Over the last twenty years, we’ve enjoyed a number of safari adventures in locations ranging from Kenya, where six of us took it in turns to poke our heads out of the roof of a VW camper van, to Zambia where we walked between camps. Although we’ve also seen wildlife in South Africa and Tanzania, we felt there was one last big safari in us. After a chance meeting with Real Africa at Olympia’s Luxury Travel Show, Botswana appeared to be the missing link. We were told they’d be in touch, and but were impressed when we received a call the following day. We outlined our initial thoughts: a number of small camps, varied activities and of course what everyone wants, lots of wildlife.
Eventually our itinerary was finalised and we were booked into four Desert and Delta Camps for two nights each, rounding our trip off with five nights in Cape Town.
One service included by Real Africa is a ‘meet and greet’ service at Johannesburg when transferring planes. We were met off the plane, guided through the large, complex airport terminals and whizzed through special immigration and security channels. On or return, this meant avoiding a 45 minute queue for security and spending the time in the Business Class lounge drinking South African fizz.
The service we received from Real Africa was exceptional and very personal. They were quick to respond to our queries and suggested a range of hotels in Cape Town. We were so impressed with their service, that we’ve booked a further trip with them to Ethiopia and Kenya.
Desert and Delta
The four camps we stayed in were all part of the Desert and Delta Safaris chain. They have a number of other camps in Botswana and their sister company, Safari Air, fly you in and out of the camps on small, 5 to 7 seater, aircraft. On two occasions, it was just us and the pilot which was slightly unnerving. Thoughts of ‘could I take over the controls if the pilot became ill?’ passed fleetingly through my mind. Our flights ranged from 15 to 50 minutes and because we flew low, we enjoyed the scenery in the Okavango Delta and spotted elephants. Two things to note: luggage is restricted to 20kg in soft bags and you’ll invariably end up thinking ‘how can someone so young fly this plane?’
Whilst all our camps were very different, the routines were the same.
- 5.30 am – wake up knock or shout
- 6 am – breakfast
- 6.30 am to around 10.30am – morning game drive or activity
- 11 am – brunch followed by siesta
- 3 pm – afternoon tea
- 3.30 pm to 6.30pm – afternoon game drive or activity
- 7 pm – pre-dinner drinks
- 7.30 pm – dinner
In contrast to the standard camp routines, the food was varied and in eight days we never ate the same meal twice.
Breakfast was light and appropriate to the early start with a range of cereals, yoghurts, cold meats and toast accompanied by juices and hot drinks.
Morning game drives were interrupted for a tea/coffee stop with a home-made biscuit or flapjack.
Brunch, my favourite meal of the day, consisted of a couple of main options (e.g. quiche, pasta bake, moussaka) with salads, vegetables and delicious, thick cut home-made bread. For those preferring something more traditional, bacon, eggs and sausage were on offer. Should you still be hungry, fresh fruit salad and cheese and biscuits were available. Wine flowed encouraging post-brunch siestas.
Afternoon tea came with a savoury option (e.g. sandwiches, spring rolls, pizza bites) and a huge cake. Whilst we were never really hungry, it was difficult to resist. Hot drinks were served as well as iced tea, coffee and lemonade.
Afternoon game drives always included sundowners with one of the first questions asked when checking into camp was, ‘what would you like for sundowner?’ Just in case you couldn’t wait until dinner, snacks were available with pre-dinner drinks.
Dinner was eaten communal style and preceded with a song and dance by the staff. The guides and management team took it in turns to host the evening and introduce the waiting staff, the chef, who announced the menu, and the wine waiter who explained the wines on offer. Meals began with a simple and light served starter (e.g. cold soup, crostini, carpaccio) before a buffet where we tried new meats (Kudu, Eland, Ostrich) accompanied by a variety of vegetables. Puddings were served, with cheese and biscuits and fresh fruit salad always available.
Our evenings ended sipping chilled glasses of Amarula (a South African cream liqueur similar to Baileys) whilst warming ourselves over an open fire and admiring the stars. Electricity in the rooms was provided by a generator switched off 15 minutes after the last guests had gone to bed (always us). Battery lights were used during the night if required until the generator came on again at 5am.
Every single member of staff we met was friendly and professional and more than happy to help out with any problems. They worked as a team which was just as well as they live in camp for two months and have twelve days off, whilst guides work for three months followed by a month off.
We were welcomed to camps with cold drinks and on return from every drive, iced flannels were provided. Staff loved chatting in the bar and we learned that in Botswana, marriage negotations are led by the groom’s uncle and the ‘bride price’ is around 8 head of cattle or 14,000 pula (£850). There was also the usual discussion about which English football team they supported.
The four camps had similar designs with a central, communal area with rooms off on both sides. Each camp had a library, curio shop and small pool with loungers although we found the water a bit chilly for swimming.
Unexpectedly hairdryers were available on request from reception and whilst internet access was available in the library via a laptop and satellite, I had an internet detox for the first time in many years. And no, I didn’t miss it.
Unlimited amounts of laundry was washed, pressed and returned the same day and bathrooms had ample supplies of hot water.
Although the beds had mosquito nets, repellent, for the body and room, was provided along with a torch, tea and coffee making facilities and a klaxon to sound in case of problems in the night (during darkness you have to be escorted to and from your lodge).
On arrival at our first camp, we were presented with stainless steel water bottles which we could fill from a cooler.
Our fellow guests
Many of our fellow guests were visiting a number of camps but as everyone had their own itinerary, staying different numbers of nights in the various camps, it was common to meet up with people again as we travelled around.
