We all know northern Botswana and the fantastic wildlife areas of the Chobe and Okavango. But did you know that Botswana has a ‘toe’ in the south that is also a phenomenal wildlife haven where cheetah are seen almost every day, 92% of the year is rain-free and there are eight rivers for plenty of grazers to thrive?
Yes, Mashatu Game Reserve is in the part of Botswana that juts out to share a border with Zimbabwe and South Africa – just like a little toe! Here you find 29 000 hectares of unfenced private land – not a concession but privately owned by three generations. Over decades, careful land management has resulted in regular sightings of leopard, lion, cheetah (14 new cubs were born in 2019 alone), brown hyena, bat-eared foxes, African wild cats and honey badgers. Kills are also often observed as the wide-open plains lend themselves especially to cheetahs’ and lions’ hunting styles. We agree with Mashatu’s claim that they, ‘sell goosebumps’ and their exciting predator action is enough to give you (never mind the poor antelope!) plenty of goosebumps!
Mashatu is home to at least 700 giraffe and the largest recorded herds of elephants on private land in the world – between 200 and 300 individuals have been seen moving together. Bird nerds should look out for unusual species like Meyer’s parrots and green parrots. When it comes to spotting these animals and birds, you’re in the safe hands of the Mashatu guides, who have – on average – 14 years of guiding experience each. The trackers sit at the back of the vehicles so they can interact with the guests in the back rows. Once they’ve got five years’ tracking experience under their belts, they can move upfront.
In addition to game drives, there are multiple other ways of seeing Mashatu. Cycling safaris are easy because they follow the flattened elephant tracks (there is an age restriction of 12 and a back-up vehicle follows at a distance of two kilometres). Intermediate riders (must be able to canter with confidence) can saddle up one of the over 40 horses on the property and walking is also available.
If guests don’t feel like breaking a sweat, they can watch plenty of game come down to the underground hide where a professional photo guide is available to help them make the most of their cameras and phones. Beanbags, tripods and mounts are all for guests’ complimentary use.
Before BTTE 2019 in Kasane, we had the opportunity to do a fam trip with agents to Mashatu, where we were hosted for two nights by Kelly Evans. This is easily a 4- to 5-night stay destination as there is so much to see and do here.
We loved being on safari in this secret corner of Botswana and recommend incorporating it into an itinerary for your clients for the following reasons:
Flight connections between Mashatu and the Okavango Delta are now easier than ever, with seat rates available to travellers. It’s now much more convenient and cost-effective to fly into the south of Botswana.
Botswana Immigration – if you’re flying in from Zimbabwe or South Africa – is done at Limpopo Valley Airfield, where you’ll be queuing with a maximum of 12 other people. Our group had the immigration counter all to themselves and were done in 15 minutes. Of course if you’re flying from the Delta, you skip this step.
The game viewing is phenomenal. We saw two cheetah kills in two days as well as mating lions, stalking leopards and plenty of plains game. Kelly still felt the need to apologise that it was ‘quieter than normal’!
The variety of activities and size of the area make it a natural fit for a longer, more relaxing stay. In two days, we did two game drives, a bicycle safari and a morning in the photo hide, and STILL didn’t have enough time to get to the area’s fascinating archaeological sites or the horse-riding excursion.
The photo hide isn’t just for professionals. Superb Mashatu photo host, Aubrey, showed our group how to make the most of their iPhones for photography and composition – and we learnt about settings we never knew existed.
With three properties on offer at different levels of budget, there’s a camp or lodge to suit everyone. Opt for Mashatu Tent Camp for entry-level accommodation, Mashatu Lodge for mid-range clients and Mashatu Euphorbia Villas (will open in May 2020) for those who want to splurge. The villas will have heated plunge pools, Wi-Fi and air conditioning plus views over the landscape.
There’s no ‘real’ Green Season here. You’ll find carpets of wild flowers from January to March but the grasses are still short and the rainfall is much less than in the rest of the country, making it a great option for small groups continuing to the Okavango Delta on private charter, or just doing Mashatu as a stand-alone.
The landscape and habitats are totally different to northern Botswana, lending a fantastic contrast to the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, both in terms of expected wildlife sightings and the landscapes to enjoy it all from.
If you want goosebumps and a huge thrill, Mashatu might be the place to find them!
Mashatu forms part of our 9-nights Best Kept Secrets Superior package – see how to link the Delta, Mashatu and the Victoria Falls for your clients here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: