you make a booking to hire a vehicle.
The old adage that says the devil lives in the details may be a cliché, but in the case of self-drive-drive safaris in Africa, ignoring this old chestnut is akin to inviting trouble. Therefore, we have prepared the following list of frequently asked questions and Things That You Absolutely Must Know that will address most of the issues and shortcomings that are not fully dealt with on the websites of many 4 × 4 vehicle rental companies, starting with-
In terms of the vehicle and its equipment, you generally don’t need anything besides what is included with the vehicle, but there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, the equipment lists on the websites of rental companies are sometimes ambiguous, in the sense that they don’t always clearly list all the included items under, say, camping equipment, or kitchenware. Not having a potato peeler is one thing, but missing some other items could mean the difference between a successful safari and a disaster.
Thus, when you make booking, ensure that the following items are included in the basic fee, or are available- even if you have to pay an additional fee for them.
- A GPS device that is loaded with the latest routes in the countries you are going to visit.
- Paper road maps, just in case the GPS device fails.
- A satellite phone, since large areas of Southern Africa has no or, limited mobile phone coverage.
- A list of current emergency phone numbers. This list is to include-
• contact details for the Police Services of the countries you are visiting
• contact details for the rescue and emergency services in the countries you are visiting
• contact details for repair facilities that are authorised to repair or recover your rental vehicle
• contact details of the rental company, including contact details of the company’s offices and depots in all of the countries you are visiting
• contact details of the rental company’s insurers
- The above information should keep you connected with the outside world, but you also need to be sure that the vehicle comes with everything you need to get out of a fix. We recommend the following items be included-
- At least one shovel with which to dig yourself out of sand traps.
- At least one axe with which to clear campsites, or trees and branches that are obstructing bush tracks. A sturdy machete might be handy for these tasks as well.
- Traction devices such as sand mats. These are not always included with the vehicle, so make sure you ask about this.
- A high-lift jack with the proper attachments that will work on your rental vehicle.
- A compressor and tyre pressure gauge. Off-road driving often requires that you deflate you tyres, and without a compressor and pressure gauge, you won’t be able to re-inflate the tyres to the correct pressure to suit local conditions.
- A basic tool kit that includes at least a lug wrench, aka a wheel spanner.
- While all properly equipped vehicles are fitted with water tanks, these tanks vary in capacity. Make sure that the tanks you get give you at least 5 litres of fresh water per person per day, for a minimum period of 4 days. Bear in mind that you will use some of this water for washing, cooking, and doing the dishes as well, so if needs be, ask the operator to include at least two or three 25-litre water containers over and above the built-in water tanks.
- Long-range fuel tanks that hold a minimum of 140-150 litres of fuel. Refuelling points are far apart, but 140 litres of fuel should give a range of 1 000 to 1300 km, depending on terrain, load and speed, should be enough to get you from one refuelling point to the next.
The above equipment will get you moving, but to keep moving, you need to have the proper documents ready at hand, since you could be expected to produce them at any time. Therefore, we strongly urge you to-
- Multiple entry visas for every country you are visiting.
Although Africa has come a very long way in terms of making it easier for tourists to move between countries, it is by no means certain that you will be allowed into any given country, and often for reasons that are not entirely clear. When you are denied entry into a country, you are stuck in no-man’s land if you don’t have multiple entry visas, so make sure this does not happen to you.
- A certified copy of the vehicle rental agreement.
You also need to have all the required permissions to drive the vehicle across international boundaries ready at hand. While some operators include these permissions in the basic rental fee, others do not, so make sure that this is taken care of before you leave the operator’s yard or offices.
- Vehicle import tax clearance certificate.
This document goes by different names in different parts of Africa, but its purpose is to show that the vehicle will be removed from any given country on, or before your visa expiry date. If you don’t have this certificate, or if it is not completed correctly, the problem is not so much that you will be denied entry into a country, as it is that you won’t be allowed to leave that country.
At a minimum, you will be expected to pay the import tax, which could be as much a 100% or more of the value of the vehicle when it was new. Worse, though, you could be arrested, which is no laughing matter since it could be several days before your embassy or consulate becomes aware that you are stuck in an African prison.
- A copy of your insurance policy.
We will cover the topic of insurance in more depth later on in this guide, but for the moment, you should know that you could be denied medical assistance and/or other services if you cannot prove that you are insured.
- Your driver’s licence.
While most Southern African countries do not require you to hold an International Driving Permit, all countries require you to be a properly licensed driver in your home country. In practice, you need to be able to produce your driver’s licence on demand, and if your licence is issued in English, you don’t need anything else. However, if the licence is issued in a language other than English, you need to hold an International Driving Permit.
- Inoculation certificate(s)
All Southern African countries demand that visitors be inoculated against certain diseases, which could include all forms of hepatitis, yellow fever, cholera, and several others. However, these requirements can (and do) change at a moment’s notice, and sometimes without any notice at all, so make sure you obtain the latest regulations and requirements from the relevant embassies or consulate offices at the time that you arrange your visas.
