Botswana

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Botswana

okavango-delta

INVITATION TO EDEN – Okavango Delta

You have to experience the Okavango Delta at least once in your life. Except Botswana is fast moving beyond the ordinary traveller’s pocket. Here’s one trip that makes it a possible dream.

I am lying half-naked swathed in damp hand towels, the journalists’ voices drifting to my tent on a non-existent breeze. ‘Of course there will be a pool/ the burly one had scoffed while we sat sweating outside Maun airport in the 40-degree shade, waiting for our open-topped vehicle. Ha! Trust a travel journalist not to bother with the research. He’s hitting the bottle now, and hard.

Press trips are a far cry from travelling with someone you love. There’s always one you end up hating. Or as I used to say to my daughter before she got old enough to roll her eyes, strongly dislike. The loud, inconsiderate, aggressive, perpetually drunk one. Which could be me at times, so right now I’m keeping to myself, half- nauseous with heat, wondering whether I’m the only one who feels like we’re in some kind of reality TV show; a Surobor for travel journalists, only with no audience to watch us forge allegiances or spectacularly fall out.

Seven journalists – two of them editors – is a fairly large contingency. That’s because no one says no to an invitation to Eden. The 15 000-square-kilometre alluvial fan of water that seeps away into the Kalahari sands is one of the world’s greatest natural phenomena; a wonderland of crystal-clear channels, papyrus-fringed lagoons and lush islands striated with streams on which flowering lilies float like some kitsch jigsaw-puzzle cover.

The landscape is drawcard enough, but the Delta gilds this with an astonishing diversity of species: 1061 plants, 89 fish, 64 reptiles, 482 birds and 130 mammals.

And finally there is the delicate matter of cost: with the Botswana government vigorously pursuing a high-income low-volume tourism policy since the 1990s, the only way to get your bum in the limited beds available is with a wallet stuffed with US dollars. Unless you self-drive and camp (and bookings for public campsites can sell out up to 11 months in advance), a trip to the Delta has slipped beyond middle-class South Africa’s grasp. Which is exactly the gap that Wildside Africa identified.

Having successfully established Bundox Safari Lodge, a fabulous budget camp just outside Hoedspruit, Marinus and Ida Smit expanded their affordable safari concept into Botswana, opening Xobega Island Camp in Moremi Game Reserve and Tuskers Wilderness Camp in a decommissioned hunting concession in April last year.

Tuskers, the only camp in the vast 365 000-hectare NG43 ‘Kwatale’ concession, is our first stop: just six tents in a mind-bogglingly vast and fenceless tract of land between Moremi and Nxai Pan national parks. But with a fairly monotonous mopane-dominated terrain the game viewing – particularly in the November heat – is challenging. Both nights we are periodically woken by lions so close I have to check the zipper on my tent, but we see nothing of them other than the fresh tracks they leave metres from our camp. What we do see plenty of is elephants. Our guide, Pilot Manga, voices the growing conservation concerns around their high numbers: according to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Botswana is home to 130 451, more than a third of the continent’s elephant. Even without the worst drought in 30 years, an arid country such as Botswana would struggle to sustain such a large population. He stops next to a fine specimen taking a bath in a small pan. The young bull is a natural model – posing mid-motion for the Cruiser-load of travel writers, cameras clicking away like cicadas. We are joking about his modelling fees when we sense movement to our left: a large herd approaching at speed, the smell of water in their trunks. One by one they splash into the pan to drink with intent, low rumbles of contentment drifting towards us over the baked earth.

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An aerial view of Okavango Delta

Prior to Botswana’s 2014 ban on sport and trophy hunting, NG43 was a hunting concession, and Pilot takes us to the site where tuskless elephant corpses were dumped in their hundreds, the large circular tracks in the dust surrounding the forest of bones poignant proof that the living still come to pay their respects to the dead. What kind, what kind…’ our sensitive Sunday Times correspondent mutters, visibly distressed, and there is a bonding of sorts as we wander the killing field, united in our repulsion for humanity’s more macabre pleasures.

