I generally do not like travelling by plane just to visit places. In fact, given a choice, I prefer to travel overland even if it was a 18 hour bus ride because it gives me a sense of the local life and a glimpse of the area where the transport passes through. I like to fill up the gaps in the map of my mind.
As part of Southern-Eastern Africa Itinerary, we had taken only 1 flight to visit the UNESCO Heritage site Victoria Falls. From then on, the plan was to travel overland by local transport all the way back down to Johannesburg. From Livingstone city in Zambia, we would find our way all the way down to Swaziland.
The first step of the journey was to find our way from Livingstone (Zambia) to Maun (Botswana) via local overland transport.
There was a CLEAR LACK OF INFORMATION ON THIS ONLINE! (even offline, because the locals were not clear also)
From our research online, there was a route into Kasane, but the information was sparse and outdated. Most people seem to do the reverse route (easier as it was getting a transport from Botswana), or take a flight or a private tour transport.
Additionally from Kasane, it seemed like the only option was to switch at Nata. However, we found out that there was actually an option that goes directly to Maun. This means that you can do the journey, from Livingstone to Maun in 1 day!
Having done this journey, I decided to post about it to try to best explain the process so that future travellers would feel more assured about travelling via this route.
How to Travel Overland from Livingstone to Maun
I shall summarize the main steps from my experience and elaborate on my experience with pictures to give you a better sense if you wish to read.
- Head to the Bus Rank in Livingstone or the shared taxi near Shoprite
- Buses leave at 8am/1pm from Livingstone, be there early, but shared taxis is your best bet
- Head to Kazungula Border. The journey takes around an hour
- Go through Zambia immigration and take the public ferry across (2 Zambian Kwacha). Journey takes 10 minutes.
- Go through Botswana Immigration and take a shared taxi to Kasane Bus Station/Rank. Journey takes 15 minutes.
- Immigration process for both sides takes a total of ~ 1 hour.
- Take the 9pm overnight bus from Kasane Bus Station/Rank directly to Maun. Journey takes around 7h so you’ll reach Maun at 4am. There is no need to switch in Nata.
*We left Livingstone at 1.30pm on the shared taxi, and reached Kasane Bus Rank at close to 5pm. The total journey took us 3.5h, which was surprisingly not as long as we expected based on what we had seen online. Most people are delayed because they are crossing the Kazungula Border via a vehicle which is quite a complicated process, but it is faster via foot. *
Shared Taxi from Livingstone to Kazungula Border: 40 ZK (~US$ 3) per pax
Kazungula Ferry Crossing: 2 ZK (~US$ 0.20) per pax
Shared Taxi from Kazungula Border to Kasane Bus Rank:
We paid 5 USD because we didn’t have Botswana Pula on hand. So 2.5 USD per pax, but I have heard that you can get ~10 BWP (~US$ 1) per pax
Bus from Kasane to Maun: 136 BWP per pax ( ~US$ 13.6)
Total: ~US$ 18
This means you can technically go overland from Livingstone to Maun in 1 day at a cost of around ~US$ 18. In comparison, an organized transport from Livingstone – Kasane could cost US$ 55 and above! Over the course of our trip in Botswana, we’ve also come to realize that buses in Botswana are not the cheapest.
Taxi from Victoria Falls to Livingstone Centre (Shoprite): 60 ZK
Taxi from “Food palace” to Fawlty Tower Backpackers: 20 ZK
Taxi from Fawlty Towers Backpackers to Old Shoprite Bus Station: 30 ZK
Lunch at “Food Palace”: 90 ZK
BTC Simcard: 80 BWP (~US$ 8)
Beer: 20 BWP (~US$ 2)
Snacks+Dinner at Spar supermarket for 2: 65 BWP (~US$ 6.5)
Cold Bottled Water at Kazungula Border: 5 ZK per bottle (~US$ 0.4)
Livingstone -> Kazungula
My standard protocol for travelling has always been to confirm what I know with the locals or the accommodation I stayed in. I had asked a few times about the journey to Kasane at Fawlty Backpackers hostel, the hostel we were staying in Livingstone.
The answers given were vague, or they didn’t know, or confusing accounts as the different staff contradicted each other. It seemed like they themselves didn’t know how to do it. On hindsight, maybe it just wasn’t common to cross to Kasane!
We even asked the taxi driver that took us back to Livingstone after exploring Victoria Falls in the morning,. He mentioned that there was no big bus, no mini bus, only taxis. Of course, I could smell self-agenda a mile away and simply took his words with a smile and nod of head.
I decided to try one more time at the reception. After all, the staff change everyday. From my research and asking around, I found out there was a bus to Kasane. Based on my experience, buses are definitely the main mode of transport between cities and countries. It is near impossible to me that there wasn’t a bus plying this route. This time, the timings for the bus were different, they couldn’t decide on where the location of the bus was and one of them simply deadpanned that there was no transport option except for taxis!
I was flabbergasted!
Livingstone Bus Station/Rank
After analyzing all the various accounts, we surmised that the best option was to go to the “Old Shoprite area” to try to take a bus. Apparently all the transport options to the border stems from there. One staff said there was a big bus/coach which departs at 8am and 1pm. By the time we left the hostel, it was close to 1pm and we were hoping to catch the 1pm bus. I had faith that they were not precise with timing. Even if there wasn’t a bus, we had a high chance of taking a minibus to Kazungula. I could imagine the 2 of us squeezing into a minibus of 18 pax or more and making our way across the border, but at least we would be on the way!
We hopped onto the taxi towards the Old Shoprite area which is actually the “Shalom bus station:”, near the central area of the Mukuni Park Curio Market”, the new Shoprite and the previous location for “Zam Mex” (which was closed also).
Upon reaching the bus station, we were aghast! It was just an empty plot of land, there was nothing there, no buses. Were we at the wrong place? A part of me was thinking that the taxi driver purposely drove us to the wrong location. However, seeing his reaction and asking the people around, we knew it was the correct location. I knew that inter-city buses usually leave in the morning but I didn’t expect there to be 0 buses at all.
The taxi driver also tried drive around to find the big bus as it supposedly just left. I found out that that the big bus actually comes from Lusaka, the capital and largest city of Zambia. Therefore, it is usually full and makes a short cursory stop at Livingstone before departing. So there would have been very little chance for us to board the bus. I am extremely curious to find out if any traveller had managed to take the coach from Livingstone to Kasane because I have never managed to find any.
I think the safest option is to head to the bus terminal as marked on the map in the early mornings before 8am. Even if no buses were available, many people will be able to direct you around.
Livingstone Shared Taxi
The next best option was a shared taxi. There really wasn’t any minibus to my surprise. I guess the shared taxi was their modus operandi.
We dropped off at the shared taxi area, which was nearby at the Shoprite area.
It might seem a bit intimidating because there were no signs, language barriers, and a bunch of black dudes hanging around (yes casual racism). My fears are usually unfounded and more due to ignorance, because I am actually bigger in size and they are just guys trying to make ends meet.
There are a few standard procedures I do when I take a transport, especially a taxi for a long distance. I will shake hands with the driver to know him and speak to him for awhile, as well as take a picture of the vehicle and the vehicle plate number.
Just to give one a sense of the area, here are some videos.
I thought we might wait for some time, maybe up to 2 hours, but it surprisingly took only 10 minutes. The drivers hollered their way to much effectiveness, it was a true hustle spirit. We squeezed in 2 more people before we headed off.
The drive took around 50 minutes. We got dropped off at the border and was totally confused!
There were no signs or anything, and it was extremely hot. Common sense prevailed, we just walked forward, and turned left at the gate and followed the crowd in. On the map, as long as you are headed towards the Kazungula Ferry or border crossing, you are headed the correct way.
There was a bank to change money and a small queue to enter. It was an extremely small entrance and there was a huge crowd just squeezing to enter that 1 door.
We were melting in the sun. Looking around, we were definitely the only tourists around. Everyone waited impatiently and I had no idea whether the queue was to change money or the immigration. Apparently it was both, because the queue congregated and then split later on due to the small door.
This reminded me of some borders where it was a chaotic queue, aka every man for himself but please squeeze and go with the flow. I wished I had some pictures to show the route but I didn’t have because I didn’t dare to take out my DSLR at that time. It isn’t a very smart thing to try to take photos at a border or immigration area as well as to show people that I have costly electronics with me.
