When I first thought about booking an African safari, and long before I got involved in a travel company, Botswana did not enter my head as a safari destination; Tanzania (yes), Kenya (of course) and South Africa (who hasn’t heard of the Kruger) all did though.
But then I visited Botswana and had my first experience of wildlife in its true habitat, not fenced in but roaming free. I was hooked.
Here’s my guide of places that I would head for when stepping off the plane whether in Maun, Kasane or Gabarone……..
The Kalahari Desert forms a large chunk of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and is some 360,000 sq miles in size – or almost four times the size of the UK! It is generally a flat or gently undulating, and fairly featureless landscape………….but it is thriving with wildlife and birdlife, some that can be seen relatively easily and some for which you have to be a little more patient such as Aardwolf, Pangolin and Honey Badger. The latter being my particular nemesis.
The San Bushmen are resident to the Kalahari and their survival skills and how they work with the environment and respect the wildlife are incredible.
It’s worth spending at least three night in either the Makgadikgadi Pans or Nxai Pans – the feeling of space is just incredible and the stars are amazing. It’s also worth a visit to Kibu Island (think Top Gear Botswana Special) and Baines Boababs.
Located at the far north-eastern tip on Botswana, the Chobe National Park stretches from the Linyanti through to almost Victoria Falls, where Zambia and Zimbabwe meet up. Running across the top of the Chobe is Namibia.
The Chobe is renowned for its huge herds of elephants which regularly, using their trunks as snorkels cross the Chobe River into Namibia, stopping to graze on the floating islands on route. The eastern end of the park, close to Kasane, is busier than the central and western sectors which have fewer game lodges.
Most of the camps and lodges are on the outskirts of the Chobe with views into it across the water, on which many of your game viewing activities will take place. A two night stay here is sufficient, to get a taste of the park.
My favourite property, for ambience and value, and it is inside the park is Chobe Game Lodge:
The Tuli Block
On the border with South Africa lies a hidden gem – the Tuli Block – a narrow fringe of land consisting mainly of privately owned game farms. The eastern section up to and including Redshield has been declared a game reserve and is known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve.
Tuli is renowned for its geographical features such as Solomon’s Wall, by the Motloutse River in the southwestern corner of the Tuli Block, where the ancestors of the San People left traces of their rock paintings. The Tuli is readily accessible by road from South Africa and all the major cities in Botswana with Gabarone being the closest, within self-drive distance.
The wildlife is spectacular with the variety of landscapes and game supporting the big cats as well as huge numbers of elephant and the Motloutse and Limpopo Rivers, home to large pods of hippos.
Unlike in most other parts of Botswana, night game drives are permitted.
My pick of the lodges would be Tuli Safari Lodge.
Sandwiched between the Okavango Delta and the Chobe National Park are the smaller but still no less significant areas of the Linyanti, Savute and Selinda. The regions offers varied woodland habitats and ancient floodplains leading to a wide variety of wildlife, leading to a balanced experience, in a relatively small area. Particular features are the Savuti Channel, which recently started flowing after being dry for the last few decades and the Selinda Spillway.
There are some seasonal zebra and elephant migrations, the latter is October/November as the Okavango Delta starts to dry up and there is movement northwards into the mopane woodlands by the huge herds.
There are a number of excellent lodges and camps to suit all budgets but I would raid the piggy bank and spend at least two nights at the new DumaTau – what a camp and what a setting!
I’ve left the best one until last – the Okavango Delta. A place that is so special that every safari lover has to save up and visit at least once. There is really no bad time to go as far as wildlife is concerned although if you are not a lover of heat, it is probably best to avoid October and two weeks either side, when the mercury can top 40C.
The Okavango is one of nature’s incredible locations and home to an amazing annual event, it is the only river delta in the world that does not drain into an ocean and it floods during Botswana’s dry season! The annual inundation being totally dependent on when and how much rains falls in Angola, but the flood waters usually arrive in early May, hitting their peak in late June and are largely gone by early September.
The delta, which includes the Moremi Game Reserve and various private game concessions, is home to a huge diversity of flora and fauna, from the small Malachite Kingfisher through to Pel’s Fishing Owl and tiny frog upwards. The palm fringed islands encircled by crystal clear cold water, hide huge herds of buffalo and their nemesis, the lion as well as the rarely seen Sitatunga, whilst the open grasslands are grazed by the prey species of the big cats and African Hunting Dogs.
The range of accommodation is immense from camp sites through to five star lodges but the number of visitors is tightly controlled so you rarely see another safari vehicle and never feel that you are encroaching on the wildlife.
It is almost impossible to recommend a lodge, so have a look at these – there will be one that you will fall in love with.