A safari through Botswana’s wildlife wonder

Why the African nation is one of the best to safari through.

Veins of deep blue and algae green water intersect around parched islands, stretching as far as the eye can see like a complex train map. As we fly deeper into the heart of the Okavango Delta, the vast volume of water engulfs all but the highest points of land. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers 22,000 square kilometres in peak floods.

Within minutes of taking off from Maun, the tourism capital of Botswana, I’ve already spotted elephants, hippos, zebras, buffalos and giraffes from the plane window. Having contorted by body into one of only 12 seats aboard, it’s a thrilling start to my weeklong air-hopping safari. 

The first stop is Vumbura Plains Camp in the eastern panhandle, ideally located for year-round, water-based activities. Within hours of arriving in Botswana, I’m skimming across the spillways in a traditional dugout canoe. The mokoro gets you stealthily close to the minutia of the delta. It takes remarkable balance as my poler stands and propels us with a long bamboo pole. Wary of the danger of a hippo torpedo, I’m assured the shallow waterway has been scouted.

Switching pace, we swap for a speedboat and now the company of hippos is very welcome. Skipper Masco whips through a maze of towering papyrus reeds, riding the channels of trampled hippo highways. Bugs sandblast my face and a few are swallowed as I grin wildly on a ride crossed between a go-kart and waterslide.

As the fiery globe of the sun sinks to the horizon, we stop in a lagoon painted in perfect duplication of the sunset. Hollow grunting calls of the stirring hippos and the woodwind chime of frogs is the ideal twilight soundtrack. Masco cautiously navigates us home; dodging hippo heads bobbing up and down like a reverse game of whack-a-mole.

Another short flight delivers me to the private 311,353-acre Linyanti Wildlife Reserve on the border of Namibia. This corner of Botswana is home to Africa’s largest population of elephants, and Little DumaTau waterfront camp is ideally positioned to catch the most mesmerising show – the swimming elephant. My safari mode is a pimped-out brunch barge floating along the Osprey Lagoon with a mimosa in hand. I sip as an elephant herd appears one by one. 

The growing congregation frolics by the water edge, blowing bubbles through their trunks like a straw and hosing down their parched crinkled skin. The procession of 30 elephants sounds like the thunder of a waterfall as the log-like legs drag through the water. As the lagoon deepens, the body mass that labours on land in a rocking horse motion now gracefully glides with just the forehead and trunk snorkel staying dry. 


Keen to burn a few calories, my guide Kitso suggests a walking safari. Armed with a rifle and only the cover of the odd termite mound, he leads the way on high alert to every movement and nature call. Honing my tracking skills, it’s an up-close lesson in identifying animal prints and, most importantly, how recently they’d been left. I soon discovered even poo reveals a lot, based on its contents, shape, and location.

Back in the relative safety of an open-air jeep, I witness a circle-of-life lion brunch. An imposing male lion feasts on an infant elephant carcass, his stomach distending before our eyes. The lion pants then takes a micro nap, building energy for one more bite. We are just two metres from this documentary-worth spectacle. 

This encounter demonstrates why many consider Botswana the best place to go on safari. The country’s tourism model is simple: high value, low impact. The camps are premium and accommodate a few tourists; the reserves are privately operated, many in partnership with the surrounding communities; and sustainable tourism isn’t just a buzzword. There are no other jeeps sharing this experience and there’s no time limit on when I must leave.

View across the interleading, interlinking suite, Mombo, Botswana (Credit: Wilderness).

The unique ecosystems within Botswana offer wildly diverse landscapes and wildlife experiences. So far, my safari has included plane, jeep, foot and assorted boat, and now I’m adding plunge pool at Mombo camp. Aptly known as ‘Place of Plenty’, it’s where the animals come to you. Located on Chief’s Island, the largest island in the heart of Okavango Delta, each of eight luxury tents overlooks a dry floodplain dotted with scarce waterholes.

From the vantage of my private pool, the bush TV keeps me entertained with grazing zebras, elephants painting themselves with cooling mud, warthog families scurrying by, and a broad-shouldered eagle catching a snake in a flurry of wings and swallowing it whole.

An ideal respite from the afternoon heat is Mombo’s new walk-in wine cellar, an impressive circular display of 2000 bottles. Managed by Botswana’s first and only sommelier, Alfred, I swiftly add wine safari to my list.

I’m like a kid in a candy store, and Alfred is equally excited to host a private tasting of seven very agreeable wines. The pinnacle is a bottle of the 2019 Sadie Family Palladius, a sublime blend of grapes from 17 vineyards in Swartland, South Africa. It’s very special and, in Alfred’s words, “A special occasion is the day I open it.” It’s an occasion I won’t soon forget.

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