We decided to multi-task. One of us stayed in the queue for the immigration, the other went to change the remaining money as well as some USD to Botswana Pula for our next leg. The irony was that this border bank doesn’t change to Botswana pula, only to Zambian Kwacha.
It was interesting and yet ridiculous. Okay, to be fair the bank exchange was situated on the immigration post on the Zambia side. The only reasoning I can imagine was that this bank exchange was mainly for people who were coming from Botswana, and that 99% of the people come via Botswana. Having read other travel blogs, I’ve realised most tourists come from Botswana rather than this route.
Therefore, we just continued to queue for the immigration. We waited for around 30 minutes. The immigration process excluding the queue was quite painless thankfully. Once we exited the building, we were confused again.
Where do we go? There were no signs, just an empty road. As we could see the water ahead, we just walked towards it.
Kazungula Ferry Crossing
We saw some people gathering around. The ferry will come here.Finally! After “fire fighting” the whole day and stumbling from point to point, we knew we were on the right track.
Some men tried to sell us the private boat option (the small boats on the right in the picture) which most tourists took. The public ferry was slow, dangerous, and late! We would have to wait a long time!
I just laughed and rejected them, without even bothering to ask the price. Don’t bother, the public ferry is more than sufficient. I knew from my research it would be a rip-off, costing maybe 10 USD and above for a very short journey. You can see the Botswana side of Kazungula just across!
We decided to spend our remaining kwacha (10 kwacha to be exact) on cold bottled water to celebrate, what a luxury! It was a form of validation that we had calculated our expenses well because we did not have any leftover currency. As the currency situation is very unstable and some countries don’t accept other countrie’s currency in Africa, we didn’t want to be left with unused currency. I also knew from my research that there was practically no place to change your Kwacha in Botswana.
Now a funny incident happened. Having spent all our kwacha, we forgot we needed to save some money for the ferry across! That was our last expense! We also didn’t even know how much that would be.
We spoke to one friendly guy who seemed to be waiting for the ferry. He could speak English and helped us convey the message to the guy in charge of the public ferry (no way of telling from afar honestly). It cost only 2 kwacha per person, which is basically US 15 cents per person or 0.20 SGD! I had expected it to be at least 2 USD or something, but I guess it was really local price! The Ferry was surprisingly really cheap.
Except we had 0 kwacha in our pockets.
We laughed and semi-panicked. I wasn’t going to head back to the bank just to change a single usd for 4 kwacha. I rumbled through my wallet and thank goodness I had small denominations of USD. We decided to be “generous” and pay 1 USD instead.
We tried to pay the “boatman” in USD, giving him 1 USD which is more than enough for the 2 of us. However, the guy refused! He wasn’t even asking for more money, he just refused USD because it wasn’t Zambian kwacha! He thought it was useless.
We kept trying to explain, and he kept saying 2 kwacha! We continued this charade until the local guy stepped in and casually berated the boatman, explaining to him that he could take the 1 USD and change at the bank for more than 2 kwacha.
Only then did the boatman take the USD. We actually did panic for a moment due to his refusal because I was afraid of not getting on the ferry and didn’t want to wait for the next one. On hindsight, maybe the boatman was asking for 2 USD, but I would never know.
I realised the ferry, wasn’t really a boat. It was like a floating moving platform. It basically ply the route continuously. How long one waits for the ferry is dependent on the speed of which the previous vehicles and occupants disembark and the others board the ferry at the platform.
There was no system. When the “ferry” docked, the vehicles just automatically moved onboard, so did the people. I was confused as I was so used to having some semblance of a system. Shouldn’t the cars go in first then the people? Or vice verse? It didn’t matter. We just found our way on board the space. If you don’t get on, you are just left behind.
It took around 10-15 minutes for the “ferry” to get across. We actually crossed the Zambezi river, which actually flows through Victoria Falls. The only discomfort was breathing in the fumes from the vehicles onboard! They usually do not switch off their engines.
*A Kazungula bridge is slated to be completed in 2020, so maybe this system wouldn’t exist next year, but don’t bet on it because it has been on-going for a long time!*
Once the ferry docked on the other side, the vehicles got out and we just followed the crowd.
