Kalahari, the Delta & Beyond Photo Itinerary
Day 1: Livingstone, Zambia—Zambezi River
Our Botswana photo tour begins just over the border in Livingstone, Zambia, where our Expedition Leader meets you on arrival at the airport. Transfer to Toka Leya Camp, which enjoys a superb setting on the banks of the mighty Zambezi. Individual chalets face west over the river for expansive sunset views. Keep your camera ready, as we frequently see elephants and hippos on shore. A sunset cruise offers a chance to photograph the river scenery before returning to camp for a welcome dinner.
Day 2: Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park—Rhino Walk / Village Visit / Victoria Falls
Our day begins with a visit to Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, where a wildlife drive offers our first sampler of the species diversity we want to capture images of during our safari, plus our best chance to see and photograph a white rhinoceros. Accompanied by a local guide and park rangers tasked with guarding the park's rhinos around the clock, we'll get out of the vehicle for more intimate encounters and closer photo ops, learning how to read signs of the rhinos' presence and follow their movements. With no predators in the park, we can also walk safely in search of zebra, giraffe, warthog, various antelope species, and other smaller mammals and birds. Elephants regularly cross the river, too, and we often see them wandering throughout the park. Later this morning we visit a nearby village to learn about the traditions and daily life of the local people. Then, it’s off to Victoria Falls, the world’s most astounding cataract, for a guided walking tour. The profuse spray has created a rain forest on the rim, and a network of walkways offers varying photo viewpoints over falls, which span more than a mile and plummet 350 feet into the Zambezi Gorge.
Day 3: Chobe National Park / Okavango Delta—Santawani Private Concession
Leaving Zambia by road, we reach the Kazungula border on the Chobe River, where Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia meet. Here we board a ferry for Botswana on the far shore and enter Chobe National Park, known for its enormous elephant herds and stable population of general wildlife species throughout the year. On a private boat cruise on the Chobe River, expect to photograph plenty of elephant, hippo, crocodile, and perhaps the more elusive puku and Chobe bushbuck. Up to 400 bird species reside in the park at this time of year, and waterbirds abound, especially herons, storks and egrets. Later this afternoon, fly by light aircraft to Gomoti Tented Camp in the heart of the community-owned Santawani Concession in the Okavango Delta. This intimate camp offers the utmost in a private, secluded experience of the delta—an optimal base for wildlife photography.
Days 4 & 5: Okavango Delta—Visit with Predator Researcher
Earth’s largest inland water system, the Okavango Delta, became UNESCO's 1,000th World Heritage Site in 2014. The Okavango River’s headwaters lie in the western highlands of Angola, joining with other rivers in Namibia and Botswana to meet the Kalahari Desert, where a green oasis sprawls amid the sands and dry savanna. With its vast network of channels and wetlands, the delta is home to a profuse collection of wildlife and vegetation. Though some of the region is permanently flooded (or typically has been), the water recedes during the southern summer months, and normally wetter areas of the delta open up for game drives and expansive wildlife photo opportunities. Specific wildlife sightings, while always abundant, will depend on seasonal water levels. Among the many species we may have a chance to photograph are leopard, lion, wild dog, hyena, cheetah, giraffe, elephant, impala, kudu, zebra, wildebeest and buffalo. Wildlife is abundant around camp, and we often see animals wandering through. Birdlife is also outstanding, and we may see ground hornbill, crimson-breasted shrike and yellow morph, among dozens of others.
The diverse range of habitats, plus the year-round lifeline of the Gomoti River, make this region ideal for all-day photography excursions including traditional 4x4 game drives, guided walks (safety permitting) and night drives. A mix of riverine woodlands, acacia scrub and open floodplains provides ample food for a large array of browsers and grazers, as well as predators. During a private visit with an on-site predator researcher, learn about local studies on wild dog, cheetah and leopard. A highlight of our time in the Gomoti region is a 30-minute helicopter flight over the greater Okavango Delta and Gomoti River...with doors off for the most spectacular photography opportunities! After each day's adventures, return to camp for relaxed evenings, where paraffin hurricane lanterns and the glow of a campfire lend a romantic ambience.