Later, we raise our G&Ts to the fact that NG43 will never see another hunter, our faces bathed in the final light of a spectacular sunset. And by the time we reach the giant baobab under which our dinner table is lit with paraffin lanterns, we are well oiled and happy, a small glowing hub in the vast wilderness, laughing under a waning super moon.

It’s a 3.30am wake-up call and the journalist dubbed ‘last-man-standing’ knocks back a double Bacardi and orange juice, then tucks a full bottle of red wine into the pocket traditionally reserved for water. Respect. This is a man to put some welcome perspective on one’s own drinking proclivities. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Moremi Game Reserve, and as the sun rises the landscape becomes increasingly verdant. We stop periodically to gaze across savannah filled with plains game; reed-lined streams plundered by egrets and kingfishers, storks and jacanas, a polyglot of birdsong sweetening the air. We see buffaloes – hunkered together like old disgruntled ladies whose comic ­book hairstyles are hopelessly out of date, but yet again cats prove elusive. This is when you appreciate being on safari with South Africans, and seasoned travel writers at that – there is no whiff of disappointment to sour the pleasure, no desperate charge to tick off some specialist list.

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A lion spotted at Moremi Game Reserve

In fact, there is an audible exhale when we finally reach Mboma Boat Station, and not just because we are reunited with a cooler box full of wine. We are now physically entering the Delta’s otherworldly waterscape: lowered between narrow channels lined with ferns, reeds and papyrus, the tips of each fine hair threaded with seeds that nod like gigantic pompoms, their roots filtering the clear waters we trail our fingers in. As we set off for Xobega Island Camp, two pied kingfishers swoop ahead disturbing a squacco heron who keeps apace with the boat – a most elegant herald.

It is mercifully cool on the water, and tranquil, and when we alight at Xobega, somewhat zoned out, we are serenaded by a crew that are clearly – and quite understandably – happy to be in paradise. We are too. I no longer keep to myself; in fact, I am completely enamoured with my travelling companions, and on our last boat trip I bring the enamel jug from my tent and insist on anointing every member of the tribe with the pure waters of the Delta.

We tool along the waterways, speeding up to avoid hippos that plunge ominously below the surface, disturbing Docks of red-billed queleas that rise like columns of smoke into the sky. And what a sky it is, the kind that artists have for centuries painted in an attempt to capture the presence of God. As we slowly drift into a large lake, it is reflected in the mirror-still waters, and for a perfect moment we find ourselves afloat between two heavens.

Plan your trip

Getting There

Airlink operates direct daily flights from Joburg to Maun and five flights a week from Cape Town. flyairlink.com For those self-driving from Joburg, Maun is best reached by entering Botswana through the Stockpoort border and then the A14 and A3 northwest through Makgadikgadi Pans. Allow three days – it’s about 1 200km in total. Camps can arrange your transfers from Maun, but if you have a 4×4 and want to drive, exit Maun to the northeast towards Mababe. This will get you into the Delta from the west (the only real way in for self-drivers) and up to Moremi South Gate and NG43 (because NG43 is a private concession, self-drivers will need to inform the camp in advance, when booking).

When to Go

Press trips tend to be arranged at times when no one else wants to go, so ours coincided with the two hottest months of the year: October and November. The winter months (May – August) are best: it’s generally drier so you’ll see larger concentrations of game around water sources and more of the Delta is accessible than in the wetter (and hotter) summer months when many roads become too muddy and water crossings unsafe. Camps may also close around this time for maintenance.

Need to Know

South Africans don’t need a visa but you will need your passport, and if you’re driving, vehicle papers and cash to pay for entry and road tax at the border.

Stay Here

tuskers-bush-camp

Tuskers Bush Camp, located inside NG43 (also known as Kwatale Concession) to the east of Moremi, comprises six slightly shabby twin-bed Meru-style tents with an en-suite bucket shower and flushing toilet. There is a lounge area, lounge- bar tent and dining tent. Lions and ellies are regular visitors to the area and it makes for a nice precursor to Xobega but is too arid and the terrain too monotonous to be considered Delta proper.

xobega-island-camp

Xobega Island Camp, inside Moremi Game Reserve, comprises 10 new twin-bed Meru- style tents located undertrees, each with an outdoor ‘bush bathroom’ (delightful bucket shower and unpleasant chemical toilet, though the latter is due to be replaced with a flushing toilet in the first half of 2017).