At this point, you might feel like you are going to drown in the details, but the fact is that all of the above only covers some of the basic, but essential aspects of any self-drive safari in Southern Africa. Below are some more things you absolutely need to know, such as-
With the possible exception of South Africa, violent crime is relatively rare in Southern Africa, and you are far more likely to have something stolen, or to be scammed, than you have of suffering personal injury during a violent robbery or carjacking. However, it always pays to take some basic precautions, such as the following-
- Don’t look lost.
While we realise that this may not always be easy, try not to look like a typical lost tourist. For instance, don’t spread your road maps open across the vehicle; this is a clear indication that you are indeed lost, which makes you an easy target for “guides” and other scoundrels that prey on lost tourists. One typical swindle is to offer to show you how to get to where you want to be for a “small’ fee, but since you don’t know where you are, you will almost certainly be “guided” to a part of town where you can be robbed blind.
If you are lost for whatever reason, ask for directions from police officers, or failing that, from upmarket hotels and shops that have no interest in robbing anyone.
- Don’t look like a tourist.
Walking around flashing expensive cameras and mobile phones marks you as a foreign tourist, and therefore an easy mark. Many gangs use children or attractive women to “offer” to take a picture of you (with your camera) against a famous building, monument, or other tourist attraction, but be prepared to lose your camera the second you hand it over to have your picture taken.
- Don’t flash money.
Don’t keep all your cash in one pocket, on your person, or in large denominations. Africa has some of the most accomplished (and youngest) pickpockets in the world, so when you stop off at a market to replenish food or other supplies, only carry a small amount of cash that won’t hurt you if you lose it to a pickpocket.
- Don’t accept help/assistance from anyone at banks or ATM machines – for any reason.
The biggest secret to staying safe in Africa is to be prepared. For instance, make sure you know where, and how to withdraw cash from banks or ATM machines, and never accept help to do this from anyone. Switching, or cloning bank cards is big business in some Southern African countries, so if you feel uncomfortable while drawing cash at any point, cancel the transaction, and find a safer location at which to draw money.
- DON’T attempt to bribe anyone.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many thousands of police officers, traffic officers, government officials, and other people in positions of power throughout Southern Africa that WILL arrest you, or have you arrested on the spot should you attempt to bribe them to “remove an obstacle”, or to “speed up” an administrative process. Similarly, DON’T pay bribes even if you are asked; nothing good ever comes of it.
As in Europe, there are many cultural imperatives that can take you a long way if you observe them, or, can make life very difficult if you ignore them, especially in deep rural areas where culture and tradition are everything. For instance-
- Don’t crush someone’s hand when you shake hands.
This is considered to be aggressive behaviour, and depending on the circumstances, it could be interpreted as a hostile gesture. A proper African handshake is just a clasping of hands, and there should be no pressure from either side.
- Don’t take offence if someone won’t “look you in the eye”.
Not making eye contact is almost always a sign of respect, if not actual subservience.
- Don’t make aggressive hand movements when speaking.
In most Southern African cultures, gesticulating wildly when speaking is almost universally interpreted as insulting, offensive, and aggressive behaviour. If you need assistance from a local, this is not the way to get it; instead, speaking calmly, not raising your voice, and keeping your hands still will almost always get you what you need.
- ALWAYS ask permission BEFORE you enter a village or homestead.
While it may not always look like it, a village or homestead is the personal property of the local chief, and entering either without permission is almost akin to a declaration of war. At the very least, the local chief and elders will be so deeply offended that you may be ignored, regardless of you plight, or, in some cases, you may be asked to leave in a very unpleasant manner. Being polite costs nothing, and besides, you won’t like it if someone barges into your home uninvited.
By this time, you are well on your way to understanding what it takes to enjoy a trouble-free self-drive safari in Southern Africa. However, actually driving your planned route in a vehicle you may not be familiar with in terrain that you have never experienced before may present a few challenges that could result in dings, dents, and damage to the rental vehicle, and/or the loss of, or damage to your personal property. Any one, or, a combination of these misfortunes can ruin your safari, so you need to ask yourself this question-
While all safari vehicle rental companies insist that you take out a comprehensive insurance policy with them as part of the rental agreement when you pick up the vehicle, the fact is that these policies are almost never as “comprehensive” as they could, or should be. This fact has the potential to create a variety of problems, issues, and pitfalls for the unwary visitor to fall into, so here is what you need to look out for when you are planning a self-drive safari-
Insurers the world over exclude certain thing from their policies, but in the case of 4 × 4 vehicle rental agreements, the very things that one would expect to be covered are almost always excluded. These include damage to tyres/wheels, the windscreen and other glass, or minor damage to the body and paint work.
More seriously, though, serious mechanical damage to the vehicle is also often excluded, so in effect, the real only cover you often have is for damage to the vehicle caused by traffic accidents, or cover for mechanical damage if you can prove that you did not cause the damage. So, where does this leave you, the tourist?
If you are not careful, this could leave you in a difficult situation, since rental companies place a hold that can amount to several thousand US dollars (or other currency, depending on the country you hire the vehicle in) on your credit card to cover the costs of damage that is not covered by the main policy. Additionally, the cost of insurance is not always included in the daily rental fee, meaning that you could be in for a nasty surprise when you receive the bill for the rental contract.
In light of the above, we strongly urge prospective clients of 4 × 4 vehicle rental companies to insist on a copy of the complete rental agreement, as well as the insurance policy before signing anything, or handing over any money. These documents MUST be scrutinised very carefully, and all concerns and queries must be resolved to everybody’s complete satisfaction before anyone signs anything.
