Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Lion on an African safari. (photo by Jessica Kelly)

Picking up speed through the bush, our guide, Issac, looked back at us with wide eyes and said, “it’s now or never.” We all had chills, flooring it through the tall grass and trees, waiting to see what Issac had discovered. Then, we saw her.

Within the greenery; spots. Hard to find even during the dry season, we thought for sure we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see a leopard during the green season, but there she was.

Yawning, relaxing, and cleaning herself before slinking through the trees, peeking out briefly, leaving us filled with an overwhelming sense of happiness and gratitude as we observed her for a while.

Before traveling to Botswana, I used to think a safari was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, once you go on one, you’ll be planning the next one from the airport. Botswana is filled with beautiful regions to explore like the Savuti of Chobe National Park, the riverfront in Chobe National Park, and the Okavango Delta. From the moment you step outside of the airport, you’re greeted by a guide in a safari vehicle. On the way from the airport to the hotel, we spotted hippos, elephants, jackals, and more, leaving us excited for what’s to come if that’s just the drive to the resort!

Circling back for a moment, it’s hard to know where to begin when planning a safari from scratch. Starting with the initial flights, check out Kenya Airways business class for a comfortable long flight from the states where you can lay down and relax, and maybe even turn on the Lion King while you sip champagne. It’s definitely worth the splurge.

When it comes to planning the internal travel, experiences, and resorts for your safari vacation, it can be quite intimidating to organize all of the moving parts, so having a safari operator to guide you through the process and manage your trip is a game changer. Desert & Delta Safaris is a successful safari operator located in Botswana, that has been in business since the early 1980s. Through their safari planning, they have 9 properties under their wing, in addition to chartered bush planes to get you to various resorts quickly and efficiently.

Chobe Game Lodge

Air conditioning can be hard to come by, even in luxury camps, and that is one of the many amenities offered at Chobe Game Lodge. There are sunny terraces and plunge pools attached to the rooms, where you can look out onto the Chobe Riverfront to see animals and Namibia across the way. The pool at the hotel is surrounded by greenery and animals can come right up to you while you’re cooking off.

Explore the high arches and design elements along the open-air lobby where guests can enjoy afternoon tea with snacks on the patio before heading out on an evening safari ride. Don’t forget to check out the shop inside the resort, with locally sourced goods and crafts to support the community while buying your souvenirs. The resort offers plenty of options for safari viewing, like the sunset cruise with sundowners (happy hour cocktails at sunset) on the boat or safari rides first thing in the morning. Guests can wake up and have a brief bite to eat, like freshly baked muffins with a cup of coffee before heading out to explore Chobe National Park.

Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Chobe Game Lodge. (photo by Jessica Kelly)

When the guests return from any excursion, there are always friendly faces and staff ready to greet them and ask how their day went. The game drives are led by one of the Chobe Angels, a program developed by the General Manager of Chobe Game Lodge, Johan Bruwer (General Manager, Chobe Game Lodge). He wanted to change the safari world by creating an all-female guide team. We were lucky enough to have Vivian Diphupu, Environmental Educator and Guide Trainer, as our guide.

Visiting Botswana during the green season allows you to view all of the beautiful babies that are born during this time. Our group saw so many elephants, baboons, hippos, warthogs, giraffes, and more, all with babies! In addition to all of the beautiful new baby animals, we saw a pride of lions, jackals, impala, monitor lizards, chameleons, crocs, buffalo, marabou storks, carmine bee-eaters, and more! The water safaris were really special, allowing us to relax on the boat and observe the animals on the shore, or hippos yawning and splashing around in the water.

To say that Chobe Game Lodge is going above and beyond is a complete understatement. Not only is the service incredible and the accommodations over the top, but they love to give back. They do a lot for the community, in addition to creating sustainable efforts to take care of not just the community, but the land as well.

Savute Safari Lodge

After a short bush plane ride out of Kasane International Airport, our group arrived at the next destination, Savute Safari Lodge. The small, intimate lodge has room for about 24 guests, each with its own glass and timber suites.

Not only are the rooms absolutely incredible, spacious, with plenty of fans to keep cool and privacy surrounded by trees, but most of the rooms overlook the watering hole. At any given time you can look out your room and see a herd of elephants cooling off or maybe giraffes grabbing a drink.

Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Savute Safari Lodge. (photo by Jessica Kelly)

The Savuti area of Chobe National Park holds a wide variety of animals, found even throughout the greenery by the incredible guides on staff like Isaac Mpuchane. Isaac is so passionate about animals and photography, leading our group to some life-changing encounters like watching wild dogs splash around in the water, or seeing a leopard peek out of the greenery after cooling off in the shade. He knew how to listen to calls from the surrounding animals, observe behaviors, and found so many incredible wildlife experiences for our group. Not only that, but he seemed to know every fact about every animal we encountered, teaching us so much along the way.

