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.
Claire joined Safari Destinations only a few weeks ago. She is happy to share some impressions of her trip to Chobe with us!
As first time visitors to Botswana you would undoubtedly include Chobe on your itinerary – a journey would almost be incomplete without this! From breath-taking sunsets over the Chobe River to hippos frolicking in the water nearby, you may even get a close up encounter with one of Chobe’s regular visitors – the African Elephant.
I was fortunate to visit during the milder month of April (although the day time high still reached the lower thirties), water levels were reasonably high after the late rains this year and this allowed for a spectacular sunset cruise on the Chobe River. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and shared some history on the local people and their culture, the diversity of the animals living in the Chobe region as well as some humorous antidotes.
The Chobe National Park is vast and covers a large part of the north eastern part of Botswana, with Kasane being the small town that services the area. Accommodation ranges from camping grounds to small family lodges, as well as luxury bush camps and some larger lodges dotted along the riverfront. There is certainly an option to suit a variety of traveller needs. All offer morning, afternoon or full day trips; in open safari vehicles; to the National Park and most offer day trips to Victoria Falls.
I fell in love with Chobe, the friendly people and the simple way of life – not only is it a photographer’s playground, it is a year round destination that invites you to experience a truly African adventure. Get #LostinBots with Safari Destinations!
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.
Botswana may have bragging rights to the world’s biggest elephant population, the Okavango Delta (recently named UNESCO’s 1000th world heritage site) and salt pans the size of Switzerland, but it also keeps a few lesser-known bucket list tricks up its sleeve. Look beyond the traditional game drive or boat cruise and be rewarded with an unforgettable adventure to compliment the wildlife experience on offer.
1. Al Fresco Slumber Parties
Spend a night outside your tent and get acquainted with the map of the universe overhead. Botswana offers sleep-out experiences as varied as a traveller’s many interests. Sleep a stone’s throw from an elephants’ bedroom (Abu Camp), follow the moon’s trajectory over the Makgadikgadi salt pans (Uncharted Africa) or bed down amidst the sounds of the bush and the croaking of frogs in the Okavango Delta (Kanana, Baines’ or Xudum).
Test it Out With: Our 8 Night “Botswana Focus – Superior” including 2 Nights The Elephant Camp (Victoria Falls), 2 Nights Ngoma Safari Lodge (Chobe / Ngoma), 2 Nights Kanana Camp (Okavango Delta) & 2 Nights Shinde Camp (Private Concession Bordering Moremi)
2. Get Amongst the Giants
Get up close and personal with the world’s largest land mammal. Walking through the Okavango Delta in the shadow of an elephant and learning about their social politics is one of the most awe-inspiring memories you’ll collect in the bush. Abu Camp, Baines’ Camp and Stanleys’ Camp all offer the opportunity to interact with elephants who keep calm in human company.
Test it Out With: Our 6 Night “Three Rivers – Deluxe” Package including 2 Nights Victoria Falls River Lodge (Victoria Falls), 2 Nights Selinda Camp (Linyanti) & 2 Nights Baines’ Camp (Okavango Delta).
3. Learn to Survive in the Desert
Botswana boasts one of the oldest communities of hunter-gatherers on earth, the San bushmen. For thousands of years the San have been surviving in the harsh conditions of the Kalahari where most would die of thirst in a few short days. Practice speaking in clicks as the San guide you in the desert and watch in disbelief as they pull hidden food, water and survival tools out of the sand. Meno a Kwena on the Boteti River and Uncharted Africa on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans are our personal picks for best place to experience the hunter-gatherer lifestyle first hand.
Test it Out With: Our 10 Night ‘Adventure Safari – Option 2’ including 3 Nights Meno a Kwena Tented Camp (Boteti / Makgadikgadi), 2 Nights Sango Safari Camp (Khwai), 2 Nights Chobe Under Canvas (Chobe), 1 Night Ilala Lodge (Victoria Falls) and 2 Nights Pioneers Camp (Zambezi National Park – outside Victoria Falls)
4. Blaze Your Own Trail
So you’ve flown miles into the wilderness in a tiny charter plane, with nothing but bush in all directions, but it still doesn’t feel remote enough? Pack up a tent and head off on an exploration of Botswana’s waterways. Delve into the deepest Okavango Delta by mokoro from Oddball’s Enclave, exploring islands and camping along the way. Alternatively, pick up your paddle and tackle the Selinda Spillway by canoe with Great Plains, stopping en route to rest your weary arms and explore the bush on foot. You might end up with a few blisters, but you’ll take home even more stories – and they last longer!