Kazungula Botswana Border Immigration
We simply followed the road and these 2 ladies who seemed to be on the same journey as us. They were well-dressed and seemed very flashy. We were wondering where they were from and ended up making friends with them at the border. They were actually well to do young generation from Botswana and Zambia, who can speak very good English. They reminded me of the young generation of Thai and Indonesians, where there was a wave of new money and they would “rough it out” and take local transportation but their dressing and accessories tell a different story.
We had to walk around 10 minutes to get to the Botswana immigration office and entry point. There was a tall shelter for the trucks, but on the right side is actually the immigration office. With no signages around and many people loitering around, we simply followed the first queue we saw that was entering a door (2nd picture below). Looks like we were right!
I thought we were done with the admin, but there was a very interesting situation which was the first for me. Everyone had to step into this small puddle with all your footwear because the puddle was in fact “disinfected water” as prevention for hand-foot mouth disease. It was a fascinating experience because I was wondering, does it really work? Apparently you had to do it for all the footwear you had, including slippers.
Kazungula Border -> Kasane
I was hoping to take a shared taxi together with the 2 ladies, but the moment we got through the immigration, everyone seemed to have their own vehicle waiting for them. There didn’t seem to be many backpackers/travellers during this period, or maybe nobody really did this route DIY anyway.
We wanted to find a money changer at the Botswana Immigration Point but there wasn’t any, which was a surprise because all our previous immigration points had a money changer/bank.
We still didn’t have any Botswana Pula!
Left alone, we had to find our own way to Kasane. I was half expecting a throng of loitering taxi drivers rushing over and trying to get us, but it was so empty and dead that I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get a transport at all!
Approaching the first taxi driver, we didn’t have much of a choice. Usually, I would always bargain. The taxi driver quoted 5usd, it was slightly steep but not too exorbitant. The usual price was around 20 Botswana Pula, which is 2 USD. The weather was too hot and draining and I was tired from all the logistics so I simply agreed without any resistance. I didn’t have energy to negotiate over a few USD.
The first thing we did was to ask the driver to drive us to a good money changer. He drove us to a Mall area where there was a good money changer. True to his word, the rates there were the best so far in my whole trip in Botswana. It was a rate of 10 Botswana Pula to 1 USD, with no commission charges.
I tried finding it on google map and I believe it was somewhere near Choppies, which can be found here: https://goo.gl/maps/5Rcgd8MGfgtVUUtn6. I might be wrong about it though!
Kasane Bus Station/Bus Rank
We dropped off at Kasane Bus Station (or Bus Rank they call it). Do not confuse it with the Kasane Bus Terminal on the map, the Bus Rank is the correct location. The bus station is a brown bricked building with teal/turquoise looking roof while the buses are all situated in the carpark on the left.
The taxi driver also directed us to the bus to Maun. It was pretty obvious as there was a sign on the front that says “MAUN”.
I was slightly apprehensive in committing but it seemed like it was the only bus. Moreover, lady in charge looked like she knew what she was doing. Therefore, we paid her (136 BWP per pax) and I made some casual conversations with her so that she could recognize us.
I sat there for awhile to observe and ask people around to see if this was the only bus. The main building was actually for the tickets but I think it was mainly operational during the day. I believe one just pays directly directly to the bus or bus driver for the night buses.
We were the first passengers on board and I was wondering whether we had to wait for it to fill up later.
We had a lot of leftover time. Our bus was an overnight bus to Maun and would only leave at 9pm. There was still 4 more hours to burn.
*Tip: There are also buses to Nata, especially in the morning. From the online research, there is a bus at 6am from Kasane to Nata, which takes around 3h. You might need to wait around an hour for the next bus from Nata to Maun. I believe during the day, there should be more connections as well as the direct bus option.
Thus, we decided to walk around, explore, grab some food and a sim card and come back later. Afraid that the bus might leave without us, I once again approached the lady to tell her that we would come back later.
We headed across the road and found out there was a small mall area and Spar. Yes! Our favorite supermarket. We had to find some dinner also, but there didn’t seem like there was any local stall or restaurant around.
Like a true millennial, the first order was to get a sim card. There were 2 shops there, Orange and BTC. BTC was still open for us luckily but Orange was closed by 5pm.
