The Okavango Delta is an incredibly dynamic ecosystem. Its fluctuating water levels cause vegetation and habitats to adapt accordingly in very short time spans.
The Delta has historically always experienced wet and dry spells, which last roughly 30 years each. We are currently in the tail end of a wet cycle and the exceptionally low rainfall beginning of this year is not unusual according to historical data. Tentative weather predictions are looking positive with better rains this year and a bigger flood in 2020.
The current drier conditions we are experiencing are, almost counter intuitively, not bad news. During our exceptionally high flood levels in the early 2000s, large tracts of the Delta were flooded for longer periods of time. This meant that the grazing that occured on the floodplains once the water receded was no longer available for the herbivores and the nutritious grass was replaced by unpalatable sedges (types of mostly perennial but sometimes annual herbs that have a ‘tuft-like’ appearance). This has meant that herbivore numbers actually declined over this period even though the Delta was at its fullest and prettiest.
This year’s exceptionally low floods mean a lot of those floodplains have become accessible and the sedges will die back so that grass can grow again, making the land once again suitable for grazing. The herbivore populations will increase thanks to the extra food, which in turn positively affects the predators. So, while there may not be picture-book Delta water activities everywhere, there has been exceptional game viewing instead.
The upper or northern Delta has received its usual annual floods, albeit in lesser volumes, which means that conditions there haven’t changed as much.
The lower or southern Delta is affected the most due to the lack of flooding but the newly available grazing will only enhance the game-viewing experience. The reason for this distinct shift in flooded areas between the upper and lower Delta is most likely directly related to the big earthquake Botswana experienced in 2017. Due to the sandy substrate the Delta lies on, even a small shift is enough to divert water flow.
This cycle should see an overall improvement in the amount of grass available as the water-loving sedges die down, leading to the exciting game viewing we all enjoy so much.
We have long loved the Panhandle and have always considered it a secret gem. It’s a wonderful ‘new’ destination for clients who would like guaranteed water activities like mokoro and boating as well as a gateway to the Tsodilo Hills.
A 70-kilometre watercourse that starts at the Namibian border before spreading out into the Okavango Delta, the Panhandle offers year-round water. Value-for-money lodges and more affordable transfers are now making it extremely attractive. Access used to be a prohibitively expensive but now it’s on par with any other Delta flight, making it a serious option for more cost-conscious bookings.
The water experience is unrivaled: guests glide silently through the channels on a mokoro, absorbing the peace, quiet and lush greenery. They can also head out on a high-speed motorboat to experience the vast space opening up in front of them.
Tigerfishing is a famous and exciting activity in the Panhandle, as is angling for bream and barbal. Birders can train their binos on the densest concentration of fish eagles in southern Africa and look out for multi-coloured narina trogons, kingfishers, African skimmers and Pel’s fishing owls.
In addition, 30-minute scenic helicopter flips here are the same prices as those over the Victoria Falls but with the doors off, giving you clearer, more expansive view and a proper opportunity to trace the channels by air.
Travellers who want more adventure can branch out on a day-trip to the Tsodilo Hills. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, these four large outcrops account for the highest peak in Botswana. The Tsodilo Hills have been nicknamed the ‘Louvre of the Desert’ because of the hundreds of rock paintings found here. Clients who are hikers or ramblers can stretch their legs on trails here with a local guide.
Upscale options are Nxamaseri Island Lodge and Setari Camp. Nxamaseri is only 37km from Shakawe while Setari is easily accessed on a 35-minute flight from Maun to the Setari Airstrip. Guma Lagoon Camp and Xaro Lodge are favourites for self-drive itineraries, offering down-to-earth accommodation in comfortable canvas chalets and Meru tents. Mopiri Camp is a good mid-range option.
For more details on how to incorporate the Panhandle in an itinerary, please ask your dedicated Safari Destinations consultant. Thank you to Helicopter Horizons for the image of Tsodilo Hills.
We’re only momentarily disorientated… I’ve been lucky enough to call Botswana home for 7 years now and have traversed most of its dusty roads. However, there are always new gems to explore and last weekend the Makgadikgadi National Park was on the itinerary. This largely underutilised park only has a couple of roads crisscrossing its interior and most of them are long and straight with miles of visibility. Despite these pretty good odds, I still managed to be momentarily disorientated… or in plain English “lost”.