It’s not luxury but very comfortable, with two lovely lounge areas, a dining tent and fire pit area. Camp manager Innocent Modise runs a tight ship, and it’s a relative bargain. Park fees for self-drivers aren’t included.

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Camp Moremi is one of my favourites inside Moremi Game Reserve, it has 11 enormous, very private Meru-style en-suite tents, each with a great location overlooking Xakanaxa Lagoon. It has the additional benefit of being able to offer its guests game drives and boat trips, and the small plunge pool is another boon.

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Mombo Camp offers an interesting comparison on Delta prices. Admittedly its location on Chief’s island is the best in the Delta, with high concentrations of game, and just nine over- the-top luxury tents. Despite this, it’s perennially popular and you’ll struggle to find space in peak season.

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Botswana – Beauty and the Beasts

Our helicopter hovered noisily over a grassy clearing beside the Okavango River, but the pilot—gripping the throttle to level us—couldn’t land. We’d taken off 30 minutes earlier from the dusty frontier town of Maun, the start­ing point for nearly all Botswana safaris, and had flown north to spend a few nights at the Moremi Game Reserve, where the Okavango fans into one of the earth’s great delta systems before draining into the Kalahari Desert. As we curled in closer to our target, the surface of the river rippled with a prowling crocodile, while impalas and zebras scattered beneath us. There we hung in the air, waiting for the elephants grazing peacefully in the papy­rus to lumber out of our way.

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A lion spotted at Moremi Game Reserve

If Botswana has a fault, it is a perverse one for modern Africa: So boun­tiful is the wildlife, it can feel like a zoo. There are reasons you can point to for the conservation success of this country that has converted nearly 30 percent of its land to protected park or game reserve. A British protec­torate until 50 years ago, Botswana has the most enduring democracy on the continent; it’s led by a conservationist president (who banned com­mercial hunting in 2014) and bankrolled by a lucrative stash of diamonds. Admittedly, the headline-grabbing recent killing of 26 elephants in the country’s north is a sign that it’s hardly immune to the wave of poaching currently engulfing the continent. But Botswana’s got more of these giants than any other African nation—130,451, according to the massive new Great Elephant Census, a two-year aerial survey of 18 countries paid for by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen (price tag: $7 million).

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African elephants in Botswana

In the Okavango Delta, where the animals drink up the annual floodwaters with the lazy air of creatures that have known neither hunger nor thirst, the densities are so convincing it can feel as if you’ve stepped into the field where Noah’s cargo dispersed and multiplied after the rains.

And it’s not just the elephants that are doing okay. On Chiefs Island in the Okavango Delta, I’ve walked with rare wild African dogs before breakfast.

In the Selinda Spillway—a channel linking the delta with the Chobe and Linyati rivers—I’ve lis­tened to an impala cry as another pack of dogs made their kill right outside my tent. For three days, I’ve paddled a canoe 83 miles down the Okavango through pods of hippos so numerous that the animals looked like stepping stones in the water, their nickel backs glinting in the sun. Back in Moremi, I’ve tracked rhinos, stood under an outdoor shower with a bull elephant grazing near enough that I worried he’d try to drink from its stream, and been kept awake at night by the low rumble of a nearby lion. I will never forget slipping through a grove of jackalberry trees at dusk and hearing a Pel’s fishing owl—among the largest of its species in the world, with a call like a crying baby. When I finally spotted the bird in the canopy, its round eyes as black as obsidian, it stood almost two feet tall.

That’s why I tell friends to come to Botswana first. More than any of the 13 sub-Saharan coun­tries I’ve visited, it works—for the hungry first- timer, the impatient executive, the teenager whose attention has been depleted by the dig­ital scourge, and the honeymooner who wants to drop a safari into a ten-day-long tour of Cape Town’s top restaurants and Zimbabwe’s roar­ing Victoria Falls. The delta can be experienced on foot, by four-wheel drive, in a motorboat or canoe, or on the back of an elephant—variety that is impossible elsewhere in Africa.