Guests were generally 50+, possibly because Botswana is one of the more expensive countries. There was a wide variety of nationalities, although surprisingly not many Brits, and we met people from America, Argentina, Europe and Australia amongst others.
Two guests were wheelchair bound, which didn’t appear to cause too many problems, although there was often a bit of undignified pushing and shoving to get them into and out of the jeeps and planes.
We visited shortly before the start of the rainy season and mornings were decidedly chilly and fleeces were required as well as the provided blankets to wrap around us. However mid-day temperatures were hot and we were grateful for ceiling fans during our siesta. Nights varied with some needing a cardigan, whilst on others a light top was fine.
Animals – five of a kind
The most frequently asked questions on return were ‘what did you see and did you see the big five?’ Well, we hit four of the five (elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard) but missed out on the rhino.
We were more successful with the ‘ugly five’ spotting vulture, wildebeest, warthog, marabou stork and hyena feeding on a buffalo carcass.
In addition we saw: endangered wild dogs, ostrich, zebra galore, languishing hippos, mongoose, jackal, elegant giraffe, baboons and what I called DLTs (deer like things) which covered kudu, eland, impala and water buck.
We also met some new, unfamiliar animals like lechwe, the kori bustard and tsessebe (known as the desert Ferrari because of its speed).
We learned about the ‘small five’, but because of their size didn’t spot any of them. They are all associated with the big five e.g. elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion.
Birds were colourful and abundant with my favourite being the lilac breasted roller a magnificent bird with many stunning colours.
Everything was included in the cost of our holiday apart from items bought from the shop and tips which whilst optional, are expected. Desert and Delta recommends $5 per person per day to be shared between all camp staff and $10 per person per day for the guide so this can mount up on an eight night holiday.
Our camps and activities
Leroo La Tau, which means Lion Paw, was a twelve-lodge camp situated on cliffs overlooking the eastern bank of the Boteti River and the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Our spacious thatched-roof lodge was made from natural, local materials and had a double and single bed. The large bathroom had double sinks, a walk in shower and dangerously hot water. But for us, the highlight was the deck overlooking the river where we watched the constantly moving scenery from the comfort of two well cushioned loungers. The floor to ceiling windows in the room and bathroom took a little getting used to until we realised that no one but the animals would see us. The lodges were well spaced for complete privacy. Because of the proximity to the river and the location of the lodges, night sounds included howling winds and croaking frogs.
Activities here were mainly day-time game drives (all national parks close to visitors at 6.30pm). However, to reach the jeeps, we took a boat (reached by rather steep path) and so we also enjoyed river trips as well.
Animals were sparser here but we saw lots of wildebeest, buffalo, zebra and elephants in, and crossing the river, which was a stunning sight.
Camp Moremi is located in the Xakanaxa area of the Moremi Game Reserve, and had a central thatched ‘boma’ (a covered eating area) overlooking English- style lawns. Meals were eaten in the boma, except dinner which was served in an elevated restaurant cum bar with lots of comfortable chairs and sofas There was also a wooden viewing platform with stunning views of the Xakanaxa Lagoon. The swimming pool and boma both had cool boxes full of drinks for you to help yourself to. The twelve luxurious tents had one very large bed but no tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms as baboons had trained themselves to undo locks. The bathroom was down a ‘tented corridor’ which had a dressing table with a good light, mirror and plug for hair drying.
Both game drives and water based activities were available. After one particularly bumpy game drive complete with African massage, we all elected for an afternoon boat trip which took us through pampas-fringed channels into a wide expanse of water where we our guide Grass, demonstrated that men can multi-task as he poured sundowner G&Ts whilst steering the boat. After mooring up on an island we watched hundreds of great white egrets land for the night.
Xugana Island Lodge had only 8 semi-detached rooms built of reed and thatch. They were smaller than the other camps and had a wooden deck overlooking the water. There was a large double bed, all the usual features and a double sink in the bathroom.
Activities were mainly water based as the camp, as its name implies is on the banks of a large deep lagoon in the Kalahari Desert. We ventured out in mokoro (fibre glass canoes) with our guide punting us through the pampas-lined channels. This gave a different perspective on the reeds which from canoe level appeared much taller. We also spent a relatively successful afternoon fishing for catfish and bream. A walking safari on Palm Island began with a chat on how it was all about nature not animals to manage our expectations. However, we’d just set off, when Kam our guide, spotted a herd of 150+ buffalo and two groups of elephants from the same herd. We tracked the elephants first, then the buffalo before returning back to the elephants again. At one point, we were so engrossed on watching the buffalo that we nearly missed a warthog right behind us.
Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe National Park had 12 thatched lodges and was built in 1999. Here we were greeted by large white wooden giraffes at the entrance to the spacious lounge and bar with lots of squashy sofas. Our room was huge with sufficient space for a large arm chair and couch and floor to ceiling windows in both the room and bathroom. As one guest reported, ‘I’ve never before been able to watch elephants whilst sitting on the loo’.
Whilst the lodge is named Savute, the channel running through the national park is called Savuti meaning unreliable. The channel is dry, not through lack of rain but due to tectonic movements. Although it does occasionally flood, it has been dry since 2010 and therefore five artificial bore holes had been created to encourage animals. It was fascinating to see the elephants using their trunks to drink the clean water straight from the pipe before it entered the muddy pool. The lodge also had two man-made watering holes and we were lucky that one of them was directly in front of our lodge meaning we could while away the afternoons watching the elephants.
It was in Savute that we saw the greatest preponderance and variety of animals. A great way to finish our safaris and move on to the delights of Cape Town.