Right off the bush plane, maybe two minutes into our drive towards the resort, Isaac discovered two male lions for us to observe up close. We explored the Savuti Marsh and during game drives we encountered elephants splashing and playing in the water, the zebra migration, lions up close and personal, wildebeest and babies, lions mating, dung beetles in action, hyenas that came right up to the vehicle, giraffes, yellow-billed hornbill, guineafowl, pack of wild dogs, a leopard, ostriches, kori bustard, knob-billed duck, bat-eared foxes, and more.

He observed the pattern of the impala’s behavior to discover that there was a pack of wild dogs, extremely rare to see. They’re actually not related at all to normal domesticated dogs despite the name and are sometimes mistaken for hyenas. Their patchy coat gave them the nickname ”painted wolf” and you can’t miss those beautiful big ears! Yompy reached out to Isaac to inform him that hyenas were along the runway where the bush planes land. In another rare encounter, the hyenas came right up to observe us. The way the team communicates with each other, allows guests to have the most epic animal encounters possible.

Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Wild dogs of Botswana. (photo by Jessica Kelly)

Guests can relax in their room, on their huge patio watching the animals stroll by on their way to the watering hole or head down to the infinity pool where there’s an even better view to observe the animals while you cool off, too. Meals are served overlooking the watering hole, as well.

As our group sat down for lunch upon arrival, we were enjoying our meal when out of the trees came a herd of about eight elephants. It was so surreal to just be enjoying coffee, look over, and see all of them, some coming close to the resort.

I went down to the pool later that afternoon, looked over, and gasped as I saw an elephant reaching into the resort to grab some of the shrubbery. In addition to the animal encounters right on the property, the incredible team at Savute Safari Lodge put on a beautiful show, highlighting their talented dancing and singing. The passion behind it lifted everyone’s spirits and was just so special.

Camp Okavango

After another short bush plane ride, we ended up at Camp Okavango in the Okavango Delta. The World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta, is surrounded by water, making the safaris a little different here in northwest Botswana. Instead of safari game drives, Camp Okavango focuses on taking its guests on mokoro rides, boat safaris, walking safaris, and even helicopter safaris.

Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Camp Okavango sleep-out deck. (photo by Jessica Kelly)

Camp Okavango, located on Nxaragha Island, is incredibly peaceful. The beautiful suites allow guests to basically have their own private bungalow within the trees. You could be brushing your teeth in the evening and see monkeys swinging through the branches or spot animals in the distance from your private patio.

In addition to a comfortable bed, the suite has a huge double rain shower, a lookout deck, a lounging area, and an open-air design that allows guests to hear the peaceful sounds of the delta. There’s even a sleep-out deck that can be reserved ahead of time that’s completely open, so you can sleep under the stars with the animals on a lifted platform complete with a big bed and its own bathroom.

The infinity pool is the perfect way to relax and cool off in the afternoon when the temperature rises. The open-air communal spaces are there for guests to relax, grab a cup of coffee and take in the scenery. The outdoor dining room overlooks the view, as well, situated near bonfires and an outdoor bar, so you can take your glass of Amarula Cream Liqueur to the fire pit.

The mokoro excursion is a peaceful introduction to the shallow water, allowing resort guests the chance to take in the views and bird-watch away from the hippos. The water safaris pick up the pace, with a feeling of riding an airboat through the Everglades, just with crocs instead of alligators. That is until you see a pod of hippopotamuses and realize you’re no longer in the states.

The walking safaris are special, allowing groups the chance to slow down and really observe tracks, plant life, and bones, among animals along the way. We were able to see plenty of birds, including the Verreaux’s eagle-owl, the only owl to have blush pink eyelids, and a tower of giraffes (and babies).

Your Guide to the Ultimate African Safari Experience

Hippos in Botswana. (photo by Jessica Kelly)

Along the water, expect to spot crocodiles peeking out from the water, a ton of hippos, elephants crossing through the water, and so many brightly colored birds like the malachite kingfisher. The incredible team at Camp Okavango, and Taps, our amazing guide, create a special experience for the guests, setting up the sundowner cocktail hour right in the delta. The helicopter ride is a great way to get a lay of the land that you can’t normally drive through or see.

From the air, we observed a herd of elephants, hippos, and buffalo, while taking in the winding rivers and scenery.

The rush of emotion you’ll feel when seeing these magnificent animals in person is something you’ll want to experience a million times over. A safari isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience but instead will hopefully open your eyes to what’s out there, leaving you yearning for more encounters.

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