Abundant wildlife, watery deltas and ultra-chic bush sanctuaries - Botswana is the ultimate safari destination. On my recent trip I was lucky enough to stay at several land and water-based camps which gave me a real taste of what each camp has to offer.
Wilderness Safaris and Sanctuary Retreats own and manage a number of camps across Africa. Carrier works with both companies to provide bespoke safari itineraries.
My first stop in Botswana was the Chitabe Camp in the Okavango Delta. After a short flight from Johannesburg to Maun I was met by Wilderness Safaris, one of the continent's foremost ecotourism operators. They escorted me to a 12 seat light aircraft, my personal transport to Chitabe Camp. Guests have the option to fly directly to each of the camps in the collection, which certainly makes getting around between different camps seamless. At Carrier, we certainly use this to our advantage when we combine a variety of locations to tailor-make safaris for our customers. Flying in my twin-prop plane, I caught my first views of Botswana's rugged bush landscape - bursting with rich red and brown hues, before touching down. Chitabe camp is one of the smallest in Botswana, with only eight spacious, en-suite, Meru-style tents, raised on wooden decks. This gives the camp a very exclusive feel. Occupying a spot on a beautiful delta island, the views from the dining area across the floodplain are fantastic.
After spending a comfortable night in my tent, I awoke at around 5.30 am to a delicious continental breakfast of muffins, cereals, tea and coffee to fuel me for the morning game drive. Chitabe offers superb land-based safaris and the real show-stopping experience of my first morning in the bush was seeing a leopard within five minutes of setting off. Soon after Brooks, our private guide, had spotted the big cat, we followed it from a safe distance until it stopped abruptly. Then, we saw it leap up from the ground straight up into the branches of the tree only a few feet from us, where it yawned and settled down for a morning nap.
I reluctantly returned to camp and enjoyed a late morning brunch of eggs, bacon and delightful spicy calamari. I spent most of the afternoon observing eagles and vultures soaring through the sky from the cool waters of the plunge pool, before settling down for dinner in the evening. Soon after, I settled down to sleep wondering what my next camp would have in store for me.
Tubu Tree Camp
This camp is a great choice if you want the best of both worlds, as it offers both land and water drives. It is set in an area of grassland, forest and floodplains and offers fantastic opportunities to view giraffe, elephant, lion and lechwe. The tents were contemporary in style and the swimming pool gave me the chance to have a welcome cool down from the warm African sun. The sister camp, Little Tubu Tree, would be ideal for a private group. Comprised of just three tents and with a complimentary private safari vehicle, this self-contained camp also has its own pool and dining room, perfect for a family celebration.
If you are staying at Tubu Tree, you must seize the opportunity to take to the water in a traditional mokoro boat; a hollowed out canoe. I had the chance to go out in a small group with a specialised guide to meander around bends in the delta in search of wildlife. We came across a tremendous sight - a mother hippo with baby in tow, a stone's throw away from a crocodile basking in the mud. Being in such close proximity to these amazing creatures was an incredible experience and I took some remarkable close-up photos. Some of my fellow travellers stayed out to try their hands at catch-and-release fishing in the reed-framed waterways and thoroughly recommended it, for both experienced fishers and beginners alike.
Don't leave without sipping a gin and tonic on the decking of the outdoor terrace. The open vistas provide the most fantastic backdrop to while away an evening looking out across the savannah; making this one of the best bars I have had the pleasure of enjoying whilst on safari.
Duma Tau Camp
Duma Tau Camp, meaning 'roar of the lion', is actually more commonly known for the elephant herds that roam here. Contemporary in style, the comfortable wicker chairs perched on the outside decking areas provide views out onto the lagoons of the Linyanti River. Whilst this Wilderness camp does offer both land and water drives, the lagoon location is one of its biggest assets. Make sure you take the evening river cruise down the Linyanti River whilst watching for wildlife coming to drink from the banks. Floating down the river watching the sun set was such a tranquil and relaxing moment.
Duma Tau is definitely one of my favourite camps. It effortlessly retains an authentic safari feel whilst combining luxe styling. The fire pit near the camp's pontoon is the perfect spot to stargaze. Sitting around this at night awakens much camping nostalgia among the guests and I saw the most vivid shooting star I have ever seen whilst enjoying an after dinner coffee here as the sky was so clear being far away from any light pollution. It was truly magical.
Sanctuary Chief's Camp
Renowned for its exclusivity, Sanctuary Retreats' Chief's Island offers wonderful seclusion. The 12 bush pavilions boast every comfort, from en-suites with indoor and outdoor showers to a game-viewing deck complete with hammock, an ideal place for an afternoon spent reading a book or re-living the excitement of the morning drive. The choice location is in the Mombo Concession of the Moremi Game Reserve; the latter is known as the predator capital of Africa and considered to be one of the best settings for game in the whole of southern Africa, in particular for wild dogs and black and white rhinos.
It did not disappoint. Not only were we able to track a pack of wild dogs on one late afternoon game drive, we were lucky enough to spot a pride of lions relaxing in the last of the sun's rays. Our guide parked the vehicle at a safe distance and we were able to enjoy our Champagne sundowners watching this awe-inspiring spectacle, before returning to camp for a sumptuous pizza, made to order in the camp's wood oven.
Vumbura Plains is one of the most luxurious camps I have stayed in and my personal favourite. Recently refurbished, this premier Wilderness Safaris camp sits in a private concession and has access to a glorious variety of habitats. The food here is also excellent. I partook in the most tantalising afternoon tea on my first afternoon here, which included handmade spring rolls and aubergine and feta wraps. One of my favourite areas of the property is the candlelit dining area where à la carte can be enjoyed in the evenings.
Offering both land and water drives, the variety of wildlife you can see here is extremely wide-ranging. From taking a walk through the bush to glimpse a giraffe, to floating down the Okavango waterway in a mokoro, seeing reed frogs and water flies, you can enjoy excellent sightings of many species all year round. I was lucky enough to see impalas, antelope, zebras and wildebeest during my stay. The rooms here are sublime and very private. The spacious living quarters have been recently renovated and now feature contemporary sunken lounges which are open on three sides and provide iconic views of the floodplains. The accommodation also boasts expansive decking areas complete with plunge pools, whilst some rooms contain central showers surrounded by canvas - a really nice feature for true romantics.
Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero
Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero borders an area which holds Africa's largest concentration of elephants. I took a trip on one of the renowned river cruises, which gave me up-close encounters with these magnificent creatures as well as with some water buffalo. Each room in the camp has a free-standing bath, indoor and outdoor showers and a private garden where silver service dinners can be enjoyed. This camp also offers unparalleled panoramic views across the islands and floodplains as far across as Namibia, providing excellent landscape photo opportunities. I took some fantastic photos of large groups of elephants coming to drink from the water, as well as seeing vast numbers of beautiful birds of every colour skim across the water.
The split-level swimming pool and full service spa make Chobe Chilwero a good camp to round off a trip to Botswana. The stone structured rooms have a village feel and the complimentary modern facilities such as the gym ease you towards the first baby steps back on your journey to everyday life. Pleasingly, however, the occasional appearances of baboons on the perimeter of camp remind you that you are still in the bush.
In the know… I'm frequently asked by Carrier customers what kind of luggage they should take on safari and I would always recommend a soft bag with soft backing. Twin-prop planes are the most common form of transport, but have strict weight and size restrictions on luggage due to the limited space available in the small hold underneath the plane.