Places to Return to – Botswana

I never understood why people wanted to go on Safari.  Surely it was just like going to the zoo, but perhaps a bigger zoo with fences that were more spread out.  What was the point of spending huge wads of cash to go to a zoo?   But after the first safari drive that we ever went on, we were totally hooked.  We had a magical experience and got to see two lions mating (no rude jokes please!!).  Since then we have been going whenever we could summon up the cash

Elephants in the Okavango
Elephants in the Okavango
where to go on Safari

You can go on Safari all over Africa.  South Africa is terrific for self organised safaris, it is good value, the food and wine are amazing, and you can drive yourself everywhere!  I would highly recommended Kruger for Safari virgins and there are tonnes of good places to stay.  Namibia is also good, very safe and easy to drive around.  Kenya and Tanzania are good too, particularly in the Masai Mara, where you are almost guaranteed to see the big five in your first hour on a safari truck.  However, the downside is that Kenya and Tanzania are crowded with cheap package tourists, so while you are watching the cheetah kill the gazelle, sixteen other safari trucks drive up to watch it too.   So, if you can afford it, I would highly recommend visiting Botswana at least once.  The wildlife is as good as anywhere, but you will likely be the only people you see on your safari drives and that makes it a magical experience.

Yawning hippo
Yawning hippo

For a control freak like me, a safari is the perfect holiday!   The daily routine is fixed – get up for coffee and a snack, drive for three hours, come back for a huge breakfast, sleep for three hours, eat a huge lunch, nap again, drive for three more hours, eat a huge dinner.    And it is utterly utterly relaxing to have nothing to think about apart from what sundowner drink you want on the truck that evening.    The animals, also, are totally outside of your control.  You can’t dictate what you will see when.  Of course the rangers are world class, so you can let them know what you are more interested in seeing, but the leopards aren’t going to turn up where you want them to, so you have to be patient.

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Cute but hungry cubs (apparently their mother hadn’t found any food for three days)

There are lots of good places to stay in Botswana, some cheaper, some outrageous.  My most memorable experience is our stay at Chiefs Camp on Mombo Island.  It was incredible.  I was going more upmarket than usual as had hubby in tow, together with his parents.  We had gifted them a trip to celebrate their 70th birthdays.   While the lodge was divine and the food was good, it was Mombo and the cats that really stole my heart.   Some memorable moments….

Watching a leopard kill an impala

Ok, so I know it is gruesome, and I did use to struggle to understand why people actually sought out ‘kills’ on safari drives (I never had).  But it was fascinating, visceral and thrilling to watch a lone and hungry leopard take down an impala. We would have missed it entirely if our guide hadn’t noticed the assembled audience of baboons checking out the action (hoping the leopard would do the work and they could steal the impala afterwards).  The whole process took at least half an hour and it was enthralling

The baboon tree viewing gallery
The baboon tree viewing gallery

 

Suffocating the impala
Job done!
Job done!
Following a pack of wild dogs

In over twenty safaris, I have only seen wild dog once.  There are apparently less than 1500 adults still alive in Africa, and they are common on the menu for Lions.   It was a real treat to find this pack waking up from their afternoon naps (they are tough to spot as they blend into the grass very well), have a few yawns and then head off to go hunting

Waking up in the grass.... big yawn
Waking up in the grass…. big yawn
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the leader figuring out which way to go

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getting to follow the same animals over a few dayS

The interesting thing about staying in the same place for a few days is you get to see the same animals more than once.   My favourite occurrence of this was two young male lions.  We met them one evening, and they were hungry and grumpy….. you can see they were hungry by the size of their stomachs!  And then we found them again the next morning, and they had obviously found something tasty for a midnight snack as the tummy was bursting.

Before: Hungry and grumpy
Before: Hungry and grumpy
After: Bloated and sleepy
After: Bloated and sleepy
Additional tips
  • Safaris are expensive.  Shop around.  Going direct to the lodge is often not cheaper as they have to guarantee not to undercut the agents they use.   See if a UK outfit with a bundled flight offer is cheaper.  Also don’t move between lodges too much as it takes time away from seeing the wildlife and the internal flights are expensive
  • Don’t expect to take decent photos with your iPhone or digital camera.  It just won’t happen.  We had a decent canon digital SLR (EOS 5) but more importantly rented a serious kick arse zoom lens for the week.  It was worth it.  The lens would have cost $10,000 to buy, but we rented it for $400 (with hefty insurance).    If you like photography definitely consider renting at least one decent lens

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