I was fortunate enough to spend a week on safari during our so called green or secret season. Everything seemed to be bursting with life, from the lush green bush to the intermittent cloud bursts that warned us of their impending approach and of course there were babies – everywhere! I don’t ever recall seeing a giraffe that small or the tiny blue wildebeest that was even smaller than the average Impala. The weather was perfect. It was certainly not a sweltering and unbearable heat and when it did rain (which of course was every day) it was more often over in an hour. Undoubtedly the biggest drawcard is the price tag as green season is the cheapest time to visit Botswana.
My journey started in Chobe but this time it was a completely different experience from my previous visits. I had the pleasure of staying on the Chobe Princess for the night and often this option is overlooked when starting or ending a safari in Botswana, yet it was the most relaxing and certainly the most rewarding game viewing experience. Feet up and reading a book, I would glance periodically at my surroundings only to find crocodile sunning on the bank, or a hippo out of the water. In fact it gave new meaning to the size of these animals, seeing them plunge from the bank into the water. Our guide took us out on a tender boat later in the afternoon and we watched a herd of Elephant come down to the water’s edge – expecting them to quench their thirst and move on. But we witnessed something I had never seen before amongst elephants… whilst I had seen them in water before this time was different as 3 young bulls cavorted and tumbled around, disappearing completely under the water for a moment before resurfacing. The only obvious sign would be the trunk peering out every now and again. I loved every minute of this spectacle.
The highlight of my week away had to be the Xaranna concession in the Okavango Delta. With an expert guide and tracker to take care of our safari needs, we managed to see the Big 5 in 24 hours. Whilst this might be the normal expectation for most, very few concessions have the endangered Rhino. Through various means, White Rhino have been relocated from South Africa and reintroduced here over a period of time. It was certainly a proud moment to come across the magnificent prehistoric looking animals grazing peacefully in the bush nearby.
The rain showers did not keep us from our game drives and with a poncho readily available we embarked on both the morning and afternoon activity. The Delta was teeming with wildlife and though more scattered during the wet season, we were never disappointed. My husband, a professional photographer, commented on photography during this time of year, claiming that with less dust particles in the air, clarity in photographs was certainly better. I can only agree based on the stunning images he captured!
So in a nutshell, it will rain and probably more often than not. But with that comes the reward of new life, little lives finding their way; explosions of colour from the ground to the sky; a photographic playground; warm summer days and lastly a little more money in the bank account.
There is something about the private concessions in Botswana – they just never seem to fail! We were in for an absolute treat on our recent pre Indaba Famtrip where we hosted agents from around the globe. One of our agents had never been on a safari before and her expectations were completely exceeded when it came to the cats; and just as special, the African Wild Dog.
I recall sitting at the breakfast table at Shinde Camp, settling into a scrumptious spread, when an unknown voice from somewhere uttered the words … “wild dogs”. We leapt up to take a closer look and in an instant blur of excitement and mere seconds, we were on the game drive vehicle with our trusted guide following the dogs. We found them and then lost them, found them again and then finally lost them when they disappeared into a thicket. They were on the hunt and it was not an easy task keeping up with them! Still we enjoyed those few precious moments and when we returned to the breakfast table our food had been keep warm and served once again.
We were lucky with the wild dogs in the Khwai concession too! This time it was a more relaxed setting and we watched a pack of 6 dogs go about the daily get up, walk 10 metres, lie down and take a break, get up and go another 10 metres, lie down and so forth. That was a special sighting and one I will remember for a long time still. Just when we thought our afternoon drive could not get any better, we came across a leopard walking in the road not far from our vehicle. My heart nearly skipped a beat … it had been nearly 10 years since I had seen a leopard in the wild. There is just something about a leopard sighting – it so magical watching this gracious and absolutely beautiful cat, so awe inspiring and a tick the box on the bucket list for most visitors to Africa.
