Botswana’s vast wilderness areas coupled with its majestic wildlife, natural wonders and friendly locals makes our neighbour a country all adventurers want to experience. On a recent trip, Lizaan Snyman crossed the South African border for the first time to enjoy an exhilarating eight-day quick course through this overlander’s paradise.
Even though I was raised in a household with no interest in any form of camping or outdoor adventure lifestyle, there was always something about travelling through the continent of Africa that intrigued me. As a teenager, I loved researching interesting places that I had seen on television and in magazines. It made me realise just how much the world, and especially Africa, has to offer.
Africa is special in that it is home to vast deserts, tropical rainforests, rugged mountains, and fertile grasslands, while also having the most varied wildlife. It is also rich in cultural heritage and diversity and offers many breathtaking attractions. Three countries always stood out for me that I wanted to visit, namely Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Dream to reality
On a cold morning in July, I stood in the queue at Martin’s Drift border post with my completely blank, three-month-old blank passport in one hand and all the other necessary documents in the other. I was filled with disbelief and excitement at what was waiting just on the other side of the relatively full Limpopo River.
Joining me on this Botswana expedition were three other members of the Adventure Afrika team (Angus, Anton Jnr and Anton Snr) along with four other guests and Johan Kriek acting as our guide for the trip. Our trusty four-wheel partners were the impressive, all-new Nissan Navara and the older but very capable Isuzu D-Max with an Outbound Thunder camper trailer in tow.
After spending nearly two hours at the Martin’s Drift border, we make our way across the bridge into Botswana. With the border procedures taking longer than expected and having already travelled quite a distance, we decide to quickly fill up the fuel tanks and make our way directly to our first stopover, Khama Rhino Sanctuary. This community-based wildlife project is located near Serowe on an 8 585 ha sanctuary, provides refuge for white and black rhinos and 30 other animal species.
At close to 16:00, we arrive at the entrance that reminds me of the Kruger National Park. After booking in, we make our way along sandy roads to our campsite, and, as the light starts to fade and a cold wind comes up, we set up camp. As night falls while we are relaxing around the campfire, we see our first animal of the trip, a curious Lesser bushbaby. With a long day of travelling behind us and an adventurous next day ahead of us, we head off to bed early, and boy, was it cold that evening!
*Tip: When travelling to Botswana in winter, especially July, which is known for being the coldest month, bring extra blankets and warm clothing. Although day temperatures can be pleasant, evening temperatures can drop significantly, especially if the wind is blowing.
With my Botswana experience truly on its way, we head further north to the Makgadikgadi Pans area, which comprises the Nxai, Ntwetwe, and Sowa pans. Our first stop is Kubu Island, locally known as Lekhubu, which is located on the Ntwetwe Pan. The island is merely a rocky outcrop protruding from the crusty white pan sprouting several gnarly baobabs. When we arrived at the campsite of our choice, it was occupied. We found another location with a different view over the endless flat pans, and the picturesque sunset and shooting stars, as well as a breathtakingly beautiful sunrise, more than made up for it.
We were not yet done with the pans, as the next day we made our way to Nxai Pan to camp at Baines Baobabs, an iconic spot sought by many travellers venturing over the years into this untamed terrain. These seven millenary baobabs got their name from the artist and explorer Thomas Baines, who first painted them in 1862 while travelling with the explorer James Chapman. They are also known as the sleeping sisters. Although the pans here are dry for most of the year, the area is transformed into a massive shallow lake during the rainy season, becoming a magnet for huge flamboyance of flamingos. Due to the pans still being damp and undrivable, we had to set up camp in a drier stretch just off the edge of the pan.
These two nights camping on the pans made me realise that no matter how many photographs or videos you see of this area, nothing truly captures the extreme vastness, solitude, peace, and tranquillity it offers. It feels as though you are in a completely different world where everything is made to feed your soul and relax your mind. On the other side, I also enjoyed the exhilarating experience of driving on the pans and through some of the thick sand leading to and from the pans. It is definitely worth experiencing!
*Tip: Travelling through the pans in Botswana can be challenging at times, especially during the rainy season. Always make sure you stay on the path, as straying could easily result in your vehicle getting stuck.
