The 1,000th site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014, the Okavango Delta is an important wildlife area protected by both the Moremi Game Reserve, on its eastern edge, and the numerous wildlife concessions within Ngamiland. Our travel consultant Lukey Bourne has returned from a trip there where she visited a selection of the best camps in the region, doing her homework so she remains best placed to advise on where is best for you to stay.
‘Jao is a large concession in the heart of the Delta with five different Wilderness camps. Each year, floodwaters flow from the central African highlands over 1,000 km away into the Delta to create a wondrous wetland within a desert. It is home to large numbers of wildlife from common mammals and birdlife to those that are not often seen elsewhere, such as sitatunga, wild dog, and wattled crane. During the floods there is a focus on water activities here so camps do need to be chosen carefully, yet all are wooden, charming and stylish and extremely well managed. The daily routine follows a tried and tested format with the day beginning with tea and coffee being brought to your tent at around 6am with breakfast to follow. The safari vehicles depart at around 7am and return between 11am and 12 noon. Lunch is quite light which I like and then guests have a few hours of down-time in camp before afternoon tea and setting off on safari again at 4pm. Returning to camp before supper at 8pm, guests are treated to local singing and dancing before the chef runs through the menu and wine.
Wilderness Safari’s Jao Camp
Pelo Camp consists of five stylish Meru tents with decks overlooking the Delta. The camp is set on a small island with permanent water, so it can only be accessed by boat, and the focus is very much on water activities (mokoro trips and boat safaris), as well as walking. Pelo is a rustic camp with a natural bush camp feel with sand paths and, unlike many of the camps in the area, it is not fenced. Impact on the surroundings is minimal and it is a good camp choice for birders or those looking for an authentic Delta water experience.
Pelo Camp’s deck overlooks the water
Jacana Camp is relatively nearby and focusses on water activities whilst the Delta is in flood. Game drives are offered as an alternative when water levels are low. This is not a ‘Big 5’ camp but is rather more about the small things – great birds and scenery. It is good for Lechwe and other water-based wildlife.
Sunset from Jacana Camp
On the other side of the concession, Kwetsani by contrast is a good land and water camp with options for both. Consisting of five ‘treehouse’ chalets, this is a beautiful camp which has remained small and has retained that personal touch.
My beautiful bedroom at Kwetsani
Tubu Tree is based on the largest island on the Jao concession, Hindu Island, so has good big wildlife.The activities on offer vary with water levels in the Jao reserve. For a good portion of the year, the emphasis is usually on day and night time drives, but thwn water levels permit – usually between May and early September – then motorboat trips and fishingare possible. Mokoro trips are available all year round but have different launch sites depending on the water levels. When water levels are at their highest, the mokoro excursions leave from the front of camp; once the waters receed the mokoro station is moved to a spot just a short drive from camp. With its good wildlife and variety of activities on offer, Tobu Tree is a great camp option for those just wanting to stay at one camp whilst in Botswana.
The well-stocked bar at Tubu Tree
From here I left the Jao concession and headed to the Moremi National Park for a night at the stylish Okuti Camp. The main activity here is game drives in the Moremi. Motorboat safaris on the Xakanaxa Lagoon are offered and are lovely and relaxing but not for big game viewing. The birds are spectacular and you may see Lechwe and elephant but, as ever, these things can’t be guaranteed!
Sundowners at Okuti Camp
From Okuti it was on to the charming Shinde camp where the great advantage is the amount of varied activities on offer. Being in a private concession, they offer day and night game drives and walking, but they also have permanent water so offer mokoro trips, boat trips and fishing directly from the camp for most of the year. The main guest house has a Robinson Crusoe feel, built into the forest like a tree house, with a number of different levels.
For families who have outdoorsy children or those who just love walking, Footsteps Camp could be the ideal choice. I loved it, but I love rustic. The staff were friendly and the wildlife excellent; it was reminiscent of what the bush camps in Zambia were like before they went more upmarket. Simple, no frills but in a wonderful location and with an alluring raw appeal. Guests sometimes walk directly from camp, although are often driven to another area to enjoy a 3-4 hour walk and then return to camp for lunch. The walking location depends on wildlife and water levels. Kerr & Downey operate the brilliant Young Explorers from here which focusses on families with specific guides and activities for children (tracking game, recognising spoor, making small animal traps, etc).
Kanana Camp is another strong option. The best activity and certainly the highlight of my time here was the boat trip to the Heronry (best October – December). I am not even much of a birder but the concentration and quantity of bird life you see is mind-blowing!
From here I headed to the central Kalahari to Feline Fields, where the main highlight is the Bushman Walk, where guests learn about the traditional life of the Xan bushmen. The tennis court must be mentioned too – completely uneven due to the termite mounds but, again, it offers something different. There is a driving range on the old airstrip and there are lots of bikes in camp for guests to use on safari or to cycle between the main restaurant and the pool area and their rooms.
Gimote Plains Camp is a really beautiful and exciting new camp set along a tributary of the Gomoti River. The team behind the operation know what they are doing (they also run the very popular Machaba camp), so my hopes are high for Gimote – and it did not disappoint. I was only there for a night and we had four elephants in camp, (not an uncommon sight here apparently), and I woke to one sleeping right outside my tent which was a first for me! We tracked lions on foot which was incredibly exciting and a real highlight for me, especially when we saw a tail snaking off into the undergrowth! The heavens opened soon afterwards and we were hit by the most tremendous African rains I have ever been out in – quite exhilerating to say the least!
Lukey did not leave Botswana disappointed and concluded that it is still a wonderful, sparsely populated country offering exceptional wildlife-viewing opportunities via a number of means beyond the classic 4×4 – quad bike, horse, helicopter, mokoro (canoe), and by foot. If you are considering a trip to Botswana and would like to discuss things with someone who has just returned, then please do not hesitate to contact us.