Whilst we did not see any lion in the Khwai concession, we most certainly heard them that evening and that has to be the most incredible sound – the true call of the wild. Close your eyes for just a minute, imagine you are in your tent, separated only by a sheet of canvas to the bush around you, it is pitch dark and you cannot see your hand in front of your face….then the first call erupts from somewhere in the not too distant dark of night, a reply comes from another angle and then what sounded like a conference call amongst a pride, bellows through the silent, dark night. Nothing compares to that sound!
Selinda was probably my favourite concession, with vast open spaces dotted by a termite mound here and there. The grass was still high in places and we headed off to an area where a lioness and cubs had been seen the previous day. This was not an easy find and we all kept our eyes peeled on the bush around us, searching for that slight movement – something that might give their presence away. Our guide was committed and we continued searching, hoping to get a glimpse of these little cubs. Somewhere, someone noticed a small movement and there before our eyes were these absolutely gorgeous and perfect little cats! They were not perturbed with our presence and we were spoilt with a show in their African playground.
There are no guarantees when it comes to sightings, however I dare say, with strong concessions and committed guides, the experience of a lifetime is guaranteed.
What do termite mounds, elephants, river rafts and the Milky Way have to do with unforgettable food experiences?
While most people visiting Botswana expect to experience diverse wildlife & lush landscapes, what they don’t often expect is a world-class culinary experience.
Here are our top six recommendations for unique dining experiences in Botswana
The Extraordinary Pizza Oven – Seba Camp
We all know how kids are… they love adventure and are busy exploring things all day long…until it comes to their palates. Once lunchtime arrives, there goes any spirit of discovery. But Seba Camp, deep in the magnificent Okavango Delta satisfies even the fussiest of eaters with their magnificent homemade pizza.
At Seba Camp, just as the kids think their morning game drive is wrapping up, they’ll find themselves pulling up to a beautiful spot next to the water, where a stunning surprise bush picnic awaits with soft blankets and pillows for lounging, as well as a play area for the kids. And what piece-de-resistance awaits your adolescent explorers? A termite mound transformed into a pizza oven!
Kids have the opportunity to prepare their own pizzas with the help of a professional cook and an array of toppings (healthy is well disguised!). While pizzas bake in the termite mound oven, kids have time to play, giving parents a chance to close their eyes for a moment, or lazily watch elephants cross the river in the distance. Once the pizzas are wolfed down, the slow cruise back to camp by boat begins.
The Huckleberry Finn Experience – Xugana Island Lodge
Many people know the adventures of Huckleberry Finn who, together with a good friend, escaped the confines of daily life to raft down the Mississippi River. Fewer people know they can recreate the experience over a glass of wine and dinner for two while floating out into a star-lit lagoon from Xugana Island Lodge in the Okavango Delta.
Xugana Island Lodge appears to float above the waters of the Okavango Delta, surrounded by a papyrus-fringed oxbow lagoon. As the sunset fades and the tinkle of bell frogs begins, visitors can leave their island hide-away by pontoon, puttering out into the open water with nothing but the far-off snorting of hippos for company, far from the civilised world.
Once dessert is polished off, set a slow course back to camp, pulling into a jetty lined with hurricane lanterns to show you the way home.
Starlight Dinner of Your ‘Wildest Dreams’ – Camp Kalahari
In her music video Wildest Dreams, Taylor Swift provides a small glimpse of the Makgadikgadi’s breath-taking landscapes. Endless white saltpans surrounded by yellow grasslands dominate the area. In the evenings, as the sun sinks below the horizon, a curtain of brilliantly bright stars drops to the ground in all directions, creating the perfect backdrop for a night out in the nothingness.
At Camp Kalahari, open-air dining with a heavy dose of old-fashioned safari romance is the order of the day. Take a quad bike from camp and drive out towards the empty horizons, where the only objects to ever appear in the distance are the sun and the moon. While night descends, a twinkling of far-off light appears to be a new constellation at first, eventually revealing itself to be a lantern-filled dinner table, covered in fine china and gourmet food.
