It was great to be returning to southern Africa and there is nothing more iconic to me than the Zambezi River. It was great to catch a glimpse out of the plane window as I landed into Livingstone, Zambia.
My first three nights were spent exploring Victoria Falls and the Upper Zambezi. This part of southern Africa works fantastically well either at the start of at the end of a safari and offers a mix of different experiences. There are a few things to think about when considering where to stay. There are a number of more luxurious lodges along the Upper Zambezi that provide a more relaxing stay on both the Zimbabwean and Zambian side of the river. As you would expect, activities revolve around the mighty Zambezi with morning and/or sunset cruises, canoeing and of course visits to the Victoria Falls. These lodges work very well at the end of an itinerary simply as a place to relax and unwind after a safari. Due to the landlocked natures of Zimbabwe/Zambia and Botswana, the Upper Zambezi can be used for a few nights instead of a beach option.
If seeing the falls and being in the ‘heart of the action’ is important, then Victoria Falls town on the Zimbabwean side is the place to be. There are a few different hotels and guest houses here with the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel and Ilala Lodge being two of the more well-known options. Victoria Falls town suits hotel stays more as there are things to do and places to eat and drink.
I’ve been to the falls on quite a few occasions, but I still find it quite incredible. As I was travelling in June, the water was still high and the amount of water cascading into the gorge was astounding! However, I did get very (very) wet! It is definitely worth renting a poncho form the craft market opposite the National Park entrance (around US$ 3.00).
From Victoria Falls, I worked my way westwards into Botswana, via the Kazungula border. I looked at a couple of new properties in Kasane before continuing on to Chobe National Park. Game viewing in Chobe takes place largely around the river front and this in turn can become quite concentrated with boat cruises and game drive vehicles. However, if you head away from the river, there are more exclusive areas to be found. The river cruise is a key highlight in Chobe with great birding and excellent animal sightings as they come to the water’s edge to drink – Chobe is particularly well known for its elephant population.
Botswana is a very diverse country offering an array of different biomes, experiences and people.
My trip was a whirlwind tour of northern Botswana flying to a different concession or game viewing area each day. The northern areas of the country can very generally be divided into four different river systems: the Chobe, Linyanti, Kwando and Okavango. Light aircraft is by far the best way to get around, especially if you wish to access the more remote areas.
After exploring the more remote Savuti area of the Chobe National Park, I flew north westwards to the Kwando Reserve. On my drive from the airstrip we saw a beautiful female leopard asleep on a branch overhanging the road. Very relaxed, she yawned, stretched and worked her way down the tree crossing the road very casually in front of our vehicle!
From Kwando, I headed southwards to the Vumbura Concession (due to availability, I jumped around quite a bit from the Okavango Delta to the Linyanti and vice versa). This concession was breathtakingly beautiful and was a mix of open grassland, woodland and water – it had a bit of everything. Game viewing was superb too and during my short stay I enjoyed a mekoro excursion and game drive, the latter of which was very productive!
Every day in Botswana was very different. Each morning involved another shared air transfer to a completely different area of Botswana. The landscapes varied from concession to concession, but one consistency between these private areas is the incredible exclusivity! Some concessions offer more of a game orientated experience while others focus on the natural beauty of the waterways.
These waterways are of course a key draw to the Okavango Delta. Certain times of year are better than others to experience the Delta in full flood. The Delta is flooded by the Okavango River which brings through water that has fallen in the highlands of Angola. The Delta generally reaches full flood in June/July time and the waterways are at their highest. If you wish to feel immersed in the Okavango, then there are certain concessions and caps that lend themselves to this experience. They aren’t so much game orientated, but for birding and being away from everything, they are superb. I spent a night at Pelo Camp on the Jao Concession. An example of just how good the birding is, I was woken up the in the morning by the call of a Pel’s Fishing Owl (there were two nesting above my tent!).
Other areas are purely big game focused. The game isn’t as prolific as in other parts of Africa, but it is still excellent.
In terms of activities there is variety with walking, boat cruises, fishing, mekoro excursions and of course game drives. The camps themselves are talked about as either water, land or combination camps and this is determined on what type of experience they offer.
Northern Botswana isn’t purely private concessions however and away from these areas can be busier. As mentioned earlier, Chobe National Park has a tendency to be busy, especially on the water. Other areas such as the Moremi Game Reserve are also busier than the private concessions. Moremi is on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and offers excellent game viewing, but is also generally busier with mobile safari companies and self-drivers too. During my stay in June I didn’t find it overly busy, but later in the season it can. One of my loves in Africa is seeing African Wild Dogs and Botswana can be good for them, especially in the Linyanti area and the Moremi Game Reserve. I finished my trip in the Moremi Game Reserve and was yet to see any dogs on this trip. We are often spoilt on these trips as due to needing to visit lots of properties during our stays and without wanting to impact the guests stays, we often get given our own vehicles.
After visiting a couple of properties, we headed out for a drive and my guide asked me what I wanted to see. I told him ‘as it is my last drive, it would be great to see how we get on looking for dogs’. We headed far from camp to the dogs last known location. Just as we were giving up hope, the alpha dog was trotting along the road in front of us, followed by two more – I was over the moon! Off road driving isn’t permitted in the Moremi Game Reserve, and as they began to venture into the longer grasses, we found another road and followed. The alpha stopped and his large ears perked up, something was in the grass ahead. Unsure what it was, he continued and was startled when a serval appeared (which was also very startled!). After a brief standoff, the dogs continued. We followed them for another 10 minutes before heading to a surprise sundowner spot overlooking a lagoon, with hippos grunting. What a great last evening in Botswana!
The trip was fantastic and visiting the contrasting areas, experiencing the variety of activities and enjoying the game viewing was incredible. Botswana works well as a second or third safari destination, for those less worried about ‘ticking off’ species and more into exclusivity, variety of experiences and visiting the truly magical wilderness.
During Joe’s time in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, he stayed at: Waterberry Lodge, Islands of Siankaba, Ilala Lodge, Muchenje Safari Lodge, Savute Under Canvas, Lebala Camp, Little Vumbura, Pelo Camp, Selinda Camp, Shinde Camp, Kanana Camp and Okuti Camp.
Joe also site inspected: Toka Leya, Sussi & Chuma Lodge, The River Club, Tongabezi Lodge, Sindabezi Island, Royal Chundu Island Lodge, The Victoria Falls Hotel, Bayete Guest Lodge, Batonka Guest Lodge, Old Drift Lodge, Victoria Falls River Lodge and Island Suites, Pangolin Chobe Hotel, Ngoma Safari Lodge, Savute Safari Lodge, Lagoon Camp, Vumbura Plains, Jao Camp, Jacana Camp, Kwetsani Camp, Zarafa Camp, Selinda Explorers Camp, Footsteps Across the Delta, Camp Moremi and Camp Xakanaxa.