BOTSWANA TRAVEL: PRIVATE SAFARI DESTINATIONS

Botswana's conservation success has been driven by low volume travel to private concession areas in the main wildlife regions.
Botswana

« BOTSWANA - PRIVATE RESERVES & CONCESSIONS »

Away from Moremi Game Reserve, most of the Okavango is protected by a patchwork of private wildlife reserves, often called 'concessions.' These large, wild, safari areas typically cover about 1000 square kilometers, and each contains just a couple of small, private safari camps. None of these
reserves have fences, so the game moves unhindered across much of northern Botswana, migrating into and out of these reserves and the national parks at will.The private nature of these reserves guarantees an exclusive safari experience. You cannot drive yourself to any of them; flying is the only option.

Lioness in Grass...

Once there though, the camps are generally able to offer more flexibility than those inside the national parks. You can usually expect uncrowded game-viewing, off-road driving in search of game, night drives, and sometimes walking trips - none of which are usually possible in the public areas of the national parks.

All these private camps have high standards and the differences between them will often seem small. All are remote, serve excellent food and have good guides.

When you are considering where to visit in the Delta, think about the different environments and activities. Some camps offer deep water to explore; others are surrounded by areas of dry land. Many have a mixture of shallow water and dry land around them. Generally the larger camps are more luxurious, whilst the smaller ones more intimate; costs are usually very similar.

 

Dry land concessions

Despite what you might imagine, many areas within the Okavango Delta are largely dry. Two of these areas (both in the heart of the Delta) sustain permanent populations of prolific game - and boast the Delta's best game-viewing. Camps in these largely dry reserves concentrate on 4WD game drives and sometimes walks, but seldom offer any water activities.

Here you can expect large herds of antelope, from giraffe to red lechwe, and plenty of elephants and buffalo. All the predators are numerous: lion are virtually guaranteed, while leopard and cheetah are regularly seen. Together with the Kwando-Selinda-Linyanti reserves, these two dry reserves are
probably the best area in Africa for wild dog.

The birdlife is often good, too, with raptors especially common - although obviously you won't see the range of water birds that the wetter areas boast. (Though many birds occur throughout the Delta, their distribution is often much localized.) Western-banded snake eagles, Gabar goshawks and
martial eagles are just a few of the more sought-after sightings in these drier areas.

Chief's Island

The Okavango's most famous island was once the royal hunting reserve of Chief Moremi, the traditional leader of the local tribes. He gave it to add to Moremi Game Reserve in the 1970s, and it's now one of the region's best areas for game. Dry, open grasslands, dotted with tiny photogenic islands of wild date palms and acacia trees separate the two distant camps here.

On the north side of the island, Mombo made its name on high-profile wildlife documentaries with the help of a huge pack of wild dogs. It's a justified reputation for some of the very best game in Africa. In November 2001, five white rhino were re-released into the Mombo concession, followed recently by another eleven. These are currently Botswana's only free-roaming rhino.

Chitabe Reserve

Chitabe Reserve has plenty of shady, wooded glades but few open plains, and is almost surrounded by the Moremi Game Reserve. It's largely forested; an interesting mosaic of mopane and acacia woodlands, riverine forests and occasional lush channels, in contrast with the areas further north.

Chitabe supports a varied range of animals and birds, with numerous leopards thriving on a prolific population of impala. Buffalo, elephant, lion and periodic sightings of wild dog are also highlights here - ably recorded by the camps' owners in their excellent coffee-table book on wild dogs, Running Wild. The two camps here offer a classic dry-land safari experience, concentrating on 4WD game drives (day and night).

Land & water concessions

Most reserves around the Okavango Delta comprise shallow, flooded plains mixed with drier stretches of land, in proportions that vary seasonally. Camps in these reserves usually offer both 4WD game drives and relaxing mokoro (dugout canoe) trips. Those with deeper channels also offer motorboat trips.

These are some of the Delta's most beautiful areas, offering super bird watching and often first-class big game. A multitude of ibises, egrets, herons, plovers, kingfishers and darters are found on the shallow floodplains, whilst numerous birds of prey and woodland species are also often seen. The game reflects the Delta's diversity - from water-loving lechwe to dry-country eland, wild dogs and all the big cats.

Jao Reserve

On the western side of the Okavango, the Jao Reserve covers an extensive area, most of which is seasonally flooded. Dotted throughout are islands, large and small, and areas of permanent swamp veined by deep-water channels. Hippos, crocodiles and sitatunga are abundant here, as is the Delta's remarkable birdlife - giant kingfishers, Goliath herons, pelicans, slaty egrets, swamp boubous and a myriad of storks.

Activities depend on water levels, which vary greatly. It's usually best to explore using trips on boats and mekoro (the plural of mokoro ), although game drives (day and night) are also possible. Large numbers of red lechwe and lion dominate the reserve's big game. At its driest, around September to
February, you're also likely to find buffalo, elephant, many other plains game species and the occasional cheetah.

Xigera Reserve

Like Mombo, Xigera (pronounced 'keejera') is within a private area of Moremi in the heart of the Delta. Water is everywhere here and there's an abundance of vegetation that makes this seem one of the Delta's most tropical corners.