The silence and majestic surroundings perfectly complement the delicious menu Camp Kalahari serves up to create an unforgettable moment. Once the plates are cleared, you just might find your bed waiting close by, stuffed full of hot water bottles beneath the brightest stars you’ll ever see (even in your wildest dreams!)
Brunch With the Giants – Stanley’s or Baines’ Camp
Elephants are one of the most fascinating creatures on our planet. Looming grey giants, they parade across the African savannah, completing the picture of a perfect wilderness. Usually, getting close enough to really appreciate an elephant’s size isn’t possible – unless you’re visiting Stanley’s or Baines’ camp in the Okavango Delta.
Go walking through the bush with the elephants at Stanley’s or Baines’ Camp and be escorted by wrinkly-skinned hosts to a fantastic sit-down brunch, literally in the middle of nowhere. Walking with the elephants through the bush and talking to their guides allows you to understand elephants, and their behaviour, providing a real connection with nature. You’ll sit down to eat, passing bread and butter along the table under the shade of your elephant hosts’ umbrella-sized ears. Alice in Wonderland has nothing on this tea party!
Lunch at the Intersection of the Linyanti – Zarafa
Whatever waterway you see in the Linyanti, you can be guaranteed that the Zibadianja Lagoon has something to do with it. When water levels are good, this lagoon becomes more of a lake. And when bellies are empty, the best way to explore it is on board Zarafa Camp’s luxurious barge, over the course of a decadent lunch.
The Zibadianja provides an intersection for many of Northern Botswana’s waterways. Here, the Kwando River hits a fault-line, skimming the top of the lagoon before it changes its name to the Linyanti and makes a break for the Chobe. To the west, the Selinda Spillway reaches up from the Okavango Delta, connecting it to the lagoon in years of good rain. When the lagoon is full enough, it drains water south, feeding the Savuti Channel and eventually spilling out into the elephant-littered grasslands of the Savute Marsh.
Fully equipped with both lounge and dining area, the HMS Zib cruises the lagoon as elephants play in the shallows, birdlife skims the water, and guests enjoy the culinary delights of more-than-capable chefs. Top it all off with a cold glass of chenin blanc and you’re guaranteed an afternoon not easily forgotten.
Testing the Waters in the Okavango Delta – Pelo Camp
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Water is the driving force of all nature”. At Pelo Camp, this is truer than ever, as guests merge with the unspoilt nature of Botswana’s biggest UNESCO world heritage site during a bush brunch with a difference.
Heading out from camp by boat or mokoro, guests will find themselves perched on tables and chairs in the shallow floodplains of the Okavango Delta, atop bright, white sandbanks for a wet, but refreshing brunch.
Guests squish their feet into the clean, cool waters of the delta under their chairs, whilst savouring culinary delights in one of the most unique places on earth, surrounded by 360 degree views of palm tree dotted islands and open floodplains.
After brunch, a refreshing swim in the shallows of the Okavango Delta is on offer before a leisurely return to camp.
As you may be aware the water levels in the Delta are dropping fast and furiously this season. Boating and mekoro activities are being stopped in most areas as either there is no more water left, or it’s packed with crocodiles and hippos who are holding on to the last bit of wet that is available out there, which means: we really don’t want to place our guests in the middle of it all on a boat or mokoro.
The Okavango has gone through wet and dry spells as long as time. Local rainfall, Angolan rainfall, small seismic shifts in the underlying tectonics, it all makes for a rather involved and very unpredictable miracle of nature. For the past years, we could all lean back, almost guarantee water activities for most of the year in lots of areas and have our clients looking forward to gliding across the delta on a mokoro and zooming through the papyrus lined channels.