BTC was a pretty awesome place. It had a super strong aircon which was heavenly, seats for us to sit down, free wifi for usage and the staff that didn’t bother us or say anything unless we asked them questions. They even helped us refill our water.
I got a sim card from BTC at 80 BWP, which includes sim card activation. It wasn’t the best deal or fastest, but it had sufficient coverage. Just a point to note, the data available is nowhere comparable to other countries due to the infrastructure, but it is sufficient for basic Whatsapp and searches.
We sat there for some time just enjoying the aircon. It might seem weird, but finding a place with an empty seat and good air-conditioning was a premium in Africa, and this was one of the rare times I got to enjoy that while travelling. So if you need a break in an utterly random place, i would highly recommend BTC Office in Kasane ha!
We asked them for local food recommendations and they recommended us Hunter’s Pub, which was just beside. We checked it out but it was super expensive, practically Singapore pub prices or more. A cold draft beer was extremely tempting though.
Instead, we went to Spar like a true backpacker and bought some beer, spaghetti, prunes, peanut butter plus fresh grain bread. That was our dinner and breakfast for tomorrow at Maun. The spaghetti was a bad idea, so please do not get it!
We realised many locals were buying their food from Spar, especially the cooked food section.
Our bodies were extremely sweaty and grimy from the travelling and the African weather. There was nowhere for us to shower, but guess what? It started to rain, really heavily. It was an outpouring of rain, as though it hadn’t rained for eons, which was most likely true.
We went to the nearby KFC for the toilet but they only had a basin which allowed us to wash up. We waited for the rain to stop, around 8pm before heading back to the vehicle. I did not want to miss the bus, or go back on it when it was full.
While walking back, the lightning was insane. There was no rain, but lightning kept streaking non-stop across the night skies. Lightning branched across the skies horizontally like a tree of light. It was extremely alluring and mesmerising but nonetheless terrifying at the same time. I couldn’t stop looking and flinching every second because it was simply continuous flashes of lightning. I had never seen such a massive lightning storm, without rain. The 10 minutes walk back was a pretty stressful walk.
I tried to find some pictures online to capture the moment. Not joking, but the lightning storm I saw was a combination of the pictures below (not the actual location, just the lightning).
On the way, we went past a pub which had a toilet. It felt pretty dodgy but nobody disturbed us. So if you want drinks, there is a pub on the same street on the way to Spar from the bus rank.
Kasane -> Maun
When we reached the bus at 8+, it was surprisingly quite packed. We found our seats at the back. There was supposedly wifi but I am pretty sure it doesn’t work. Never trust the “free wifi” on the buses, why would they work when their basic phone connection doesn’t?
I was afraid it would be hot and uncomfortable, or there would be a lot of movement. It was an uneventful bus ride, the driver drove safely and the wind was cold at night so there were no issues.
We left at 9pm and reached Maun at 4am the next morning! The bus station was a more proper bus station this time, with shelters and people actually waiting there. It is in front of a big supermarket Choppies and marked on the map above. It was time for the next leg of our journey through Botswana. You can read more on my experience in Maun and Botswana.
It is actually QUITE EASY AND SAFE to get from Livingstone to Maun via local transport. Although people along the way don’t seem very clear or expressive in directing you, there is definitely a way and the drivers know their stuff.
I have come to realize that most people either rent their own vehicle and have to face the complication at the Kazungula Border, or take an organized tour (perhaps due to fear which is due to the lack of information) which cost 3-5 times the amount. Looking at Kazungula Trip Advisor, I can’t help but smirk. There was only 1 blog that I came across recently which went through the same journey.
It seems to be a lot more common for people to travel from Botswana upwards to Victoria Falls. It is actually easier for that way because Botswana is slightly more organized. The main tricky moments were Livingstone -> Kazungula Border and Kasane -> Maun.
Here are just some tips and reminders:
1) Change your Zambian Kwacha before you go to Botswana, but remember to keep some for the ferry!
2) There is NO NEED TO CHANGE IN NATA, there are direct buses to Maun. It is faster and easier.
3) Shared taxis are quite fast and safe.
4) Buses leave quite on time and the bus drivers are skilled.
5) Ignore those who try to sell you the private option.