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Friday 26 October 2018

Be prepared … we tested the new Tracks4Africa app

Driving through Botswana can present some challenges – difficult road conditions, destinations far apart from each other, remote areas and confusing “road” networks. All the more important is it to be thoroughly prepared and use the tools at hand to make sure your journey will be the safari of your dreams.

One of the priorities of our recent self-drive adventure was to test the different tools available. We were super curious to test the app that everybody is talking about – Tracks4Africa. We compared it with the Shell Maps, our maps (which are great as a back-up) as well as the Garmin GPS. During our self drive trip through Savute, the Caprivi, and the Panhandle it became very quickly apparent that the Tracks4Africa app is a very effective tool!

The app is very user friendly and the best about it, it works offline! Even in the remotest areas, the app connects the dots via GPS signal and allows people travelling to easily find their way around the complicated and sometimes a bit chaotic bush network.

Scarlet & Brinny finding a satellite phone signal

Scarlet & Brinny finding a satellite phone signal

Tracks4Africa allows to search by accommodation, places, GPS coordinates, or when you see on the screen where you would like to go, you can simply tap on the screen and it will calculate the route for you. You also have the option of putting in so called “way points” along your way. This way you can literally map out your entire trip beforehand and it will lead you from stop to stop. The indicated estimated driving times are very accurate and if it changes along the way due to rest stops, slower driving etc. the system simply recalculates.

We know that some clients struggle with the costs for the app. It currently costs USD 50, but this includes regular updates. The app covers many African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and many more. Users purchase it once and can use it again and again.

Driving through the bush, the app was most reliable. The ways leading up to the lodges usually are not mapped as some lodges do not advertise themselfes as self drive lodges, but by using the SD self drive maps with the accurate GPS points for the lodges, following signs or asking at gates even that was easily manageable.

For next season we are considering putting together self drive-kits including the paper maps of Tracks4Africa as well as the guide book. This can be pre-ordered through Safari Destinations and the clients would receive it on arrival. Our recommendation however is that clients study their itinerary beforehand, downloading the app (available for Android and iOS) and make themselves familiar with their route. Botswana is a demanding destination when self-driving and proper preparation is everything. IMG_0101

 

Scarlet Backes

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Scarlet Backes

Friday 26 October 2018

“To self-drive or not to self-drive: That is the Question!”

We have been debating the hot topic of self drives for years. The trend seems to be that more and more clients have independently travelled South Africa and Namibia by car, and as a result they think visiting Botswana in the same style is the natural conclusion. Botswana is wilder, has less infrastructure, less tarred roads, is a much more challenging destination. Self-driving in Botswana is for the adventurous, people that want a guarantee to see the amazing game in Botswana should always choose to travel with a guide,  self-driving is possible in the National Parks and Game Reserves, the famous private concessions in the Okavango Delta or Linyanti can only be accessed by plane and visited with a professional guide.

As your partner on the ground we selected a group of brave individuals to go and explore some of the parks of Northern Botswana, their mission was to test a variety of maps available in the local shops, the Tracks4Africa’s app, our self drive maps and the directions we hand out. IMG_0083

This is the first of a series of blogs about “Self-Driving in Botswana”, we will write about our experiences, the road conditions, the user-friendliness of the maps and Tracks4Africa app and much more, enjoy the ride…

Here is Seeletso’s impression of his first self-drive-adventure:

When I was initially asked if I would like to join a self-drive educational from Maun across Savute to Ngoma and into Namibia then back through the Panhandle to Maun I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was only concerned about traveling in the extreme heat of October (we often get more than 40 degrees in our so-called suicide-month), and the stories I had been told of people getting stuck in the thick sand in Savute and Chobe. The last time I was in Savute was in 2002 as part of a Wellness Club in High School where we put up sign posts to guide everyone visiting the Savute region, so this was an opportunity to revisit this area and to check if our signs were still around or the elephants had destroyed them. image001