Currently we are looking at a totally different scenario, the Okavango is at its driest since a long time. I’m sure some clients will be a bit disappointed about missing out on their water experience. Did the Okavango cheat us? Maybe we have to change our approach in how we present it? The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s last wildernesses. There is no regulating its flows, it’s left to nature, the water comes and goes and the animals adjust to whatever comes along. The delta has hundreds of different faces. Wetter ones, drier ones, and lots and lots in between. Every single season has its very unique upsides. Sure the bush is thick and rather impenetrable in the rains, but it also makes for wonderful lush background, for happy and relaxed animals, lots of babies everywhere, for dramatic skies, and it is all dotted by the summer migrants who come visit.
The dry months are more dramatic, the animals are bound to being close to water, there is high competition for food and the air vibrates around the hot spots. The lines between dry and wet months have started becoming rather blurry, climate definitely has changed. So maybe we should wave good bye to trying to predict the next season as clearly as possible and prepare our travellers as meticulously as we can on what exactly to expect. Let’s rather convey a message of being open minded for anything that nature and the Okavango have up their sleeves for us. In average years it might be this and that, but we cannot know exactly, we can only guarantee that it will be wild, untamed, untampered with, that it will be “the real thing”.
We need to focus on that Miracle of Nature and understand that change brings new opportunities in the Delta. The game is more concentrated as the water levels drop, and the sightings can be more varied and exclusive. This is the reality of our “Backyard” and rather than missing a water experience, you are part of one of Wildest Africa’s greatest natural events.
Upon arrival at Stanleys Airstrip we were amazed about how much water has already arrived in the lower Delta. Just a few weeks ago on our last visit to the delta there were only few waterholes and sprinkles of water between thick bush and palm trees surrounded by sand banks and dried land. Our guide, Ice, welcomed us at the airstrip and on our 40 minutes game drive to Baines Camp we got the first impression that the flood had just arrived the day before. Making our way through waterholes, around termite mounts, through high thatching grass and between Palm trees we arrived at Baines Camp. Located in front of a beautiful lagoon with water all around camp, kingfishers hovering over the water and weavers building nests in the main area. It´s a magnificent atmosphere being in a true delta camp with the calls of the different birds, the hippos calling in the background, the wind whispering through the reeds and the peaceful quietness far away from civilization.
After settling into our room we are ready to go for high tea and excited about our first afternoon activity. To our surprise we are the first guests this season to go on a boat cruise, thanks to the newly arrived flood! The last boat cruise at Baines Camp was almost six months ago and now we are the lucky guests being spoiled with exploring the hidden parts of the delta. Having been on many boat cruises before and enjoying the smooth ride without the typical African bush massage, this one was special. Just the day before dry land and grass was covering the area around the camp. Now water was flowing through the reeds making it possible to see parts of the delta which are not accessible during summer months. The water was still brown and the bottom not visible. Only after a few weeks the reeds, the living microorganisms and the natural filtration will clean the water making it clear. Slowly we make our way through the channels, which is not that easy as the grass which is still floating in the water gets stuck in the propeller of the boat. We have to stop every now and then so our guide can pull out the reeds from the propeller. But this gives us time taking pictures of the scenery and enjoying the silence. The new flood also brings fish and new birds to the area, which we discover on the banks of the channels. Since the water is not that high yet we are able to stop at a small sandbank to have our sundowners. In between reeds, palm trees, papyrus and birds we watch the sun go down while enjoying our gin & tonic. As the sun disappears behind the horizon we make our way back to camp.
My recent visit to Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge was a refreshing reminder of how special a green season safari in Botswana can be. Not all parts of Botswana are equal once the rains arrive, so the key is knowing which areas to visit and which to leave for the winter months. Many of the good year-round game viewing areas are in private concessions with higher price tags, but the good news is that discounted green season rates make them more accessible to those on tighter budgets. Visiting these areas in green season will give you a great bush experience, as well as the bells and whistles offered at these camps year-round, but for a fraction of the price.
