Botswana May 2017 visit

The purpose of this trip was to acquaint ourselves with the new camps and areas that have opened up to photographic tourism since my last visit five years ago. Botswana banned all forms of hunting in 2014 following on from the trophy hunting ban that was put in place a couple of years ago and new areas have been leased out for photographic tourism as Botswana endeavors to take advantage of the tourist boom and worldwide interest in the country.

Flying over Northern Botswana it is incredible to see the vast swathe of pristine wilderness below and know that despite the building of new lodges in the former hunting concessions the Botswana Government policy of low impact/high value tourism will keep these areas pristine for the foreseeable future.  With a few exceptions and despite the fact that Botswana’s tourist industry is running at capacity you will probably not see any other vehicles on your game drives.

Our visit was in the shoulder season months of May and June. At this time of year the rains have finished and the days are warm and sunny whilst the evenings are cool. The heaviest rains in living memory during the 2016/2017 wet season have left the bush looking unusually green and there is a great deal of water throughout Botswana’s northern parks so many areas which are normally expected to be dry by May including the Okavango Delta are still holding rainwater which will soon be supplemented by the annual floodwater coming down from Angola.

Game viewing in Botswana is excellent at any time of year provided the right safari camps and lodges are chosen. Our nine-night trip here provided superb game viewing in all of the areas we visited with elephant everywhere including inside the camps. All the iconic species were seen at some some point including lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog. The only animal not seen were Rhino as we did not visit the areas of Botswana where they are now found following their successful reintroduction over the last couple of years.

The birding was also outstanding and very varied even though this is not prime birding season.

All the safari camps we visited were in the “affordable luxury” category which in Botswana means between US$425 and US$1000 per person per night depending on season.

My conclusion is that the exclusivity and variety of wildlife combined with the wide range of safari activities on offer which include day and night game viewing, mokoro trips, boat safaris, guided walks, sleepout hides, fishing and bushmen walks will continue to make Botswana one of Africa’s premier safari destinations and certainly one of mine.

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

The pans are located between the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari game Reserve in a semi-arid area. There is a surprising amount of wildlife here sustained by the now permanently flowing Boteti River and during my visit the area was very green with good grazing.

Plenty of wildlife is drawn to the river but unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to venture deeper into the park, as time did not permit. Birding was also excellent along the Boteti River

May is normally the Zebra Migration season in Makgadikgadi Pans but the exceptional rainfall has delayed it this year, although at the time of visiting the advanced guard had begun arriving.

This park is worth visiting at the beginning or end of a longer Botswana journey but the density and variety of wildlife here is less than in other parts of Northern Botswana so may not appeal to everyone.

Perhaps the highlight of the visit for me was the opportunity to join a family of San Bushmen, men, women and children on a cultural walk in the bush where we were shown how the bushmen live and the various plants and shrubs that are used for water, food and medicine. We were also shown how the bushman make and apply the poison they use on their arrows to hunt for food.

Stayed at Mena a Kwena Safari Lodge

As this is a national park, night drives, off road driving, walking and fishing are not permitted within park boundaries.

Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is huge, its size can only truly be appreciated as you fly over it on route to your safari camp. Not surprisingly the areas has a wide range of habitats from wetlands and woodlands to open plains and consequently the variety of wildlife and birds that can be seen here is equally varied.

The Okavango Delta also includes the Moremi Game reserve which is the National park located in the Delta area. In combination with Chobe Game Reserve and the Khwai, Linyanti and Selinda Reserves this is one of the largest truly wild and protected and pristine areas on the planet.

We had expected at the time of our visit in May for much of the Delta to be dry as would be normal at this time of year with water only in the permanent channels. The exceptional rainfall this year has changed all that and there is water everywhere with more expected as the annual flood flows into the Delta from Angola.

We saw most of the main species of game in our two day trip with the exception of Wild Dog and  Cheetah and the birding was superb. There are no rhino currently in the concessions we visited although the recently introduced rhino in other areas are gradually beginning to spread out.