In hindsight this is actually a pretty impressive feat seeing as there are so few roads and yet we still managed to miss one of them – turns out it was the crucial one. We had booked a campsite in the middle of the park but for some reason we ended up on the Boteti river which forms the western boundary of the park. I’ll never forget when we came out of the ‘woods’ onto a ridge with a very pretty view of a dry river bed. After a moment or two of complementing the view it dawned on me that we were looking down on the Boteti and nowhere near where we were supposed to be. The little cement pillar stating Khumaga office a mere 2km away confirmed this. I couldn’t help but start laughing, almost uncontrollably, at this rather long detour. It was now 15h00, we’d left Maun at 8h30 and still had to cover 60km to get to the campsite and set up camp. Suffice to say the giraffe, gemsbok and elephants we’d passed earlier looked a little surprised to see us again so soon going the opposite direction at a slightly faster pace..
We made it to Tree Island in record time, set up camp and managed to get out onto the pans for a well-deserved sundowner. Nothing beats the open spaces the pans have to offer, there is quite literally nobody around let alone any man-made structures to disturb the endless views. My Dutch friend, who is an avid sailor, likened the emptiness of the park to being out at sea – the grass waving in the gentle breeze reminded him of the waves and if you know enough about astronomy you can easily navigate by the stars. I’ve seen plenty of impressive night skies but on a moonless night like we had, the universe in all its glory makes you seem very small and irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. A feeling that more people should experience more often if you ask me!
Back in camp dinner was served and we ended the day with a nightcap around the fire – you’re not camping properly if you’re not sitting around a fire contemplating the days’ adventures whilst hearing lions roar in the background.
The next morning, we left bright and early, changed our second flat tyre and made our way back to the Boteti (we knew the road by heart now..) to catch the annual zebra migration. This natural phenomenon is utterly astounding and quite literally breath taking. Imagine hundreds of zebra and wildebeest making their way down to the river, which isn’t much more than a couple of big puddles and trying to squeeze in between large herds of elephants. We parked our car under the trees, opened our picnic lunches and just sat there for hours watching the spectacle unfold before our eyes. Whilst the zebra, wildebeest and elephants were all jostling for space lions starting calling. I’m convinced they did so just to make the experience all the more surreal for us.
No matter how long I’ve been in Africa for nor how many safaris I’ve done, those hours spent on the river banks watching the spectacular migration in action is something I won’t easily forget. It ranks pretty high in special moments and trust me, this continent has granted me quite a few!
Everyone is exhausted after a long-haul overnight flight, often involving multiple connections and inevitably ending in long immigrations queues on arrival. Not to mention the build-up of going on holiday, delayed flights and lost luggage. On arrival, most of us are simply looking for a hot shower, followed by a G&T while we take in our surroundings, ending the day with a good meal and a comfortable nights sleep.
Victoria Falls is the ideal place to kick-off a safari. No onward flights or long road transfers required as most hotels are only a stone’s throw away from the airport. Comfortable accommodation with all the amenities allows guests to ease into their safari experience. As the properties in Victoria Falls are generally more affordable, there is less of a need to hit the ground running and more time to relax and find your feet. This is especially important when travelling with young children. Compared with the high-pressured start at the top dollar lodges in the Okavango Delta where every minute counts and where you feel compelled to jump on the first game drive on arrival, followed by an early morning wake up call on day one.
After a recent visit to Victoria Falls with my own family, I realized that 2 nights just isn’t enough for first time visitors and especially families to fully appreciate what this corner of paradise has to offer. I found myself rushing from one activity to the next, pressurized by pick-up times, with little time to relax and yet there was so much more than we could have done.
During our 2 night stay in Victoria Falls, we explored the Falls on foot, by helicopter and by Zip Line and that was about all that we had time for bar a mad dash around the market. There is a big choice of activities on offer beyond the falls themselves, one that I feel is grossly underestimated is the canoeing on the Zambezi River. For families, the falls has lots going on to cater to all ages and interests breaking up the typical safari routine.