There is game around - including red lechwe and sitatunga - but we view Xigera as an area where it's best to concentrate on the more watery aspects of the Delta. Like the birdlife, which is spectacular, with endless herons, egrets, cranes and smaller water-birds?

Duba Plains Reserve

Duba Plains protects an area of about 350km 2 on the northern edge of Moremi. The environment is a mixture of open plains and islands. This is a super area for really big game sightings. Huge herds of buffalo attended by high densities of lion are the area's main attraction. Elephant also occur in large numbers, and lechwe are the dominant antelope, though many species of plains game are also common.

Vumbura Reserve

The Vumbura Reserve lies just north of Moremi, and its environment is, in many ways, a more watery version of that around Mombo: a series of large floodplains dotted with small palm islands and interspersed with large forested areas.

The game here is exceptionally varied. Wild dog thrive (denning and raising pups here recently), lion are relatively common, and leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena are frequently seen. There are plenty of elephants and buffalo around, although in smaller herds than those at Duba Plains. Zebra,
wildebeest, red lechwe, impala and tsessebe, kudu and sable are all numerous, and the birds range from pink pelicans to mopane specialists such as red hornbills.

All camps offer a varied programme of activities including mokoro trips, game drives (day and night) and sometimes short walks. Vumbura and Little Vumbura have a deep-water channel nearby where boating is often possible.

Community Reserves

Both Vumbura and Duba Plains reserves are actually administered by and for the Okavango Community Trust, which represents the local people who live on the fringes of the Delta. They benefit from these camps through work and training, as well as having a direct financial stake in the camps' success. This is one way of ensuring that at least some of the Okavango's exclusive camps help Botswana's poorer citizens.

Nxabega Reserve

Nxabega borders Moremi Reserve, and its environment consists of a patchwork of forests and open plains, as well as some permanent channels and lush floodplains. Nxabega has a good variety of game, dominated by red lechwe, tsessebe and impala. Lion and leopard are common, as are herds of elephant in the dry season, and several glades of tall acacia trees encourage lots of giraffe to stay in this area.

Sandibe Reserve

South of Moremi, and north of Chitabe, Sandibe's environment has lots of tall palm trees, thick riverine vegetation and several huge old baobabs. It' s a lovely mix of forested areas with small floodplains and permanent deep-water channels.

The game here is good, with red lechwe, impala, tsessebe, kudu, zebra, wildebeest and lots of giraffe. Buffalo and elephant are always around. Lion and leopard are the dominant predators, but cheetah and hyena are not uncommon.

Sandibe's birding is varied. Numerous water birds, including ducks, geese and teals, are very common, whilst more unusual specialties include long-winged falcons, slaty egrets, black coucals, black egrets and brown fire-finches. Beside the Kwando-Linyanti river system, three large private reserves protect high concentrations of wildlife. Like the exclusive reserves around the Okavango, these offer more remote and private safaris than are possible in the busier national parks. Walking and night drives are both allowed, as well as off-road driving (which makes finding predators much easier).

There are no fences here, so the animals move freely between these reserves and the national parks. During the dry season, when concentrations of elephant and buffalo are very high, the permanent water of the Kwando-Linyanti riverfront is a big attraction. Near the water you'll also
find plenty of red lechwe, impala and sometimes sable antelope. Meanwhile, in the riverine forest and on the plains, wildebeest, kudu, zebra, baboon, warthog, giraffe and tsessebe are common. Further from water, the highlights of the drier forests are herds of eland and roan antelope.

The predators are numerous: lion are everywhere, whilst leopard favour the wooded areas of more broken country and cheetah prefer open plains. Wild dogs range throughout these reserves, and usually have several dens in this area; they are most easily followed when hunting on open plains.

Selinda Reserve

The Selinda Reserve protects 1,350km 2 of the Selinda Spillway: a vital ancient watercourse (now usually dry) that links the Okavango with the Linyanti. Selinda's team are old hands in Botswana, having run excellent small camps here for years. Their guides are some of Botswana's best: informative, enthusiastic and dedicated.

Wide dry grasslands dotted with small 'islands' of palm forest cover the area around the camps. It's a picturesque, open environment. Often you can spot game a long way off, and it's perfect for following the predators on hunting sorties.

We think that this area offers the best walking safaris available in Botswana (possible March to November). They're not forced marches or endurance tests, but led by an expert guide they offer unrivalled opportunities to get closer to the wildlife.

Kwando Reserve

North of Selinda, Kwando is another huge private reserve covering 2,300km 2 . Most of its western side is dense mopane forest, but along the Kwando River is a band of lush riverine forest, interspersed with open plains. Kwando is a wild reserve. It attracts superb big game, especially during the dry season when elephants may seem to be everywhere.

Linyanti Reserve

The Linyanti Reserve covers 1,250km 2 , within which four private camps operate. In the north, beside the Linyanti River, the environment is like the Chobe riverfront: open floodplains beside the water, an adjacent band of riverine forest, and then dense (mostly mopane) forests stretching away
south. Here there are three camps - Linyanti Tented Camp, King's Pool and Duma Tau - hidden beside separate stretches of this river. Meanwhile to the south of the reserve, Savuti Camp overlooks a remote stretch of the Savuti Channel.