The Ultimate Luxury Safari Experience
Botswana has slowly become one of the most rewarding adventures for visitors who wish to ex-perience wild Africa at its purest. The hot savanna harbors countless natural spectacles. They say the African sunsets are the best in the world, and they have been captured by photographers and romanticized by visitors for decades—the perfect background for a luxury safari, while you relax, comfortably accommodated in a high-end lodge. The abundant wildlife that inhabits the many reserves benefit largely from the recent economic growth Botswana has experienced, and as a consequence, it has grown in popularity for tourism. The fall is ideal for wildlife sightings be-cause the dry season makes the animal population concentrate in the waterholes, presenting great opportunities for close encounters with the most feral side of nature. Join us on this un-paralleled expedition to the plains of untamed Botswana.
A Rough Diamond
Human presence can be traced back two and a half million years in Botswana and the African southern region. Ancient tools, weapons and jewelry are scattered across the territory from the Stone Age. 30,000 years ago, local dwellers—believed to be the San people—didn’t leave trace of their way of life other than cave paintings in the Tsodilo Hills, which depict hunting and fauna. The Bantu eventually overcame them with technological advances and an organized way of life. They were skilled farmers, potters and smiths. Through the millennia, many groups from the surrounding territories settled in Botswana, and though it isn’t clear when the Tswana people migrated, there are traces of their presence as early as the 14th century.
In the 18th century, Botswana’s communities were divided in chiefdoms, which had managed to coexist mostly in peace. It was at this time when European Christian missionaries arrived to spread the Gospel and forever changed the way of life in Botswana. Despite the controversy regarding their intervention, they are credited with promoting education, as well as introducing advanced medicine and modern economic strategies. Tribal chiefs, called Dikgosi, received them mostly well. Christianity wasn’t as successful in other regions of Africa, but to this day, nearly 80% of the Batswana (as the people of Botswana are called) is Christian.
In the late 18th century, England implemented the protectorate of Bechuanaland in response to Germany’s invasion of Namibia and due to internal conflicts that had recently aroused between tribes. The protectorate lasted until September 30, 1966, when Botswana became independent. It was a year later that a diamond mine was discovered in Orapa, a remote area a few hundred miles north of Gaborone. Diamonds had already been discovered around a century earlier, but not at such large scale. The diamond business, along with tourism, has been the top contributor for the nation’s economic growth in the last few decades.
Wildlife Haven and Safari Heaven
Botswana is one of the most important destinations for safaris and wildlife sightings, and though many years of reckless hunting had decimated the animal populations to dangerous lows by the end of the 19th century, many anti-poaching laws and conservation efforts have helped their numbers recover. Nowadays, Botswana has evolved, slowly turning tourism into a growing source of income, positioning itself as the fastest developing country of the twenty-first century.
Natural and game reserves occupy 17% of the Botswana territory, which are run by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP). The country is 80% savanna, with few cities and towns scattered across the land. The plains are scorching hot during the day and freezing cold during the night, consequence of the semi-arid Kalahari Desert, which spans 900,000 sq km and most of Botswana. However dry the territory might be—the Okavango Delta is the largest inland body of water—it’s proven idyllic for wildlife survival: it houses over 3000 plant and tree species, and countless animal species. The Okavango Delta alone is home to 500 bird species.
Safaris have become popular luxury destinations for travelers looking for exclusive experiences, and Botswana has it all: comfortable accommodation at luxury lodges, stunning landscapes, mesmerizing wildlife and infinite adventures. Let’s discover what the savanna plains of this southern country have to offer.
Okavango Delta: A Living Oasis
Okavango Delta was once part of an ancient lake called Makgadikgadi, and is now a combination between marshlands and flooded plains. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014, Okavango is an ecosystem that spans approximately 15,000 sq km and is considered the maximum expression of natural beauty and wonder in Botswana due to the high concentration of animals and plants in the region. Around 40% of the area is protected by the Moremi Game Reserve, and the rest by 18 Wildlife Management Areas and Controlled Hunting Areas because of its importance for wildlife preservation; Botswana harbors the largest elephant and lion populations in the world, as well as many endangered species that rely on the delta for survival. Therefore, tours and tourists are carefully limited and monitored to maintain control of human intervention on the environment and keep it to a minimum.
What we find in Okavango, besides a heaven on earth, is the definition of life—hippos soak in the ponds that they share with the crocodiles, trying to escape the sweltering heat; among the thorny shrubs, in the grasslands, you will find the rhinos and the lions looking for shade, the latter patiently waiting for the right time to hunt for prey. Elephants wander in groups, looking for the next best spot for a mud bath, fiercely protecting their calves from potential predators. Antelopes graze and remain wary of any sudden movements; cheetahs climb on the highest branches for a better view of the plains, while giraffes and zebras gallop against the sunset.