Cometh the hour, cometh the man… my moment had come. I joined Tlotlo, Brinny and Scarlet on this adventure. Being the farm boy that I am, I nominated myself to drive all the way  through the park to Ngoma in Chobe. A Wild Wheels car was delivered and handed over the day before our trip, a Toyota Hilux double cab with 2 roof tents and plenty equipment. The handover is vital to make sure that all equipment needed for the trip is in the car and works properly. The vehicle came with a GPS system loaded with Tracks4Africa maps, a satellite phone, fridge, high-lift jack, spade, sand ladder and other necessary tools. We also got a proper briefing on how to use the tools, how to lower the tyre pressure. When hiring a vehicle from a local Botswana operator the equipment is guaranteed to deal with the conditions in the parks in Botswana. Clients choosing to travel through the parks need to make sure they have the right equipment. Ready, we left Maun early morning for our first destination, the recently reopened Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge (yes SD travels in style). The drive from Maun via Mababe to Savute took us about 5 hours of solid, but not fast, driving. After the Mababe Gate (guests that stay in lodges usually travel with a voucher from the lodge confirming that park fees have been paid, at the Gate only the payment for the vehicle needs to be made, it helps to have Pula at hand, the costs for locally registered vehicles is 10 Pula a day, foreign registered vehicles are 50 Pula a day) it became a little more challenging as the thicker sand began. We reduced the tyre pressure from the normal 250 to 180 bar. IMG_0095 The Sandridge road is the most direct and easiest way to Savute even though the thick sand there has been a challenge to many. I was up to the challenge and hoping to get photos of us being stuck. To my surprise the sand was not that tough, I do not know if it was my bush baby driving skills or the Hilux just performed better than I had expected. With the vehicle on four wheel drive the stretch was easy enough.

The main challenge of the road was a few kilometers after the Savute Gate on the side track which took us to Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. Apparently, the trucks that came in for the rebuild of the lodge are the reasons for the state of the road. Extremely thick sand with deep burrow tracks, but nothing to worry about as long as you are driving a 4×4. From Savute to Ghoha Hills there is no thick sand, but the road requires one to drive at slow speed as it is bumpy and uneasy.

Savuti Sunset

Savuti Sunset

At the Ghoha Gate it is advisable to ask the Wildlife officials which is the better route, as the direct route is not in great conditions. Here you drive left (north west) towards the Linyanti cutline and once on the cutline turn right and the road leads you all the way to Kachikau village.  Before Kachikau the tarred road comes back to life and at the nearest fuel station we pumped back the tyres to 250 bar. After a night at Chobe Elephant Camp the crew crossed over to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia then spent a few nights in the Okavango Panhandle and back to Maun. The border crossings at Ngoma into Namibia and Mohembo back into Botswana were all smooth and quick. The A3 road from Shakawe to Sehitwa has lots of potholes even though there were few patches of roadworks there and there. (We will speak more about the Panhandle section in a coming Blog).

 “Insider tips from your local experts”

  • It is advisable to not self-drive in the rainy season, the terrain is difficult and chances of getting stuck in mud or having to cross water  are high.
  • Make sure your car is loaded with all the necessary equipment before you depart for your Safari (e.g. tools, GPS, satellite phone, working fridge, lockable doors, spare wheels), check all is in a good working condition. 
  • When switching from tarred/gravel road onto sandy roads reduce your tyre pressure and when going back on tarred road remember to increase the pressure.
  • On sandy roads please switch onto H4 for 4-wheel drive at all times, if sand is too thick and car fails engage Low range to avoid getting stuck, the next car might only come by after 24hrs. 
  • Respect the animals on the road, especially Elephants.
  • Do not stop and get out of the car in bushes, find a clear open space for your safety.
  • Always ask the people working at the entrance gates which road is better or how do you proceed forward.
Seeletso Rakonche

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Seeletso Rakonche

Friday 13 July 2018

Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp Re-Imagined

IMG_8420-1What was your overall impression of the Camp?

The newly rebuilt Stanley’s camp is situated in the Southern reaches of the Okavango Delta. With a modern explorers theme, the camp is looking and feeling refreshed, but has still kept the classic safari feel.

In addition to game drives and mokoro excursions (no boating), Stanley’s offers an Elephant interaction, which is one of the most unique experiences in the Delta (at an additional cost). This experience is very educational as you meet and get up close and personal with some of Africa’s biggest giants.  You learn about their history, behaviour, biology and some of the human conflict threats these gentle beasts are facing.  This is all before going for a walk through the delta “hand in trunk” and sitting and having a delicious bush lunch accompanied by the elephants themselves grazing in the background.  Please note it is advisable to pre-book this activity as it is a first come first serve basis, with one activity a day only taking maximum 10 clients at a time. _dsc8121

 

How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? 

After the rebuild Stanley’s rates have experienced an increase for 2019. Being situated between the Boro and Santandadibe Rivers, Stanley’s Camp does not guarantee a big game experience but has the unique advantage of being able to offer guests the elephant interaction year round, and the added benefit of being able to offer mokoro excursions during the flood (typically Jun - Sep), creating a varied itinerary on a 2 night stay. The hardware of the camp is brand new and being a Sanctuary Retreats property, it has the edge in terms of service, guiding and the food experience which helps justifying the price increase. IMG_8416-1

How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why? 