Beyond the activities, the town has a holiday vibe, showcasing the country’s culture, local crafts (curio shopping) and a great variety of restaurants, which really add to the experience. Not accounting for the day of arrival and departure which are often lost due to flight times and transfers, one full day simply isn’t enough to take it all in. I would comfortably recommend a 3-night stay in Victoria Falls town itself. There is a selection of properties to match all budgets, offering potentially good value for your money, helping to stretch the budget when combined with the top dollar lodges in more remote game areas.
Day 1: Relax and enjoy a slow start to your safari
Dinner at the hotel
Day 2: Tour of the falls followed by the flight of angels (12 – 15 minute helicopter scenic)
Lunch at the Lookout Café (which will reopen in Dec 2019 after it burnt down half a year ago)
Canopy Tour / Elephant Interaction / Sunset Cruise
Day 3: Option 1: Full day upper Zambezi Canoe or Rafting experience
Option 2: A combination of the following with lunch on the terrace at The Victoria Falls Hotel
Horse Riding, Bicycle Tour, Village Tour, Pay It Forward (Family), Bird Watching, Shopping, Bunji Jumping, Croc Farm (Family), High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel, and more
Independent Dinning Options:
Traditional (Family): The Boma, Jungle Junction
Formal: The Livingstone Room, The Palm Restaurant
Casual: Zambezi House, Three Monkeys, The Lookout Cafe (will reopen Dec 2019)
The same could be said when coming off a safari in the delta. Days of early rising, long bumpy game drives and a day in transit, including the border crossing, is taxing of the best of us. Ending with 3 nights in Victoria Falls to slowly get re-acquainted with civilization before diving back into your daily routine at home is always a good idea.
Guests that have a little bit more time are recommended to spoil themselves with 4 nights in Victoria Falls, the 4 nights could be split between 2 nights in town and 2 nights in the quieter Zambezi National Park. The options are endless, we have put together some stunning itineraries which can be found on our “Best in Travel Zimbabwe 2019”, the packages for 2020 will soon be released.
The Okavango Delta, the largest oasis in the world, attracts large concentrations of all forms of life from the surrounding Kalahari Desert. During periods of flooding plants flourish, animals reproduce and large herds of mammals migrate away from the swamp, to the fringes and to areas in the surrounding desert that benefit from the water that is slowly making its way through the sand.
The exact opposite happens during dry spells! Large concentrations of animals come together around water pools, receding channels and lagoons. Considering the current water and flood levels and data on rainfall in the Angolan Highlands and the catchment area of the Okavango Delta it is very likely that the upcoming year will be very dry. It looked similar in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and game viewing around the core Okavango was nothing short of spectacular! We were there to see it. Elephants, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra jostling for a place around the precious wet; carefully watched by predators that follow the herbivores and focus ALL their attention around the last remaining watering holes.
You remember all those times when we said: Or should I rather suggest to the clients to travel a bit later? When the game viewing is a bit better? Don’t you think June is maybe too early? Maybe rather September?
In 2019 we are up for a much longer season of enhanced game viewing with less animal movement out of the Okavango, a true premier savanna game drive and superb walking experience. In essence: it will be September from June onwards…..
Sure, the water levels might get too low to conduct boat cruises and mokoro excursions sooner than in previous years in a lot of areas. But there is still a number of camps around, located close enough to the more permanent channels, where your clients can enjoy gliding through the swamp on a mokoro. Our consultants know exactly where to find those camps to add to your clients’ itinerary and where to include mokoro or boating.
But don’t let anybody fool you into believing that a dry cycle in the Okavango is bad news.
It is great news for a photographic safari. Get ready for an amazing season !!!!
Ever been on honeymoon with 28 in-laws? Or made promises of the most awesome holiday? Or wanted to make others fall in love with Botswana? Maybe you can answer yes to one of these questions but all three?! That is me: going where others fear to tread!
