Home to both the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango Delta, and the vast expanse of the Kalahari Desert, Botswana is one of the very best all-encompassing safari destinations in the world.
The uniqueness of Botswana’s contrasting terrains is that it allows for visitors to enjoy three very different kinds of safaris: on land, in the water, and in the desert. The most famous safari area is the Okavango Delta, a huge wetland area which was recently listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Africa. Every year, floodwaters from the distant highlands of Angola in the north arrive into the Delta causing vast quantities of game to migrate inwards and congregate around the reed-filled water channels, lagoons and islands, allowing visitors the chance to experience a safari by mokoro (traditional canoe). In stark contrast, the Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi salt pans in the south offer surreal lunar landscapes, desert-adapted wildlife and the opportunity to spend time with the San people - the Bushmen of the Kalahari.
Further to the north, enormous herds of elephant can be found in the Chobe National Park whilst the Moremi and Linyanti Reserves abound with predators. Botswana is leading the way in Africa with its ethos of ‘high cost - low impact’ tourism and visionary conservation projects, which equates to fewer people in one of the best safari destinations in Africa. For our tailor-made Botswana trips we generally recommend a fly-in safari by light aircraft or helicopter which allows you to hop between different environments in minutes and appreciate Botswana’s remarkable geography with a bird’s eye view. Botswana abounds in exclusive bush camps and luxury lodge accommodation – the trick is to find the right accommodation to suit the time of year, your specific wildlife interests and thirst for adventure.
THE S&A TO DO LIST
- Visit the Makgadikgadi Pans during the Green Season (roughly from December to March) to catch the zebra and wildebeest migration
- Spend a night out under the stars in Sable Alley’s new star beds
- Do at least one heli-transfer between camps, it’s less expensive than you think and it’s worth it
Zarafa Camp in the Selinda Reserve in northern Botswana is undoubtedly one of the finest camps in Botswana. Part of the Great Plains Conservation portfolio – along with excellent sister property, Selinda Camp - and owned by renowned film-makers and photographers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Zarafa is an incredibly luxurious camp where no expense has been spared (we loved touches like the complimentary Swarovski HD binoculars and Canon cameras which are available for guests’ use). The camp has just four (vast) tents, each with a lounge, private pool, deep copper bath and indoor/outdoor shower, all overlooking the beautiful flood plains of the Zibadianja Lagoon. Further south in the Okavango Delta, Abu Camp is the leading location in Africa for elephant safari, where guests are able to interact with a small resident herd, along with Sanctuary Baines Camp where you can also spend time with elephants, Doug Groves and the 'Grey Matters Project'. A morning with these gentle giants learning about their daily habits, walking with them through the bush and finally enjoying lunch in their presence is great fun. Mombo Camp is perhaps Botswana’s flagship luxury lodge, and one of the most famous in all of Africa, located in a prime position at the heart of the Delta. Here safari activities are centred on vehicle safari, with an extremely good reputation for strong wildlife viewing, especially lions and leopards. The newly renovated Chief’s Camp has a great new design after extensive renovations, and whilst a stay here comes at a high price tag it is well worth it for guests looking for luxury and excellent wildlife. For someone with limited time to travel Vumbura Plains is the perfect one-stop shop as there are wet and dry safari activities on offer virtually year-round.
Having recently undergone extensive refurbishment, Duba Plains is also of the Great Plains Conservation stable and one of Africa’s top luxury safari camps. Located in its own magnificent private conservancy, it is renowned as the location where Derek and Beverley Joubert made their now famous documentary, Relentless Enemies – chronicling the battle for survival between the lions and buffalo on the plains. Chitabe Camp comes with a reputation for particularly strong lion and leopard sightings, as well as more unusual animals such as honey-badgers, aardwolves and civets. Also on the Chitabe Concession, &Beyond Sandibe Okavango is a chic, glamorous and modern lodge well-suited to honeymooners and couples looking to be spoiled in 12 boldly designed hideaways inspired by weavers' nests and clad in timber scales like a pangolin. Activities at the exclusive Gomoti Plains Camp include mokoro canoe and motorboat safari, walking safari, and day and night vehicle safari, whist in the heart of the Moremi Game Reserve surrounded by water, family-run Xakanaxa Camp offers year-round land and water safaris and spectacular bird watching. Further north Duma Tau Camp sits in a pretty waterfront position on the superb Linyanti East Concession particularly notable for excellent elephant, lions, wild dog and leopard sightings.
