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Julia visits Botswana

Fran and I spent ten wonderful nights in Botswana exploring some of the most iconic areas; the Makgadikgadi pans, the central Kalahari game reserve, the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti region. Fran’s report captures our time spent in the desert with highlights including walking with the meerkats, spotting a female brown hyena with cubs and spending time with the San Bushmen. My report focuses on our experiences in the delta and Linyanti areas.

The Okavango Delta is a vast area, made up of the Moremi Game Reserve and a large number of bordering private concessions. Any safari to the Okavango should include the options to explore both the larger land masses for their rich concentration of game, along with the flooded floodplains for a quintessential wetland delta experience. The floodplains are fed by the waters of the Okavango River which rises in the Angolan highlands over 1000 miles away, though local rainfall makes up about 30% of the delta water. This year, due to poor rains locally and in Angola, Botswana has experienced severe drought conditions and the flood was significantly lower than in normal years, with many areas being completely dry. The rains are typically expected in early November, but during our visit at the latter end of the month there had still only been a few, localised downpours. We did however see some spectacular electrical thunderstorms that lit up the night sky, so the rains were arriving. November temperatures can be unpredictable, usually dependent on how much cloud cover there is, but for it was also extremely hot, with temperatures hovering between 35 and 44 degrees Celsius throughout our trip. This is something to be aware of when travelling between October and March.

Within the delta we visited numerous private concessions, including Chitabe, Vumbura, Kwara and Khwai Private Reserve. In spite of the harsh drought conditions we had some fantastic game viewing, particularly for predators. Over the course of our trip we saw four different wild dog packs and they seemed to be thriving; three packs each had over 20 dogs! Other highlights included wonderful lion sightings – we saw so many with a mix of males, females, adolescents and cubs – leopard, cheetah, elephant herds, large baboon troops with babies (50 strong), kudu, sable, red lechwe, giraffe and hippo, just to name a few!

In November water based activities (boat cruises and mekoro or dugout canoes) in the Delta are very much dependent on water levels and despite the drought we were still able to enjoy a short mekoro excursion at Vumbura. Silently gliding along the shallow waterways brings another dimension to the safari experience, and we had some lovely bird sightings (fish eagles and wattled crane) as well spotting tiny green reed frogs (Africa’s tiniest frog –about the size of a thumbnail) and the colourful ‘painted’ Angolan reed frog. On the permanent lagoon near Vumbura we also enjoyed a sunset boat cruise.

Another highlight of our trip was a walking safari with expert guide David Foot. David has been involved the safari industry for over 30 years, and has been guiding trips in Botswana for the last 11 years. His knowledge and experience in the bush is incredible and he delighted us with many stories round the campfire. Being on foot enlivens the senses, and whilst you will always hope to spot some big game (we saw rhino, elephant, buffalo, impala and giraffe) the focus of the walk is very much on the birdlife, flora and insects. This is an adventurous experience, with walks ranging from around 10-15 kilometres per day. Accommodation is in walk-in dome tents with comfortable stretcher beds, side table and solar lantern. Ablution facilities (long drop loo and hot safari bucket shower) are shared with other guests. A set 3 night itinerary runs with a minimum 2/maximum 6 people or private walks can also be arranged. This was a fantastic, raw, back to basics safari experience in the bush. For anyone who likes walking this is an experience not to be missed.

We also visited the remote Linyanti wilderness region in northern Botswana which connects the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta to the western borders of Chobe National Park. This area is known for Big Game viewing and we were rewarded with excellent sightings here.

During our stay at Kings Pool (on the private Linyanti Concession) we followed a hunting wild dog pack that were chasing red lechwe. The chase traversed through the bush, and back through camp before the lechwe launched themselves across the river and into safety. The dogs stopped abruptly at the river’s edge, not daring to get wet. Defeated, they trotted back into the woods, encountering a herd of elephant who were not pleased to see them. After a lot of trumpeting, mock charges and chasing, the elephants silently disappeared into the woods. An exciting morning’s game drive!

In addition to the usual light aircraft flights to move between camps, we also took one transfer by helicopter. The aerial views were stunning, and we spotted herds of elephant and pods of hippos as we flew by. The helicopter flight in particular was really exciting, as you fly lower to the ground and the pilot can follow the channels, spotting animals in the water. A helicopter flight can be booked as either a transfer flight (with your luggage) or as a scenic flight from the safari camp (the doors are removed for best photographic opportunities). Either way, a helicopter flight is highly recommended!

The best time to visit the Okavango Delta and Linyanti region is during the dry winter season, which extends from April to November, although the peak game viewing months would be July to October (which is also the most expensive). However, it is possible to visit year round, though there are of course compromises in the much less expensive green season from December to March. Fran’s trip report outlines the best times to visit the Kalahari Desert and Makgadikgadi pans.

Julia stayed at: City Lodge Hotel O.R. Tambo International Airport, Camp Kalahari, Tau Pan Camp, Dinaka, Chitabe Camp, Kings Pool, Vumbura Plains South Camp, David Foot Safaris, Kwara Camp, Sable Alley.

Julia inspected: Jacks Migration Camp, Jacks Camp, San Camp, Kalahari Plains, Chitabe Lediba, Mma Dinare, Rra Dinare, Gomoti Plains, Gomoti Private, Qorokwe, Savuti Camp, Duma Tau, Vumbura Plains North Camp, Little Vumbura, Splash Camp, The Jackal & Hide, Tuludi, Saguni, Khwai Tented Camp, Machaba Camp and Little Machaba.