The Chitabe concession, where you’ll find Sandibe, is one area of Botswana which remains great year-round. On a two night stay we saw a cheetah, two prides of lions with their cubs, a female leopard calling for her mate from the tree tops, a pack of wild dog, two male giraffes fighting over a lady friend, countless elephants, plains game and spectacular bird life. The problem we encountered is that my five year old now thinks this kind of game viewing is normal! Although temperatures were soaring, we were treated to a spectacular evening thunder shower followed by the welcome relief of a cool and cloudy day.
I was travelling with my family, including my two young daughters Taylor and Megan. Travelling with small children presents its challenges but is equally rewarding. Megan may only be able to say a handful of words but she can now mimic a baboon beautifully! The staff at Sandibe catered to the kids perfectly and were ready to assist and entertain at every turn. Taylor was welcomed on arrival by a goodie bag filled with safari nick-nacks and squealed with delight when we stumbled upon a cooler box hanging from a tree during our afternoon drive, only to find it filled with home-made ice pops.
Meal times were flexible and the kiddies’ menu put my home cooking to shame. Having our own private vehicle and guide allowed us the freedom to come and go as we liked without worrying about other guests and our guide and tracker were constantly engaging the children. For families saving up for a once in a lifetime safari, the minimum age of six years and up ensures kids experience the bush when they’re at an age to appreciate and make the most of it.
Sandibe caters brilliantly to the grown-up kids as well. Whilst I have been lucky enough to visit many camps over the years, this was my second visit to &Beyond, and the second time I have been blown away by the food experience. So many operators fall short when it comes to what their kitchens produce, using the excuse that a safari is about the wildlife and not the food. With &Beyond, you can have your cake and eat it – Sandibe delivered to the very highest of standards, both on the game viewing and the culinary treats. Indulging in naughty delights is a big part of what being on holiday is all about and at Sandibe, they know how to make every calorie count.
The design and amenities at Sandibe are both cutting edge and controversial in the safari world. The lodge lacks the true sense of being in the outdoors that you’ll get when staying in a more rustic tented camp. I didn’t leave with my clothes smelling of campfire smoke, nor did I lie awake excited by the sounds of the night as the hum of air-conditioning blocked out external noises. I did however enjoy the luxury of a plunge pool during the heat of the day and cold drinks in my room during afternoon siestas, as well as the private butler and consultations with the chef during meal times, creating a very personal experience.
Whatever you prefer is a matter of choice and there are many first time safari guests who would take great comfort in the solid structure of the rooms (no canvas walls here!) and the modern comforts on hand. The design of the camp is spectacular, though I’m curious to see how the buildings will age under the challenges of maintaining a camp in the bush. Despite the money and expertise put into the design of the camp, there are a few obvious design flaws some guests may find frustrating. For the level of the camp, the rooms could have more room, and unless you’re extremely comfortable with your co-traveller, a lack of privacy in the rooms will require advance coordination of shower times.
All in all we had an incredible weekend and I can highly recommend Sandibe on every level.
Back to the office and my diet on Monday!
Pom Pom Camp, western Okavango Delta
Last weekend Jessica flew to Pom Pom for a quick 1 night stay to check out the lodge. Here is her feedback:
Pom Pom is only a short five minute drive from the airstrip. The large main area is really cool, which helps during the hot days. All the tents have a great view over the river and buffalos come very close. The rooms are fantastic. We loved the colors and especially the white curtains in the tents, which we have not seen before. The hot outdoor shower is really big and the water pressure is perfect. Coffee and tea is being served in the tents at wake up time, which makes it really nice to get up.
Our guide Rex, very nice and friendly guide met us and took us on the evening game drive. Our plan was to find lions, we saw fresh lion tracks and followed them. We drove for about 38km trying to find this male lion and while doing that we saw lots of animals just to mention a few, impalas, red Lechwe, Kudus, wildebeest, Duiker, Giraffe, Tsessebe, buffalos, lots of birds. It was getting a bit late so we stopped for our sundowner drinks. As we set up the table we heard him roaring, so we jumped into the vehicle, left the drinks there, drove off and he was about 150 to 200 m behind us, lying there calling for his brother. What an amazing sight. Rex our guide was not willing to give up on the lion hunt which was great, so our long drive and hunt was paid off eventually. It was so wonderful to hear him roar just about 4m away from the vehicle. The brothers met and it was a phenomenal way to end the evening.