Becoming one with nature
Next on our itinerary was a two-night stay at one of the hidden gems that the Khwai Community Concession has on offer – a private camp run by Louis Milne of Swampland Safari Trails (see sidebar on page 31 for more info). The camp is located on the banks of the beautiful Khwai River and when we arrived, we were greeted by two elephants browsing just on the other side of the river. That evening, while lying in the dome tent listening to the various sounds of nature around me, it felt as though we were truly one with nature. At some point, I felt we were a bit too one with nature as I could hear the footsteps of what I believe was a hyena walking past our tent and through the camp, most likely in search of scraps from our tasty dinner of braaied Botswana fillet.
The next morning there was a gentler buzz around camp, as for the first time on this trip, we were not in a rush to pack up and get on the road to our next destination. Instead, we set out to explore the surrounding area. After breakfast and coffee, we made our way to the ominously named Dead Tree Island, where we spotted an elephant and numerous giraffes among the skeletal Mopane trees. After a few hours of exploring the beautiful plains, and taking on a few water crossings in the Isuzu, we took a different route back to camp. Along the route, we spotted a big herd of hippos close to a body of water and a small group of warthogs.
Back at camp, we met up with our guide Ineed and his team at around 14:00 for an exciting yet very relaxing activity – a mokoro cruise on the Khwai River. On the cruise, while Ineed shared some interesting facts on his culture, wildlife and the river, we spotted a dagga boy (older buffalo bull) and an elephant on the edge of the riverbank. Later that afternoon, we searched for the wild dog mother and her pups that the camp owner had told us about. We came up empty-handed, but after driving to an open plains area, we spotted a huge crocodile, another big bloat of hippos making their way into the river, and a big spread-out herd of lechwe grazing in the long grass.
In two short days, the Khwai Community Concession, with its abundance of wildlife and beautiful landscapes, became a special place for me that I would visit again in a heartbeat. Exploring Khwai was, without a doubt, a highlight of the trip.
*Tip: It’s entirely natural to want to see and do as much as possible. However, it is important to incorporate rest days into your schedule so you can relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the bush.
Elephants, elephants and more elephants!
From Khwai we headed north-west to the more remote parts of Chobe Savuti, tackling the road alongside the Savuti Marsh area, which is passable only during the dry season. Here we experienced many sightings of Bateleur and giraffe, along with an unusual herd of oryx. Heading out of Savuti through the forest reserve area, we tackled many miles of deep sand, a challenge for the vehicles in the heat. Along the way, we spotted many more animals, including lots of banded mongoose, meerkat, ostriches, zebra, and tsessebe, but unusually not many elephant – or indeed any of the lion this area is famous for.
We finally arrived at the busy town of Kasane, a popular trucker’s stopover as goods are ferried over the new Kazungula bridge to Zambia, or by road through the nearby Zimbabwe border. From here, we headed south for a short distance to Senyati Safari Camp, a popular overlander’s destination situated in the Lesoma Valley of the Kasane Forest Reserve. It’s known for its deck and bunker that produces spectacular game viewing and superb photographic opportunities mere metres from the wild animals. After setting up camp, we made our way to the deck, but this time all we saw was a lone elephant drinking at the waterhole.
After a full day’s drive south the next day, covering nearly 500 km on the tar road, we checked into the campsite at Elephant Sands, south of Nata. This unfenced 16 000 ha private conservancy is known for the elephants that arrive in droves to drink from the waterhole right in front of the lodge. With the trip basically done, we enjoyed a cooked dinner at the lodge and from earlier in the afternoon until late, we shared some of our adventures with the locals and other guests, all while watching and enjoying the numerous elephants a few metres away. A perfect end to the trip!
*Tip: Be realistic about the distances you want to cover in a day, as trying to cover too much may force you to be in such a rush that you don’t have the time to take in your surroundings. Also take note that some roads are just narrow tracks through the bush, and while the actual distance may be short, you will be forced to drive slowly and with care.