In particular, the rental agreement must clearly spell out the provisions of the vehicle exchange program, both in cases where the vehicle becomes unserviceable through no fault of yours, as well as in cases where the vehicle you had booked is not available upon your arrival.
In the interests of fairness though, we are not suggesting any impropriety or dishonesty on the part of vehicle rental companies or that you, the tourist, will wilfully damage the vehicle, hoping that the insurance company will take care of the damage. The fact remains however, that entrusting an off-road vehicle to an inexperienced off-road driver, and to allow that inexperienced driver to operate the vehicle in unfamiliar terrain is hugely risky business both for the rental company, and for that company’s insurers.
Both the rental company and their insurers have a stake in you completing your self-drive safari successfully, which is why the rental company offers you a comprehensive and compulsory introduction to the vehicle and its equipment, as well as some instruction in basic off-road driving techniques (if required) when you pick up the vehicle. If you pay attention during this process, you greatly reduce the possibility of damaging the vehicle, which is in everybody’s best interest.
Nonetheless, accidents and mishaps will sometimes happen, and in many cases, nobody can be blamed when these occur. For this reason, some rental and insurance companies can, and will, cover most, if not all of the excluded items for a small, additional daily fee. Where this is offered and available, we strongly advise you to accept the small additional charge, because doing so could save you from having to fork out large sums of money later.
It cannot be stated strongly enough that full medical insurance MUST be in place, and fully paid up for ALL members of your party BEFORE you leave home.
Medical insurance is not usually included in the basic rental agreement, but in cases where some form of medical insurance is included, it does not extend to repatriation of injured parties to their home countries.
With the exception of South Africa, first-world standard medical facilities are few and far apart in Southern Africa, which makes it imperative that all the members of your party are fully covered for all medical emergencies, which must include cover for diseases, snakebites, injuries sustained during traffic accidents, and every other conceivable circumstance that can be covered by your insurer.
Typically, adequate medical cover should include the following-
- Recovery, and evacuation of the patient from anywhere in Southern Africa
- Interim care of the patient, which care must include transportation by air of the patient to a suitable medical facility or hospital
- Repatriation of the patient to his/her home country
- The services of suitably qualified and experienced medical personnel during the repatriation process
- Full cover must be valid and available from the date you leave home, until you arrive back home again. Do NOT assume that nothing will happen to you or someone in your party in the time between arriving in Africa and picking up the vehicle, or between the time you drop off the vehicle and getting on the plane for the trip back home.
We fully realise that this type of insurance is expensive, but not being covered can have ruinously expensive consequences from which you may never recover.
Most rental agreements include a set cover amount for damages caused to property or the persons of third parties, but these amounts may not always be enough to cover all eventualities. There is no telling what might happen during an accident, and should innocent persons be seriously injured and you were the driver when the accident occurred, you will be held personally liable for the difference between the covered amount and the final bill.
Most vehicle rental companies will offer you the option to increase the available public liability cover amount. Where this option is not available, we suggest you purchase additional insurance from your personal insurers for the duration of the rental agreement.
The actual amount of public liability insurance you may require depends on many factors, such as the country you are in, the most likely reasons why you might need additional insurance, such as the age of nominated drivers or other circumstances that may be relevant only to that particular rental agreement. Nonetheless, if you cannot purchase additional insurance from an insurer inside the country that you are hiring the vehicle in, we suggest that you increase the cover amount to the maximum amount that is available to you in terms of the rental agreement.
Standard off-road vehicle rental agreements and the insurance policies that go with them do not include cover for personal belongings- neither yours, nor the belongings of any other member of your party. This means that you may have to purchase this insurance from your insurer in your home country.
Ideally, you should cover everything you and the other members of the party own against theft and damage for the full replacement value of each insured item. In this case, having too much insurance is not a bad thing, since you will only be insuring your belongings for the duration of the safari.
Also, make sure you keep the serial numbers and other details of all electronic goods and gadgets apart from the articles themselves, just as you would do at home. If you should lose anything to thieves, or if anything is damaged by dust, rain, insect infestation, flood, or fire, you will need this information either to file a police report, or to satisfy your insurers that you did indeed own the articles you are claiming for.
So now that you are fully insured and have everything you need to complete your self-drive safari successfully, we need to discuss some very important points regarding your safety on the road. Provided you keep the following points in mind, your adventure will almost certainly go off without any trouble of any kind, so following is –
If you have never driven an off-road vehicle before, or even if you had, but not in real off-road terrain, we highly recommend that you enrol in, and complete, an off-road driving course in your home country before you leave.
Doing even a basic off-road driving course will equip you with basic off-road driving skills, which if you don’t have them, can seriously reduce the enjoyment you should derive from your self-drive safari. However, we recommend that you enrol in a course that offers at least intermediate-level skills that include at least some vehicle recovery techniques.
While it is true that most reputable safari rental vehicle operators offer some basic instruction in off-road driving skills as part of the basic rental package, these introductory courses usually take less than two hours or so, which is not nearly enough to teach you even the basics if you have never been off-road before.