Stanley’s Camp would need to be combined with a stronger game area, that possibly has boating as well, as this activity is missing from Stanley’s.  I would mix it with the newly re-built Splash Camp as strong game area, and they can boat all year round

You could combine it with Chief’s Camp as long as you start with Stanley’s, with this combination creating a circuit, you would then start to qualify for Long Stay rates, bringing the overall cost down a fraction.

What type of clients does this camp suit and why? 

This camp would suit all sorts of clients across the board.  Those wanting up close and unique wildlife experiences, clients that love elephants and are interested in conservation, and just simply those wanting to enjoy the Okavango Delta.
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How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?

Situated in the Southern part of the Delta, Stanley’s Camp is greatly affected by the flood water levels.

During the high flood levels, June – August/September time, the water levels are high enough in order for you to enjoy Mokoro.  So the mix of land and water activities is offered during the winter months, which offers guests the variety in experience.  However, once the water levels start dropping towards September/October time, Mokoro excursions are affected and normally stop.  Boating is not offered at Stanley’s Camp.

Although Stanley’s Camp is not renowned for its excellent game viewing, we were lucky to see Lion, Elephant and general plains game.  Hyena are known to frequent the area.  We did travel at the end of the rainy season and so the grass was still long, making visibility more difficult than during the dry season, when the grass and bush has died down, making spotting game a lot easier.

Are there any areas that could be improved? Are there any issues that could impact guests’ experience that should be highlighted to help manage expectations?

I must say that I was really impressed by the new camp.  Having stayed at Stanley’s Camp a few years ago, the rooms are now substantially larger than what they were before, and there is plenty of room for guests to move around.  The bathrooms are done well.  Spacious and provide enough privacy, should guests be travelling together who don’t know each other very well. Dietaries were catered for and we enjoyed a great 6 course fine dining experience which really enhanced our stay.
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Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property: 

10N Northern Highlights Superior Safari

 

 

 

 

Storm

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Storm

Thursday 5 July 2018

24 magical hours in Savute @ Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge

Let’s start with the essential 2 rules about a stay here:

  • No matter what you do ALWAYS carry your camera with you, ready to shoot
  • No matter HOW freezing it seems in the morning: GET OUT THERE!!

 

Had I listened to the first rule myself, I could have added amazing shots of 2 honey badgers out in the open right in front of the lodge in some golden morning light, watched right from the breakfast table – instead I held on to a fluffy, moist blueberry muffin and a mug of freshly brewed cappuccino. You see: life can be full of tough choices at Belmond Savute!

new Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge

When climbing off the plane at Savute airstrip, the guests climbing on said: If you want to see animals, you need to go with Robert. And my heart sank. I am a huge fan of good guiding and always massively disappointed when sitting on a vehicle with a driver who is just racing from one photographic opportunity to the next. Luckily – I was to be proven very very wrong!

After settling in, freshening up and some tea time treats we headed out on our first drive. Driving through what smelled like a herb garden my curious 7 year old son showed interest in all these smells and Robert stopped, got us some wild basil and shared stories about it. “So do you think this would keep mosquitoes away?” Which got us on to some other herbs and traditional methods and a lively discussion, plus some more sample picking and smelling. While pointing out tracks and interpreting what we saw around us, we slowly made our way towards a spot where some cheetahs were hanging out earlier. Lucky us, most vehicles had already left the 2 sleeping males, who felt now it was time to get up and get active – and to get a good look from some elevation.

And yes: cheetahs are clearly NOT built for climbing ;-) Tree climbing cheetahs in Savute

After this fabulous afternoon we were so excited, that we couldn’t wait to go exploring the next morning – despite of being able to see the clouds of our own breath when exhaling. It was COLD!!

Robert had the perfect technique to battle this aspect as well – even my 6 year old daughter was comfy and toasty, after he wrapped her up in fleeces, blankets and a poncho: “ready to go to the moon”. We tried to find the lions that we heard during the night, but they tried to play games with us. Tracks literally everywhere! In all directions, back and forth, right and left, and back again – hmmm. What happened here last night?? And our imaginations ran wild.IMG_1466

After some fun tracking, a pack of wild dogs were waiting for us in the middle of the road, just around the corner from a mother leopard trying to catch some guinea fowls. While most cars simply waited behind the dogs, Robert decided to approach them differently. We left all the cars behind, and moved to another area, trying to anticipate their next move – and it worked! Stotting impalas all over the woods, showing off their strength, and the pack chasing at top speed. How exciting was that!! We eventually said good bye to the dogs to have a look what was happening out on the marsh.IMG_1437

Some lonely male wildebeest were guarding their territories, then Robert noticed that one of the wildebeest FAR away held up his tail really high – hang on…. ????? So 2 big male lions were crossing the marsh, where were they heading to? We decided to go the same way and see – a little grassveld pipit joined us, flapping and running right in front of our car, for more than 1 kilometer. Now, yes, it made it! Oops, no, it’s back…. The kids had so much fun watching it ALMOST flying off to the side, and back it was – giggles and laughs without end.

