4 days in Chobe, Botswana. Literally out of Africa.
My four day trip followed by tips on where to even start planning.
Chobe is incredible. There aren’t many words that can be used to do it justice. Driving from the Zimbabwe border to Kasane, we drove past elephants roaming freely. The entire sub continent is a free for all for the animals, we were told that a pride of lions had just been wreaking havoc on the farm opposite our camp, Kubu Lodge. A “National Park” is purely an area that is protected by the government opposed to a confined area, you will see animals everywhere, and we did.
There are two options for Chobe, you can either stay in the park, or stay in Kasane for a fraction of the price. We opted for Kasane. The only set back was the 15 minute drive to get to the park. When we met our safari guide for the next four days we would have been prepared to have to drive an hour in the morning he was so kick ass!
Off for our first afternoon game drive. After watching a mother and baby giraffe just as we had driven through the park entrance, we had paused at a pond to laugh at the muster of balancing Marabou Storks. Then behind the bush the most magical event was unfolding. A cloud of dust marking their arrival, the first herd of elephants were introducing us to Botswana.
We sat and admired these gentle giants, whilst they moseyed around our jeep before heading down to the river, where a whole different social scene was happening.
Coming from someone who thought they have the best job in the world, I can now safely say that I don’t. Safari guides do, or at least the ones in Botswana do. Two years of intense training, including time in a variety of bush, the most intuitive, switched on, passionate, at one with nature people with the greatest attention to detail get to proudly show off their skills. Whilst looking at a herd of impala, ours could tell there was a predator nearby. How he could have known this I have no idea. Apparently there is a nominated lookout whilst the rest of the herd grazes, and he’d picked up that that chosen male was somehow acting suspicious. Following his gaze led us to a few circling vultures in the distance and voila, we knew we had something. After driving past the bushes, 15 minutes later or so, our day one was complete.
The end to a fantastic first day was brought to us with a spectacular meal and bottle of South African red, wrapped up in blankets under the stars. How was it going to be possible to better this?
Day two was bringing us an early morning (5am start) game drive and then a river cruise up the Chobe river, which flows into the Zambezi.
The best thing about safari is learning the behavior, the calls, the tracking of animals to find and source what you’re looking for. We had one of the best guys doing this for us, and it made our safari experience a whole different ball game.
The previous days lion kill was now a feeding frenzy, I’ve never seen such a huge gathering of pigeons let alone massive vultures, they were everywhere, in the bush, on the ground, perched on any branch that was accessible to them, circling the skies, waiting for the lions to move on and leave the carcass. The scene was spectacular, and exciting from the first signs of the birds right up to the pride of lions. They were in the same spot, but more active this morning.
After a few hours chilling out back in the lodge it was time for the afternoon river safari. Crocodiles, herds of hippos, herds of elephants, both in and out of the water, fishing eagles, buffalo, baboons, various deer.
Couldn’t think of any better way to end the day by switching off the engine to the boat and gliding up to this…
The morning safari was yet again exciting; radio reports from deep into the Chobe of a pride of lions on the hunt had us shooting off as fast as the terrain and the vehicle allowed us. Whilst driving at speed a pack of wild dogs darted across in front of us to cross the dirt track out of nowhere. These guys are highly intelligent and are an endangered species, with less than 5000 left in the world. They looked ravenous and cunning. A fleeting encounter, we would not have seen them had we been 20 seconds earlier or 20 seconds later, and then they and us were off again.
A loud bang and quick stop, I thought Brave had heard the lions! Alas, a flat tire. Suddenly I was feeling quite vulnerable, as we had to get out of the Land Rover so that Brave could do his thing. Never seen a man work so quickly, within minutes he had removed the burst tire and replaced it and we were back on our way. Not sure how I felt about being the subject of several photographers who pulled past in another jeep, glad they slowed down just to document the situation! Unfortunately it would seem that we had just missed the pride of lions as they had retreated into the dense bush, but it was an exhilarating morning nonetheless.
The afternoon was left to eating, and drinking on the sun loungers whilst watching the world go by on the river. Joe went off fishing for a few hours before finishing with another excellent dinner. As it was our last night the owner had set up a private dining area for us which was more secluded, next the campfire and yet again under the billions of stars.
Our last morning drive with Brave before setting off in our small aeroplane to the Savute Marsh, an area much further into the wilderness of Chobe.