Being buried in a sand trap up the vehicles’ floor plates in the middle of the Kalahari Desert at noon is not the time to reflect on the fact that you should have paid proper attention to the theory of tyre deflation in soft sand, or that you should have asked the rental company for one more demonstration on using the low range and diff-locks on the vehicle. Apart from being able to avoid real-life situations such as this, completing an off-road driving course before you arrive will give you the confidence you need to make the difference between an unforgettable safari because you enjoyed the experience, or, an unforgettable experience because you got stuck at least twice every day.
Follow this link for a more indepth discussion on: 4×4 and off-road driver training
Mini-bus taxis in South Africa number in the thousands in any large city, and they transport millions of people to work and back every day. In fact, without this mode of transport, the country’s economy would collapse, but the real downside of these vehicles is that they are a law unto themselves.
If you have never encountered mini-bus taxis before, be aware that they do in fact own the road, and that any mini-bus taxi is likely to-
- stop anywhere without warning of any kind
- enter the traffic flow without any warning, and often cause accidents because of this
- disregard traffic signs
- ignore traffic lights
- be completely un-roadworthy, meaning that its lights, brakes, and steering systems are very likely not working as it should
- be overloaded
Of course, not all mini-bus taxis do all of the above all of the time, but most do most of the time, which means that you need to be super careful when driving in any town or city in South Africa. Moreover, do not engage a taxi driver when he does something stupid, or berate him for endangering your life because you can never win the argument. Many people have suffered serious injuries as a result of being assaulted during such engagements, so DO NOT try it.
The best way to avoid trouble is to be aware that any mini-bus taxi can, and most likely will, do something stupid at any moment, so just keep your distance and your cool, and avoid all, and any confrontation. The fact is that if you hire your off-road vehicle in South Africa, you will encounter mini-bus taxis on the way to where you are going, so just mind your own business, and stay out of their way as far as you can.
The same traffic rules that apply in your home country apply in Southern Africa as well, and particularly the rules pertaining to speeding and driving while under the influence of any intoxicating substance. You may get away with speeding in South Africa for a while, but the police in countries like Botswana, Mozambique, and Namibia have made it their life’s work to catch, and prosecute, speeding drivers.
Depending on your actual speed and the speed limit in force on any given road or freeway outside of South Africa, the best you can hope for is a stiff fine, but you may be arrested if you exceed the speed limit by as little as ten (10) km per hour. However, if you are pulled over for any offence (or for any other reason) be polite, cooperate fully, and present all documents you are asked for without grumbling, or making snide comments about “these Africans”.
If you have not done, or, are not doing, anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about, so don’t make trouble for yourself by not cooperating
Of course, you should not be reckless anywhere in the world, but Africa presents obstacles and challenges to driving that do not occur in most other parts of the world.
For instance, in some parts of Southern Africa, there are as many domestic animals, including cows, donkeys, horses, sheep, goats, and others roaming free as there are wild animals. In most parts of this region, there are also no fences to keep these animals off the roads, which means that if you are not careful, you could run into a cow, horse, or donkey at almost any moment.
If this should happen and the animal is killed, there is no innocence or guilt involved. There is only one guilty party, and that will be you, the driver of the vehicle. One possibility is that you could be made to pay an extortionate amount in compensation on the spot, or, you could be detained by the locals until the police arrive, who could either arrest you on the spot, or issue a fine for an equally extortionate amount.
Either way, you do not want to be in a predicament like this, so keep a sharp lookout at all times, adapt your speed to suit local conditions, and pray to the Gods that you never run over, or worse, kill a child. If this should happen, you will definitely be arrested, and prevented from leaving the country until the matter had served before the courts. If ever you find in such a position, contact your embassy or consulate immediately.
Much, if not all of the above can be avoided simply by not venturing off-road after sunset. Human vision is only about 5% as acute at night as it is in bright sunlight, so apart from not being able to see the road properly, you will almost certainly not see potholes, pedestrians that could include children, animals, or other obstacles in the road in time to avoid them.
Moreover, and apart from the obvious dangers of driving at night, some animals, such as some antelope species could be blinded for as long as 48 hours if they are caught in your driving lights at night.
Ideally, you should not drive for longer than about three hours at a single stretch if you are off-road. This type of driving will likely be like nothing you have ever done before, and you will tire out much sooner than you normally would.
Exhaustion has the same adverse effect on your driving ability that alcohol or other narcotics have, so take frequent breaks, or change drivers every couple of hours. However, only drivers whose names are on the rental agreement should ever be allowed to drive the vehicle, because your insurance will NOT cover you in case of an accident or other unfortunate event should it turn out that a non-nominated driver had been driving the vehicle.
The wildlife you will encounter is nothing like the wildlife in your local zoo, which is no doubt, why you came all the way from Europe to see them in their natural habitat. However, here, you never know what you might run into around the next bend in the road: you may encounter nothing more dangerous than a tortoise, but then again, you may run into a herd of elephants, a pride of lions, or an angry buffalo.
None of the above may recognise your right to be there, and many stories tell of lions that have attacked vehicles to protect their cubs, or sometimes, just for the hell of it. There are also many documented cases of elephants that have destroyed vehicles or of vehicles that had been rendered unserviceable after being head-butted a couple of times by an irate buffalo.
