The A1 actually takes you up the entire Eastern length of Botswana from Gaborone to Kasane through Francistown, if you have time to drive 11 hours.
If you’re looking for a road trip a twist different from the LA – San Francisco Pacific Coast Highway or the Virginia – Tennessee Blue Ridge, look no further than the A1 from Gaborone to Kasane across Southeast Botswana. You couldn’t name a landscape farther from the salty coastline or deciduous mountains. Here’s one way you can run this unforgettable trip.
Route and duration:
It was 7:55 AM July 13, 2015, marking my first 24 hours in Botswana. Rush hour strikes Gaborone around 6:30 – 7 AM so avoid crossing the city then. We planned a day trip from Gaborone to Palapye, followed by Serowe, the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, and back to the capital. Prepare 4.5 hours each way. The A1 actually takes you up the entire Eastern length of Botswana from Gaborone to Kasane through Francistown, if you have time to drive 11 hours.
What traffic? Our entire drive was flanked by endless miles of bush, the occasional hut, and lone donkey-pulled carts surrounded by kids and their mothers. It’s a truly unique landscape that I now miss dearly from my apartment in foggy San Francisco. The smooth tarmac made for an easy drive. People tend to drive rather slowly, but are courteous about vehicles overtaking. There’s the odd police speed check, so use your safari binoculars wisely if you’re riding shotgun. Cash helps.
Tropic of Capricorn (Best Kept Secret):
Two hours out of Gaborone, we began to scan the roadside for a sign which marks the Tropic of Capricorn. To my delight, we found the lonely signpost “TROPIC OF CAPRICORN” just ahead of Mahalapye. Don’t miss it! You’ll find your feet planted on the circumference of a circle that marks the southernmost latitude on the earth reached by the sun every December 22nd at 12:12 PM. Set your watches.
If you took a long walk along the Tropic of Capricorn, you’d slice through South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Namibia… and back. Sounds like a road trip to fill an entire blog. According to research on glaciation and Milankovitch cycles at Montana State University, this line is actually shifting northward at a rate of 15m/year. At this rate, it would take the tropic roughly 50,000 years to reach the Botswana-Namibia border. An hour long plane ride also works if you’re short on time.
This is one of the fastest growing cities in Botswana and is home to a large coal mine that supports the country’s largest power station. My personal experience involved a double serving of Nandos chicken to-go and getting photo-bombed by the friendliest guy.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary:
Just north of Serowe, we finally arrived at the Khama Rhino Reserve. Have a Nandos picnic (best picnic) under the peaceful balboa trees to let the hottest part of day roll over. You can get a full afternoon’s private group safari drive for roughly 200 Pula (USD $20) per person. I highly recommend having the park’s expert guides at the steering wheel unless you’re an animal-tracking pro. Thanks to Alfred and Ola’s eagle-eyed spotting, the afternoon flashed by in heart-pounding encounters with a pair of curious giraffes, a rare sighting of mother and baby white rhinos, and a field-full of zebras, springboks, elands, flying tomatoes (crimson-breasted shrikes), and ostriches to fill our minds with total wonder.
For a safari first-timer, the Khama sanctuary is ideal. The best viewing time falls after 3pm when animals begin to approach the waterholes to drink. As far as day trips go, this was one of most peaceful things I have seen in my life- big flat plains with every herd, pair and lone animal grazing alongside each other, chilling, minding their own business. No mechanical sounds, just lapping water, hoofs leaping over dry grass.
Going home (to Gaborone):
I next woke up to my friend’s dad driving in the dark on our return to Gaborone. As tempting as it was to stay longer, prepare to leave the Serowe region by 4 PM to return to the capital for a late dinner. Alternatively, you can continue North and arrive at Chobe just past midnight. This roadtrip is a real gem. Good night, I will see you in Chobe National Park in a later post.