Whether peacefully floating along the channels of the miraculous Okavango Delta or marvelling at the country’s majestic population of African elephants in Chobe, Botswana boasts an impressive and often breathtaking array of travel experiences. Many of these are unique to the country.
There’s no denying that the highlight of any trip to Botswana would be its magnificent swathes of pure African wilderness. Botswana is home to several of the continent’s greatest national parks and game reserves, together encompassing hundreds of hectares of untouched protected African nature, providing much-needed refuge for the continent’s flora and fauna.
One of the landlocked country’s most incredible regions, and its most famous attraction, the Okavango Delta (above) is a watery wonderwork, worthy of any travel bucket list. This massive inland delta is caused by seasonal flooding from the Okavango River, which flows from the highlands of Angola. At its height during the flooded months of June through October, the swampy floodplains can cover some 15,000 sq km, with labyrinthine channels crisscrossing countless islands, all of which provides welcome habitat to thousands of animal and bird species.
The Moremi Game Reserve is the oldest protected section of the delta and probably the best place to enjoy an expedition through the Okavango. It’s also home to some of Africa’s densest wildlife populations, making it an ideal safari hotspot. Accessed from the nearby town and gateway to the Okavango, Maun (with direct flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town), the Moremi Park includes the renowned Chief’s Island, the largest permanent island in the delta that’s so abundant in wildlife, it was once the exclusive hunting reserve of the local chief.
When in the Okavango, it’s all but imperative to embark on a mokoro excursion through the delta. Mokoros are the traditional dugout canoes used by locals to navigate through the floodwaters. It’s one of the most tranquil, yet exciting, ways of getting up close and personal with not only the jaw-dropping beauty of the swampy landscape, but also its wildlife inhabitants.
However, Botswana’s natural beauty isn’t restricted to the delta. The Chobe River basin and its eponymous national park (above) is another popular tourist destination and a prime location for epic safari adventures. Chobe’s over 10,000 sq km of pristine African wilderness range from lush and marshy, seasonal floodplains along the Chobe River to the savanna and woodland regions in and around the Savuti and Linyanti sections of the park.
Much of the rest of Botswana is characterised by dry and hot ecosystems and conditions, with the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the country’s southwest and the enormous Makgadikgadi Salt Pan (and Nxai Pan National Park) being two noteworthy regions, providing lovers of stark landscapes unparalleled opportunities of experiencing these famously dry desert and salt pan habitats.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddles both Botswana and South Africa and is home to iconic red sand dunes, desert-dwelling animal and bird species and the indigenous San people, with whom fascinating cultural exchanges and encounters can be experienced.
The Makgadikgadi Pan is a collection of several large salt flats, all of which used to form part of an ancient inland lake, long since dried up. Though the salt flat region is a distinctly harsh environment, visitors here, particularly at Nxai Pan National Park, can hope to encounter an unexpectedly long list of wildlife species, including elephant, giraffe, zebra, lion, leopard, cheetah, ostrich, wild dog, hyena and a number of antelope species.
Due to its far-reaching protected areas and national parks, home to massive numbers of African animal and bird species, unforgettable wildlife encounters are pretty much guaranteed on any travel to Botswana.
When in the delta, expect to find large populations of hippos, elephants, crocodiles as well as a wealth of bird species. As previously mentioned, a uniquely Okavango way of witnessing these creatures in their waterlogged habitat is aboard a mokoro (above), which will enable you to glide silently and effortlessly through the marsh and reeds, inching ever closer to one of the delta’s majestic residents. The delta is also home to a remarkable phenomenon, whereby animal species that stereotypically avoid waterways (for example lions and cheetahs), can be seen well adapted to life in the floodplains, swimming through channels and being very at home in the water.
Away from the delta, in spectacular Chobe, you can find Africa’s largest population of elephants. Though the park’s colossal elephant population is its most well-known drawcard, a number of other animals and birds can be spotted here. Safari-goers can hope to find themselves within photographing distance of rhinos, zebras, giraffes, lions, hyenas and in the rainy season, over 400 species of birds can be found within the park.
At Moremi in the Okavango, choose from a range of accommodations, from riverside lodges to secluded luxury tented camps. With excellent service and world-class cuisine on offer, any Moremi camp will be a decidedly luxurious stay.
Another Okavango campsite offering exclusive and rather sublime accommodation within the delta, &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Delta Lodge (above), is a must for discerning travellers refusing to skimp on luxury and comfort. Here, you can enjoy morning and evening guided game drives, accompanied bushwalks, 12 luxury suites with their own private plunge pools and a host of pampering wellness and spa treatments.
In the Linyanti region of Chobe, stay in Dumatau, a sumptuous campsite set along a beautiful lagoon. Each of the spacious chalets bears its own private wooden viewing deck overlooking the water which, due to the camp’s strategic location along two elephant corridors, offers unrivalled opportunities for viewing the park’s most famous residents.
A lodge of ultimate African sophistication would be Meno A Kwena (above), located in the vicinity of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans National Parks. Set along the unspoiled banks of the Boteti River, the campsite offers eight private glamping units. The lodge’s ideal location allows for excursions beyond the park’s borders into Maun and the Okavango Delta. The luxe campsite is also famous for being the spot where England’s Prince Harry and his now fiancé Meghan Markle spent a romantic holiday, solidifying their high-profile relationship.
– TEXT BY SAUL LIPCHIK
PHOTOS: OKAVANGO DELTA FACEBOOK (MAIN PHOTO), FLICKR USER STEVEN DOS REMEDIOS (ELEPHANTS IN CHOBE NATIONAL PARK), FLICKR USER MIROS PHOTOGRAPHY (KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK), FLICKR USER DAVID NUNN (MOKORO), INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.