“I have to park in a special place at night because if not those elephants will eat my maize!” -Mike the trucker
Everything you need to know about going from Livingstone to Maun (and crossing the border between Zambia and Botswana) in one day.
Are you ready?
This travel leg felt like puzzle, and I was definitely up for the challenge. And I succeeded (barely).
There is no direct connection between from Livingstone to Maun on Public Transport
You generally need to go from Livingstone to Kasane, and then take a bus from Kasane to Nata, and then get a bus from Nata to Maun. I seriously doubt that those would be clean connections. You will most likely get stranded.
I was looking into camping at Kasane, but there was no guarantee that I would get a camping spot. I was not willing to risk getting stranded having to pay a ton of money for a hotel/lodge room. Botswana, you are EXPENSIVE!
Be sure to check out my Zambia page for more travel tips!
So I decided to skip Kasane and go directly from Livingstone to Maun. In fact, I knew I wasn’t going to spend so much time in Botswana because it wasn’t exactly in my budget and I had also had some excellent safari experiences in Zambia.
At first I heard that it may be possible to get a bus from Lusaka (Zambia) to Gaborone (Botswana) and then get off the bus midway through at the tiny village/ junction named Nata. From there I would take a public bus to Maun.
But turns out that you would have to pay full price for the bus from Lusaka to Gaborone, and you risked arriving at Nata in the middle of the night. Judging by the number of wild animals I also saw on the road you probably wouldn’t want to be out and about at night without a plan.
Why not skip Kasane?
For those of you who don’t know, Botswana has more of a policy of tourism that values higher prices and therefore lower numbers in order to preserve the natural environment.
So yeah, Botswana, I’ll be back when I’m an old lady and [hopefully] have more money to spend.
But I noticed there were some more affordable places to stay and things to do near the Okavango Delta, and Maun (the closest city to the delta) was also sort of on the way to Namibia.
So when I was trying to get from Livingstone to Maun I thought why not just skip Kasane and try to go directly to Nata and catch the bus to Maun from there?
That would save me the time and cost of getting from the border to Kasane and then backtracking.
So I did just that.
Getting from Livingstone to Kazungula (the border between Zambia and Botswana)
When going from Livingstone to Maun, you first need to cross from Zambia to Botswana. This is a fun border crossing!
I realized early on that the potentially most expensive (and, of course, shortest) leg of the journey would be from Livingstone to Kazangula (or vice versa). People were saying things from $20 to $40 for a cab, to which I was like hell no. If you are traveling with other people this could be the easiest way to save money.
Luckily, I stayed at Fawlty Towers hostel in Livingstone (a nice place but the wifi sucks), and the best part about that is that it is located right at the crossroads of the road you need to take to get to Kazungula.
So I hitchhiked.
Arriving at the Kazungula border
The drive from Livingstone to the border takes between 40 minutes to 1 hour depending on your ride.
I hitchhiked and it was extremely straightforward and easy, but I think a major factor is that you have to start at the [butt]crack of dawn…I started at 5:30 or 6am when a lot of trucks are heading out for the day and got a big 18-wheeler to stop within the first 15 minutes.
See Also: Hitchhiking Across Zambia
There were a couple annoying police bribe….er…checkpoints but nothing so bad. My driver told me that , when he drives in the DRC, the police at checkpoints would just enter his truck and steal everything they could get their hands on.
Even though the police in Zambia were a hassle he still preferred them to the Congo’s.
Also I need to note that yes, hitchhiking can be very dangerous. I will not address the safety aspects of hitchhiking in this post. Please do this at your own risk.
Personally, after taking buses and taxis around the continent that were in terrible condition, sometimes I felt even safer hitchhiking!
The Kazungula border between Zambia and Botswana
The border is actually the Zambezi river. Don’t fall in or you may get sucked into Victoria Falls!
There are a few options at the Zambezi. The big ferry and some smaller speed boats. There’s even a disheveled guy in a dugout canoe who will take more adventurous travelers to Namibia’s Caprivi Strip… Next time I’m doing that!
