Having previously only visited Botswana in November, I was really looking forward to my trip in late May and was interested in seeing the contrast. May is traditionally known as the ‘shoulder’ season: the rains have stopped for a good two months and the bush is slowly changing colour, with leaves turning brown and gently blowing off the trees. The grasses are already very dry and gradually shortened by the grazing animals. The sky is clear blue every day and I was mesmerised by the gorgeous light – a photographer’s paradise!
My ten night whirlwind trip included Chobe National Park, Savuti, Okavango Delta and Linyanti region.
The Chobe is a well-known park teeming with elephants, and a boat cruise on the river is a real highlight. Although one of the busier parks, you can get a slightly more exclusive experience by staying just outside the western boundary where you can also enjoy night drives and walking safaris.
I fell in love with the Savuti area in the south-west of Chobe National Park, with its open savannah woodland, rich grasslands and now, the icing on the cake, the Savuti Channel is flowing again after an absence of 29 years. The Savuti Marsh is magical with wildlife and birds in abundance. There are a few good lodges in this area, or you could consider mobile camping. I spent a few nights camping with different operators, which was fantastic and offers a much more realistic wilderness experience. Letaka Safaris are renowned in the industry for offering a sound mobile operation and my night with them reflected their excellent reputation. The accommodation is comfortable with proper beds and mattresses, and an en-suite open air bathroom which includes a bucket shower and short drop loo. However, the emphasis of their safaris is the guiding and they pride themselves on having good quality guides, whose impressive knowledge is not only about the wildlife, but the birds and habitat too. Letaka offer both private safaris and scheduled small group departures which offer a superb insight into Botswana at a more affordable price.
My next destination was the famous Okavango Delta and, with the wild dogs at the Savuti airstrip to bid me farewell, I hopped on the plane for my first bumpy flight of many! Flying over the Okavango is a surreal experience. Flat as far as the eye can see, the blue waterlogged plains and dotted islands are absolutely stunning.
There is something about being in the Okavango on the water, whether it is the serenity of a morning mekoro trip, the amazing colours of a sunset boat cruise, or simply enjoying a spot of fishing. The variety of activities makes this area truly special. Your property selection here is crucial to the experience you wish to have: water based camps will, of course, focus on water activities with no or limited game-drives, whilst other camps will offer a combination. Some camps offer no water activities at all, concentrating on superb big game-viewing by vehicle.
My final night was spent on a private concession in the Linyanti. This area is good for big game and especially known for wild dogs. Although we did see dogs on our game drive, I was not happy with the way the drive was conducted. We drove too close to the animals and the guide seemed to take little care when driving off road. I would therefore encourage potential travellers to be aware that not all lodges have the same ethical ethos.
On the whole however, a safari in Botswana is a truly magical experience and offers some of the best game-viewing and wilderness that Africa has to offer. Whilst the emphasis of a Botswana safari is often on large mammals – and there are plenty of these – the birdlife if prolific, with over 500 species recorded. In between my travelling to a different camp each day, I did manage to fit in a bit of bird watching and ticked 138 species, including one of the most sort after species: the Pel’s Fishing Owl. It has taken me over 20 visits to Africa to see this elusive creature – it was worth the wait and like London buses, three came along at once! Click here to see my full bird list. Bill is flying to Zambia soon; let’s see if he can beat my count.