I sent my request for this holiday, thinking: “Puuuh! We are a large group. 29 pax! How on earth are we going to fit all those people into safari vehicles and go on safari for 6 nights?” The worst of it: an unhappy safari would mean 28 in-laws mad at me that I overpromised on my beautiful Botswana. So the pressure was on. My national pride was at stake! I love my country and wanted my new family to fall in love with it and to go home raving about this awesome safari experience. The solution to my crazy request was a mobile safari with Bush Ways Safaris!
The first day of our Bush Ways’ semi-participation safari started with a bang. Eddie and Moscow, our guides, with their assistants, and our three safari vehicles with big trailers including all safari equipment expected us outside Maun Lodge ready for our journey to begin. Excitement filled the air! After a briefing of the route of the day, was the vehicle naming ceremony. We were ‘The Xakanaxa Endurance’. I secretly hoped that this was not going to be a journey of me “enduring” unhappy in-laws. In their usual style, Bush Ways’ staff were on time, organised, friendly and informative. So far so very good.
The first stop of our journey was Khwai. And boy she did not disappoint, revealing some amazing sightings for my new extended family. On day two, we spotted a pride of 17 lions with cubs!! They had killed 4 buffalos the previous night and they were busy feasting when we arrived at the sighting. The cubs were running around with buffalo guts, falling over their feet and haul. Vultures were scavenging around also wanting to join in the feast! Looking around, I saw happy smiling family faces. It was going well.
Next we set off for Savute. It had rained a lot the previous night, so temperatures were just right for game-viewing. The rainy season means loads of babies and that is what we got: baby giraffes, baby impalas, baby kudu, baby elephants, baby zebra and even six baby hyena in their den with Mom. A sighting of 2 male lions drew our attention but we caught our breath with the next sighting. It was too good to be true. It was a fully-grown male leopard lying in a tree! Seriously it was too good to be true! That evening, sundowners with the setting of the bright orange Botswana sun, had us all feeling contented. Life was good.
Next up was Chobe, ‘the mothership of elephants’. Being the rainy season, I did not expect to see as many elephants as I did! We counted about a thousand elephants: they were everywhere! Moms and babies, teenagers and even the big bulls! All this with the backdrop of spectacular scenery! Interesting was also the amount of giraffe seen. On our way to setup camp, a leopard ran in front of the car and crossed the road to the other side. This had us laughing and cracking jokes: “What’s next, a leopard riding on top of a lion?” Otherwise, we had seen it all.
By the 6th night, the last night of our safari, our semi-participation safari had the girls putting up their own tents. Being the bride, I allowed my husband to do that for me! Our last night meant a special meal for us all. While the food was yummy the entire trip, night 6 was just that extra special. Food is one of my guilty pleasures and each morning I would ask about the meals for the day. On day 6, Moscow whispered into my ear that we would be having seswaa, morogo and phaleche (delicious meat in cabbage and pap), I squealed with excitement! And it did not disappoint. KD, the best chef ever, has gifted hands, he even masters baking a cake with no oven.
And so on day 7, with happy bodies and full hearts, we said good-bye to Bushways, heading off on the next leg of our journey. From the reservations staff, to the guides and guide assistant, offering us superb service and support at each step of the way, and being integral to our adventure, we had been provided with a holiday of a lifetime. Thank you to each one that had made it special. We had more than endured! I had done well!
In December I spent a few days in Kasane and had the chance to join a Pangolin morning boat cruise on Chobe river. The funny thing is that although I call a semi-fancy camera my own, which I have used blindly on many game drives in the past, I never actually learnt a thing about taking good pictures. This rainy morning in December was my moment, I knew it. I was super excited to be guided by Guts who is one of the owners of Pangolin Safaris and has years of experience as a photographer. The Pangolin boats are all equipped with state of the art digital cameras and lenses. Guts and his business partner Toby have created camera-mounts which offer the best possible flexibility for you and your camera. During this three-hour activity the photograhic guides teach the guests how to use the camera and the lens, which settings to use. They explain it in such a way that even beginners like I understood. At the end of the experience the guests get to take their SD card home. If they are keen, they can use the editing suite in the Pangolin Chobe Hotel to start working on their pictures.