The best thing to do if you encounter large animals is to stop, but keep the engine running. Do NOT blow the horn, race the engine, flash your headlights, open a window to wave or yell at them, get out of the vehicle, or do anything silly that can be perceived as a threat, or as an invasion of their “personal space”. Instead, keep all windows and doors closed, back up slowly, and keep moving away at a slow pace until there is at least a few hundred metres between you and the animal(s), or until the animal(s) move away of their own volition- which may, or may not happen.
You can never win a dispute with even a single elephant, so get away from it as soon as you can. Also, bear in mind that the only reason you ever escape alive from a full-blown attack by lions is that the pride did not really want to kill you at that particular time.
While we understand the attraction of being able to set up camp anywhere in the bush, we do NOT advise it. For one thing, both elephants and lions are active at night, and while you may sometimes hear a pride of lions approaching if the pride is not actively hunting, you will almost certainly not hear a herd of elephants until you are caught in the middle of the herd, with no way to get out from among them.
Elephants often move towards water and better grazing at night when it is cooler, and the last thing you want is to be surrounded by animals that weigh six tons or more, and particularly so when they have their young with them. Elephants are fiercely protective of their young, and they will pulverise anything they perceive as being a threat to a calf, or even a youngster, so avoid the possibility of being stomped on by angry pachyderms that probably got a bigger fright than you did when they became aware of you.
One other major threat at night is hyenas that are out hunting. Hyenas are often described as cowardly clowns who will run at the first sign of trouble or opposition, but nothing could be further from the truth. They may be scavengers, but they have no problem taking a kill even from lions if they have sufficient numbers on their side, which means that should a pack of hyenas find you in the bush, they will almost certainly persist in their attack until they have what they want- which may be you.
Simply avoid these scenarios by only sleeping in designated campsites, which the local wildlife has largely learned to ignore or avoid.
One of the most common mistakes first time self-drivers make is wanting to cover too large an area in too little time.
The object of an undertaking such as a self-drive safari is to see and experience as much of Southern Africa as is possible in the available time. In practice, this often turns out to be race at break-neck speed between two points on map, when what a self-drive should be, is a slow, leisurely drive through some of the most spectacular scenery, hosting some of the largest concentrations of wildlife on the entire planet.
To get the most from most self-drive safari routes, we recommend that you do not cover more than about 300 km or so per day. Even this distance can be too much in some countries and/or regions, simply because much of the area’s natural beauty will just pass you by, without you having the opportunity to experience the real soul of continent.
You are going to be spending a large amount of money on your safari, so not planning it in such a way that you get the most out of it does not make much sense, economically, and otherwise. Therefore, we strongly urge all prospective self-drive safari goers to do as much research on the area they plan on visiting as possible, and to use the route planning services that all reputable safari vehicle rental companies offer as a basic feature of all rentals.
However, due note must be taken of the time of year you are planning to have your safari. Don’t rely on pretty pictures on websites as the foundation for making route-planning decisions, because local weather conditions play a huge role in how different parts of Africa look at different times of the year. The very last thing you want is to find a dry, barren dust bowl devoid of life when you arrive, instead of the lush, green meadows you saw on the rental company’s website when you made your booking.
Different regions within Southern Africa have different wet seasons, which could mean for instance that you might find yourself stuck in the monsoon season in Malawi, Kenya, or Tanzania, while in other regions the weather may be mild, and reasonably dry.
The monsoon rainfall in the countries that have monsoon seasons can be as high as 50 mm or more in any period of 24 hours for weeks at a time, which means that much of these counties are impassable to anything but foot traffic during this time. By way of contrast, in other parts of Southern Africa, the dry season is so dry that every living thing moves away to escape the heat, dust, lack of grazing, and sometimes, an almost total lack of surface water over vast areas.
The smart thing to do therefore is to not only plan your trip around these extremes of weather, but also to limit the distance you’ll be driving to a level that will cover the most ground, while at the same time, not force you to race from one point to the next just because you have a schedule to keep, which brings us to another way to discover and explore Southern Africa, which is to…
While it is true that a self-drive safari through the toughest parts of Southern Africa is an experience that feeds the soul, it is also true that for various reasons, feeding the soul in this manner is not for everyone. Fortunately though, there is an alternative to roughing it in the bush that is perhaps more cost effective than hiring a fully equipped, proper off-road vehicle, while at the same time offering access to much, if not most of what Southern Africa has to offer in terms of scenery, game viewing, and the pleasures of exploring the back roads of this wonderful part of the world.
How to do this? It’s simple really- all you do is hire a normal, road-going vehicle, although we recommend that you hire a vehicle with at least some off-road capability, even if it just a diff lock on the rear axle to improve traction on loose surfaces. However, there is a little more to it than that, so let’s discuss the right way to approach a Southern African road trip by answering some-
South Africa has a well-developed road network that includes several tens of thousands of kilometres of dirt and gravel roads, but the best part is that with the exception of one National Park in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa that strictly admits only proper 4 × 4 vehicles, all of the National Parks, Game Reserves (including privately owned reserves), wilderness and conservation areas, as well as many (if not most) scenic attractions in South Africa are fully accessible from the existing road network with most pick-up trucks and SUV-type vehicles.