Guided by the direction of the male lions and following the pipit we ended up with the rest of the pride, some females feeding on a wildebeest and 5 cuddly little fur balls, roaring like their dads, schmoozing their mums and eventually, collapsing and falling asleep all on top of each other in a cub heap.IMG_1513

Back at home we hung the sage and the wild basil – to test how much of a mosquito repellent they are. And asking: “So what was your favorite bit in Savute?”

  • the cute little cubs
  • and remember the funny pipit who ran with us for SO long
  • and the honeybadgers at breakfast
  • and the elephants up close from the hide during tea time
  • oh – and of course: THE HEATED POOL !!!!

 

Thank you so much to Robert, our fantastic guide, for an all-round, all senses, mega fun experience. For teaching us about the bush, for putting it all into context and all the stories about the background and history of the animals we saw.

What a safari experience!

Keeping the fantastic Belmond Savute Elephant opening special in mind: Book some seats to Savute and get yourselves out there. Go experience!IMG_2726

 

 

Andrea Reumerman

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Andrea Reumerman

Thursday 5 July 2018

Mapula Lodge – a Safari reminiscent of my childhood

 

What was your overall impression of the camp?

Our handsome and very knowledgeable guide, Kyle, went out of his way to show us the very best of what Mapula has to offer. His passion for the bush and all the creatures and plants there within was contagious. Even after having done hundreds of safaris both Amandine and I learnt a whole pile more! Game was scare on our short visit but he made up for it by proposing to take us swimming in the flood water and sharing his “nature” books with us as we enjoyed tea and time-out in the bush. IMG_3813

 

The area is generally rich in game, including Leopard, Cheetah, 2 packs of Wild Dog, Hyena, Sable Antelope, herds of Elephant, Giraffe and plains game all congregated in one big garden of safari Eden! Under the management of Uncharted Africa, Mapula has been tastefully transformed from a red-listed product to a much sought-after camp in the delta. With Eric at the helm and a well-trained and solid team I believe it will give similar camps a run for their mone

A particular mention for the swimming pool which is large enough to do a few lengths in but remains discreet at the same time. It’s built in a way that it makes you feel like you are swimming in the lagoon, surrounded by palm trees and lush greenery.

There are plans to offer Hot-Air Ballooning and a fly-camp experience which we look forward to being able to promote to our clients. sable_mapula

How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? Are there any notable special offers applicable?

  • I think it offers excellent value for money considering that it’s a small camp on a fantastic private concession, has above average guides and is tastefully decorated in the immediately recognizable Ralph Bousfield Unchartered Africa taste, reminiscent of a bygone era.
  • The exception being during the month of August when a peak surcharge is applied. Further reduced long stay rates are available at Mapula when it is combined with Meno A Kwena – speak to your local expert.

How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why? 

I would be confident in recommending 3 nights here in order to get the full experience and to discover what the concession has to offer completely. My suggestion would be to combine it with Savuti, Khwai, Makgadikgadi and of course Chobe, which fits into most itineraries. 10mapula_lodge_-_main_area_from_the_air

What type of clients does this camp suit and why? 

  • 1 Unit is suitable for families: Consisting of 2 rooms separated only by a curtain. Each room has its own bathroom and outdoor shower.
  • As it is an intimate camp, I would suggest it to honeymooners and couples seeking peace and quiet.
  • The adventurous because Mapula can offer off the beaten track activities such as swimming in the fast-flowing flood waters that quickly fill the dusty tracks or having an afternoon siesta on mattresses out in the wilderness. The ballooning and fly-camp activity will appeal to this market once operational.

How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?

The camp is set on a permanent lagoon. This makes fishing and boating possible all year long. However, the lagoon is home to a large number of happy hippos so if the water level goes down too much those activities would be suspended.

The camp being near the panhandle receives the first floodwaters of the year so they can start their mokoro activities earlier than those camps further down. The mokoro station is not in front of the camp. It’s a 10-minute drive to the jetty. Although we enjoyed the activity, the water was still pretty low so we were wrapped up in cobwebs to start off with! As the water levels rise it will become more pleasant.

When the flood comes down the area where the camp is situated becomes an island. This means that sometimes there’s good game in the immediate vicinity…. and sometimes not, the result being that guests may have to drive further afield in search of the herds.  During high flood levels, it may be advisable to combine it with another game rich area within the delta e.g. Shine, Splash… IMG_4153

Are there any areas that could be improved? Are there any issues that could impact guests experience that should be highlighted to help manage expectations?