Engines off we were blocked by a herd of hundreds of buffalo, slowly grazing their way along the path. Having seen a lot of animals by now and having already taken gigabytes of photos, we could relax and really enjoy watching these animals go about their daily business.
Queue a truck full of first day safari tourist. Racing up at about 50 mph they come to a grinding holt next to us “BUFFALO!!!’. Quite the spectacle, to turn and watch 12 people all get up with the same scrambling movement to desperately grab their cameras and get trigger happy (the buffalo were going nowhere anytime soon), I’m glad that we were, in our own minds, safari experts now…
Savute here we come.
Bits to know about Chobe
We drove in from the Zimbabwean side of the border. Wherever you stay will be able to arrange this. It cost 50 USD per person through an official tour operator who had arranged later parts of the trip for us. For British and US citizens there was no fee for the Botswana visa. Someone will drop you off at one side of the immigration post and someone different will pick you up on the other side. It takes a couple of hours.
You can also fly to Kasane airport from Johannesburg, Gabarone, Victoria Falls, Livingstone or using a small operator around the Okavango/Chobe region (arranged via tour operator). We left Kasane to Savute via a Cessna Caravan organised by a tour operator. (Price incorporated into the next accommodation but roughly $150).
Botswana is expensive. They’re privileged enough to not be affect by poverty like other safari destinations and therefore the prices are high to keep the numbers low and therefore preserve their wildlife, this is why it’s so special. My fifth safari destination between 3 countries and I can definitely say there is a huge difference (Botswana is so much better than Kenya and Namibia). Don’t let the cost deter you, it is 200% worth it. USD is used everywhere. Some ATM’s might not have any cash. Most lodges will take credit card.
- Accomodation — Kubu Lodge, $171 per night per person (based on two sharing). Breakfast included.
- Safari Drives/Cruises — $30 per drive per person. 4 hours long, includes snacks and drinks. (We did 5)
- Lunch and Dinner — All at Kubu Lodge, including all drinks (soft and alcoholic) $160 for 3 nights.
- Total — $823 per person
How do you even start planning Botswana?
This is where I really struggled.
The easiest way is to talk to a tour operator that specialises in Botswana and chuck tens of thousands of pounds at them. We weren’t prepared to do this, and it’s really hard to plan Botswana.
Do a bit of research on where you’d like to go. Our route was Victoria Falls -> Chobe -> Savute -> Okavango Delta (two different camps). Other options include all over the Delta, which is actually part of the Moremi Game Reserve, Linyati Marshes etc. Good maps are now available online showing all of the camps. We were also only touching on the Northern parts of Botswana; other options are the Pans and the Central Kalahari. If the Delta is your starting point you can fly into Maun, if Chobe is then start in Kasane.
Once you’ve decided a rough route, email all of the lodges individually. Prices range from £150-£1500 per person per night. Kubu only included breakfast and was outside of the park, but later on in the trip our lodges were inside and included all game drives, and fully inclusive of all food (4 meals a day) plus all drinks. We booked the Chobe and Savute accommodation ourselves, and then used a tour operator, Desert & Delta Safaris, to book our last 5 days in the Okavango Delta. All of these places talk to each other, Botswana is small when it comes to this side of things, and they further arranged our transport between themselves by air, (the Savute accommodation arranged the flight from Kasane then Delta Safaris organised the flights from Savute, to the two camps inside the Delta and then onto Maun). Except for Kubu we could only access our lodges via small aeroplanes, these worked out on average as £120 per person per flight, and once you’ve booked your lodges they’ll talk to each other and someone will do the arranging for you, then it’ll all fall into place.
If you’re really trying to budget, driving in a 4x4 is an option, but it will take a considerable amount of time (12+ hours) and if you get stuck or lost we were told that it could be days before a single person drives past you. There is no mobile signal in these parts. If you drive you can also take camping equipment. Some camps have designated camping sites with fully hot working showers and ablutions, and places to set up barbecues. It costs about £30 per person opposed to £400. You will be subject to the lions, leopards, hyenas and everything else, so really do you research and be prepared. I have done a less extreme version of this on a trip to Namibia and it cut costs hugely but we lost out on things such as expert safari guides, comforts and safety, we clearly didn’t really know what we were doing.
You can also consider staying in Maun to do parts around the southern Delta instead inside the Delta (you do completely miss the real experience if you do this and the Delta is so big you would barely touch on it).
You need to book early, in some cases at least 6 months in advance. We were a group of 4 that left it to quite last minute, and constantly reminded how lucky we were as we seemed to get the last rooms in every place.