Moreover, recent, large-scale infrastructure development in the countries bordering on South Africa (with the exception of Zimbabwe), has led to huge improvements in these countries’ road networks. In practice, this means that many destinations that were not accessible to vehicles other than hard-core off-road vehicles just five years ago are now accessible to almost all vehicles that have more ground clearance than a luxury sedan.
However, there is a (slight) downside to not renting a fully equipped 4 × 4 vehicle from a specialist rental company. Many, if not most of the advantages and benefits that come with a self-drive safari rental contract, such as assistance with route planning, the supply of camping equipment, and basic instruction in off-road driving techniques are not available with a normal rental contract.
While at first glance, the above issues may appear to be insurmountable obstacles that amount to deal breakers, they are in fact nothing more serious than minor bumps in the road that are easily resolved, as we shall see in the following list of frequently asked questions. Many European tourists have enjoyed extended and trouble-free self-dive road trips across Southern Africa, and by following the advice, tips, and recommendations below, you can too.
Bear in mind that much of what follows also applies when hiring a fully equipped, proper 4 × 4 safari grade vehicle so, let us start with some general issues such as-
Most rental companies in the region stipulate a minimum age of 23, although in some cases, younger drivers can be accommodated, provided they are willing to carry the increased rental and insurance costs.
– Will my driver’s licence be accepted?
As a general rule, any driver’s licence issued by European Governments is accepted by most rental companies, provided that the licence is issued in English, or you have a certified translation of the licence available.
However, it always pays to be prepared, so we do recommend that you obtain an international driver’s permit if your licence is issued in a language other than English. Be aware though that driver’s licences that are endorsed for serious traffic violations may not be accepted.
This depends as much on the area(s) that you want to visit, as it does on the number of people that are coming on the trip.
Nonetheless, we do not recommend that more than four people travel in one vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle in question is a double-cab pickup truck, or an SUV that seats seven people. Bear in mind that you will NOT be allowed to tow a trailer with a rental vehicle, which means that whatever vehicle you choose, it must have enough space for the luggage that comes with four people.
No, you do not. However, we do recommend that you hire a vehicle with a manual transmission and low-range gear set if such a vehicle is available, or a vehicle that has at least a diff lock on the rear axle. Chances are that you will never need these capabilities, but depending on the season, you may encounter some mud in some places and areas should you venture off-road.
A word of caution though- do NOT hire a vehicle with a CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission), since these transmissions are NOT designed to carry heavy loads on anything but paved roads.
In terms of fuel economy, bear in mind that an extra axle does influence fuel economy, but this is easily overcome by hiring a diesel vehicle, which is vastly more fuel-efficient than any comparable petrol vehicle.
If you stick to mapped roads, chances are that the worst terrain you will ever encounter is the occasional mud patch, or a bit of loose sand in some areas. However, in Africa it always pays to be prepared, so we do recommend that you complete at least one-day off-road driving course in your home country before you leave home.
We recommend that you learn the basics of sand and mud driving, but you really do not need to learn advanced vehicle control and recovery techniques.
Again, this depends on the number of people coming on the trip, as well as the amount of money you have available.
For instance, if you are on a budget, we recommend that you buy some basic camping equipment when you arrive. The exchange rate between the South African Rand and both the Euro and British pound is extremely favourable, meaning that for about €1 200 to €1 500 or so, you could buy all the camping equipment four people could ever need during the road trip.
This amount is roughly the same as the insurance costs on the equipment that comes with a kitted-out 4 × 4 vehicle, so you come out about even. Besides, you can always ship the equipment back home when you are done, or you can donate it to a local charity, of which there is a distressingly high number in South Africa.
In addition, and given the Rand/Euro exchange rate camping is ridiculously cheap for foreign tourists, and there is no shortage of camping sites. Alternatively, and if money is no object, you can forego sleeping under the stars, and plan your trip around sites and lodges that offer roofed accommodation, of which there are also hundreds, if not thousands to choose from in all parts of South -, or Southern Africa
Many rental companies allow their vehicles to enter other countries in the Southern African region, but be aware that not all companies allow their vehicles to cross into all countries.
You must inform the rental company of your intention to visit other countries, and make sure that they allow their vehicle to enter these countries. The reason for this is that the company needs to complete stacks of legally required paper work to ensure that you aren’t arrested at a border post. To allow time for this, make your initial enquiries at least 60 days in advance, and be prepared for the costs associated with completing the paperwork. Note that there is no single fee for this service, so shop around for the best rates.
Getting to the point…
The above should serve to clarify any doubts you may have had about the viability of a self-drive road trip through Southern Africa in a “normal” vehicle. However, there are other issues that concern the practicalities of vehicle hire in Southern Africa, which we will address next, starting with-
As a foreign tourist, you need your passport as a means of identification, as well as a valid credit card. Note that the name on the credit card has to match the name of the person who is renting the vehicle. In other words, you cannot allow someone else to rent the vehicle, and use your credit card to pay for it.
All vehicle rental contacts are calculated in periods of 24 hours, which is taken to mean “1 day”. For this reason, it is vitally important to note the time when you collect a vehicle, because returning it as little as one hour late can incur an additional days’ rental cost.
