In contrast to East Africa, we feel Botswana offers a more authentic, environmentally friendly safari experience. A bit analogous to Bhutan, Botswana, particularly the Okavango Delta, has opted for a low-impact/high-value model for tourism, versus a mass market system. The high-touch luxury safari camps (Chiefs, Vumbura, Abu, and Mombo), coupled with an other-worldly Rwanda gorilla tracking experience, makes for a truly unique Africa wildlife adventure.
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 experience is “like walking onto the set of a wildlife documentary.” The “Big Five” (lions, elephants, cape buffalo, leopards, and rhinos) are 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. Being a semi-arid climate, the game areas of Botswana can be visited year-round. Even the wet season, January through February, provides a perfect opportunity to be witness to the birthing period.
Notwithstanding Chief’s extensive renovation and re-opening in summer 2016, one thing that has not changed is Chief’s extraordinary location on the game-rich Moremi Island. The game-viewing here includes all of the “Big 5” (lions, elephants, cape buffalo, leopards, and rhino) hence, our choice as a prime family safari site. Chief’s renovation includes 10 luxury bush pavilions, all with private terrace plunge pools, 462 sq. feet. 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 Chief’s location overlooking a large lagoon on the northwest tip of the island, many mokoro (canoe/boat) game excursions are available in the day during the dry season of the summer months.
Laundry service and WiFi are available daily in all rooms, though spotty due to the remote location. Emergency medical evacuation is available in case of an emergency.
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 game drive tales (!) We particularly enjoy the comfortable cushions and seating of the camp deck; a perfect setting for star-gazing or the nightly camp fires. 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 game 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 habits/species, with a chance of observing just about every animal occupying the Okavango Delta are here.
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/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 will no longer include elephant rides. The focus will be on the immersive walking-based experience for which Abu is well-known.
Chitabe Camp (wild dogs!)
Located on 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 game across the floodplain. As a land-based camp vs. the “wet” camp of Vumbura, Chitabe’s game drives include plenty of wildlife and is particularly noteworthy for its population of wild dogs (a rare game-viewing experience in most areas of Africa). Morning, afternoon, and sunset game 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”, “makoro” (canoe), and motorboat excursions and game drives are all part of the adventurous experience here. Similar to other luxury camps in the Okavango area, you should expect high-quality meats and personal attention!
Xigera Camp donates a portion of each bed-night charge to the Motswe Wa Tsholofelo Orphan Daycare Centre in Maun. 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. Game 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 Pel’s Fishing-Owl, African Skimmer, Greater Swamp Warbler, and Wattled Crane.