The food was imaginative, of good quality and nicely presented however the quantity for the first lunch we had was insufficient. Sundowner snacks were not original and could be improved – biltong / nuts / dried fruit.

Eric, the manager is running a good show. The staff seem genuinely happy to be working together and the service was attentive without being overbearing. They have kept 1 or 2 staff members on from the old camp. They clearly know the area intimately and you can tell that they love the area and are delighted to share information and stories with the clients.

 

Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property:

 6N Three Rivers Standard

10N Desert & Delta Option B  DCIM102GOPRO

 

Sarah Graham

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Sarah Graham

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Mashatu – Botswana’s Best Kept Secret

Until recently I thought that I had been to all the great places Botswana has to offer. I thought I knew it all – wow – was I wrong. It took me 15 years in Botswana to finally step into a secret gem, a place of wonders, Mashatu – one of THE best kept secrets in Southern Africa. Scenic-opening-Shem-Compion

Our challenge until now was how to include and combine Mashatu with Northern Botswana. Thankfully, the introduction of special flying rates from either Johannesburg or Maun have enabled us to resolve this “tiny” issue and opened up access to this phenomenal and unique place.

What was your overall impression of the camp? 

Mashatu impresses with very varied landscapes, from dry river beds to rocky cliffs, soft hills or huge open spaces. Ones eye never tires from the overwhelming beauty of nature in this remote corner of Botswana. It was interesting to see that there is very little grass which makes game viewing and wildlife photography even more rewarding. Along the rivers you can find beautiful large Nyala Berries, the locals call them Mashatu Trees.

Game Viewing in the area is excellent all year round, chances of seeing the big cats are brilliant. In our short two game drives we saw cheetah on a hunt, several leopards and a lioness with her 2 month old cubs. P1020336

Unique experiences add to the charm of this jewel: we joined a mountain bike safari which offered us a totally different perspective of the bush. Our morning cycle was guided by Mosa, a very experienced ranger. We pedaled leisurely for about 20 km along ancient elephant paths, watching plains game in a distance and enjoying and absorbing the colors and smells of nature. Another brilliant way of getting up close to the animals is the Photo-Hide. which provides a safe place in which to view of the herds of elephants and even the occasional leopard who come and drink from the waterhole in front of the hide. Guests are also accompanied by a professional photographer who provides tips and tricks on how to use their cameras and can answer any questions they may have.

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How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? Are there any notable special offers applicable.

There are actually no other camps offering a similar experience. Mashatu has a truly unique offering. The two camps in the reserve are very different in terms of look and design. Mashatu tented camp is an authentic safari camp, offering the safari addict a comfortable place to stay while enjoying the bush. It is ideally combined with camps like Pelo or Gunns Camp for the water experience, and in Vic Falls I would recommend Gorges or Little Gorges Lodge to complete the itinerary. The more upmarket Mashatu Main Camp is much bigger, with more rooms, a large new pool, different sitting areas and even a discovery centre. I see Mashatu main camp work wonderfully with the likes of Camp Okavango, Kanana or Splash in the Delta and in Vic Falls it could be completed with a place like Zambezi Sands or Old Drift.

Specials: Both camps offer a great 4 nights for the price of 3 special during the months of January to April.

How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why? 

Ideally Mashatu is the first stop in an itinerary, flying in from Johannesburg Lanseria and continuing to Maun. There are daily flights from Joburg to Limpopo Airfield (Mashatu’s gorgeous little airport). This way guests arrive on a positive note, the immigration officers in Limpopo are friendly and professional. Another advantage of starting your Botswana safari with Mashatu is to avoid the long immigration queues at Maun Airport (which can sometimes take up to two hours). The flight from Mashatu to Maun is either on a scheduled flight on Wednesdays or Saturdays or on a private charter.

Alternatively guests can arrive by car from South Africa before continuing their journey in Botswana or across the border to Zimbabwe. Walking_Safari

 

What type of clients does this camp suit and why? 

This camp basically suits all different target groups. Main Camp has a family unit and can accommodate families with children. The tented camp is better suited for couples or single travelers.

Adventure seekers found their heaven, Mashatu offers mountain biking, guided walks and horseback-safaris.

How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?

The camps in Mashatu offer a year round experience. Excellent value for money from January to April with the 4 for 3 nights special. In Green season (rainfall is very low in this area, with more than 330 days of sunshine) the landscape miraculously changes into a colorful spectacle. Mashatu is much less seasonal than the northern parts of Botswana and offers excellent game viewing throughout the year.

Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property: 

9 N Best Kept Secret Safari

3N Mashatu Safari

 

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Carina

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Carina

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Self Driving in Botswana: the how, where, when and why (not)

Exploring Botswana on a self-drive is becoming more and more popular. However it is not for the faint hearted nor is it for the ill prepared. We realize it is time to give you, our agents, a small guideline how to consult clients who want to drive themselves, what to expect and who the ideal candidates for such an adventure are.

Very often we receive enquiries mentioning that the clients are very experienced as they have been self-driving in Namibia and South Africa. Well, well…. Botswana is a totally different level of adventure.

Unfortunately, Botswana cannot be compared to South Africa or Namibia where the roads (and road signs) are generally very good and the whole experience is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Botswana is actually a fly-in destination. There are 18,482 km of beautiful highways, but only a quarter of these, 4343 km, are paved or tarred, which is not to say those don’t get flooded nor are they kept in good condition. It is a well known joke that we all hold a degree in driving and are pros at dodging potholes! IMG_6971

All expert professional guides work by the following motto: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance and this very much applies to planning a self drive itinerary too whether you’re planning a route on the main roads or an adventure through the parks!

In all seriousness, contemplating a self drive itinerary through Botswana incorporating its National Parks is not to be underestimated and can be seen as an authentic “cultural experience”. One must have a sense of adventure and take all that is African in their stride from long delays to the often comical communication glitches. As mentioned above there is a very limited road network with single lane highways, no hard shoulders and minimal road signs so don’t consider the holiday ruined if you encounter challenges along the way or things don’t go according to plan – it’s all part of the adventure. The season one decides to travel in is also vitally important. There is almost only a short window of opportunity because the summer months – our rainy season – is highly unrecommended for all areas in Botswana as can be seen below when even us experienced bush girls got hopelessly stuck in the mud for hours. Nor are the winter months – which is our dry season, flood levels are high – this is to be considered if the Delta is on the itinerary. Depending on the size of the flood most of the roads are closed and bridges overrun by the flood waters, therefore decreasing the area that can be navigated and explored. Towards the end of our dry season the temperatures sky rocket so all the sand roads become very thick and very sticky and unless the clients know what they’re doing with their gearbox and tyre pressure getting stuck is virtually guaranteed.Pam self drives

The free ranging wildlife is another element of self drive itineraries that may cause some excitement. All parks in Botswana are unfenced (as are all of the neighbouring countries except South Africa) which means animals are free to roam and this they do to their hearts delight. Travelers need to have some basic understanding of animal behaviour and know that animals always have right of way. It’s not only the wildlife that uses these road networks, but also a huge amount of domestic livestock, who move between grazing and water sources. This means that not only does one need to have the utmost respect for all animals but driving at night should always be avoided. DSC_3670

What a lot of people also don’t realise is that the distances here are not navigated at the same speed as they are used to at home. 100km here does not mean 1,5 hours… It can easily take 4-5 hours to cover 100km – due to the road conditions, animal movements and the clients’ knowledge of challenging 4×4 driving. One can have the fanciest, finest equipped vehicle, with all the latest gadgets but have no idea how to put it into 4 wheel drive let alone Low range or difflock. So unless clients have that knowledge, no matter how fancy their car is, if it’s stuck in 2 wheel drive they will not get out, and revving the engine, burning the gearbox and spinning the wheels will not get them out any quicker.

Can you imagine the stress of knowing you’ve got an international flight to catch but you’re stuck out in the middle of the bush, trying to dig your way out of the sand? This is why we always recommend a pre-night in town before flying out!

There is a lot to consider when booking a self drive itinerary so let us advise you on the best routes to take, the best time of year to successfully navigate the inevitable challenges and the 4×4 driving courses we recommend clients take, before embarking on this adventure!

Hereby a short list of the Dos and Don’ts for your clients to consider on a self drive:

DOs:

  1. Be open minded and flexible: driving in Botswana is not as easy as you may think. Road conditions can be challenging in many areas and include soft sand, slippery clay, deep water and broken bridges. Getting stuck or breaking an essential part of your vehicle happens easily and often.
  2. Be prepared: plan your route carefully and don’t underestimate the time it may take to cover those distances.
  3. Make sure you have rented the correct type of vehicle and your car has all the necessary equipment from highlift jack to a spade and most importantly a GPS (Download the tracks4africa App which works OFFLINE!) and ideally a satellite phone. You will be in remote areas with no cell phone signal and the next car coming might be days away.
  4. Carry more spares and extras than you’ll ever think you’ll need – i.e. fuel, water and tyres without overloading your car.
  5. Have a nicely stocked medical kit with you – the smallest cut can turn into something nasty quickly in the right conditions.
  6. Treat officials and bureaucrats with respect. Losing your temper never gets you anywhere. Remember the 3 Ps: politeness, patience and perseverance.
  7. Be aware of rules and regulations: Botswana has so-called vet fences which prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases such as Foot and Mouth. These fences restrict the movement of any cloven hooved products so you might end up handing in your recently purchased BBQ meats and road snacks to the local officials and you will not win any argument with them.
  8. Preferably travel in convoy.
  9. If you change your plan and arrive a day later or not at all at the next prebooked accommodation, please let us know, otherwise we will start a search which can become a challenging thing, like finding a needle on the Salt Pans.
  10. Embrace the spirit of African adventure in all its glory!

