When I was invited to join Desert & Delta Safaris on an educational trip to explore their properties in Botswana, I jumped at the chance. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime offering several bucket-list destinations in one trip.
Our five-night journey started at Kasane International Airport; a mere 1hr40min flight from Johannesburg. We were met on arrival by the all-female game ranger team from Chobe Game Lodge and they excelled at making our entire stay a complete pleasure. The 44-room lodge is enviably located inside the Chobe National Park, just 40 minutes from the airport. The lodge is located along the length of the Chobe River with wonderful views stretching across the waterways and islands, all the way to the opposite shore of Namibia.
Chobe is famed for its enormous elephant population – approximately around 140,000. Even though the water levels had started to subside we still had excellent sightings of a large variety of animals. After checking in on the newly built river deck, it was time to head out by motor boat – all electric which makes for extremely quiet cruising. This is truly the best way to view the animals – making their way down to the banks to drink or to swim across to the islands for grazing. Large crocodiles lazing themselves in the sun, large families of elephant congregating on the islands, families of monkeys playing on the river banks and the magnificent call of the fish eagle where just some of the sights and sounds to greet us. As we made our way back to the lodge for a delicious BBQ diner, the setting sun cast hues of pink and orange across the landscape – the perfect African welcome on our first day.
On day two, we headed out bright and early in electric-converted game vehicles for a Big 5 land safari in the national park before heading back to Kasane Airport. We boarded the light aircraft for the next leg of our journey; a 30 minute flight to Savute, which is still located inside the Chobe National Park, but offers a completely contrasting safari experience. The landscape is very flat (I was not aware that Botswana is the 4th flattest country in the world) apart from lunar-like, granite Gubatsa Hills, which make for interesting topography. Mopane and baobab trees, grasslands and marsh, which was dry, make up the rest of the vistas.
Savute Safari Lodge is positioned on the Savute Channel, which has unfortunately been dry since 2015. The 12-room lodge overlooks a man-fed waterhole – October is at the tail-end of the dry season, so water levels are at their lowest. Sitting on the deck of the main building, or even on a private room deck, we were treated to a constant parade of animals coming down to drink, including a rare leopard sighting. In the afternoon we headed out in search of the famous, or should I say infamous, Marsh lion pride. This large pride, numbering over 20, has been well documented by film makers as they have learnt how to hunt elephant. We arrived at the marsh as the sun was setting and we were able to witness first-hand a hunt-in-the-making. It is quite something to see the co-ordination and skill as the family position themselves ready for the kill. We had to make our way back before the actual event, but the next morning we returned to see the large male and his cubs all feasting on a wildebeest. Elephant sightings are highest in the dry season – September to November – while late summer is the best time to see large herds of zebra.
After an early morning game drive, we made our way to the airstrip for the short hop to the heart of the Okavango Delta. Talk about contrast – from the dry, arid savanna of Savute to the lush, emerald green of the Delta. Even though October is the end of the dry season, there is still plenty of water to get the full delta experience. Straight off the aircraft, we jumped onto our motorboats and were whisked away through the reed-lined waterways to our home for the night – Camp Okavango, with a stop at the eight-bedroom Xugana Island Lodge en-route.
Nothing quite prepares you for the Okavango Delta. What struck me most was the colours, which were so bright, they seemed to pop straight out of a cartoon. The modern and luxurious Camp Okavango, with only 12 rooms, offers year-round water activities. It is purely water-based i.e. they don’t offer a land-based, motorised big five safari. There are however more than enough opportunities for viewing animals – from daily water cruises and dug-out canoe activities to walking tours of the islands. The next day we were due to fly from Camp Okavango to Camp Xakanaxa in the Moremi, however due to heavy rainfall, we had to take the 3-hour journey by boat through the waterways. A blessing in disguise, as we had extra time to enjoy the full expanse of the delta. Under normal circumstances guests would be transported by helicopter.
The Moremi National Park is still in the Okavango Delta and offers a mix of land-based and water-based activities, subject to water levels. They don’t offer mokoro, or dug-out canoe, excursions here. We stayed at the relaxed Camp Xakanaxa, but had the opportunity to see the luxurious Camp Moremi next door. Both have 12 rooms. Moremi yet again offers something completely different. You can enjoy motorised water cruises, but also a fantastic land-based safari inside the national park. The landscape is varied – riverine, forest and marshy pools, and home to a huge variety of animals. On a short game drive we saw lion (an old female fighting off crocodiles for a hippo carcass), zebra, giraffe and red sesabi. The area is also famous for its wild dog sightings.
Our last stop was Leroo la Tau situated on the border of Nxai Pan, a dry region of Botswana, and adjacent to the more well known Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. It often happens that locations of which you have no preconceived ideas, surprise you the most. This was no exception. The luxury, contemporary lodge is perched on the Boteti River banks, looking out over the Naix Pans. To access the game viewing area in high-water season – August to January – the river must crossed by boat, but in low-water season it can be done in a 4×4 vehicle. Luckily the river was flowing so we were treated to an afternoon river safari – one of the best I have ever experienced. We caught the tail-end of the zebra migration, with the huge herds moving in search of water before they head north. There also were many, many other animals and birds to keep us enthralled.
As the sun set, we stopped on the river banks for welcome drinks and canape break. Similar to the spectacular sunset over the Chobe River at the start of our journey, our visit came to a fitting end as the last rays cast a shimmering bridge across the Boteti River. Such vast contrast of landscapes and animals, these memories will stay with me for a lifetime. Now I know why they say “Botswana for ever”.
Robin Mcleod is the Timeless Africa Safaris Product and Operations Manager. He has been in the travel industry for over 20 years. His current role encompasses his ultimate passion: making travel dreams a reality for international guests into Africa. Robin caught the travel bug at a young age and his career has allowed him to explore most parts of Southern and East Africa, as well as many other parts of the world. A self-confessed foodie, he loves to stay in touch with what’s new, hot and happening. His other interests include fitness and photography.