Each boat only takes a maximum of eight guests, making the cruises not only educational but also very exclusive. Using smaller boats they generally also travel further on the Chobe river. All guests staying at the new Pangolin Chobe Hotel enjoy these special experiences when booking the fully inclusive package. Generally on a two-night stay all guests would join two cruises (morning and afternoon cruise) plus a game drive. The Chobe river can get busy, especially in the afternoons when all the Kasane Lodges take their clients on boat cruises. To avoid the crowds, Pangolin takes their guests further and also offers the alternative of quieter morning cruises.
To make the most of this experience and to really have an impact on the rest of your clients’ safari we suggest to include Pangolin Chobe at the beginning of an itinerary. This way your clients can learn from the best and apply all they learnt during the rest of their safari. They will love Botswana even more and return home with fantastic memories.
Perfectly positioned to watch the sun go down while sipping on a gentle gin & tonic or cooling off in the sparkling swimming pool after a sun-soaked day. Let the mind slowly unwind, the body recover and the soul rejuvenate! Rediscover tranquillity at the newly opened Setari Camp, located on a picturesque island in the Northern Delta.
We had the pleasure of staying at Setari recently and were thoroughly spoilt with delicious food, a selection of drinks and heart-warming hospitality. The tents are spacious, well-appointed with everything you need and very private from the next.
There is a private viewing deck in front of each tent with endless views over the floodplains; the ideal spot to put your feet up, read a book or just relax and take in the stunning scenery. For those wanting to burn off some unwanted calories, there is a small gym on site…but even I could not drag myself there!
This camp is suitable for just about anyone, raised high off the ground, it is safe for children to move around freely between the tents, the main area and the swimming pool. Children can take part in boating, seasonal fishing and village visits, while there is also the option of mokoro activities and bush walks for adults. One of the greatest advantages at Setari is the year-round water availability which means boating and mokoro throughout the year.
Those wanting to wind down after a busy safari, will find their haven at Setari and equally those on honeymoon can enjoy the privacy and tranquillity in one of the remotest parts of the Delta.
– Setari opened in October 2018
– located in the waterrich region of the Okavango Panhandle, a birders paradise
– 8 double tented suites and 1 family suite
– activities: motor boating, mokoro excursions, guided walks and village visits
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.
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.
It has always fascinated me to see how young Batswana are proud of their heritage. It almost seems as if they all have two hearts, one that beats for the modern world and the other that embraces their culture, values and traditions.
Here is the story of Tshepang and Ndiye, two of SD’s “rising stars”, who allowed me to share this with you.
What started off as silly jokes and ‘friendship’ led to a journey of love. We knew for a while that there has been an office romance going on, but now it is official. Tshepang and Ndiye celebrated their traditional wedding last weekend. These two very special people found their love in the workplace and decided to make a lifelong commitment. Congratulations to the perfect match.
Traditionally in Botswana, when the groom’s inner voice tells him that it is time, he tells his uncles about his intention to marry. The uncles then “take over”. They will meet and discuss with the groom’s parents. A delegation from the groom’s side is sent to the bride’s parents to ask of their traditions. This is because although there is a lot of common practices, a few differences exist from tribe to tribe. The groom’s parents then visit the girl’s parents to get their consent which will then lead to the process called “Go battle mosadi” meaning “officially ask for the daughter’s hand in marriage” and is done by uncles to uncles. When the two families reach an agreement about the marriage, negotiations for bogadi/lobola (the bride-price) start. Bogadi/Lobola is a gift to the bride’s parents for their consent and also for raising the bride. Bogadi is paid in form of cows but we are very fortunate that families nowadays also accept cash. Knowing how special Tshepang is, it would have meant a whole herd of cows.
Both groom and bride should be present at the Patlo/Bogadi celebration. During Patlo/Bogadi there is a feast with traditional food and beer. All women have to dress up traditionally, which means a skirt, blouse, a shawl, and a head covering. Men should be in long pants and jackets. Women sit apart from the men on the floor, whereas men are allowed to sit on chairs.
Ndiye and Tshepang had their traditional wedding last Saturday. It was a day filled with joy. We wish the couple lots of happiness and fun organizing their “white wedding” which they will celebrate in a couple of months. Remember, Batswana are blessed with two hearts…