Test it Out With: Our 10 Night ‘Botswana Odyssey – Option 1’ including 2 Nights Gorges Lodge (Victoria Falls), 3 Nights Selinda Explorers’ Camp (Linyanti), 3 Nights Machaba Camp (Khwai), 2 Nights Kalahari Plains (Central Kalahari Game Reserve)
5. Catch the View From the Top
There’s no better way to view the maze of the Okavango Delta than from above. While planes are required to fly at higher altitudes, helicopters can set flight paths tracing water channels from just a few metres above. Try your hand at aerial photography as you hover above herds of plains game and stop to take in your surrounds on a remote island with a glass of champagne in hand. The Mombo concession is our pick for the best place to see animals from above (and the only area with a chance of seeing rhino) whereas taking off from a water camp (such as Baines’ or Eagle Island) will give you the best idea of the lay of the land.
Test it Out With: Our “8 Night Botswana Focus – Premier” including 2 Nights Tongabezi – House (Livingstone), 2 Nights Zarafa Camp (Linyanti), 2 Nights Vumbura Plains (Okavango Delta), 2 Nights Mombo (Moremi Game Reserve) FREE UPGRADE TO HELICOPTER TRANSFER INCLUDED BETWEEN VUMBURA PLAINS & MOMBO
For details on the above mentioned itineraries, please log into our Agents’ Corner and download full rates, inclusions and exclusions. For suggestions on how to combine more than one of these experiences in any itinerary, check out our package overview or contact your dedicated consultant.
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!
My First Safari Into The Untamed Wild
…and despite of innumerable safaris through Botswana and into Zimbabwe, Zambia had always infused me with awe and a tempting curiosity for its claim to fame to be the door into the REAL, deep Africa.
…and all I found were lovely, warm people, welcoming me at airports, airstrips and camps, and an abundance of happy, healthy, relaxed animals.
Elephant mothers who let us come very close to admire their babies, lionesses lying down in the shade of our vehicle, leopards twinkling at us from comfortable branches of huge old trees.
Big smiles and professional hosts awaited us at camps, people proud of their country and its natural beauties guided us. We travelled on sandy roads, cruised on the mighty Zambezi and reluctantly took flights knowing that while up in the air, we would miss out on landscapes and daily life scenes.
Luckily I was accompanied and guided by an almost ‘local’ Zambia lover and expert, my colleague Bettina.
We opted on a Best of List to share with you our most memorable moments of a fabulous journey through a country offering so many (un)tamed safari options. The choice was a tough one, the list could have been much longer ….
BEST SIGHTINGS – both South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi are beaming with wildlife, I have had the most rewarding night game drives ever, with lots of leopards, lions, civit, porcupine, genets.
Huge pride of lions, unfaced by us, 13 ladies with their youngsters
So many leopards in different positions on our day & night drives
Pack of 13 wild dogs
While travelling by boat from the most Eastern part of the park to the park entrance on the Western side we enjoyed hundreds of very happy elephants in the river and along the Zambian and Zimbabwean shores – I have never seen so many babies and youngsters with very relaxed mothers – must be a good life along this magic river.
BEST GUIDE – a difficult choice as most of the guides we met were outstanding ref their scientific wildlife knowledge, respect of animals, empathy with their clients – but we had to choose:
MANDA – Billimungwe Camp/The Bushcamp Company
Apart from his excellent guiding and his incredible knowledge about his country and national parks, nobody could ever fascinate us the way he did with poo, plants & prints – thanks to our brave Scout we even felt save while we were LION tracking, but found a BLACK MAMBA.
BEST FIREPLACE – as we think this very fine safari habit is in danger of extinction and the warm, romantic, orange glow is replaced by the blue light of laptops too many times already. We enjoyed a very nice conversation on comfy cushions after dinner at CHINZOMBO Camp with manager Mario & fellow guests exposed to the nightly sounds of the bush.
…and afterwards we sank into the BEST BED as the camp has installed the high tec, low consumption Evening Breeze cooling system around the bed.
BEST FOOD – this was impossible to decide, as anywhere we went we enjoyed fresh and tasty food, grown in the nearby areas, we are delighted to hear that the supplies for camps are grown and transported rather sustainably compared to other safari countries and local farmers profit directly from tourism.