 

DON’Ts:

  1. Do NOT drive off-road! This is prohibited in all National Parks to keep the wilderness pristine and undamaged. Respect those rules also outside the parks. Also driving around a puddle is not always the best route – if you don’t recognise Mopane forests for the treacherous things they are then you will inevitably get stuck driving around the puddle rather than taking the road most traveled straight through the middle of the puddle.
  2. Do not drive in the dark.
  3. Do not feed the animals, this will only encourage them to lose their fear of humans which can end disastrously.
  4. Do not leave your vehicle under any circumstances. You do not know the bush nor the animals. You have a better chance at staying alive with access to the safety of your car and the copious supplies of food and water then risking a walk through the bush and an encounter with a buffalo. EVERYTHING out there is faster than you are.
  5. Do not lose your sense of humour – Africa will inevitably throw challenges at you and keeping an open mind about it all will prevent you from losing your sense of humour and/or patience.
  6. Do NOT travel unprepared. Study the maps, directions and distances while planning your trip not once you arrived in the country.
  7. Prebook all accommodation, Botswana has a very low population density, distances between villages can be huge. If planning a camping trip, campsites have to be booked about 11 months before travel to avoid disappointment.

Here is some helpful information about road conditions in Botswana: https://traveladventuresbotswana.com/helpful-information/driving-and-road-condition-information/

Most importantly: Botswana is by far the most challenging destination and can in no way be compared to Namibia, South Africa and even Zimbabwe and Zambia due to the unique circumstances of season, habitats, environmental conditions and lack of infrastructure! WhatsApp Image 2018-05-07 at 18.52.07

 

Pam Zweerts

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Pam Zweerts

Monday 18 June 2018

Why we love it: the 10N Authentic Lodge & Mobile Safari

The combination of a mobile safari with time-out at a lodge or camp on either side provides the best of both worlds. There is time to get dirty and experience all the action up close and personal, and  time to dust off, relax and indulge in some modern comforts.

Ilala Lodge is conveniently located in close proximity to the Victoria Falls Hotel for afternoon tea, the local market for some shopping and the mighty falls themselves. Ilala is well known for having one of the best restaurants in town. view_from_patio

The Bush Ways Fully Serviced Safari is glamping at its best, an experience of the wild in comfort, covering some of the prime wildlife areas in Botswana, including the Chobe Riverfront, Savute marsh & Moremi Game Reserve.  This is the perfect balance of adventure, relaxation & comfort with all camp chores taken care of for you.  You’ll enjoy a luxury camp set-up for you on arrival, including walk-in tents, en-suite bathrooms, comfortable camp beds and a guaranteed a window seat on game drives.
The mobile portion of the itinerary is easy to book and there is still availability for 2018.  Select departures run with German or French-speaking translators.  Click on the below to read a firsthand account from one of our experts. DSC04711

No safari to Botswana is complete without a fly-in to the Okavango Delta to view the waterways from the air and glide through the channels on a mokoroOddballs Enclave is an old classic whose style and intimate atmosphere works well in combination with the mobile safari. okavango_delta_activities_41

This safari offers excellent value for money !

Last but not least, we are passionate about mobile safaris because…

  • the guides are among the best and get to know their clients over the course of the safari, focusing on their interests and building on their knowledge.
  • travellers get to experience more of the country when they drive between locations, making it as much about the journey as the destination.
  • mobile safaris give you access to exclusive campsites in prime wildlife areas, and the flexibility for an extended exploration of areas en-route between locations.
  • mobile safaris take travellers out of their comfort zone, creating memories to last a lifetime.
  • mobile safaris offer a more intimate wildlife experience than most lodge stays.
  • mobile safaris offer great value for money, catering across all comfort and budget levels, and can be booked privately for families and small groups.

