When Botswana first gained independence in 1966, it was one of the world’s poorest countries, with only 7.5 miles of paved roads and 22 citizens with degrees. Amazingly, Botswana has managed to come out the other side on top, holding regular elections and developing into one of the richest countries in Africa! With its booming luxury, eco-safari industry, the GDP per person has now risen to $18,650 — higher than South Africa!
Please take note of the exceptional small luxury safari camps we use year-round in the southern Africa region. We thoroughly enjoy safari and wildlife viewing in Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Rwanda (gorillas!), but it’s no secret that we are big fans of the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta in Botswana. We feel this is the most compelling wildlife-viewing environment in all of Africa. A 2014-designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the lush Okavango Delta is among the most important protected wildlife areas in Africa. We fully agree with Lonely Planet’s assertion that the Okavango wildlife experience is “like walking onto the set of a wildlife documentary”. “The “Big Five” (lions, elephants, cape buffalo, leopards, and rhinos) can be found here in addition to particularly outstanding birdwatching in the Delta’s panhandle. This is a truly unique landscape, sculpted by the waters that rise and fall in time with the seasons. Coupled with its array of noteworthy small, luxury safari camps, we believe Botswana to be the premier safari destination in Africa. We feel the Okavango Delta offers a more environmentally friendly safari experience. A bit analogous to Bhutan, Botswana has opted for a low impact and high-luxury model for tourism.
Elephant Tourism in Africa
Though commercial elephant rides in Asia have been common for decades, the first commercial rides in Africa began in Zimbabwe in the late 1990’s and spread throughout southern African, now taking place at over 40 venues. Botswana currently stands out as a trailblazer for elephant rights among the region, having banned elephant riding country-wide in 2017. Botswana is now seen as the international protector of the African elephant and has the world’s greatest herds! Lodges like Abu Camp in Botswana truly stand out due to their steadfast commitment to humane elephant practices. Even though elephant populations are declining in the rest of Africa, Botswana’s population has grown from roughly 50,000 in the mid-1990s to over 130,000 today! Unfortunately, due to the increasing numbers, elephants have been wandering into villages and on farms in search of food, often destroying crops and actually killing over 28 Botswana residents so far. Because of this, Botswana’s President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has ended the temporary ban on elephant hunting and feels the country must allow limited, local, and community-based hunting to resume to mitigate this problem. To read President Masisi’s full statement in the Wall Street Journal, click here.
Sanctuary Chief’s Camp
Notwithstanding Sanctuary Chief’s extensive renovation back in 2016, one thing that has not changed is Sanctuary Chief’s extraordinary location on the wildlife-rich Moremi Island. The wildlife-viewing here includes all of the “Big 5” (lions, elephants, cape buffalo, leopards, and rhino) hence, our choice as a prime family safari site. Sanctuary Chief’s renovation includes 10 luxury bush pavilions, all with private terrace plunge pools. In addition to the 10 pavilions, which are in effect like small cottages, a new feature that we particularly like is the 2,035 sq. foot Geoffrey Kent Suite that sleeps six. Our Lynch Family particularly enjoyed “pizza day” thanks to Chief’s new pizza oven! Other Amenities here include indoor and outdoor showers (using the outdoor showers in this remote, pristine environment is truly exhilarating!), polished teakwood floors, insect-proof netted windows, colorful batik fabrics, a new spa treatment room, a small pool, and a picturesque dining area/observation deck. Based on Sanctuary Chief’s location overlooking a large lagoon on the northwest tip of the island, many mokoro (canoe/boat) wildlife excursions are available in the day during the dry season of the summer months.
Laundry service and Wi-Fi are available daily in all rooms, though spotty due to the remote location. Emergency medical evacuation is available in case of an emergency.
Similar to Japan’s luxury ryokans, Hiiragiya and Tawaraya, Mombo Camp shares the Moremi Game Reserve with one of our favorites, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp. These two are our favorite luxury lodges in the Okavango Delta.
