Part three of our Africa leg was the Safari. This trip was supposed to happen along with Zambia last December but we were forced to push it. I was determined to make it back as soon as possible to see my most favorite animals in their natural habitat, and what a treat it was.
Being able to observe wildlife in their natural habitat is a privilege we have been fortunate enough to experience countless times. It’s so hard to pick one favorite animal encounter after you have done a fair few. Before you go any further, let me just tell you now that Botswana is actually one of the world’s most expensive Safari destinations.
It is remote, isolated and sustainability is at the forefront. What I loved about it was the lack of crowds - given the high cost, low volume tourism model, this country has managed to keep the crowds at bay - and it shows in both rich diversity + the hospitality. It need not be as complicated as it sounds though.. so here is my guide to keeping it simple in this safari paradise.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: clear border immigration, check into
Day 2: afternoon mokoro boat safari + sunset
Day 3: early morning game drive
Day 4: early morning game drive, departure for Zimbabwe
At the time of writing this, you will need a vaccination certificate to enter Botswana via land or by air.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling with an Indian passport)
Botswana is one of the few countries we cannot travel to directly with Emirates. So we used our multiple entry South Africa visa and connected via Johannesburg to Victoria Falls. You can of course, connect directly to Maun/Kasane from Johannesburg but beware of the flight cancellations with Air Botswana. I heard it's more frequent now.
I would recommend doing what we did - fly from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (land and get a multiple entry visa for $50, IF you are returning to Zimbabwe) and then connect by road to and from Botswana - this is the most cost effective way to get to Kasane (where Chobe park is).
For the visa at the road border for Indian passport holders:
- you can get a visa on arrival ($30 per person for single entry, carry exact change in cash, if possible) BUT you will need confirmed hotel bookings & the entire itinerary booked with a LOCAL agent for the on arrival visa. You will also need confirmed departure dates..
- the road immigration takes a bit of time, so keep that in mind
- double vaccinated certification is mandatory and you will be asked this
Solo traveling in Botswana
Known to be one of the safest places on the continent, a trip to Botswana can easily be done on your own. That being said, solo travel in Africa is bound to cost you double what it would if you were to go with a group. I highly recommend you find a buddy/partner to tag along.
Best time to visit
The dry “winter” season between May to October is the best time to witness the epic herds of elephants crossing the Chobe River.
Language and People
English is widely spoken. as is the case in many parts of Africa, which has always impressed me.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. Carry local currency for small purchases and tipping.
Self Drive or Go With A Guide?
You will definitely need a local guide to help with paper work. Alternatively, if you plan to self drive, then you can go for a camping option as well - depending on the season, it may be more cost effective.
Now if you are looking for a guide, I highly recommend getting in touch with Southern Dynasty Safaris. Collins, if you recall, was the amazing guide who was our guide in Zambia. He has connections for the Southern African countries. All of the guides he recommended were as great as he was. They will make sure your trip is memorable in every way - point to point pick up, staying with you through immigration and helping you with paperwork. Flawless execution this time around as well. Feel free to refer my name, if you get in touch with him.
How expensive is Botswana?
Like I said earlier, a safari in Botswana is expensive. This isn't any average safari like the one you will do in Kenya or Tanzania. It's a special experience and that comes with a cost.
Now, if you have time, here are few ways you can cut down on costs:
1. A fly-in safari to Okavanga is going to be expensive (think $700 per person). Instead opt to drive or go to Savuti or Chobe. The wildlife opportunities are still the same and second to none!
2. Opt for a small group tour instead of a private one
3. Choose budget camping instead of resorts
4. Avoid high season and go in the should seasons between October/November
5. If you are a confident driver, go on a self drive safari (it could cost less than a nights stay at a luxe property)
6. Don’t aim to do it all, choose one park and stay there for three or four days
Where we stayed
You can read all about our experience staying in Chobe Safari Lodge here.
Since we stayed in a lovely lodge, food wasn't an issue. If you do stay at the Chobe Safari Lodge, and want a change of cuisine, you should head down to a delightful Indian restaurant called Pizza Plus Coffee & Curry just 15 minutes away. The food was freshly made and the service was outstanding as well. It was a much needed change after 10 days of flavorless Pizza and Pasta.
After two flights, we finally made it to lodge by 2 p.m. We spent the evening exploring the property, enjoying a lovely candle-light dinner with local dancers performing.
Time to explore the elephant capital of the world. When it comes to seeing African elephants in the wild, few safari destinations can top Chobe National Park, a wildlife refuge in northeastern Botswana.
The estimated elephant population here is 120,000—more than a quarter of the total number of elephants in all of Africa. The number one reason I wanted to make it Chobe.
The best way to do a safari in Botswana is on a mokoro or boat. The incredible beauty of the lush Chobe river makes it a distinct safari experience for animal enthusiasts. Not only do you get to see elephants, you can also see a crazy amount of birds..
crocodiles chilling.. and hippos, buffaloes grazing/bathing!
Unlike many other African safaris, the unique vantage point for wildlife spotting takes it a notch above the usual bumpy jeep ride. As we watched the mom teach her thirsty baby how to hold water in the trunk, I knew these tender moments will stay in my memory for many years to come.
We spent a good 4-5 hours on the safari.. staying until sunset, when we spotted an eagle, waiting for his mate. What a day.
An early start and a long day of game drives awaits us.
Being in the presence of wild animals is quite different than watching them on documentaries online. It is an enchanting spectacle anywhere in the world.
We saw giraffe, bush backs, impalas, African kudu, baboons.. and of course, a lot elephants.
Another day, another safari day. Today we try to find the mighty lion.. we couldn't find the pride until past mid day. The king was caught taking a nap... he had his eyes closed but we got too close for comfort, he opened his eyes for a millisecond and that was enough to send our hearts racing. We drove fast and far... the chills of watching the king of the jungle. Phew.
We drove around for few more hours until 3 p.m. before calling it a day. The guides were so exceptional and made sure we saw a whole bunch of animals during our three day safari.
Watching the planet’s largest land animal showing off their wild instincts is special. The sounds we heard as they communicated, the playful nature of hosing each other down with their trunks as they cross the river without a lack of fear for the nearby crocodiles made my heart beat fast.
Whether you watch a giraffe graze with elegance, or watch a wild cat hunting, o you just catch a warthog near a waterhole, an African Safari is unlike any other travel experience. No matter how many times you do it, the excitement never wanes!
I recommend a minimum of four days just for Chobe. The park is huge and offers lots of wildlife view opportunities. If you are combining camping safaris, savuti or the delta for wetlands, then you will need one week.
So go ahead and take that trip down the river, and make those extraordinary memories. Chobe was certainly the ultimate highlight of our Southern Africa trip.
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