Therefore the category MOST SURPRISING FOOD goes to KANYEMBA Lodge, where Zambian fruits and vegetables are turned into delicious Italian specialities thanks to the boss’ cooking skills and culture, so we sampled home made banana gelato, porcini risotto, aubergine antipasti while the ellies munched away on the tropical gardens’ trees next to us.
And as we all know that inspection trips are exhausting, especially if the temperatures rise up to 40 degrees in November, we had to spoil ourselves in some private pools. We especially liked the feel and the views from
CHONGWE CAMPS’s Honeymoon Suite overlooking the confluence of the Chongwe River and the Zambezi
We continue with being spoilt, our timing was obviously perfect, as we visited
SAUSAGE Tree Camp
where we were invited to join their Signature River Lunch – we were taken out into the middle of this gigantic river only to find a wonderful lunch buffet and a shady set table, legs in the cool water, the biggest handwash basin on earth, a true memorable experience and a unique emotional sensation – considering the huge crocs we had seen on our transfers and the hippo family stalking us – so the choice of
BEST SPECIAL EVENT was quite easy!
We close our blog on a fabulous trip with the most elegant event combined with wonderful views from the top of a hill –YES, I loved the hills and mountain ranges ‘escarpments’ coming from rather flat Botswana – over the plains of South Luangwa NP, garnished with a dramatic thunderstorm passing us
BEST SUNDOWNERS must go to CHICHELE
When I arrived in Maun a few years ago I didn’t plan on getting involved in the tourism industry. Now 6 years and over a hundred camps later, I admit I changed my mind … Botswana infected me with the famous Safari Bug (as all safari goers know, there is no cure for it)!
Safari was a completely new terrain for me and my compassion towards safari tourists was, honestly spoken – really limited. What value would a safari provide, that a journey to a picturesque beach where people can relax in the sun while watching the waves in the ocean, couldn’t? But life proved me wrong: I figured out quite quickly that safari is more than getting up REALLY early and sitting in a loud, open and sometimes VERY COLD vehicle. Safari is a passion, it is a life changing experience. And yes it has to offer much more than just lying in the sun getting a tan….
I can tell many stories I experienced during my time at Safari Destinations: being caught in a tree house in the delta (because of a hippo-grassing-blockade underneath), watching a puff adder attacking the wheels of our vehicle, escaping from charging elephants in reverse gear, nearly bumping into a hippo’s bum on a night drive, watching an angry lion with his mouth wide open on a game walk, an elephant rubbing his skin on the canvas of my tent (lying inside begging that he doesn’t lie down)… just to name a few of my adrenalin-powered moments on safari. But at the same time I also had many touching sightings: a wild dog den with month-old puppies learning how to hunt a vulture, a relaxed elephant shaking palm trees to get nuts from the treetops, a lioness grooming her cubs, a blacksmith lapwing hiding its chicks underneath its wings (at first you wonder why the bird has 6 feet..), a leopard lying on display in a tree just for you to get a beautiful photo, a Sitatunga antelope in the middle of the reeds watching us on a boat cruise and finally, the myriad colours of the most beautiful sunsets on earth.
Now I understand the safari tourists: it’s not just about the adventure, it’s being surrounded by unspoilt nature while watching beautiful animals in their homes. When you are on safari you start to acknowledge that there are still paradises out there, where time, status & performance don’t count. It’s more about being in harmony with yourself and nature and the wildlife.
I’ve been to 107 camps and have seen pretty much every corner of Botswana (and a bit of Zimbabwe). Personally, it doesn’t matter if you have a private pool, a fancy 6 course dinner or if you get your cup of coffee delivered to your room in the morning. What makes a safari memorable is being in the wilderness, smelling the bush, listening to nature and absorbing it with open eyes.
Many people will never have the chance to experience such wonders while they are stuck in big cities with millions of people and no opportunity to see true beauty. It’s up to those of us who are privileged enough to experience such wildernesses to tell people about them, encourage them to travel and keep them safe for the next generation.
“THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT SAFARI LIFE THAT MAKES YOU FORGET ALL YOUR SORROWS AND FEEL AS IF YOU HAD DRUNK HALF A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE – BUBBLING OVER WITH HEARTFELT GRATITUDE FOR BEING ALIVE”. Karen Blixen
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.
“People come to Chobe for the elephants, but I say this is one of the best places in Botswana to see giraffes” says James of Chobe Game Lodge. Whatever you want to call them, a tower, journey, aggregate or corps there’s no doubting we’re seeing plenty. ‘I must’ve seen at least 180 on a game drive the other day, it was incredible. You’ll often see more of them than the elephants.”