Fun fact: the ferry thing at the border river crossing with Botswana can only take one big truck and one smaller truck at a time, and so many of the trucks will wait 5 days to a week just waiting in line to cross the border. You won’t need to wait five days to get from Livingstone to Maun…
This happens at a lot of borders and I think this is why so many truck drivers seem to speak a ridiculous amount of languages “oh yeah I speak 7 languages, no big deal”…it’s because they are stuck hanging out with an extremely ethnically and culturally diverse group of men for days on end with not much to do but just hang out and talk.
If that were me I would read a ton of books, and I wondered why none of the drivers I met had any books in their truck. Well, the answer is because books are expensive in this part of the world.
“What do you do when you are waiting that long?” I asked.
“What do you think? I drink!”
Crossing the Zambezi River from Zambia to Botswana
One guy told me it was $5 to cross on his motorboat. I asked some ladies waiting for the truck ferry how much it would cost and they said it was free. So obviously I took that one.
I also need to mention that you really should get rid of all of your Zambian Kwacha back in Livingstone. There are money changers at the border but the rate is horrendous. I only saw them on the Zambian side.
There will be NO place to change your Kwacha in Maun or anywhere else in Botswana. *Maybe* you will find a place in Kasane, but I wouldn’t risk it. I got totally screwed when I went from Livingstone to Maun because I didn’t change my money. More on that later.
Getting your ride to Nata from the border
Borders are the best because you can just flag down semi trucks like shooting fish in a barrel, and boy are they eager to get going after waiting for five days in line.
Technically there is an official hitchhiking point maybe a mile down from the border, but then with all the competition there you may never get a ride. One Zambian guy I ended up talking to later told me he tried for three hours, but eventually a minibus took them. So know that there is a minibus that will eventually go to Nata.
The fact that you are a clueless, pathetic looking tourist only works to your advantage in this case. Right when you’re out of the gates and by the cookout start waving your arms and see who stops.
This road goes straight to your next destination: Nata.
Hitchhiking across Botswana
Like usual, my truck diver was a Shona-speaking Zimbabwean. My few silly Shona phrases helped break the ice and once again I stand firm in my belief that the best way to learn about the music of a country is to hitchhike with truck drivers.
Even though we were in Botswana I feel like I took a whole college course in the history of Shona music that day.
Also note that a Zambian woman also hitched a ride with the truck I was in. Though not so common, it’s not unheard of for local women to hitch rides also.
The straight shot to Nata is awesome because of the amount of wildlife you see. The truckers, like safari guides, are master spotters and always have great stories to share. My particular buddy for that leg, Mike, usually transported maize and had problems with elephants eating it at night!
Arriving in Nata and the final bus to Maun
Note that if you get stranded there were a few campsites around Nata. There are also gas stations where you can get some snacks and a restaurant or two. I arrived right before 3pm and literally, right after, an old school bus came by that scooped me up and went at light speed to Maun in just about 3 hours.
We saw TONS of animals on this route so enjoy. If you miss the bus there seemed to be plenty of traffic and some truckers I spoke to go towards Ghanzi which is on the same road as Maun.
By the way, the bus between Nata and Maun was going faster than any other vehicle on the road. It cost something like 66 Pula and was well worth it in my opinion. It got me to Maun just before sunset. Anything else would have gotten me there after dark.
600 kilometers later, I made it from Livingstone to Maun!
When you get to Maun you can take the shared Taxis for between 4 and 6 pula I forget the exact amount but they go up and down the main road to where a lot of campsites are located.
Just ask to where people get them and cabs will stop and you can tell them what direction you are heading in. A lot of cab drivers didn’t know a lot of campsites names so maybe know about other stuff nearby or follow your google map to know when to stop.
Maun is not a very walkable place.
I stayed at the Old Bridge Backpackers in Maun and liked it.
Good luck and have fun!