Fungai – one of Sikeleli Travel experts – heads to Botswana to explore some fantastic new lodges and see how COVID restrictions have affected travel there.
Read her daily diary for some of the best travel destinations in Botswana’s acclaimed, Okavango Delta. The world’s largest inland delta, a vast area teeming with game and some of the most luxurious safari lodges.
Kicking off our adventure to Botswana
Our adventure started in Victoria Falls, a vibey Zimbabwean town in the shadow of Africa’s mighty falls. We were headed to Botswana. Our transport took an hour and a half to Kasane Airport where we met our charter flight to Maun. We had an exciting helicopter trip from Maun to the Meno a Kwena camp, described as a hidden gem perched on a rocky clifftop above the Boteti River. What a place it was, my highlight was the informative and eye-opening bushman walk. It was fascinating to learn about their incredible way of life, living as nomads in this harsh, beautiful place. We sipped drinks before dinner overlooking the impressive Boteti River, it was so full you could hear the elephant and hippos cavorting down below. The food was fresh and absolutely delicious.
Dinner under the stars in the Delta
After a hearty breakfast, we got back on the chopper, returning to Maun to refuel and then on to Machaba camp. I thoroughly enjoyed the helicopter transfers as an alternative to the small Cessna-type planes we usually use. Machaba is a classic safari camp in the game-rich area of Khwai in the northeastern section of the Okavango Delta. There is truly no place like the Delta for abundant wildlife. We did site inspections at little Machaba, Sango and the Khwai River lodge, all stunning destinations. Along the way we were treated to sights of giraffe, lechwe, zebra and a huge variety of birds. It is easy to see why the delta is known a birder’s paradise. The day’s highlight was meeting another group in camp and sharing a festive dinner with them at a long table under the stars, absolutely amazing.
Comfort and luxury in a mobile camp in the bush
We had an early morning wake up call, a quick breakfast and a beautiful game drive as a transfer to the Savuti area to overnight at the Letaka Mobile camp. I was very excited, and a little bit nervous, about sleeping in a mobile camp in the middle of the bush, but the staff at Letaka took excellent care of us. Their tents were so comfy and the amenities were superb, they had all the little things necessary to make your stay comfortable and relaxing. The beds were super comfy too. I have to say, if this is mobile camping, I’m converted – it was fantastic. Spotting my first-ever brown hyena as well as a huge male lion with three females devouring a zebra carcass, made this experience even more special.
Elephants: Up close and personal
After a delicious breakfast we headed out for a morning drive and onto the Savuti Elephant Camp, a tented oasis on the Savute Channel. I was very impressed with the camp’s beautiful, spacious rooms overlooking the water. The day’s game drives were phenomenal, we came across three enormous male lions lying in the road just minutes after leaving the camp and saw a leopard in the afternoon. The bright pink and red carmine bee-eaters flying alongside us as we drove, feasting on the insects disturbed by our vehicle, was a spectacular sight. True to the camp’s name, there were elephants. A herd came down for a drink at the camp’s waterhole as we enjoyed dinner. It was amazing to watch them from the hide, so close but without disturbing their evening rituals. What a privilege to get so up close and personal to these majestic creatures.
Herds of elephants and baby hippos on the Chobe River
We were transferred to Kasane town for an overnight stay at Chobe Bakwena Lodge. The lodge, very efficiently, organized us COVID PCR tests as we arrived. We had the results delivered to us by dinner time. The highlight of the day was an incredible boat cruise down the stunning Chobe River. A life-giving force of nature that runs along the northern boundary of the Chobe National Park. We were treated to huge herds of elephants drinking from the river, so many birds and hippos with tiny babies on the riverbank.
Down to business at the Africa’s Eden Travel Show
We were transferred back to Victoria Falls for the inaugural Africa’s Eden Travel Show. The opening dinner took place at the wonderful Lookout Café with the Deputy Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality, Hon. B. Rwodzi, as guest of honor. I stayed at the Palm River Hotel where all rooms have beautiful views of the Zambezi River. The staff were so friendly and helpful all the time, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there. We spent two days in meetings with exhibitors from Zimbabwe, Zambia & Botswana. It was so refreshing to have face-to-face meetings after such a long time of meeting online. The atmosphere was very positive, and it was a good mood booster to see agents from all over the world attending the show.
A boat cruise named after Livingston’s guide
On day 9, I went on a lunch river cruise on the Ra-Ikane, which was a first for me. This boat is similar to the boat David Livingstone used when he was exploring the Zambezi River. It’s named after Livingston’s guide, Lazarus Ra-Ikane, who was instrumental in helping Livingston find the Victoria Falls, the first time a European set eyes on what the local’s called the ‘Smoke that Thunders’. It was so relaxing floating down the river, and the lunch was delicious. The boat is designed to navigate further up the river than most other boats can, and it can also get quite near to the shore for a closer look at the action taking place on the riverbank.
