Botswana is a country that still has thousands of kilometres of pristine land, which to this day has never been seen or touched by man. It’s a land that promises us a glimpse back in time, into a world that existed long before we came along. It’s an oasis for wildlife, and no matter whether you camp or stay in a lodge, you are guaranteed to have close encounters with the magnificent animals that call Botswana home. Botswana is one of the last remaining places where the wild things roam and human spirits fly.
It was on a chilly May morning in the heart of Moremi Game Reserve, about 5.09am to be precise, that I was abruptly awakened from my deep and blissful sleep. Deeply tucked in the recess of a luxuriously cushioned and cosy bedroll, I heard the sound of crackling branches and gentle movement in the bushes outside my tent.
There are moments in the African wilderness when things come together, animal spirits synchronise with the human heart to create a hushed and magical encounter, giving a more intimate perspective into our own humanity. This is the gift of Botswana.
Knowing that the tent was pitched within metres of a well-trodden hippo trail, a combination of fear and excitement permeated through my entire body. The on-rush of emotions caused my body to freeze; meanwhile, my mind went into overdrive as I meticulously planned my next move. The uncertainty was killing me; I sat up and quietly unzipped the door to take a peek outside.
It was, as I suspected, a lone male hippopotamus munching at the bushes, grasses and trees surrounding the tent.
His padded feet absorbing the impact of his pillar like legs and monumental size, thus rendering his foot-steps gentle and somewhat silent, he quietly and effortlessly munched his way around the tent. Moving from the right side of the tent, to the back then around to the left side. Completely oblivious to my presence he let out the odd snort between mouthfuls of food.
Ensuring that I remained well hidden at all times, I ever so carefully unzipped a tiny section of the tent window, putting me eye-level with the top of his stubby legs. He was close, in-fact so close that I could almost taste his slow and heavy breath.
Just a sheet of canvas separated our worlds, and what different worlds they were, an encounter that I found so magical to witness was just everyday routine for him. Serving as a reminder we are only temporary occupants to this extraordinary frontier, and even though we may stay for a few weeks, the hippo and other animals will all carry on with their lives long after we have gone home.
Botswana is home to some of the world’s most pristine wilderness and famed wildlife, including the big five. As travellers, it is our duty to respect and protect these creatures and their habitat.
As the hungry hippo continued to graze within close proximity to me, I noticed that he was not alone.
Impalas, tender-eyed and gentle, moved serenely around the area as they grazed under trees that were bathed in the early morning sunshine. Meanwhile, a small herd of elephants lined up to drink from the waterhole that was just metres from our private campsite. While loud chirps, howls and cackles began to fill the airwaves as the feathered communities started to wake.
As the sun began to rise, the hippo waddled down to the water where he would spend the entire day rolling, basking and sleeping. As I watched him slowly disappear under the water, a golden and soothing light awashed the floodplain in front of me, spreading a sense of calm and peace across the wide open space.
The truth is that Botswana gets under your skin and you can’t help but feel an abiding love for all of the creatures, both big and small. The link between them and us is undeniable, and it’s as though all our life, each and every one of us has been waiting to know just that exact moment.
Do you want to experience your own up close and personal wildlife encounter? Here are six unforgettable wildlife experiences that you must pursue while travelling in Botswana.
Jump aboard a Safari Game Drive: Botswana is one of the most sought after safari destinations in Africa, and with good reason, with many diverse areas to explore from deserts to lush delta grassland to salt pans, a range of animal and bird life is guaranteed to be spotted. Botswana is one of the few countries where the big five can be found and because there is limitations on how many tourists are allowed into the parks you will find that wildlife encounters are extremely authentic – often you will not see another vehicle for hours.
Go on a Boat Safari Cruise in Chobe: The rivers and waterholes are what give life to the dry and vast plains of Botswana; it’s an area where wildlife is in abundance. You will see elephants swim, crocs sunning themselves, hippos lolling and if you are lucky you may even see a pride of lions sip their afternoon water
Plan to visit The Central Kalahari: Original home of the San people, this arid ecosystem is renowned for attracting a diversity of wildlife during all seasons. When we were there we came across a tourist who had spotted 36 lions in three days – wow that is impressive.
Don’t skimp and miss Moremi: Hands down, this game reserve was my most favourite part of Botswana. Moremi lies in the heart of the Okavango Delta, the deep sandy tracks and higher park fees make it a little more inaccessible than other areas. Unfortunately most people don’t make the effort to pass the gate entrance, and that is a real shame. If you are looking for pure pristine wilderness and wildlife, this is your spot. We saw wildlife every five minutes and came across three cars in the entire two days we were in Moremi – it truly is heaven on earth
Seek complete solitude within the Nxai Pans: Saltpans, Meer cats, ancient fossils and Baobabs in the heart of Makgadikgadi. This is one destination that truly defines silence and complete isolation, opening the entrance for a little self-discovery. The wide open space and sense of freedom is addictive. If you can’t afford a night on the pans, don’t worry you can stay at nearby Planet Baobab (even Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have stayed at this low-key resort for a night) where you can take day trips into the pans.
Book an Okavango Mokoro Experience: Once upon a time, before speed boats and planes, mekoros were the only form of transport in the Delta. A mokoro is a wooden dugout canoe, it was traditionally used for fishing, and the Okavango Delta is the only place in the world where you can do a mokoro safari. A local guide will paddle you through a labyrinth of reedy waterways, lagoons and islands – you will glide past birds standing on lily leaves, elephants grazing and you may even see a lion on the savannah plains. The Okavango is filled with fabulous wildlife and it’s a bird watchers paradise, a mokoro safari is by far the best way to explore the region.
Botswana is latitude of promise, a destination of substance and one that you must visit at least once in this lifetime.
Trip Notes On Botswana
The two gateway towns that offer access into the parks and reserves of Botswana are Maun (Okavango delta, Kalahari, Naxi pans) and Kasane (Chobe). We camped at most places for as little as $6 per person per night with hot showers. Some of these campsites where the nicest I have ever come across with all of them having bar and restaurants located at them. Many people ask if we felt safe camping, whilst the first two nights I felt scared, after that I started to get comfortable - we took all the precautions and listened to the campground advice and we felt 100% safe. We stayed at:
Old Bridge Hostel and Campground near Maun
Planet Baobab half way between Maun and Kasane near Gweta Town
Shakawe Lodge located on the river by the Pan-Handle region of the Okavango Delta, 10km south of the small village of Shakawe in North Western Botswana. The world famous safari town of Maun is 380km to the South East.
Chobe Safari Lodge located in the heart of Kasane
Or I highly recommend a mobile camping safari - read my experience with Unlimited Safaris here
Virtually all the lodges and hotels offer safari packages, and they will even pick you up from the airport. My suggestion is to book into one of the lodges in either Kasane or Maun and then before arriving discuss what packages they offer. Try to book on a 10-14 day mobile safari which will take you to all the main parks and reserves. If you are looking for a professional guide Unlimited Safaris is renowned for being one of the best www.unlimitedsafari.com, we went with Moses in Moremi and can’t say enough good things about the experience he gave us. In Chobe we went with Anthony, he was super great also. Anthony has a small guide business and can be contacted at email@example.com
Both Qantas and South African Airways fly to Johannesburg daily. From Johannesburg it is just a 45 minute flight to either Kasane or Maun.
This article was originally written by Claire to be posted on the Expedia Travel Blog