On safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

It was quite a shock to find an elephant lying flat out, fast asleep, just 20 feet from the camp restaurant. We had hoped to get up close to the wildlife of Bostwana’s Okavango Delta – but hadn’t expected it to be that close. We kept a watchful eye on the gently snoring visitor as we settled down to lunch and then with a start, he was awake and up, shaking off his slumbers with a flap of the ears and heading for the surrounding reed beds.

Elephant fast asleep by Linyanti Tented Camp restaurant

Elephant tales

We were in Linyanti Tented Camp up in the northern area of the Delta, close to the Namibia border, where elephant are doing well. On our early morning and late afternoon game drives, we’d find family groups of elephant on the track most days. We’d stop the vehicle and simply watch as the babies waggled their trunks, trying to get a scent of us, while their mothers munched placidly on newly-sprouted mopane leaves. Then on an invisible signal, the herd would simply vanish into the bush. How five-ton animals can noiselessly disappear within three meters of the path amazed us every time. 

Fewer people, better viewings

We’d chosen Botswana carefully – the game is not in the vast herds typical of Kenya’s Masai Mara but everything is here and there are far fewer tourists. In Botswana, only three vehicles are allowed to watch an animal at any one time – unlike the pile-up of buses that can be a feature of more mass market safaris. Botswana is inescapably expensive but for a special trip – this was a Covid-delayed big anniversary celebration for us – it is well worth it.   

Getting there

We flew through Johannesburg to Maun in Botswana, book-ending the start and end of our trip with overnights at the comfortable Thamakalane river lodge where the dawn chorus seemed to be sung by an entire orchestra of birds.

Three camps in the Delta

To give us a sense of the different terrains in the Delta area, we stayed at three different high-quality camps, all with mosquito-netted beds, huge bathrooms and decked verandas. Each was run by a friendly, all-black team of local people – a first in our experience – and they did an excellent job. 

Linyanti, Kanana and Shinde

Linyati Tented Camp looks out over marshland – we fell asleep to the sound of hippos guffawing and hyena whooping like they were at some all-night party. Further south, Kanana was in the heart of the Delta, with the chance to take a punt-like Mokoro out onto the water as well as explore the drier savannah favoured by leopard. In between lay Shinde, the most luxurious of our lodges, set in greener wetlands that were home to several prides of lion, including one with 10 cubs. Our walking safari, which made a nice change to the drives, had to be cut short when two male lions were spotted not so very far away…

Animal magic

Three nights at each camp gave us time to enjoy the varied landscapes. Our eagle-eyed rangers had just two or four of us in the vehicle, so sharing their enthusiasm and vast knowledge of animal behaviour was easy. How do they spot lion tracks in the dust while bowling along at 30 mph? Sundowner G&Ts magicked from the back of the Land Cruiser as the African sky flushed crimson and the frog chorus started up, were a daily delight.  

Delicious dining

Dining was pleasure, with steaks as excellent as we expected and, refreshingly, very varied menus besides. The bream was freshly caught from the river that day. Salad and vegetables that sometimes only make guest appearances at safari mealtimes were both were plentiful and very welcome here, along with delicious Pinotage wine. 

Fellow travellers

Our fellow travellers varied from Brits who lived close to us in London to Germans, Swiss, Dutch, Indians and the occasional American. If you’d rather safari without other people’s kids, avoid July-September. We travelled in early November and apart from the tropical downpour on arrival, were lucky that the rains were late and on most days, we enjoyed 25-30 degree warmth and sunshine. 

Plane speaking

We flew between camps in small planes – one had only 5 seats – which made each transfer effortless.  A certain amount of trust is initially involved when there is one propeller, one pilot, the runway is made of sand, and your take-off is slightly delayed because of baboons on the airstrip, but you soon adjust. 

Big cat diary

Spending time with big cats was what we had most hoped for and Botswana more than delivered. A young leopard cub impressed us and its mother by dragging an impala dinner up a tree all on its own.  On a cape buffalo kill, we watched eight lions take it in turns to feed. By the next day, the carcass was nothing but bones and the lions looked fit to burst.

Small and interesting

The small stuff entranced us too – the boulder springing to life as a leopard tortoise, the dung beetle fashioning a perfect sphere of elephant poo, the tiny malachite kingfisher flashing turquoise as it dive-bombed fish in the river, the scarlet fireball lilies colour-popping through the beige of the scrub.

In tune with Africa

In just a few days, we felt we were tuning into Africa. Because of the light planes, we could only take 15kg of luggage each but I still only wore half of what I brought. Clothes are washed and returned within a day at the camps – it’s all part of the service – so travelling light is the way to go. Decked out in safari browns and greens, you very quickly feel in step with the rhythm of the bush, and it’s an absolutely thrilling place to be.

Next steps

If you’d like to go on safari, whether in Botswana or elsewhere in Africa, our Silver Travel Advisors can help come up with suggestions and quotes as well as help you book. Call 0800 412 5678.

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Gill Haynes

Traveller, writer & Associate at Silver Travel Advisor

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