Going wild in Botswana

Bella Falk tests out a trio of Desert & Delta safari lodges in Botswana and discovers how they are changing safari norms for the better

Can you see anything?” asks our captain, Lebo, as the boat nudges gently into the bank of Botswana’s Chobe River. There’s a collective intake of breath and a burst of shutter clicking as we clock the sinister shape of a crocodile lurking just above the waterline.

bots boat

“But there’s more,” smiles Lebo, a knowing look on her face. We peer, confused, and then spot them: about 30 hatchlings, just days old, lying in a tangled pile on the grass, with an adventurous few balanced on their mother’s head as if part of the decoration of an Ascot-goer’s hat.

The croc family seems relaxed about our proximity. Our vessel is almost noiseless, powered not by a growling diesel engine, but by a canopy of solar panels above our heads, soaking in the African sun.

“Ours are silent safaris,” explains Lebo. “Electric boats allow you to get closer without disturbing the wildlife – and they’re better for the planet too.”

Making headlines at Chobe Game Lodge

This intimate encounter is part of a trip organised by Desert & Delta Safaris, which runs nine luxury lodges in Botswana, to celebrate the 50th birthday of their flagship property. Established in 1973, the five-star Chobe Game Lodge is where silver screen stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton famously tied the knot in 1975 – just 16 months after their divorce.

As I stroll through the cool hallways, it’s easy to see what attracted the Hollywood icons: the lodge oozes classic African glamour, with spacious rooms decorated in an opulent Moroccan style, two sultry dark-panelled bars, and a riverfront boardwalk where you can sip a cocktail and watch jewel-coloured birds preening in the trees – perfect for solo travellers who want to swap stories about the day’s adventures.

Since it opened, the lodge has been leading the way in ultra luxury safari experiences across Africa.

It was the first five-star hotel in Chobe National Park, one of Botswana’s most spectacular wildlife hotspots, and it remains the only permanent lodge inside the park with direct access to the Chobe River.

bots guide

It was also the first property in Africa to establish an all-female team of guides. Our boat captain Lebo Mangwegape is one of an 18-strong team known as the Chobe Angels, who are inspiring other young women to move into this male-dominated industry. Today, over 70% of all the female guides in the country have worked here.

“Women make great safari guides,” says hobe Angel Kgomotso Mothelo. “We work hard, and we’re sensitive to guests’ needs. We’re proving women can guide just as well as any man, if not better.”

bots camp

Delta delights at Camp Moremi

Chobe may be one of the top National Parks but no Botswana safari is complete without visiting the world-famous Okavango Delta, a vast wetland home to one of the largest concentrations of wildlife.

A spectacular light-aircraft flight over serpentine waterways and herds of elephants takes us to Camp Moremi, a peaceful eco-lodge on the edge of Moremi Game Reserve. We’re welcomed by a joyful choir of staff. “You shall never forget beautiful Botswana,” they sing, in harmony.

Days find their own rhythm: we’re woken at five for a breakfast of eggs and Botswana ‘fat cakes’ – deep-fried doughnuts – before a thrilling game drive in the reserve’s flourishing forests. We spend an hour watching 12 lions relaxing in a shady glade; another day we’re completely surrounded by more than 1,000 buffalo. “Buffalo can be very dangerous,” says our guide, Metal. “But don’t worry, if one charges us…” He pauses for the punchline. “I will ask for a receipt.”

Morning activities are rounded off with a healthy lunch of grilled fish and multicoloured salads, followed by downtime before afternoon tea is served – essential sustenance for another round of animal adventures. Later there are sunset G&Ts overlooking a lake teeming with grunting hippos, and a three-course dinner. My waistband starts to feel tight.

bots elephant

On the water at Xugana Island Lodge

The excitement continues at Xugana, another beautiful lodge on an island in the Delta. We float along the tranquil waterways in a Mokoro – a traditional canoe – and spot kingfishers, herons, and a painted reed frog.

Next day we do a walking safari with an armed guard, and have an electrifying encounter with three lions. One spots us from 200 metres and gives us a blood-chilling stare, so we make a strategic retreat. While I’m all for getting close to Botswana’s spectacular wildlife, I prefer doing so from the safety of one of those quietly reassuring – and fast – electric cars.

Still, there’s nothing that bonds you more as a group of travellers than the fear of becoming lunch for a pride of lions!

Book It With African Pride

A seven-night stay at Chobe Game Lodge with African Pride costs from £4,429pp and includes flights, transfers, meals, drinks, twice daily safari activities, park fees and laundry.
african-pride.co.uk

*All photos credit to Bella Falk