Moremi Game Reserve
Safaris allow you to experience all of this up close, to get a real sense of the magnificence of Africa at its most savage. The Moremi Game Reserve is the oldest protected area of the Okavango Delta, proclaimed as such in 1963 and named after Batawana tribe Chief Moremi III. Here, there are plenty of luxury camps and lodges where you will find everything you need to get immersed in and become part of the magnificent landscape.
Camp Moremi is highly popular among tourists—a staple in classic safari experience—and it was recently rebuilt to optimize amenities and offer first-class accommodation. The Camp, located by the Xakanaxa Lagoon, offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore the lake by boat, to relish the magnificent landscapes and witness the most incredible wildlife events up close. Camp Moremi accommodates a maximum of 24 guests in 12 stylish tents that feature spacious bathrooms and private terraces that overlook the stunning wonders of the Moremi Game Reserve.
Not far away, the Chitabe Camp stands in the middle of the Okavango wetlands, surrounded by floodplains and marshlands combined with open grasslands. This setting is ideal for those who wish to observe predators, such as lions, leopards and hyenas, camouflaging in the dry woodland, waiting for the right moment to strike as they stalk their herbivore counterparts that include giraffes, zebras, impalas, buffalos and more.
Chobe: The Land of the Giants
The Chobe National Park, often called “the land of the giants”, is home to the largest elephant population in the world, and the many safaris available through this area will provide a closer look into their lives in the wild along the banks of the beautiful Chobe River, where you can also find large prides of lions, buffalo herds, countless bird species nesting on the trees and hippos. A boat safari is a must, either on a mokoro canoe or a larger vessel, or you can enjoy a flying safari to appreciate the essence of the Okavango from above.
The National Park has many points of interest for visitors. It’s located near the border to Zambia and Zimbabwe, fact that presents many safari opportunities, not only in Botswana, but in the neighboring countries as well. Many tours in this region include a trip across the border to the famous and staggeringly remarkable Victoria Falls, which span almost two kilometers and offer spectacular views, particularly from the Knife Edge Bridge. Water falls from the Zambezi River that separates Zambia and Zimbabwe with such force that the constant mist has turned the surroundings into a lush rain forest. Visitors will need water repellent clothing and raincoats to stay dry. The Victoria Falls are called Mosi-oa-Tunya by locals; it means “The Smoke That Thunders”, symbolizing the power of the five hundred million cubic meters of water that drop onto the rocks below, spraying drizzle up to the sky.
There are many camps and lodges in Chobe that will provide luxury accommodation and amenities, plus an unforgettable safari experience. Chobe Game Lodge is a quiet and peaceful place that offers 40 guest rooms and four luxury suites that feature en-suite bathrooms, private terraces overlooking the Chobe River and infinity pools. The 250 m boardwalk will allow you to safely observe the wildlife as they roam the territory, or you can go on a guided 4WD drive to learn about the surroundings and await the many surprises that nature has to offer.
Another option is the Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, which has recently reopened after undergoing renovations that now boast luxurious interiors where you can rest, have a drink from the minibar and recover before venturing into the wild once more. The lodge offers a Photographic Safari with famed photographer Marc Stickler, which includes explorations via helicopter, boat and 4x4 trucks. Visitors can also enjoy a delicious meal with African delicacies in the outdoors. Tours include elephants, lions, leopards and cheetahs as the main attraction, but you can also relax at night watching the constellations through powerful telescopes; birdwatching is also available for those interested in discovering hundreds of colorful bird species on a tour led by experts.
Ghoha Hills Savuti is a lovely place where you can have the most amazing meals with endless flavors at breakfast, tea time and pastries. Dinnertime will feature sophisticated dishes with a true African taste.
This lodge is eco-friendly, fully run on solar power and doing everything they can to reduce environmental impact. It offers two luxury family-size tents outfitted with everything you need for a comfortable stay. In addition to that, there are customized safaris available depending on what side of wild Africa guests wish to experience. You can choose whether you want to live a full day of activities and exploration, or just relax at the wellness center.
The Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero is an exclusive lodge with 15 high-end cottages, a full spa and a delightful pool that will welcome guests with facilities that provide the utmost relaxation. One beautiful detail is that dinners can be enjoyed under the starry sky. The Safaris include trips on the Sundowner Cruise: a ride on customized boats along the Chobe River at sunset; they revolve mostly around elephant viewing, although they often include hippo, buffalo, kudu and leopard sightings, among others. Also available is the Kids Safari, so that children can learn about different species, Fishing Excursions and a Photographic Safari on a double-deck boat that provides 360° views of the landscape—the best opportunity to capture the African savanna through the lens.