Click here to read more about the mobile safari experience: http://www.safaridestinations.net/we-get-around/bush-ways-safaris-mayonnaise DSC04651

 

Lorraine Potter

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Lorraine Potter

Friday 6 April 2018

Chasing Rainbows in the Kalahari

On arrival at Dinaka Camp we were welcomed by a lively song sung by the camp staff, which brought a smile to everyone’s faces and set the mood for a fun and most enjoyable weekend. Dinaka has just recently opened after an extensive refurb following it’s take over by Ker and Downey.  This beautifully constructed camp is set on a private conservancy bordering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  It still had the “new car aroma” one would expect of a newly refurbished camp, so I have to take my hat off to the staff who created such a welcoming and homely atmosphere, that one could be lead to believe that the camp had already been operating this way for a several years.

After a sumptuous lunch we had a little time to enjoy a short siesta in our rooms or a relaxing moment by the crystal clear pool overlooking the water in front of camp before our afternoon game drive.

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The Kalahari is truly a kaleidoscope of colours during the green season. The contrast of colours created by the budding flowers from the scrubland and the summer skies is simply amazing. The thick scrubland can make game viewing a little harder during this time of year, but this is compensated for by the landscape and birdlife, not to mention the chance to observe young offspring. The skyline makes for incredibly rich and vivid pictures and when the sun breaks out from the rain cloud formations, spectacular rainbows arch across the landscape. The wildlife also makes for picture perfect conditions as a large male giraffe posed for us against the back drop of the dark rain clouds heading north. The sunsets are spectacular at this time of year and provide the perfect scene at sundowner hour.  On our game drive back to camp, we were lucky enough to spot a caracal with its cub and a puff-adder before settling down to an amazing dinner under the stars. Our guide’s knowledge of astrology was really impressive and star gazing and identifying the different constellations around the camp fire after dinner completed what had been an excellent day on safari.

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I was lucky enough to be allocated the spacious family room all to myself, with the only disadvantage being that it is quite close to the main area so I was awoken earlier than I had planned by the generator starting up and to the voices of a few of the staff starting off their busy day. We then set off on a safari walk with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Ker and Downey Guides. I appreciated having the guides there with us as they were armed for our safety which is paramount in an area renowned for our favourite big cats, the lions. Getting down on the ground and immersing oneself in the surrounding wildlife is always an exhilarating activity, as we were walked through the ancient survival techniques used by the Bushmen in the harsh terrain that is the Kalahari. We returned to camp to say our goodbyes and could not help thinking how this area would be completely different during the winter season as the foliage disappears and the wildlife concentrates around the waterholes on the conservancy.

“Inside tips from your local experts”

  • Guests are accommodated in seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents on raised decks. Each en-suite bathroom has an indoor and outdoor shower, hot and cold running water and flush toilet. Families are accommodated in a two-bed-roomed tent, sharing a spacious en-suite bathroom.
  • The area is a big contrast to the Delta so works well when combining different locations within Botswana.
  • In green season, the annual rains transform the arid desert landscape into a lush profusion of Kalahari vegetation, offering guests a unique insight into the lesser known desert experience.  It gets very bushy and lush with thick, green vegetation, so spotting game can become very difficult.  However, there is still game about and the birding is good, so this would be a great time for birding enthusiasts.
  • Dinaka being based in a private concession outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserves offers a different experience to the camps inside the Game Reserve. Our experts recommend it in dry season, ideally combined with camps in the Delta. The camps inside the Game Reserve (namely Tau Pan and Kalahari Plains offer a great experience during our green season when the Kalahari comes to life again).
  • Activities include early morning, afternoon and night game drives, birding, guided walks and photographic hides.
  • Best suited to your mid-range clientele along with families or honeymooners.  People who want to experience something different and are not highly concerned with lots of game but rather quality game viewing opportunities.  Such as from the underground bunker, viewing decks, hides, game walks etc.

 

Tlotlo Saleshando

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Tlotlo Saleshando

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Duba Plains – I found paradise

Set in the heart of the Okavango Delta, the renowned and brand new Duba Plains Camp is a wildlife haven and the perfect place to visit year-round. andreapics4

The constraint of the deep permanent waters of the delta means the wildlife on the 77, 000 hectare private reserve remain here across both wet and dry seasons. A matrix of palm-dotted islands, flood plains and woodland, one of the most beautiful concessions in the Okavango Delta.

Game viewing was mind-blowing, my short 24 hour stay in early January was filled with great sightings.

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An enthralling experience from morning till night. Thank you to Great Plains & the managers & staff at Duba for hosting me last weekend. I was absolutely blown away by every aspect of my stay, in particular the surprise evening in the interactive kitchen, a truly unique experience, where chef Herrmann managed to captivate and entertain while preparing an array of gourmet dishes. 2017-greatplains-dubaplains-experience-3

 

Quick Facts:

Belongs to Great Plains Conservation

Five tented rooms, max 10 guests

Activities: early morning and late afternoon/evening game drives, boating (water levels permitting)

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Reumerman

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Andrea Reumerman

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