I still vote that Chobe is the place of the Elephants. Eleven year old Emma sitting in the vehicle next to me agrees, so we put a bet on it, splitting our game drive into two camps. Emma and I sit on one side of the debate, scrambling to tally up elephants as her parents and James count off giraffe wherever they spot a head sticking out from behind trees.
Emma is a star at running our mini elephant census and she doesn’t miss a trick. Breeding herd. Eight. At least. (we add one or two more, just in case we’ve under-counted by a few legs). Emma’s parents up front are pointing at a giraffe behind a tree, but as we shift our focus to the tree line beyond it becomes two; then three, then four… This is the thing with giraffes, there’s always more. Having all that height equals an impressive range of vision. Giraffes can spread out in the bush and effectively keep an eye out for predators. It seems there are always more on the horizon, slowly chewing leaves and adding themselves to the scorecard.
I won’t admit it, but I’m feeling a slight sweat coming on. I whisper to Emma that we need a distraction as I spot more giraffes coming up on the left. “Oh WOW!’ we exclaim, waving our arms for attention ‘what’s that on the RIGHT?! More ELEPHANTS maybe?” It doesn’t work. Team giraffe are busy counting and suddenly they’re in the mid twenties. This does not look good. I point feebly at a bush ‘oh look, more elephants!’ I say, substituting real sightings with fake ones. ‘No wait!’ Emma says stopping me, ‘there really ARE elephants!” and sure enough, another breeding herd. Add twelve. Team elephant is closing the gap.
The afternoon seems to have passed in five minutes. We realise we’ve ignored the multitudes of impalas, waterbucks, buffaloes and, more importantly, the start of a sunset slowly melting across Chobe’s over-filled floodplains. As numbers climb into the thirties on both sides, James calls a truce and suggests we make peace over G&Ts as white-faced ducks socialise next to us by the floodplains. It’s a tense detente, but one that Emma and I finally agree is necessary to save team giraffe from embarrassment.
Later, I’m joining my aunt on her first ever game drive with Connie, one of the Chobe Angels. A few minutes in, we start with the basics. “This is an impala’ says Connie ‘you can tell the difference between the males and the females because the males have horns.” It’s easy to get blasé about impalas when you’ve been on a few game drives, but my aunt is captivated and Connie really eases her into the bush experience.
The pace builds quickly when we turn a corner and find a leopard chilling out in a tree, the blue of the Chobe River spread out behind him. I start telling my aunt how lucky we are when we drive on a little further and find a pride of nine lionesses strolling along the water’s edge. My heart stops in my throat as a big male kudu walks right at them and the lionesses slink down in the grass. With less than two metres between predator and prey, a lioness springs up and the kudu’s instinct to survive kicks in. He bolts off across the floodplains, throwing up bursts of water and sending birds shooting into the air. Lucky for the kudu, these girls are still young and haven’t fine-tuned their hunting skills yet, despite putting on an impressive show.
When I begin telling my aunt how lucky we are again, two leopards in a tree appear and I suspect she thinks I’m having her on. One of the leopards has an impala up the tree and is busy snacking as the sky begins to grow dark.
We head back to Chobe Game Lodge in the fading light, excitedly going over the events of the afternoon when Connie delivers again, spotting five lion cubs sitting in the dust. Their mothers are gone, probably looking for dinner, as the young cubs watch us from only a metre away. We’ve already taken plenty of photos. This is one of those sightings better enjoyed without a camera and committed to memory instead, as the light runs out on the day.
Where to stay in Chobe
Chobe National Park is Botswana’s busiest due to its ease of access from Victoria Falls and via Kasane Airport without requiring any onward charter flights. Where travellers stay in Chobe will seriously alter the kind of safari experience they receive, whether it’s a town stay with park access for activities, within the park itself for a complete bush setting, or a river-based experience in the Caprivi Strip.
Properties in Kasane are typically bigger hotels booked on packages with a set amount of activities and meals, often excluding drinks. These are the most affordable options for exploring Chobe and activities are often out-sourced to third party operators with no guarantee you’ll have the same guide each time. Most Kasane hotels are on the river with their own jetty for boat cruises, though neighbouring hotels share the same route, making them the busiest departure points for getting on the river. For game drives, guests drive approximately 20 minutes to Sedudu gate and queue for entry with vehicles from other hotels. The result is that game driving into the park from Kasane results in a busier game drive experience, shared with more vehicles but often at a much more favourable nightly rate.
