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Botswana: Kalahari, the Delta & Beyond

Kalahari, the Delta & Beyond Itinerary

Botswana Kalahari Delta safari mapDay 1: Livingstone, Zambia—Zambezi River
Our Botswana green season safari begins just over the border in Livingstone, Zambia, where our Expedition Leader meets you on arrival at the airport. Transfer to Toka Leya Camp on the banks of the Zambezi River. Individual chalets face west for sunset views, and we frequently see and hear elephants and hippos on shore. Admire the scenery on a  sunset cruise before returning to camp for a welcome dinner.

Day 2: Victoria Falls / Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
Start the day with a guided tour of Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. The world’s most astounding cataract, it spans more than a mile and pours 350 feet into the Zambezi Gorge below. The profuse spray has created a rain forest on the rim, which we explore on a network of walkways offering varied viewpoints over the falls. After a visit to a local village, we’re off on our first wildlife drive in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Its name means “the smoke that thunders” in the local language, a reference to the nearby falls. The park is home to many species of classic African game, and we might even see one of the white rhinos that is protected here.

Day 3: Chobe National Park, Botswana / 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 where we 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 see 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 we fly by light aircraft to Gomoti Tented Camp in the heart of the community-owned Santawani Concession in the Okavango Delta. This small, intimate camp offers a tremendous sense of seclusion on this private reserve.

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 in years past), the water recedes during the southern summer months, opening up normally wetter areas of the delta for game drives and expansive wildlife viewing. Specific wildlife sightings, while always abundant, will depend somewhat on seasonal water levels.

Beyond the flooded areas, a mosaic of varied landscapes includes drier zones like the one surrounding our camp. A mix of riverine woodland, 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. Wildlife is abundant around camp, and we often see animals wandering through. The diverse range of habitats, plus the year-round lifeline of the Gomoti River, make this region ideal for all-day wildlife excursions including traditional 4x4 game drives, guided walks (safety permitting) and night drives. Regular sightings include leopard, lion, wild dog, hyena, cheetah, giraffe, elephant, impala, kudu, zebra, wildebeest and buffalo. Birdlife is also outstanding, and we may see ground hornbill, crimson-breasted shrike and yellow morph, among many others. In the evenings, paraffin hurricane lanterns and a crackling campfire create romantic ambience in the camp.

Days 6–8: Central Okavango—Jao Private Concession
This afternoon we fly to the center of the Okavango Delta for a three-night stay on the private Jao Concession. Here in the delta's heart, clear waterways cut through papyrus and reed beds among palm-studded islands, riverine forests and sprawling floodplains. Our secluded camp is set within a productive wetland nurturing water-adapted wildlife like the rare sitatunga and abundant red lechwe. In the summer months when the inundation recedes, lechwe, tsessebe and elephant are prevalent, and we may see lion and the occasional leopard. In the channels, look for hippos and crocodiles, plus scores of birds in the marshes. Pel’s fishing owl is a prize sighting, and we may spot African and lesser jacanas, slaty egret, African skimmer, wattled crane and malachite kingfisher, to name just a few. Wildlife concentrations depend on water flow and volume, changing from season to season.
 
Encounter wildlife in thrilling proximity on 4x4 drives, guided walks 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. Each evening, retreat to camp for dinner and stories around the flickering campfire before retiring beneath canvas, surrounded by the soothing night sounds of the African bush.

Days 9–11: Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Fly to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, located in the center of the 360,000-square mile Kalahari Desert, and continue with a wildlife drive to Kalahari Plains Camp. The camp offers a broad vista of the valley floor, and we feel quite alone here in this little-visited national park. The vast reserve is the largest conservation area in Botswana and one of the biggest in the world. In these remote and stark environs, animal movements are dictated by seasonal rains, and we track game on extended wildlife drives, studying desert ecology along the way. The petrified riverbed bursts to life after brief rains, covered with nutritious grasses that attract herds from all over the reserve. We are within range of a possible day trip to Deception Valley as well.

Among the diverse wildlife we encounter, keep watch for wildebeest, red hartebeest and springbok, as well honey badger and mongoose. Predators follow the large congregations of hoofed game with their young into the broad pan; star attractions include the famous Kalahari black-maned lions, as well as some of the Africa’s best cheetah viewing. The Kalahari is also the ancient home of the San Bushmen, who have subsisted in these austere environs for millennia. Our time includes cultural engagements offering insight into the history and traditions of the Bushmen clans in the area.

Day 12: Maun / Depart
Our Botswana 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.
Interested in extending your trip? Link it up with another adventure!
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