There are caveats, of course. Would I do a horse­back safari in the long grass of the delta, where a lion can jump out of nowhere? Probably not, though my sister does it year after year. Do I prefer the rolling savannas and low-scudding clouds of Tanzania’s Serengeti? Probably yes. The parched, wide-open East African landscape feels more ancient and soulful; its rocky kopjes, like the standing stones of my native English moorland, reverberate with the origins of man. But then I fly up the delta in a helicopter during the seasonal flood in May and look down on an explosion of emerald that announces Botswana’s fecundity, its thrust and burst, its greens and golds redolent of Benozzo Gozzoli’s painting of the Magi in the Palazzo Medici’s chapel. Which isn’t as strange an analogy as it sounds. Botswana’s richness and ease make the delta the Florence of Africa, while Tanzania, under its pale, bleached- out light, is its Puglia.

In spite of (or probably because of) its advan­tages, Botswana is one of the more expensive destinations in Safari land, with suites at an Abu Camp in the delta or Mombo on Chief’s Island costing upwards of $1,600 per person per night.

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Abu Camp – Botswana

Of course, the country’s top-tier lodgings are done with infinite good taste, in Ralph Lauren-style khakis, creams, and leathers, with copper roll-top baths and often with air-conditioning that floats over skeins of cotton voile draping four-poster beds. Before turndown, staff deflect bugs with military precision. Over at Zarafa Camp in the Selinda Reserve, gluten-free meals are a first-class feast of salads and river fish, while wooden decks with roaring campfires over­look the crush of passing wildlife.

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Dining at Zarafa Camp

For my part—because I feel connected to Africa’s wildest places—I will always prefer camping more simply under star-pricked nights. But let it be said: If I’m offered a bed at the deliciously intimate Little Mombo for a second honeymoon, I’m in. Botswana shows the rest of Africa how luxury in the bush is really done.

Botswana is also just the start, the gateway to an enduring Africa habit. I have never known it to fail. Come here once and awe will become obses­sion, mounting as quickly and inevitably as the waters of the annual Okavango flood

There’s that moment when you real­ize you’re in the belly of the African backcountry and there are no fences. “We woke up the first morning to big-cat prints—leopard, the guides said—all over the ground outside our tents,” said former competitive surfer Lee Meirowitz after his first trip to Botswana, organized by travel specialists Cox & Kings for Conde Nast Traveler Voyages. “It was a remin­der of just how out of our element we were.”

But no matter how you get there, you’ll be hooked right away, Barnes says, “on the rush of hearing a radio call about zebras, then zooming off to see them.”

WHEN TO GO

botswana-in-summer

Botswana in winter (our summer)— after the rains, when the delta floods and springs to life—is the best time to see the north: The savanna’s grasses are low, while growth along the waterways attracts tons of wildlife. Central Botswana is at its best in Africa’s summer, when the region’s desert and salt pans turn to grass­land, drawing parades of animals.

FLYING IN  

The town of Maun (typically reached via a connection from Johannesburg or Cape Town) is the safari starting point for north and central Botswana. If you’re headed to the former, consider flying into Victoria Falls International in Zimbabwe, a one-hour flight from Maun, and adding a day to your trip to see the epic cascade.

THE LODGING SITUATION

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Safari outfitters typically transport you via small plane between two or more of the country’s dozens of luxury out­posts, such as Savuti Camp and Abu Camp (where our group stayed). It all depends on the time of year and what you want to see.

PLANNING YOUR TRIP

Most Botswana safaris combine land- based activities with boat trips, and helicopters for thrill-seekers. The ideal mix is your call.

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Mokoro Safari: Getting In Touch With Nature’s Beauty

Exploring the vast, stretching water trails of the Okavango in one of its ubiquitous mokoros (dugout canoes) is not only a slow, stealthy and immensely satisfying way to search for wildlife, but it also puts you in touch with the culture of the delta’s indigenous San people. The Bugakhwe and Xanekwe Bushmen have traditionally navigated the delta’s maze of reed-fringed channels, poling narrow dugout canoes on fishing, hunting and plant-gathering trips.

