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Roads in Africa for a self-drive safari

Alice Lombard

Author: Alice Lombard - 16 March 2012

Last Update: 30 January 2024

Part of the Visit South Africa & South African & African Safari Collection

Self-drive safaris allow you to explore new stretches of Africa at your own pace. We get the appeal. However, the ‘be prepared’ gene is kicking in and you’re wondering what roads in Africa for a self-drive safaris are like before the adventure begins. 

South Africa Roads

The roads in South Africa are very well-maintained and in order to keep them running smoothly, a number of toll roads can be found along a journey. The comprehensive road network runs through the country, making it easy to visit each province and their many attractions both on and off the beaten track. These factors make it a great destination for self-drive safaris in Africa.

Tips for South Africa roads:

  • Drive on the left-hand side of the road
  • Always wear a seat belt
  • Distance is in kilometres

Namibia Roads

Namibia is a 4×4 enthusiast’s paradise. In easy driving, roads range from tarred, to requiring a 4×4, to out of bounds, unless in convoy. Only 12% of highways are paved in Namibia, however there is very good infrastructure of roads and you wouldn’t need more than a two-wheel drive vehicle to enjoy a self-drive holiday. Most of your driving will be done on hard gravel, not on soft dune sand as one may imagine. If you do decide to off-road it into the dunes, make sure you check with your insurance beforehand whether they will cover you in case of an accident.

Tips for Namibia roads in a 4×4:

  • Your 4×4 should be equipped with 2 spare tyres
  • If heading into the bush, opt for a long-range fuel tank or additional petrol canisters
  • For sand driving, pack a shovel and a tyre pump

Botswana Roads

Botswana’s roads are well-developed with easy access to its neighbouring countries, and a good road network within the country. The majority of the roads are tarmac, however the rest of the roads are rough, sandy and badly signposted. If you’re heading into reserves, a 4×4 is essential. During the rainy season which is usually June to August, you really need to know your 4×4 and its capabilities to tackle the bush. The area gets very muddy and there are lots of water logged paths and estuaries. If you’re not a complete 4×4 fundi, you can also visit these areas on a fly-in safari.

Tips for Botswana roads:

  • Know your 4×4
  • Watch out for animals on unfenced roads
  • Do not travel at night as obstacles are harder to see

Tanzania Roads

Not many of the roads in Tanzania are tarred. The main roads are in good condition, but the roads in reserves and parks are rough. These roads are not forgotten about however, they are constantly upgraded and maintained. Over the last five years the road network quality has improved with the highway from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza on Lake Victoria now being completely paved. Also, many of the roads have been upgraded from dirt roads to gravel roads.

Tips for Tanzania roads:

  • Do not use excessive speeds
  • Beware of fellow road user’s poor driving habits
  • Beware of other vehicles being badly lit during night time driving

Kenya Roads

All Kenya’s main roads are tarred, however many of the roads require a 4×4 if you want to access them during the rainy season. When veering off the main roads and onto tracks, you’ll need to be a confident, experienced 4×4 driver as tricky conditions rear their head along many paths. Often routes are obscured by elephants pushing down trees, making for rather interesting obstacles. Even though driving conditions may get tough, the country is most definitely recommended for a self-drive safari as the area is beautiful and the journey hugely gratifying.

Tips for Kenya roads:

  • Drive on the left hand side
  • Foreigners will need an international driving permit
  • Beware of night driving due to obstacles in your path

Zambia Roads

About 18% of the roads in Zambia are paved. After the rains most of the gravel roads are only passable when using a 4×4. The routes in Zambia are recommended for someone who has driven on a self-drive safari in Africa before. Once you venture off the tarmac, be prepared to enter some of the most beautiful and remote areas in Africa. The gravel roads take you past small villages that still pound maize and aren’t used to seeing Western faces.

Tips for Zambia roads:

  • Road borders of Chembe, Kazungula, Kariba and Chirundu are open from 06h00 to 18h00
  • Victoria Falls Bridge is open until 20h00
  • 4×4 experience is needed to tackle Zambia tracks in the bush

Zimbabwe Roads

A lot of Zimbabwe is mapped out with paved highways. Gravel routes vary in difficulty from good road conditions in well signposted areas to tricky routes where experience is greatly needed.

Tips for Zimbabwe roads:

  • Beware of potholes
  • Speed limit in Zimbabwe is 120 km/h on open roads
  • Speed limit in urban areas 60km/h

Mozambique Roads

About 19% of the main roads are tarred in Mozambique, the main road along the coast (EN1), being one of them. The roads are well maintained with regular upgrades. Many self-drive safari travellers get stuck on off road tracks in Mozambique in cases like these it is very important to have a recovery kit with you in your 4×4.

Tips for Mozambique roads:

  • Make sure your 4×4 is equipped with a recovery kit
  • Have emergency help numbers handy in case you cannot get out of a pickle
  • Make sure you have spare tyres

When you’re on a self-drive safari it is always important to drive carefully on all roads. Driving in conditions you are not used to, on paths you are unfamiliar with requires extreme caution. When you’re on a self-drive 4×4 safari it’s important to look right in front of you when driving as troublesome pot holes and other obstacles may be hiding just over the next hill. For a safe experience, drive slowly and enjoy the scenery.

Now that you know what roads in Africa for a self-drive safari are like, are you ready to go? Hire a 4×4 and pick your self-drive safari so that your spontaneity and our guidance can lead you on the adventure of a life-time.


Article Resources:

South Africa


Botswana Resources

Tanzania Resources




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