My quick course on Botswana, although short, wild, busy, and somewhat tiring, was the perfect introduction to the country. It showcased some of the variety that Botswana has to offer in terms of wildlife and wilderness and left me keen to experience more of this fascinating country. This trip also strengthened my desire to plan and take extensive trips to each of my bucket-list destinations in the future. As Anton Jnr always say: “All you need to be happy is a tent and a campsite.” And Botswana has more than enough of that!
Things to remember!
- It is always good to travel in groups of two or more vehicles, especially if you plan to go off-road.
- Make sure you have a charged and working satellite phone on you as it is the only device that works in certain areas and is extremely important to remember when you are driving in areas you don’t know very well. Also, make sure you jot down some of the local emergency numbers as they might come in handy.
- Before making your way across the border, make sure you know the basic laws and regulations of the country you intend to visit, as it may impact certain aspects of your travels. This includes the country’s Covid-19 regulations.
- Remember that even though wildlife in Botswana may look tame when spotted next to the road or close to camp, this is certainly not the case. They are still wild animals, so know your place and respect the wildlife!
Khwai Community Concession
Wedged between the big-ticket attractions of Chobe National Park to the east and Moremi Game Reserve to the south, Khwai lies on the eastern fringes of the Okavango Delta. With no borders drawn around it on the map, Khwai is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours, though in the winter months it can hold its own for the quality of big game viewing.
During your time here, you’ll spend most days exploring the narrow Khwai River, which forms the natural boundary to the Moremi Game Reserve on the south. This river is a drawcard for a wide range of wildlife, from herds of impala and lechwe to their predators – including many species from leopards to prides of lion and packs of wild dog. A lot of animals migrate down from the Linyanti area during the dry season, as the Khwai River forms a reliable source of water attracting not only antelopes, but also giraffes, buffalos, and zebras. A vast array of birds are part of the appeal, including egrets, cranes, vultures, and different species of eagles. As Khwai lies outside the parks, it offers the freedom and flexibility normally only possible with the heavier price tag of a private concession. A variety of camps sites are available in the area.
Chobe National Park
This park is accessible via a variety of camps and lodges, rather than just the camps on the concession itself, hence it attracts larger crowds. In our opinion, however, Chobe along with Savuti is definitely worthy of consideration when planning your Botswana safari. Predators include wild dog and cheetah (although not seen regularly), healthy prides of lions and leopards. Rhino are unfortunately no longer present in the park. Night drives are not possible in Chobe due to its National Park status, and there are strict hours of opening when safari-goers are allowed access. Game drives are restricted to the various tracks that access the different corners of the park.
Chobe Savuti Marshes
Since the times of the earliest European explorers, the Chobe Savuti has been prized for the extraordinary concentrations of wildlife that gather here during the Jun-Oct dry season. At this time of year, the vast mopane woodlands that surround the area can become very dry and desiccated, forcing the animals to converge on the few remaining sources of water. For most animals, this means heading far north and west to the Linyanti and Chobe rivers.
However, right at the heart of this extremely dry landscape lies the miracle that is the Savuti Marshes. At the start of the dry season, usually during May, the annual floodwaters arrive from Angola into the Kwando and Linyanti river systems to the west. This flood is prevented from continuing east by a low fault line and instead, the water is forced north to join the Chobe River and on into the Zambezi. But there is a gap in this fault line, an apparently insignificant break of around 80 metres, through which the waters are sometimes able to spill.
These waters wind their way 40 km down the ephemeral Savuti Channel, until they reach an open grassland, across which they spread, creating a unique wetland surrounded by dry forest. In the years when the flood is good, the concentrations of animals around the marshes can be spectacular, with large breeding herds of elephants, congregations of buffaloes, wildebeests, and zebras, plus a wide range of other herbivores. The area also has a particular reputation for predators, especially lions, leopards, and wild dogs. It is not unheard of to see twenty or more different lions and a handful of leopards in a single day.
However, this flood is not reliable. It tends to happen for several years and then may not happen for a decade or more. At the end of the dry season, Nov-Dec, many of the herbivores start to have their young, most notably the zebras and wildebeest, which can become quite a spectacle in this Savuti Marsh area, as the various predators take advantage of the easy pickings.
Park fees per person per day (non-residents): Adults (18 and above) BWP 120 | Children (8 – 17 years) BWP 60 | Children under 8 years Free.