A mokoro typically has room for two seated adults. Gliding along, inches above the water’s surface, you gain a unique perspective of the Okavango – peering into the bright chalices of water lilies, ducking through lush plumes of papyrus or marvelling at the vast scale of the delta as you cross an open lagoon. With no engine noise, mokoro safaris are ideal for birdwatching; you may also spot other often-overlooked creatures, particularly amphibians and insects. Slipping silently past big game – elephants drinking at the water’s edge or a herd of lechwe splashing through the shallows -will also hold you rapt. At Kanana Camp in the south-western delta, mokoros have been given a modern update, with glass bottoms that allow you to peek at what lies beneath the surface.

Numerous camps offer mokoro excursions, spending a morning or afternoon exploring local waterways. In the Moremi Game Reserve, Camp Moremi, Okuti and Xakanaxa Camp all offer canoe trips. Among the private reserves, Eagle Island offers a cocktail of waterways, from the Boro River to large floodplains and lagoons. Located in the north of the delta, Duba Plains Reserve receives floodwaters as early as April, making it another good place to explore by mokoro. Kwara, Mapula, Vumbura and Xigera reserves all have a mixture of wet and dry habitats, with plenty of opportunities to get afloat.

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See the Okavango’s dramas from grass height in or overlook it from an elephant.

Multi-day mobile safaris by mokoro are possible with The Old Bridge Mokoro Trails and Okavango Polers Trust. Setting out on foot in the Okavango, accompanied by a professional guide and armed scout, is a safari of the senses: you can feel the crunch of sunbaked Kalahari sand beneath your boots and smell the heady aroma of wild herbs as you wade through dry grassland. No sound goes unnoticed – from the distant whoop of a hyena to the disgruntled snorts of skittish impala. Crouching next to the graffiti of tracks on a game trail, your guide will reveal the meanderings of pythons and stomping of elephants. And, with luck, you may even time your walk to coincide with the arrival of floodwaters.

Although not as popular as game drives or mokoro safaris, guided walks can be arranged at several camps in the Okavango. Walking is not permitted, however, in Moremi Game Reserve or Chief’s Island. Instead, head for private reserves that place an emphasis on dry-land activities. In the Khwai concession, for example, wildlife-rich floodplains and mopane woodland near Banoka Bush Camp promise excellent game walking. Another camp operated by Wilderness Safaris, but located on the western side of the delta, Seba Camp overlooks a small lagoon in Abu Reserve and also runs walking safaris.

For the ultimate walking experience in the Okavango, however, Ker & Downey offers a four-day ‘Footsteps across the Delta’ safari in Shinde Reserve. Accommodation is in spacious, twin-bedded tents with en-suite flush toilets and hot-water bucket showers. Your chef rustles up culinary masterpieces from the bush kitchen, and there’s even a daily laundry service. But as comfortable and eccentric as this sounds, the main emphasis – and undoubted thrill – of these safaris is to walk out into the wilderness each morning, searching for wildlife and honing your tracking skills.

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Okavango Delta: A Guide To Botswana Safari Destination

LODGE-BASED SAFARI – Reaching like a green-fingered hand into the Kalahari, the Okavango Delta is a mixture of wet and dry. Habitats range from permanent lagoons and papyrus swamps to seasonal floodplains and wooded islands. By combining two or three camps in a single visit, you’ll not only experience more of the delta’s rich palette of landscapes, but you’ll also see a greater variety of wildlife and have more things to do. Broadly speaking, ‘dry camps’ offer game drives year-round, with a good chance of seeing large mammals such as buffalo, elephant, rhino, zebra and lion.

By contrast, ‘wet camps’ – with access to water even after the annual floods have receded – focus on boat trips by mokoro. Being punted along in these traditional wooden dugouts is a great way to spot small wonders such as the jewel-like malachite kingfisher and painted reed frog. There are also ‘mixed camps’ that have varying degrees of wet and dry depending on when you visit (floodwaters peak between June and August).

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Other luxury options include the spectacular Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, an architectural masterpiece oozing sustainable technology, which reopened in September 2014 following a complete redesign.