No, you do not, and we do not recommend that you offer to pay in advance to secure a specific vehicle, or for any other reason. Anything can happen between the times you make the advance payment and your arrival, which means that it could turn out to be very difficult to get your money back.
In practice, the rental company will debit your payment method with the deposit amount when you make the booking, and they will only charge your card for the full rental contract amount when you take delivery of the vehicle. In fact, reputable vehicle rental companies will generally not accept an advance payment, so if you are asked to pay in full in advance, chances are that you are being scammed.
Sadly, price quotes on websites and even automated quotes provided by rental companies never tell the full story. The daily rental fee(s) shown on these quotes are guidelines at best, and misleading at worst. So, how do you make sense of a quote? Here is how-
– Obtain a full quote
Insist on a quotation that includes all relevant charges, as well as all relevant terms and conditions such as-
– Period of validity of the quote
The quotation must clearly spell out how long it is valid for. For instance, there is little point on basing your planning on a quote that is valid for a few days, when your trip will only commence in three months’ time. Make absolutely sure you are quoted a price that will remain valid from the day you take delivery, to the day you return the vehicle. Do NOT accept a quotation that contains the words “Quoted price is subject to change without notice”, or some variation of this that allows the company to increase the rental fee without notice to you.
– Limitations on usage and /or mileage
If the quote says that you get unlimited mileage, check and verify exactly what “unlimited” means in terms of the rental agreement. In many cases, it means that you really get to use the vehicle for an unlimited number of km during the rental period, while in other cases; you get “unlimited” use up to a limit set by the rental company. Verify that “unlimited mileage” means what you think it means, which is that you get to use the vehicle without having to pay a fee per km for every km above a limit that you did not know existed.
Waivers are standard clauses in vehicle rental agreements that allow the client (You), to reduce your liability in case of damage to, or loss of the vehicle. There are two main types of waiver, the first being-
• Standard waivers, which reduce the amount of your liability in case of damage to, or loss of the vehicle upon payment of an additional amount that may or may not be included in the daily rental fee.
• Super waivers, which can substantially reduce your liability in case of damage to, or loss of the vehicle over and above the reduction in liability that comes with a standard waiver.
However, there is neither single amount, nor a single percentage of reduced liability that hold for all rental companies, or for all vehicle types. The additional costs of these waivers are largely determined by the rental company’s insurers, which makes it imperative that you verify how much less your liability becomes, and how much each type of waiver costs. This information is usually in the fine print of the main rental agreement, so make sure you read and understand everything in the rental agreement before you sign anything.
Be aware however, that waivers are rendered null and void if the damage or loss was caused by negligence on your part. In these cases, you remain liable for the full cost of the damage or loss.
– Check what “comprehensive insurance” really means
Comprehensive insurance is almost never as comprehensive as you think it is. For instance, the insurance you buy with the rental agreement often excludes items like damage to tyres and wheels, damage to the windscreen and other glass, or damage to the bodywork/paint/interior that does not require that the vehicle be immediately taken out of service.
NOTE: Since most rental agreements exclude so many types of damage, it is vitally important that you check the general condition of the vehicle in the presence of accompany representative before you sign the contract. Make note of all scratches in the paintwork, nicks and marks on the windscreen and other glass, make sure all the lights and other bells and whistles work, and most importantly, check the condition of the tyres, including the spare and any tools that come with the vehicle. If needs be, take as many pictures as needed to record all defects, or you might be held liable for these defects- your “comprehensive” insurance notwithstanding.
Having said this, the rental company will also insist on checking the vehicle when you return it, so be sure to allow enough time for this.
Nonetheless, most rental companies will insure these and other excluded items at an additional cost, but make sure you know exactly how much you will be paying for this. Be aware that in some cases, some rental companies will place a hold on your credit card that can run to several thousand Pounds, Euro’s, or even US dollars to cover the costs of damage to excluded items. The company will not actually take the money until you return the vehicle, but if they do place a hold on some of your funds you could find yourself out of ready money due to a maxed-out credit card, so be sure you know how the company addresses the issue of excluded items.
Also, make sure that the agreement clearly spells out the time limits, or waiting period that obtains with regard to refunding any deposits or other charges to your credit card that were deducted by the rental company. In fact, you should not allow any charges to be made without your written consent, so if there is any possibility of unauthorized charges being made at any point, walk away, and find another rental company to deal with.
– Check on the value of your public liability insurance
While most rental agreements do include some public liability insurance, the amount of cover is usually limited. In practice, this means that should you be held liable for damage to property or injuries to persons, you will be held liable for the difference between the cover amount and the full, actual costs.
We recommend that you raise your cover for public liability to the maximum limit allowed by the vehicle rental company, or purchase additional insurance from your own insurers for the duration of the rental agreement. Be aware that the cover amounts that are included in vehicle rental agreements are almost never sufficient to cover serious situations, so be sure to discuss this crucially important issue with the rental company before you sign anything.
– Beware the airport tax/surcharge
If you are collecting your rental vehicle on a South African airport, you are liable for an airport surcharge/tax that can run to as much as 11% of the total value of the rental contract. Some rental companies include this surcharge, along with VAT (Value Added Tax), but many do not. We therefore recommend that you do NOT arrange to hire, or collect a vehicle from a rental company that is located on an airport, since only vehicles that are rented from these companies are subject to the surcharge. Instead, arrange to hire and collect a vehicle from a location off an airport.