Desert & Delta safari camps
Today we headed back to Kasane, via a short road trip, to start the Desert & Delta post tour. Desert & Delta was established in 1982 and is one of the most successful safari operators in Botswana. We checked into Chobe Game lodge, a five-star, fully Ecotourism-certified lodge and the only lodge inside the Chobe National Park. The staff treated us like royalty, they were so welcoming. We were hosted by Metal and met another amazing guide, Flo. They are Desert & Delta celebrities, but you will have to meet them yourself to find out why! The day’s highlight was a boat ride on the Chobe River in their electric-powered boats.
Unique sights and sounds at Nxamaseri Island Lodge
We took a charter flight to Shakawe and were transferred on to Nxamaseri Island lodge, the latest addition to the Desert & Delta portfolio. This is a small and exclusive fishing lodge on a pan handle in the Delta. It’s one of the oldest lodges in the Delta. There are only seven chalets, totally secluded in pristine indigenous forest, each with its own deck overlooking the water. I had a couple of ‘firsts’ while staying at Nxamaseri. We went on a fantastic boat cruise, and I spotted my first sitatunga, an amphibious antelope that lives in the water and on land.
Bushman paintings at a World Heritage Site
The next day we went on a day trip to Tsodilo Hills, the highest point in Botswana, a country otherwise known to be quite flat. There are three steep rocks, like hills, that seem to rise up from the desert. It was a sacred place for the nomadic bushman tribes. Today, it’s a world heritage site as it has some of the most historically significant rock art, some of which dates back to 800 AD and 1300 AD. The whole place is steeped in history. We hiked the Rhino Trail, a 2,5 hour trail on the female hill, there is also a male hill and a child hill, named as such that by the bushman that frequented this holy site. I’d never been to this unique and special place before, so another first!
Experience a sleep-out deck on a remote island in the Okavango
Today we flew to Camp Okavango, with a short stop at Xugana Island camp for a site inspection. Xugana Island is another luxurious camp on the water. We were welcomed with drinks on the floating deck and a few moments to enjoy the views with the wonderful sensation of floating on the river. After the site inspection, we were surprised with a helicopter transfer – my new favorite way to travel – to Camp Okavango. What a treat awaited us when we arrived. We landed right in front of Camp Okavango’s gorgeous sleep-out deck. It was all set up and looked absolutely beautiful. We popped champagne and enjoyed the views from the deck. Then we headed to camp for lunch and later went out on a boat trip.
Camp Okavango is a luxurious camp on a beautiful remote island in the heart of the permanent Delta waters, so guests can be assured of a water wilderness experience, year-round.
They offer nature walks on the nearby Buffalo Island. Early the next morning we were transferred to the island by boat, my first time to Buffalo Island. The island lived up to its name, and we spotted a huge herd of buffalo, about 400 of them, what a spectacular site in the morning light. Thank goodness we were a safe distance away. We also saw lots of impala, warthogs and hippo trails and territory markings. We stopped to smell the wild basil and wild sage and appreciate the many beautiful flowers. After the two-hour hike we headed back to camp for a yummy brunch.
Paradise Pan and Pel’s fishing owls
Next stop: Camp Moremi. We were welcomed with harmonious singing and dancing always a moving experience when travelling in Africa, followed by a delicious lunch. After high tea, we headed out for an evening game drive. We detoured to Camp Xakanaka for a site inspection, then proceeded on to a sundowner stop at Paradise Pan. During the dry season, the pan is teeming with a wildlife, we spotted an elephant, zebras, giraffe, water buck, warthogs, a crocodile and lots of birds. Birds were today’s highlight. We saw two Pel’s fishing owls, a male nesting in a tree in the main lounge area at Camp Moremi and a female at Camp Xakanaka. What a delight to see these fluffy ginger owls peering down at us.
Very convenient PCR tests at Kasane Airport
After breakfast we were transferred to the airstrip for a flight to Kasane Airport. On landing, I did a COVID PCR test at a lab in the airport, which was convenient and quick. These tests are a part of our lives now and it is great to see how the lodges and airports in Botswana are making sure visitors can get these done hassle-free. We went onto the Chobe Game Lodge, where we had a relaxing afternoon at leisure, catching up on work and enjoying the beautiful views over the Chobe River. I got my COVID results before dinner, a very efficient service indeed!
Visit Botswana, it is open for business
And then it was time to head home. I was transferred via the Kazungula border back to Victoria Falls. What a bonus that the transfer was also a game drive, on our way out we spotted lots of elephants and plains game. I loved every moment of exploring Botswana again. The whole experience was soothing to the mind, body and soul after such a long time of travel restrictions. I’m pleased to report that Botswana is open for travel and ready to welcome you for the holiday of a lifetime.
Ready to make Botswana your next destination?
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