Lying at the heart of the Okavango, Moremi Game Reserve has a bit of everything. One of its most rewarding areas is the Khwai River floodplain where you might be lucky enough to see leopard and wild dog. Located here, Khwai Tented Camp and Machaba Camp are typical of the Okavango’s intimate camps with just 14 en-suite tents between them.

Surrounding Moremi Game Reserve, a patchwork of private reserves offer small, exclusive camps and more flexible rules – you can go off-road and embellish safaris with night drives, walks and horse-riding. Lavish Abu Camp even offers elephant safaris, if you’re grabbed by the idea of walking and riding through the bush with a family of previously captive elephants that has been returned to the wild.

Sandibe-Okavango-Safari-Lodge - Botswana

Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge – Botswana

Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, part of the AndBeyond portfolio, has just reopened after a radical rebuild. Even in Botswana, which has some of the most admired wilderness camps and lodges in southern Africa, Sandibe is instantly up there with the best. It’s charming and friendly, the service is relaxed but on-it, the food is excellent and the design is remarkable. It’s a far cry from the traditional safari idiom. Inspiration was taken from the nests of the weaverbird and the overlapping scales of the pangolin.

The result is a beautiful cathedral to nature, a cathedral of timber – timber of different types, textures and tones. The 12 suites resemble giant baskets, suspended between trees on the banks of the Sandibe River, alive with a chorus of frogs and hippos.

Sandibe-Safari-Lodge

They manage to feel both cocoon-like and wide-open, intimate and expansive. This is a grown-up, meditative retreat in a game-rich, glittering section of the delta where wild dog, lion, cheetah, leopard, red lechwe antelope and elephant are regular visitors.

Butler service means that a late lunch of, say, chilled avocado-and-cucumber soup, thin-crust pizza and deconstructed Caesar salad – presented theatrically on copper trays – can be delivered private-poolside. The interiors are pared-down, simple, quietly smart. Leather beanbags replace sofas and ironwood tree stumps serve as tables. ‘It’s always tempting to go overboard with “stuff”,’ says designer Debra Fox. ‘Instead, we practised restraint, giving guests just what they need.’

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Abercrombie & Kent – Worldwide Luxury Found In One Place

Abercrombie & Kent, a pioneer of luxury holidays, can flawlessly plan your most romantic escapade just the way you imagined. 

It could be heading off the tourist trail into a fairytale town, being sequestered on a mysterious island or going off the map in search of exotic adventure. If you have an impossibly unreal idea for a romantic holiday, then Abercrombie & Kent knows how to make it a reality. A&K has, for almost 55 years, cultivated an expertise in curating unique luxury travel experiences with made-to-order vacations for discerning travellers.

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On the Botswana safari, encounter the abundant wildlife of the Okavango Delta, the biggest inland delta in the world

As varied and diverse as the holiday destinations are, they all have one thing in common – superior accommodation, unrivalled service, gourmet dining experiences and absolute luxury. Whether it’s a romantic break or a honeymoon, a stopover at Abercrombie & Kent will assure you of a well-planned experience.

ISLE OF ROMANCE – Beautiful remote islands, away from the drudge of routine, will offer you an opportunity to discover each other amid the glories of nature or enjoy the luxury of glass-floored bungalows set directly over the waters.

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Okavango Delta – Botswana

An Incomparable Wildlife Oasis

This inland delta, where the Okavango River meets the Kalahari Desert, has been called the world’s largest oasis. The Okavango, a tributary of the mighty Zambezi, creates a unique “water in the desert” ecosystem the size of Switzerland, forming floodplains, lagoons, channels, and islands where, as a local brochure says, “if you see 10 percent of what sees you, it’s an exceptional day.”

A magnet for wildlife since time immemorial, it is also a magnet for safari connoisseurs who – like the European explorer David Livingstone in 1849 – come for the chance to travel deep into the continent in search of untamed Africa. The bird life is second to none, and there are legions of elephants, zebras, buffalos, giraffes, and hippos.

As you glide through a labyrinth of papyrus-fringed and lily-covered waterways in the traditional mokoro dugout canoe or explore its islands and islets on foot, you’re immersed in a lush, otherworldly environment of teeming colors and sounds.