Days 6–8: Central Okavango—Private Jao Concession
Fly this afternoon to the center of the Okavango Delta for a three-night stay on the private Jao Concession, marked by palm-studded islands, riverine forest and sprawling floodplains. Our secluded camp is set within a productive wetland that nurtures prolific wildlife, which we'll photograph in thrilling proximity on 4x4 drives, guided walks (safety permitting), boat rides and poled mokoro excursions if water levels permit. The mokoro is the traditional dugout canoe of the delta, and Okavango-born polers reveal intimate secrets of delta life as we spot tiny frogs and colorful waterbirds. (Please note that water levels and activities may vary based on actual amounts of anticipated annual rainfall).
The Okavango is dramatic big-game country, too, home to plentiful buffalo, blue wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, bushbuck, tsessebe, water-adapted antelope like red lechwe and the rare sitatunga, and, of course, elephants. And where game thrives, so do predators—keep cameras poised for shots of lion, leopard and hyena on the prowl. In the channels, capture photos of hippos and crocodiles, plus scores of birds in the marshes. Pel’s fishing owl is a prize sighting, and we may also spot African and lesser jacanas, slaty egret, African skimmer, wattled crane and malachite kingfisher, to name just a few. Each evening, retreat to the comforts of camp where there's time to review and edit photos from the day's exploits. Sleep comes easily under canvas as we're lulled by the soothing sounds of the African night.
Days 9–11: Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Thrilling photography prospects are in store as we fly to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. From the airstrip, continue with a wildlife drive to Kalahari Plains Camp. The camp’s location offers a broad vista of the valley floor, and we feel quite alone here in this vast, little-visited sanctuary. The reserve is the largest conservation area in Botswana and one of the biggest in the world. We are within range of a possible day trip to Deception Valley as well. Animal movements are dictated by seasonal rains, and we track them on extended wildlife drives, studying desert ecology along the way. The petrified riverbed comes alive with the moisture, covered with nutritious grasses that attract herds from all over the vast reserve. Have your camera ready to capture wildebeest, red hartebeest and springbok, as well honey badger and mongoose, among the multitude of species we encounter. Felines on the hunt follow the herds of hoofed game with their young, creating spectacles of predator-prey interactions we may be fortunate to photograph. Other coveted subjects include the famous Kalahari black-maned lions and one of Africa's most plentiful concentrations of cheetah. The Kalahari is also the ancient home of the San people who have subsisted in these stark environs for millennia, and cultural interactions provide insight into the heritage of the Kalahari's ancient clans.
Day 12: Maun / Depart
Our Botswana photo safari comes to a close today when we depart by air for Maun to connect with onward flights.
Physical Rating: Easy to Moderate
To participate in this trip, you must be able to walk unassisted at a steady pace for at least one mile over uneven terrain, climb steps to get into and out of our raised safari vehicles, and be able to tolerate daily outdoor excursions that may last 4-5 hours or even a full day at a time, sometimes in hot, windy and/or dusty conditions. Wildlife drives pose a particular type of physical demand on the body, as they require long hours of sitting and take place over terrain that is often very rough and bumpy, including dirt roads with many ruts and potholes. Travelers with back or neck problems, or other health issues that could be exacerbated by such conditions, should take this into consideration. While any walking safaris are considered optional, travelers must be able to walk unassisted to and from the vehicle to our camp accommodations, sometimes walking over uneven ground or on boardwalks. Days spent on safari are often long, as mornings typically start before daybreak and evening meals are served after sundown. Safari accommodations and vehicles are not climate-controlled and, depending on the season, temperatures can range from quite cold to extremely hot, so it is critical that travelers come prepared.
Click here to view the seasonal variations of weather and wildlife viewing in Botswana.