Our first camp, Gomoti Plains, was in a large new concession in the dryer South Western Delta. The Gomoti Plains area had previously been used for hunting but has now been leased to the new owners and a permanent camp has been built with a new airstrip to open shortly. The concessions adjacent to other areas of the Okavango Delta which are known for their outstanding game viewing and as the wildlife becomes familiar with safari vehicles this will in future years become one of Botswana’s most sought after safari areas. The birding here was superb and Gomoti seems to be a giraffe hotspot. The full range of Delta activities are possible including fishing and mokoros.

Stayed at Gomoti Plains camp

Our second camp was Kanana, a long-established camp in the permanently flooded areas of the South Eastern Delta. This area is best known for its boating and mokoro trips and for walking, but is also, when water levels permit excellent for game viewing. Kanana camp is a very comfortable but reasonably affordable choice which is ranked number two on “Trip advisor” it is easy to see why.

Stayed at Kanana Camp

Khwai Private Reserve

This reserve is less well known tha other areas of Botswana and is basically a community operated area lying to the North of Moremi Game Reserve up to the borders of the Chobe national Park.

The area was previously used for hunting and also had a few camp sites used by mobile safari operators, in recent years a number of new high quality safari camps have been built and the area has a well deserved reputation for its outstanding game viewing.

I can remember visiting the Khwai area on a self-drive camping trip in 1999 and being amazed at the exciting wildlife experiences we had there.

The area does not have the exclusivity of the Okavango delta as the density of camps is slightly greater and you do see the odd vehicle from other camps and mobile safari operators but generally it is a bit cheaper to stay here.

Our game viewing here was good, the highlight being an excellent leopard sighting at Machaba Camp.

We stayed at two camps in Khwai, Hyena Pan Tented Camp and Machaba Camp which was outstanding and visited the newly opened Sable Alley Camp.

Chobe Game Reserve

We visited two very different areas within this large reserve which is mostly covered in thick woodland. Our first stop was at the Savute Marsh area of the National Park, this is the prime game viewing area in the heart of the park and world famous for its extraordinary big game encounters. We stayed at the relatively new Ghoha Hills Camp which has a stunning position atop a large Kopje overlooking the bush and the marsh beyond.

Our game drive on the Marsh was extremely productive and this was the only place in Botswana that provided cheetah sightings on this trip, there were also many elephant and a good variety of plains game. Our camp was a bit far from the main game viewing area of Savute, although there was excellent birding around camp and we did see plains game including roan antelope near camp.

I think if travelling outside the peak game viewing months of July to November, from a purely game viewing point of view, it would make more sense to stay in one of the camps located close to the Marsh. In peak season the Ghoha area comes into its own as the permanent waterholes attract every species of game which can be observed from a game viewing hide beside the waterhole..

Stayed at Ghoha Hills Safari Lodge

The second leg of our trip visited the Chobe River floodplain in the North of the park close to the borders Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The river here attracts staggering quantities of elephant and buffalo in the dry season and for the rest of the year the game viewing remains outstanding.

The only drawback to visiting this area is the large number of tourists that are driving the main riverfront roads, these include many self-drivers from neighboring countries and day trippers from Victoria Falls as well as guests from the larger lodges located to the east of the national park. We stayed at the Western end of the reserve where there are just four lodges. Fewer visitors make it out to this area so you do not get the same number of guests at each sighting as are found further east.

Our sightings here included wild dog, lion and buffalo as well as hyenas with cubs.

A big attraction here are boat safaris on the Chobe River where excellent birding adds to the excitement of close encounters with wild game from your boat.

As this is a national park, night drives, off road driving, walking and fishing are not permitted within park boundaries.

The Chobe river front is close to the airport art Kasane is a good place to start or finish a safari.

Stayed at Muchenji Safari Lodge

POSTED BY: on 14/06/2017

phone Just a phone call away to start planning your holiday
01 664 464 228