On our morning game drive it was time to find a leopard. Rex took us for a leopard hunt, we saw a lot of animals while on the hunt. We finally found the mother leopard with two cubs but we could only see the one cub, since the other one was hiding. That was just incredible, wonderful game drive. Back on time we dropped two clients at the airport and kept on going on a game drive for about 40 minutes before heading back to camp for brunch.
In November Muriel and I had the opportunity to explore the camps in the Jao Concession, we visited Tubu, Little Tubu, Jao, Jacana and the new Pelo Camp. I am happy to share our experience with you:
Kwetsani: Spectacular setting over the lagoon, very ‘high and elevated camp’ everything is about views, large public deck, many different, intimate corners and tasteful spaces for the clients to withdraw and enjoy the scenery.
Units: due to their height they almost appear as ‘tree houses’, they will be enlarged and refurbished in the coming weeks, then the camp will be certainly my favorite of the classic collection in Jao.
Management: very passionate, open minded, outgoing, and certainly top service orientated camp manager, Charmaine.
Pelo Camp (pronounce PILU for all Setswana ignorants amongst us, as otherwise it sounds like kidney and not like heart, which is the shape of the island it is on).
New camp only open in high (=dry) season, very romantic, hidden in the thick bush on the island, pure water bases, the only activity is mokoro, so it will make a perfect last to relax in some horizontal safari (the birds’ concert is outstandingly entertaining) and concentrate on the small stuff.
The fire place with the bar is the central meeting point, elevated above the lagoon it offers views combined with a warm camp atmosphere.
The public area is a small tent with a terrace, true to the modest style, no big furniture but cushions to lounge.
The dining area is in another small tent, just enough to make clients feels safe without taking the camping feel away.
Units: from the outside it could be just a notch above mobile safari, they almost hide their luxurious interior (top comfy beds, perfect illumination, desk), which gives the camp the charisma of cozy, tented, intimate. Only outside bucket shower (in the cold winter months of June/July people should be informed/warned).
Food: great brunch, a variety a light and tasteful salads, beef sausages, cold pasta, cooked breakfast, fruit and cheeses. Dinner consisted of a veggie soup, excellent Impala stew, veggies and again salad, very pleasant.
Activities: mokoro, the nicest cruise I have ever done for over 2 hrs, safe, hippo free, and in a very lovely surrounding, apart from birder’s paradise, with hundreds of lechwe and elephant herds at our sights, we even spotted some shy Sitatunga.
Apart from mokoro, the manager takes clients to his very special Delta Pool for a refreshing swim and pick nick on the sand banks. Also catch+release fishing is possible.
Camp Jao: Just stunning, the jewel of the concession for the pampered, the Balinese palace in the Delta. All emphasis on luxury, spa, food, wine tasting, a perfect end or relaxing start to a safari, I could certainly stay for 5 days in this camp. The whole camp is highly elevated in beautiful old trees, as if the camp was a colony of tree houses connected by swaying boardwalks.
Apart from the spa, there is a proper gym, yoga mats and pilates balls, and a wine tasting parlour, as the unusual features.
Units: the best feature (vs its sisters in luxury Kings Pool/Vumbura Plains) is the shape of the rooms, as they are not deep but long, so from any point of the unit the views over the lagoon can be enjoyed, they are airy and full of light, which takes the weight off the massive wooden furniture and gives it a noble and highly elegant feel.
The public areas are impressive, two pools, one family one adults only plunge pool bordering with the Delta, large shady sitting areas on a 10 m tall deck. The impressive fireplace with unique Balinese drums builds the center of the camp with incredible views over the lagoon and its wildlife, e.g. Lechwe hunting Lions.