Aside from the day and night game drives on offer, the Okavango Delta is one of the few places in Africa where one can go on safari by mokoro – a traditional dug-out canoe where ‘polers’ guide you through the labyrinth of channels, standing like gondoliers at the rear of the boat. Silently gliding through crystal clear water dotted with water lilies in a mokoro allows you to take stock of the beauty of your surrounds, the tiny delicately painted reed frogs and myriad of colourful water birds, without causing disturbance. Those particularly interested in water activities should definitely include a few nights’ stay at a ‘wet’ camp. These are camps that are generally surrounded by permanent water year-round, and arrival is often by motorboat. We love the intimate feeling of Wilderness Safaris’ Jacana – the cosy communal areas and decked area faces out to the west creating the perfect stage for sunset G&Ts. Also in a prime position is Xigera, widely considered to be one of the best ‘wet’ camps in the Delta offering superb mokoro canoe safaris and motorboat safaris. One of our personal favourites Little Vumbura Camp is set on an island in a private concession in the Delta, hidden away from the world amongst the reeds like a well-kept secret and only accessible by boat. With just six tents it is perfect for those seeking the more intimate atmosphere of an island hideaway.
To gain a full picture of just how varied and dramatic Botswana’s scenery can be, a visit to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a must. You won’t see the prolific game of the Delta here, but this huge conservation area has its own unique beauty that’s only enhanced by its vastness, emptiness, grandeur, and desolation. To the east, the flat landscape of the greater Kalahari contains the even flatter, harsher and emptier landscape of the Makgadikgadi Pans where you can take in the overwhelming sense of solitude and space of the spectacular salt pans. Here, Jack’s Camp is one of the country’s original luxury camps, an oasis of comfort with ten stylish canvas tents set into a palm grove. The camp's hub is a canvas mess tent that houses a natural history museum showcasing the antiques and artefacts collected by the Bousfield family, who have owned and run the camp for generations. Nearby sister-property San Camp will appeal to romantics with its six billowing white tents all elegantly decorated with four poster beds and antique furniture. There are an extraordinary range of unusual desert safari experiences to choose from in this region, including quad-biking on the salt pans, visits to a habituated meerkat colony, walks with Zu'hoasi Bushmen Trackers for a glimpse into their ancient culture, lying out on the pans at night watching the planetarium show unfold overhead with horizon-to-horizon stars, trips to Chapman's Baobab, horse and bike riding, and game drives studying the desert-adapted species unique to the area. During the wet season there is also the chance to see the zebra and elephant migration and from 2018 onwards guests will be offered the chance to see this extraordinary event from above in the new helicopter which is to be based permanently at Jack’s.
The Selinda Canoe Trail is perhaps the ultimate water experience in Botswana. The annual flooding of the Selinda spillway now allows travellers to explore the area on a fully guided five day canoe trip covering almost 45km of this unique waterway, fly camping on its banks at night. Each canoe holds two guests, their bedrolls and bags. You must be strong enough to paddle your own canoe but no previous experience is necessary, just a desire for adventure! For a privately guided mobile safari the fabulous Barclay Stenner duo are your men (certainly good enough for Taylor Swift!). They have transformed the art of mobile camping and their motto of ‘Wildlife will move, so the camp must follow’ allows guests to witness the movement of large migratory animals and engage in the traditions of being on safari. Sable Alley in the Khwai Concession is a relatively new addition to the Natural Selection portfolio, a collection of owner-operated lodges who have joined with the common aim of offering unique safari experiences while being an important part of the conservation solution for Africa’s wildlife. Rather encouragingly there is no phone signal and no wifi facilities at Sable Alley, and activities include vehicle safari, mokoro canoe safari, motorboat safari and night vehicle safari, with excursions beyond the concession and out into Moremi National Park also being possible.
Looking to extend your trip?
Botswana combines well with beach time in Mozambique, or balance out the water based activities in the Delta with arid desert-scapes of neighbouring Namibia...