This camp is located on the northern tip of Chief’s Island within the Moremi Game Reserve, informally referred to as the “The Place of Plenty.” Renovated in 2019, Mombo Camp encapsulates just what the “place of plenty” represents: incredibly rich wildlife, Mombo traditions, and 30+ years worth of history. Through thoughtful interior and exterior design, the camp intends to dissolve the boundaries between hotel and environment to capture the essence of its surroundings — a flood plain filled with leopards and over 400 species of birds.
The camp’s layout is inspired by the Wilderness concept of responsible luxury. With an eclectic, diverse, and colonial undercurrent, Mombo Camp is comprised of nine large ten suites. Each are elevated above the ground by stilts to ensure that every viewing experience is perfect. The tens are spacious, include fans, and feature hardwood floors, a pool deck with a private plunge pool, an open sitting room, separate bedroom and bathroom, and indoor and outdoor showers.
The main pavilion features open-air dining and bar facilities, a library, gym, and two pools. Additionally, the hotel provides guided game drives in open 4×4 Land Rovers (allowing a window seat for each guest) for animal sightings.
The Vumbura area compromises two separate satellite camps (Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura, with Vumbura Plains being our preference). Each of Vumbura’s spacious “rooms” is raised off the ground, with indoor and outdoor showers and en-suite bathrooms. Other features include a private, small plunge pool and “sala” (a place to watch the passing of wildlife of the Okavango). Don’t be surprised to see elephants walking behind the tents and feeding on the trees. Each camp has its own raised lounge, dining bar, and area with truly amazing views of the Okavango Delta. This nicely designed common area is where you will mix with fellow guests and exchange your fun wildlife drive tales! We particularly enjoy the comfortable cushions and seating of the camp deck; a perfect setting for star-gazing or the nightly campfires. Wildlife here is plentiful, including impala, hippos, zebras, wildebeest, and crocodiles (+ amazing bird watching!). Similar to other safari lodges, Vumbura includes morning, afternoon, and night wildlife drives, using 4×4 Land Rovers. If truly adventuresome, you may also request a nature walk (accompanied by an armed guide). Being a “wet camp” gives you ample opportunity to explore the delta via the fun mokoro (dug-out canoes). Based on its location on the extreme northern area of the Okavango, Vumbura may offer the widest range of habitats and species, with a chance of observing just about every animal occupying the Okavango Delta.
Reopened in back in 2019 after undergoing a complete reservation, King’s Pool overlooks the handsome oxbow lagoon, from where it gets its name, in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve, bordering Chobe National Park. It borders Chobe National Park with the largest elephant population in Botswana! Once a rustic campsite for Scandinavian royalty, the newly designed King’s Pool is focused on providing an immersive safari experience while maintaining a low eco-footprint. The camp is 100% solar-powered and features nine luxurious tents, each with a large bedroom and lounge leading to a veranda with a private plunge pool and thatched sala. The river that runs along the camp is home to serval species of birds and is a magnet for wildlife in the dry season. The spacious main area includes a lounge, dining, and bar area set on expansive raised decks. There is also a pool and an open-air kgotla for dinners under the stars.
King’s Pool and the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve is most noted for its large elephant population which can reach enormous densities during the dry winter months, though wildlife such as impala, lechwe, kudu, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, and bushbuck, and their predators: lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, and spotted hyaena are also abundant!
Completely rebuilt in 2019, the ultra-luxury, seven-suite Jao Camp is located in the wildlife-rich, 148,00 acre Jao Concession in the Okavango Delta. Among the seven suites are two Family Villas, each with room for four people. All suites include plunge pools and outdoor showers. Offering both morning and night wildlife drives, the Jao Concession includes spectacular herds of red lechwe antelope, several prides of lions, elephant, leopard, hippos, crocodile, and many more! Please note that the minimum age for a guest at Jao Camp is 12 years old.
In terms of Okavango Delta wildlife-viewing, we consider Seba Camp to be comparable to Chief’s Camp in terms of wildlife diversity — leopards in particular! Overlooking a lagoon with pods of hippos and a herd of elephants nearby, Seba Camp exudes a rustic look with an intimate feel. There are only eight spacious, luxury tents — including two Family Suites — each with a private deck. Each tented suite connects to the communal lounge, bar, and dining area via well-lit pathways. Among the plentiful wildlife-viewing here are zebra, wild dogs, hyena, lions, giraffes, warthogs, baboons, elephants, and leopards! Both morning and nighttime wildlife drives are available, as well as mokoro safaris. Though not as glamorous as Chief’s, we feel Seba to be a lovely option for a family safari in the Okavango Delta!