However, some companies will levy a surcharge (varies between companies) when you collect a rental vehicle from a location other than an airport.
While the actual amount varies between rental companies, all vehicle rental companies charge a set amount for the services of an insurance assessor if the damage to the vehicle is judged to exceed an amount set by the company. This is to ensure that damaged sustained during accidents is assessed fairly and objectively, and that repair costs are quoted for in line with South African industry standards.
Insurance cover is provided only for the actual costs of repairs. The processing of accident claim related documents are not covered; hence, the additional charge to process all required documents as well as certain legal services. Note that this fee varies greatly between rental companies.
South African law requires vehicle rental companies to store all rental related documents for all rentals in a safe environment for a period of five years. This fee covers the safe storage, administration, and retrieval of all documents relating to your rental contract should it become necessary to retrieve them.
This fee relates to the processing of the actual rental contract, and it should therefore not be confused with the Rental Agreement Fee, which fee pertains to storing the documents. Note though that not all vehicle rental companies levy this charge.
– What is the Tourism Levy?
By law, all vehicle rental contracts are subject to a levy of 1% of the contract value. This levy is collected by TOMSA (Tourism Marketing Levy for South Africa) to help promote tourism in South Africa.
E-Toll is an electronic tolling system that is currently in operation only in Gauteng Province. This deposit is to cover the cost of travelling on Gauteng highways. The difference between what was automatically levied by the e-toll system and the deposit you paid is refundable.
If you receive an automated traffic fine, such as you would get when you are caught speeding on camera, the fine is sent to the rental company. The admin fee goes toward redirecting the fine to the person who rented the vehicle, but note that this levy varies greatly between rental companies.
Standard rental agreements allow only one person to drive the vehicle, which is the person that signed the rental agreement. However, most rental companies allow additional drivers to be nominated, in which case the names of these persons are to be included in the rental agreement, and be designated as “additional drivers”. Note however that all additional drivers must be properly licensed, of the required minimum age, and that virtually all rental companies levy an additional charge per additional driver.
With this of rental, you can arrange to pick up the vehicle in one location, and to drop it off at another; for instance, at a branch of the rental company in another town or city. Note though that this type of rental carries additional charges that vary between vehicle types, as well as the distance between the pick-up and drop-off locations. If you are thinking of making use of this feature, make absolutely sure you know exactly how much extra the total bill will come to.
No. While it is possible to book a specific vehicle, there is no guarantee that it will be available when you arrive. Seasonal demands, local trading conditions, and the time of year all play a role in vehicle availability, which is why all rental companies reserve the right to substitute the vehicle you wanted with a vehicle with similar specifications, or better. You should however never accept a vehicle with lower specifications or trim levels, without a corresponding adjustment in the quoted rental and insurance rates.
There is an excellent chance that you will receive a new, or nearly new vehicle. However, this depends on whom you rent the vehicle from; most of the larger companies replace all, or most of their vehicles with new vehicles around November of each year, which means that if your vehicle is not new, it will be very low-mileage. We do however recommend that you discuss this with the various rental companies when you do your initial planning.
Note though that some companies replace their vehicles only every two years, so you need to do proper due diligence before you book a vehicle.
While most reputable vehicle rental companies offer roadside assistance for minor mishaps such as flat tyres and running out of fuel, not all companies include the fee for this service in their daily rental fees.
For serious issues, such as when the vehicle becomes unserviceable through no fault of yours, most companies will exchange the vehicle with a similar vehicle, or they will arrange to have it repaired at an approved repair facility. However, how soon this happens depends on the nature of the problem, as well as where the problem occurred. This makes it critically important that if you plan to visit several countries, you hire a vehicle from a company that has a presence in all the countries you plan to visit.
Note though that even though your chosen company will repair or replace the vehicle, incidental costs such as accommodation until that happens is not covered by the company or their insurers, meaning that incidental and out-of-pocket expenses will be for your account.
You are not strictly required to do this, but since you will take delivery of the vehicle with a full tank, it makes sense to return it with a full tank. If you don’t, the rental company will refill the tank, but there is no guarantee that you will be charged the same amount for the fuel that they paid for it. In fact, you will pay significantly more, since the refuelling charge includes a stiff levy or surcharge that varies between rental companies.
In South African law, your first responsibility is toward your passengers, and the occupant(s) of the other vehicle(s).
Apart from that, you need to notify the rental company and the South African Police Service immediately, or within 24 hours- whichever occurs first. Apart from that, the next steps depend on the terms of your rental agreement, which should clearly spell out what happens next. We do recommend however that you do nothing further without consulting with the rental company, and not to admit guilt in any way, shape, or form.
As soon as the rental company becomes aware of the accident, they will arrange for medical assistance, medical evacuation if cover for it exists, and all other steps required to remove the vehicle. Depending on who caused the accident, the rental company will also arrange a replacement vehicle.
The actual steps in dealing with accidents vary somewhat between rental companies but regardless of whom you rent from, make absolutely sure that you know what these steps entail, since they form part of the rental agreement. Doing anything contrary to these prescribed steps could result in you being held liable for all damages, both to property and persons.