On the delta’s eastern fringes is the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, whose remarkable landscapes are some of the most scenic in southern Africa. Together they are a magical environment, understood by no one so well as Soren Lindstrom, the area’s safari guide extraordinaire. His comfortable mobile camp stays one step ahead of you (moving to strategic sites with names like Xaxanaxa, over­looking a hippo pool) as you float, walk, and jeep around one of the leading wildlife areas of southern Africa.

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Abu’s Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana

Elephant-Back Safaris in the Bush

The beloved Abu was big, strong, sensitive, and intelligent. At 13 feet high and weighing 5 ½ tons, he was the most popular means of conveyance at this exclusive elephant-back safari camp in the magnificent Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world.

Abu, alas, passed on in 2004, but other elephants still pro­vide transportation. Transportation by elephant through the delta’s crystalline waterways pro­vides access to areas that are otherwise impossi­ble to reach. And because the elephants’ smell masks your own, you can get close to wildlife unthreatened by these gentle herbivores.

This is some of Africa’s best game-viewing territory, but your safari is also about being adopted ever so briefly by this ragtag family of five venerable elephants and seven younger ones – themselves adopted by your host, American conservationist Randall Moore. Like the hero of a Disney movie, he rescued this bunch of unrelated misfits and orphans who had spent their lifetimes in zoos abroad and reintroduced them to the land where they were born.

Moore’s rapport with his ele­phant “family” is something to witness, as is that of the mahout (trainer or driver) who straddles the wide-as-a-horse neck of his mount, his legs tucked behind the huge flapping ears, directing his charge with verbal commands.

Back at camp, there are five luxury-style tents and three-course gourmet meals, served with fine napery under a giant fig tree. Tomorrow you can leave your maharaja fantasies back at camp and walk alongside the herd, an incredible experience.

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Jack’s Camp – Kalahari Desert, Botswana

 The Kalahari’s Best-Kept Secret

Ostrich Jack – hunter, explorer, bush hero – fell in love with the magic of this remote corner of Botswana in the 1960s, pitched camp, and never left. Today an old-fashioned permanent safari camp run by Jack’s son, Ralph Bousfield, sits on the edge of the Makgadikgadi salt pans in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. Ralph has inherited his father’s passion for this eerie lunar landscape and he and his partner, Catherine, share it with their guests.

Even for those who have seen it all, the light, silence, solitude, and sheer vastness of the space here guarantee an uncommercial and unusually authentic safari experience. A Bushman tracker escorts guests on walks, opening their urban eyes to the subtle vagaries of the unique and delicate ecosystem. But Jack’s Camp has a double life. When the rains come, the salt pans, once the bed of a lake the size of Lake Victoria, sprout green and create a vast water source for enormous flocks of flamingos. It becomes one of the last open migration routes in Africa; wildebeest and zebra arrive by the thousands, with lions, cheetahs, and hyenas fast on their heels.

This is unblemished, wild Africa at its best, evocative of other times. So are the five classic 1940s canvas tents set up in a palm oasis and furnished with the iron beds and worn Persian carpets that once belonged to Ralph’s grandparents. There are clouds of mos­quito netting, chambray sheets, silver tea service – altogether an incomparable romanti­cism that’s hard to resist.

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Chobe National Park – Botswana

The Four Corners of Southern Africa

At Chobe National Park, in a corner of Africa still redolent of the game-rich continent of old, four countries come together: Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Although it’s home to some of Botswana’s most varied wildlife, the park is best known for its huge resident elephant population – in the dry season it boasts Africa’s highest concentration of elephants.

The Chobe River at the park’s northern reaches is its lifeline and perennial water supply. Sunset boat rides float you by yawning hippos, herds of elephants, and flocks of myriad waterfowl lining the riverbanks; the floodplains are filled with grazing herds of buf­falo and big game.

Arrange to stay at the Chobe Chilwero Lodge. Secluded and sitting high on a hill, the fifteen luxurious thatched-roof bungalows of the lodge, whose name means “riveting view,” afford the best lookout over the park and the river.