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org | www.chobe.com
Senyati Safari Camp
Senyati Safari Camp is in the Lesoma Valley of the Kasane Forest Reserve, some 20 km from Chobe National Park’s Sedudu Gate. It offers 19 campsites which can accommodate from as few as two people, to as many as 20 people at some stands. Each of the campsites has its own well-lit ablution block, braai area, toilet, hot-water shower and 220V electric point. The hot water donkeys are fired up twice a day by the staff. Campsites are charged per person per night. The camping facilities at Senyati, together with the camp’s well-lit waterhole with an abundance of birds and animals, are just some of the reasons why this is a rewarding stopover for any overlander in the Kasane area. Senyati also boasts a selection of chalets.
Camping Fees (per person): Adults (12 & above) BWP 200 Plus P10 levy | Child (11 & younger) BWP 120 Plus BWP 10 levy | Infants (3 & younger) BWP 10 (Only pay bed levy)
CONTACT: (+267) 718 81306 / (+267) 753 15288 | email@example.com | www.senyatisafaricampbotswana.com
Khama Rhino Sanctuary – Serowe
Sited some 175 km north of Martin’s Drift border post on the A14, Khama Rhino Sanctuary (KRS) is a community-based wildlife project. It was established in 1992 to assist in saving the vanishing rhinoceros and to restore an area formerly teeming with wildlife. In addition, it provides economic benefits to the local Botswana community through tourism and the sustainable use of natural resources.
Covering approximately, 8 585 ha of Kalahari Sandveld, the sanctuary provides prime habitat for white and black rhino as well as over 30 other animal species and more than 230 species of birds. There are 22 widely spaced campsites, including sites for large groups. The central feature of each site is a large Mokongwa tree which provides both character and shade. Sites do not have electricity, but do have a braai stand and water tap. The campsites are served by two communal ablution blocks, with hot showers. There is a restaurant and bar on the reserve as well as a pool to cool down in the warmer months.
Camping Rates (non-residents): Adults BWP 120 | Children 6-12 BWP 60
CONTACT: (+267) 4630713 / (+267) 4600204 / (+267) 73965655 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.khamarhinosanctuary.org.bw
Elephant Sands is a bush lodge & campsite located 53 km from Nata, just off the Nata-Kasane tarred road. It is renowned for its elephants which congregate around the waterhole right in front of the lodge, just metres from guests. There is plenty of other wildlife around on this unfenced 16 000 ha private conservancy.
The lack of fences allows all animals to roam freely. The lodge is ideally sited as a stopover en route to Botswana’s highlights, such as the Makgadikgadi pans, Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. The lodge is a great starting point for a tour to all these places of interest. Stay in one of their en suite chalets or pitch your own tent.
The spotless ablution block offers hot showers. Charging points are only available in the lodge area. Facilities include a swimming pool, curio shop, fully stocked bar, and a restaurant serving a la carte breakfast and lunch, with a superb set-menu dinner. A laundry service is available.
Camping fees: BWP 150 PPPN
CONTACT: (+267) 734 45162 | email@example.com | www.elephantsands.com
Kubu Island / Lekhubu Island
GPS Co-Ordinates – Camp: 20’53’35.88S 25’49’08.76E
Kubu Island is located en route to four major parks and game reserves in Botswana and is the only place in Botswana that has prominent rocky features with views over the Makgadikgai salt pans. Apart from its unique aesthetic beauty, Kubu Island also boasts a rich archaeological and cultural heritage. It is a Botswana National Monument under the management of the Gaing O Community Trust.
Camping rates 2021:
- SADAC residents: BWP 100 PPN, plus government levy & VAT
- International visitors: BWP 150 PPN, plus government levy & VAT. Children under 14 are 50% of these rates, and under 9 years are free (Government levy is BWP 10 PPN, VAT is 14%)
CONTACT: (+267) 75494669 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.kubuisland.com
Nxai Pan forms the northernmost boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans system and lies northwest of Ntwetwe. Nxai Pan National Park was declared just 50 years ago to protect the unusual ecosystem and was extended in 1992 to include Baines Baobabs. Animal activity in this section of Nxai Pan National Park is limited, though you might spot a lonely elephant or oryx in the distance. This is part of the area’s appeal; there’s nothing to do but admire the stark majesty and appreciate the magnitude of the pans stretching into the distance, just as travellers have done for centuries.