Noted as southern Africa’s premier elephant camp, Abu Camp (partly owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and rated 6-stars!), has been completely rebuilt and refurbished. With only six individually decorated units (part tent, part cabin), this is an exclusive, unique safari locale. You may walk with the camp’s trained herd of elephants. This expansive 450,000-acre private concession is set with the pristine area of the Okavango Delta. Other features include a well-stocked library and study, gym, and swimming pool.
Based on their goal of a holistic elephant experience, please note that Abu does not offer elephant rides. The focus will be on the immersive walking-based experience for which Abu is well-known.
Located in eastern Okavango Delta in the Chitabe Private Concession Area (covering 28,000 hectares), Chitabe Camp offers eight luxury rustic-style, tented suites, built on elevated wooden decks among shrouded trees. Similar to other luxury safari camps, each Chitabe tent offers indoor/outdoor showers and a thatched roof dining/bar/lounge area on a raised deck, offering great views of wildlife across the floodplain. As a land-based camp vs. the “wet” camp of Vumbura, Chitabe’s wildlife drives include plenty of animals and is particularly noteworthy for its population of wild dogs (a rare viewing experience in most areas of Africa). Morning, afternoon, and sunset wildlife drives are provided, similar to Vumbura.
Located on the aptly-named “Paradise Island”, surrounded by year-round water and lush vegetation, Xigera Camp is noteworthy among birdwatchers. The camp consists of 10 luxury, raised tents with outdoor showers in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Traditional night boma, mokoro (dug-out canoes), and motorboat excursions and wildlife drives are all part of the adventurous experience here. Similar to other luxury camps in the Okavango area, you should expect high-quality meals and personal attention!
Xigera Camp donates a portion of each charge to the Motswe Wa Tsholofelo Orphan Daycare Centre in Maun and the camp is 100% solar-powered. Permanent waters dotted with palm-filled hardwood riverine forests, a multitude of clear water channels, and expansive floodplains make up the Xigera Concession. Your activities at Xigera Camp will typically include mokoro and motorboat outings. Wildlife drives are seasonal, dependent on water levels. Mammal sightings include the water-loving red lechwe, spotted-necked otter, elephant, and tsessebe, along with the elusive sitatunga. Predators include leopard and spotted hyaena. In terms of bird-watching, expect to see the Pel’s Fishing-Owl, African Skimmer, Greater Swamp Warbler, and Wattled Crane.
Located in the Kasane Forest Reserve, Chobe Chilwero Camp allows for a superlative connection to nature through its game viewing and camp design. Set atop a hill over the Chobe River, Chobe Chilwero has stunning views of floodplains spanning the Botswanan, Namibian and Zambian borders.
Each of its 15 large, airy suites are a blend of modern design and traditional African finishing, complete with rain showers and large terraces. Chobe Chilwero’s amenities include a full-service spa, split level swimming pool, newly finished gym, lounge, library, and shaded veranda which looks out onto the gardens (great bird watching!). Set on the edge of Chobe National Park, on game drives you may see elephants (largest population of elephants in Botswana here!), lions, leopards, buffalos, cheetah, and wild dog hyena, making this camp a rare habitat due to its varied terrain. Aside from traditional game drives, activities here include a water safari to see eagles, long-neck herons and Nile crocodiles as well as sundowner cruises.
Located in the Kalahari desert and surrounded by the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Jack’s Camp Botswana is newly reopened after being renovated last year. Paying homage to the retro-glam aesthetic of the 1940s, Jack’s Camp offers nine tented guest rooms with private plunge pools that feature vintage antiques unique to the nature and culture of Botswana. At the Camp is a fully cushioned Persian Tea Tent decked out with skulls, fossils, spears, books, and maps. Additionally, you may feel free to enjoy a dip in their luxury tented pool pavilion. The Camp is extremely teen-friendly, with activities including quad biking, scouting walks with Bushmen, horseback riding, and of course, safari game drives that overlook the desert.