Kasane Hotels: Chobe Safari Lodge, Mowana Safari Lodge, Chobe Marina Lodge, Chobe Bush Lodge. Smaller lodges in the area include Kubu Lodge, Chobe Bakwena, Chobe Chilwero and the Old House.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
Staying inside the national park creates a much more relaxed safari experience as you can start your game drives earlier and drag them out later, all the while staying in bush (rather than town) surrounds. Being inside the park also means being the first on the roads looking for sightings in the mornings and the chance to pick up animal tracks on the road before they’re covered over with tyre tracks from vehicles. Chobe Game Lodge is the only permanent lodge inside the park and the only place in Botswana where your boat cruise starts within the park, avoiding the boat traffic from Kasane. A mobile safari is another alternative for staying within Chobe National Park and experiencing the bush surrounds.
Chobe National Park: Chobe Game Lodge, Chobe Under Canvas and Mobile Safaris (ie. Letaka, Bush Ways)
Lodges on the Ngoma side of Chobe enjoy a bush setting (an hour from Kasane by road), elevated views over the Chobe floodplains and a short transit to the Ngoma gate for game drives. Although these lodges are outside the park, there are only three on this side of Chobe, meaning you avoid the queues at Sedudu Gate on the Kasane end of the park. Animals are often spotted directly from the lodges and short night drives are possible in the vicinity immediately around the lodges, due to their location outside the park. Lodges in this area operate their boat cruises from Kasane Town. Due to the distance involved, cruises are normally mid-morning (when the river is quieter) as part of a longer day trip through Chobe National Park.
Ngoma Gate: Ngoma Safari Lodge, Muchenje Safari Lodge and Chobe Elephant Camp.
CAPRIVI STRIP/CHOBE RIVER
Staying in the Caprivi is all about experiencing the Chobe River by boat. To stay in the Caprivi, you’ll need to check-in to Namibia even though you’ll share the water with boats from Botswana. There are three options: lodges on Impalila Island, houseboats and Chobe Savanna Lodge. Lodges on Impalila Island are very close to Kasane, meaning that there’s no advantage location-wise for beating Kasane’s sunset cruise fleet. Lodges here are in a prime position for fishing, being close to the rapids and also for birding with quite a few small heronries around the island. Houseboats moor at various positions on the river opposite Chobe National Park, and benefit from less surrounding boat traffic. The houseboats use smaller boats for cruising guests up and down on the Chobe River. There are smaller houseboats with four to five cabins as well as the larger Zambezi Queen. The Zambezi Queen is quite large, running on set departures, meaning guests stay with the same group for the duration of the two or three night cruises. Chobe Savanna Lodge is situated across from Puku Flats in Chobe National Park from where buffalo, elephants, giraffes and hippos are often spotted directly from the lodge. Savanna also enjoys the benefit of a more exclusive river experience being located further into the park.
Caprivi Strip: Pride of the Zambezi, Ichobezi, Zambezi Queen, Chobe Savanna Lodge, Impalila Island Lodge, Ichingo River Lodge.
Last year Lorraine and I started a tradition of our two families going on safari together. This year our annual family safari took us to Hwange. Travelling with kids is an adventure. Seeing nature through their eyes makes you realize how wonderful our planet really is. Did you know that a wildebeest looks a bit like a Gruffalo. For all ignorant people out there, “The Gruffalo” is one of the best-loved children’s books ever. “A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?”
“A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know? He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.”
And so begins the story of a quick-witted mouse as he encounters a host of predators who seem to think he might make a tasty treat. As he ventures deeper into the deep dark wood, stumbling across a hungry fox, a not-so-wise owl, and a slimy snake, spinning ever-extraordinary yarns about the scary, scaly gruffalo, he quickly realises that the hungry beast he has been talking of isn’t imaginary after all.
On Safari with the Gruffalo:
Three bush babies strolled through the Hwange vlei,
they saw some Lions lying in their way,
snoozing and dreaming of roasted Gruffalo on a spit,
the Bush Babies turned around and away they slid…
Our days in Hwange were filled with extraordinary gamedrives. Living in Botswana also means that our children grow up being spoilt safari-goers, but Hwange can easily compete. Especially the south-east of Hwange offered outstanding game viewing (Davisons, Bomani, Camelthorn and Little Makalolo). It never got boring, the kids loved every moment of it. Hwange in combination with Victoria Falls and Chobe is a great destination for a family safari!