This island covered in ancient trees was named after the famous painter and explorer Thomas Baines who visited and painted the site in 1862. This group of Baobabs are known as the sleeping sisters. Baines Baobabs overlooks Kaudia Camp Pan. Although the pans are dry for most of the year, during the rainy season they are covered in vast sheets of water, making driving difficult or even dangerous. The site can be reached via the Nxai Pan turn-off. There is no water on the three available camping sites and only a shower and pit latrine are provided. What you bring in, you must take out.
Park fees per person per day (non-residents): Adults (18 and above) BWP 120 | Children (8 – 17 years) BWP 60 | Children under 8 years Free
*Park fees are calculated per day and not per night, and are set to increase in 2022 to BWP230 per day for non-residents.
CONTACT: (+267) 686 2221 | email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org | www.xomaesites.com
Our trip through Botswana took us to remote locations with limited cell phone coverage. From previous experience, we knew that BeMobile (the local network) provided the best reception in the Delta, and this would be sporadic at best. Being in contact with loved ones and ensuring we could get hold of someone in an emergency was crucial for us, so before the trip we contacted Sat4Rent and they were happy to provide us with some satellite phones for our trip.
They provided us with two devices: an IsatPhone Pro, loaded with Tracks4Africa to provide an accurate GPS location, and a small Spot X for messaging. We tested the IsatPhone Pro right in the middle of the Khwai area. All it took was to switch on the phone, wait for about two minutes for it to connect with the relevant satellites, and just like that we were talking to family in South Africa without any hiccups. We also sent a few messages back home using the Spot X, which is very similar in look and feel to a BlackBerry.
Satellite phones boldly go where mobile phones can’t and allow you to make phone calls from anywhere! Satellite phones don’t rely on a terrestrial mobile phone network. Instead, they beam their data directly to and from satellites. If you travel a lot, and are regularly “off the grid”, or like to adventure in remote locations with no back-up, then a sat phone could save your life.
CONTACT: +27 82 822 9549 | email@example.com | www.sat4rent.co.za
With the Milnes Africa is your oyster
After more than three decades of experience in the tourism industry, nature-loving South African couple Louis and Laetitia Milne have opened their third business in Botswana, Captivating Destination. We asked them how it all started.
Through Captivating Destination, the Milnes have created a one-stop-shop for all your travel needs. You can book just about any destination your heart desires, from wild camping to luxurious stays in lodges and hotels. In addition to organising all the necessary travel permits, the company can arrange airport pick-ups and also takes care of all food and beverage requirements. Being area specialists, they can also make bookings for a full spectrum of activities during your travels, from adrenaline-fuelled helicopter flips and bungee jumping, to scenic flights, boat trips and relaxing game drives.
It all started for the Milne’s two decades ago in South Africa when they were approached by an Italian business and asked to start a safari company that could take Italian clients on safaris in Botswana. As they already had a wealth of experience in the industry, they decided to start Swampland Safari Trails, specialising in tours and safaris. A few years on, after the company had grown from strength to strength, they decided to immigrate to Botswana.
Swampland Safari Trails mainly provides mobile safaris, setting up itineraries that take clients from lodges to hotels to wild camping destinations. The difference with the latter is that the Swampland Safari Trails staff and guides set up all the tents and provide a full catering service – this means guests can simply sit back and enjoy the bush. With both Swampland Safari Trails and Captivating Destination, you are not limited to trips and bookings in Botswana, as they provide these services throughout most of Africa.
More than a decade after starting Swampland Safari Trails, they expanded their operations by starting BOTSATS, a business that provides airtime and satellite phones to buy and rent in Maun and the surrounding areas. BOTSATS provides a key service to lodges, charter flight pilots and mobile safari operators.
For all your Botswana travel needs, contact Captivating Destination: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com | (+267) 714 45266 / (+267) 712 34300 |http://www.swampland-safari.com