What first when into consideration when planning this trip?
First stop: Khwai Leadwood – Khwai Concession, Moremi Game Reserve.
Khwai Leadwood Camp is brand new! Sadly COVID delayed their opening, but lucky for us we were one of the first to stay at the camp.
The camp is small and intimate located on a beautiful bend of the Khwai River. My favorite spot in camp was the sunken fire pit, which not only kept us warm on chilly mornings and evenings, but it was a perfect spot in the afternoon between drives to relax and watch elephant in the distance, the lilac breasted roller and barred owlette in the tree right above and listen to the hippo arguing. The highlights here for me were the lions and wild dogs! After a lackluster male lion sighting in Djuma (poor Dark Mane 😂), following two big male lions on territorial patrol and having one show his displeasure at us getting too close to his lady was really exciting!
While in Khwai we realized there that a small pack of wild dogs was denning! We went to the den a few times hoping to get a glimpse, but when the alpha female came out of the den the pups didn’t follow, so we assumed they were still too young. She was definitely lactating though! We ended up following them for a while, nearly getting stuck and losing them a few times in with their unpredictable chaotic pace! We didn’t see a hunt but it was so much fun trying to follow them around. It was after we lost them and were circling back to try and locate them again when I spotted a pride of lions with two cubs. Spotting them felt like such an accomplishment since I usually spent the entire trip saying ‘what, where, I don’t see it??” whenever someone else spots an animal! It’s also one of my favorite pictures from the trip as they walk towards us single file nearly blending into the long grass.
Second Stop: Pelo Camp – Jao Concession, Okavango Delta
From the moment Pelo camp came into view, accessed by boat, we were in awe.
We were greeted at the dock by our host to find out that we were the only guests in camp, we had this small private island in the middle of the Okavango Delta all to ourselves! The view here was breathtaking, surrounded by water and serenaded by hippos, frogs and fish eagles. Anywhere you went there was a view, including their ‘loo with a view’ – the bathroom off of the main deck and common area was private but open and you literally looked out onto the waters of the delta! Each room also had a private outdoor shower on the edge of the water that was great when you wanted to refresh yourself midday between activities!
While a scenic and fun experience, our afternoon fishing in the Delta was a bust! We didn’t catch anything other than lily pads and we were literally surrounded by fish! This one huge catfish kept swimming past our boat and it felt like it was taunting us the entire time! At least we had snacks and gin and tonics to ease our failure.
Third Stop: San Camp – Makgadikgadi Pans, Kalahari.
Approaching San Camp was like taking a step back in time and entering another world.
The view for miles was a flat salt desert with a smattering of palm trees and the camp was a grouping of open canvas tents decorated in a moroccan style. Between the scenery and decor I felt like I was on safari in in the early 1900’s. Our personal tent was huge and comfortable with four poster beds, a unique bathroom and covered deck with a day bed looking out onto the salt pan. The tents here were spaced very far apart so when you zipped yourself in after dinner it felt like you were all alone until someone arrived early the next the morning with a wake up call and tea or coffee.
What activity did you consider a “must”?
I think I’ve spoken enough about the meerkats 🙂, but another must do activity would be the helicopter ride at Khwai.
The helicopter ride is only 30 minutes, but the views are just incredible! Seeing all the waterways from above, the number of game paths and all the animals like hippo, elephant, giraffe, crocodile, etc. It really gives you a different perspective than the one you get from a land cruiser. Just hang onto your camera because there are no doors!
What made the Delta special?
I didn’t realize it before we got there, but the Delta is like bird heaven! I love all animals, but never would have considered myself a ‘birder’. The sheer number and diversity of birds we experienced in the Delta was incredible! Owls, Rollers, Kingfishers, Eagles, Bee eaters, Vultures, Stork, Cranes, Jacana, Heron, Egret, ducks, hornbills, pigeon, geese, etc. – seriously, you name it and we saw it! We definitely had a few favorites! There was a beautiful large Pel’s Fishing Owl roosting in the tree about our tent, watching the Kingfishers dive into the water to fish was captivating, capturing pictures of all sorts of little birds perched on grasses on the banks of the water became a personal challenge and listening to the Fish Eagles call always had me searching the skies for one. On top of that simply cruising around the waterways, whether on motorboat in open water or quietly rowing through a maze of tall grasses in a Mokoro, there was always something new to see around the next bend in the Delta.
What made the Kalahari special?
With nothing but the occasional palm tree for as far as you can see, entering the Kalahari following the Delta was a huge surprise. Here I felt like it was more about the smaller things.
The landscape was littered with dens, small holes in the ground that housed various types of mongoose, meerkat, bat eared box, rabbits and jackal. The other more unique species was the Flamingo! It was so cool to see splashes of pink standing in a water hole otherwise surrounded by nothing but desert. The Kalahari activities also felt more experience based and diverse. Where the Delta was about the water, in the Kalahari you could ride horses, take the quads out on the salt pan, interact with meerkats, camp out on the pan and stargaze and learn from the San Bushman in addition to game drives.
What was the highlight of your trip?
This is such a hard question! IF I had to pick just one it would have to be time spent with the Meerkat’s in Makgadikgadi. The opportunity to not only observe but also interact with these tiny creatures was incredible. I was directed to sit down next to one of the entrances to their den and in within seconds a meerkat decided to use me as a perch, eventually making its way to my shoulder to get a good look out at the Pan for potential danger. I went into this knowing it was a possibility that they would climb on me, but tempered my expectations so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if they didn’t. Trying not to move and squeal with joy was nearly impossible I was so excited. Then proceeded to become jealous of Josh when nearly half the colony decided to use him as a perch all at once 😂.
If you had to choose between the Delta and Desert?
That’s a hard one! The Delta would likely win, and I’d love to spend even more time there as two days just wasn’t enough to see everything. I’d also probably pick July instead of June as we were there at the beginning of the floods and can only image how much more water was on the way in the weeks after we left. While our two days in the Kalahari were fantastic, it felt like enough and we accomplished a lot in those two days so I didn’t leave feeling like I missed out on anything.
What advice would you share with those travelling to Delta & Desert?
- Plan for cold! That sounds crazy, especially when you’re staying in the Kalahari, but the mornings and evenings can get chilly. Bring layers and something to cover your ears/nose when on drive. We fell in love with the hot water bottles provided in the mornings on game drive and placed in our beds in the evening. Seriously, Josh ended up buying one from Amazon when we got home!
- Be prepared to fly on any size/type of plane imaginable! International and regional flights aside, we were on 5 different planes in Botswana including a small open helicopter along with 2-passenger, 6 passenger and 12 passenger prop planes, most landing on small single airstrips seemingly in the middle of nowhere!
- Try not to get your heart set on seeing something specific, like a lion roaring or an elephant swimming, just enjoy the moment and appreciate what you do get to see.
- This applies to anywhere you may go on safari, but I think it’s worth mentioning – Have patience and trust your guide. A lot of the time spending a little extra time in what may seem like a boring sighting can lead to something special.
- Embrace the lack of Wi-Fi and just enjoy your surroundings and the company you are with! We didn’t have wifi in any of the camps, or if we did it was too slow to really do anything. But really, I was in Botswana, how many times in my life will I get to say that? Was there really anything so important that it couldn’t wait a week or two?