Located between Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, Machaba Camp has ten luxury tents along the Khwai River. The tents accommodate 24 guests total, who can enjoy relaxing time by the pool, at the spa or in the tranquility of the library while admiring the rich panorama of Moremi. In the southern region of the Okavango, we find some of the best &Beyond lodges, perfect for family time with exciting safaris.
The Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge has exclusive traversing rights through a territory near the Moremi Game Reserve. The camp, nestled among the fig trees, becomes one with the scenery. It’s located near a channel and the grasslands, which attract wildlife all day long. The interiors are spacious with plenty natural light and a homely atmosphere. The lodge includes flying, cruising and fishing safaris, the WILDchild program, and special offers for families or honeymooners.
The &Beyond Xundum Okavango Delta Lodge offers nine private suites, pleasant lounges, spa, gym and outdoor areas where you can watch the sun set in the horizon beyond the plains of the magnificent Okavango. You can also watch the family of hippos that live in the lagoon and stop by the Safari Shop to buy African art, souvenirs and much more.
Also found in the Okavango, the &Beyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp also features nine safari tents with private verandas and lounge areas. The pool and the massage sala harbor a tranquil environment, while the coffee bar will satisfy your palate.
There are outdoor dinners, breakfasts in bed, picnics and walking safaris. &Beyond’s philosophy is to give more to nature than what we take from it, and most of their lodge operations are designed to produce the least environmental impact possible in terms of water usage, electricity and fuel consumption, waste, and more. By staying in many of these lodgings you are contributing to the preservation of the different protected areas in the Okavango and other territories of Botswana and Africa. The Ngoma Safari Lodge is perfect for visitors who wish to explore beyond the borders of Botswana. The lodge features eight boutique suites with king size beds, pool, tea and coffee facilities, plus many safari activities to enjoy. Its proximity to the border allows for safari excursions to nearby regions of Zimbabwe and Namibia, and a trip to the Victoria Falls.
Another recommended lodge is the Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, located in a 260,000 acre private concession near the Moremi Game Reserve, where you can experience the one-of-a-kind Living with Elephants program, which consists of interacting with rescued orphan elephants. Tours highlight the life of wild hyenas and mokoro excursions. Accommodation consists of ten luxury canvas tents that feature a gym, yoga equipment a mini bar and a coffee station, all of this elegantly designed to allow game viewing from the private decks. The Camp pays homage to famed explorer Henry Stanley, who mapped Central Africa’s rivers and lakes.
The Dry Lakes of the Kalahari Desert
Kalahari is derived from the word kgala, which means “the great thirst” in Tswana. It covers most of Botswana and part of Namibia. During rainy season it grows enough vegetation to feed wildlife; it also serves as a drainage system for nearby bodies of water. During dry season, the heat and dryness is extreme. The desert houses the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the second largest game reserve in the world. It was closed for 30 years until the late 90s; ever since, tourism is limited and controlled, but allowed. One of the most popular areas is Deception Valley due to the concentration of animals and vegetation.
Other national parks include the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the Nxai Pan National Park, adjacent to one another, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, shared with South Africa. Makgadikgadi and Nxai are the largest salt flats in the world and one of the main spectacles is the migration of zebras toward the Boteti River, or flamingo sighting from above on a flying safari tour. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park is perfect to observe the biggest predators, including some bird species. Other species like giraffes, badgers, bat-eared foxes, meerkats and pangolins are also found in the region.
Botswana offers unique and exciting experiences to those who venture into the hot plains of the savanna. You will listen to the mighty roar of a lion defending his territory and observe the stealth of a lioness as she stalks her prey. The little elephant calves follow the matriarch of the herd—giants of supreme intelligence—while still innocently playing in the mud. Crocodiles and hippos navigate the peaceful waters of the Okavango, waiting and lurking. There is scarcely anywhere in the world where you will find the captivating intricacies of life in the wilderness. Botswana—and more than Botswana, Africa!—doesn’t follow the rules of neither West nor East; it stands as a fierce individual, an unparalleled spectacle of vitality. These animals have no other purpose but to find a way to survive, and you can get a glimpse into their lives when you visit the African plains. You will take this extraordinary experience with you for the rest of your life.
Text: Ashanti Rojano ± Photo: RUSS / WETU / GHANZI / GRANT REID / AFRICAN BUSINESS MAGAZINE / AS / PXHERE / AFRICA UPDATE / VIAJAR A BOTSWANA / LIME LIGHT / TOURVEST / SAFARI DESTINATIONS / TRD / JOURNEYS BY DESIGN / SAFARI / DT AFRICA / LONELY PLANET LONELY PLANET/ LONELY PLANET / MANGO AFRICAN SAFARI