We recently returned from our fourth trip to the beautiful country of Botswana, where we enjoyed 16 days on safari at four camps, all basically new to us. Three were located in the Okavango Delta, close to different parts of the Moremi National Park. I thought an evaluation of the four camps might be of interest. I have included a few images, but all four camps can be reviewed in detail on various web sites.
It is worthwhile to explain the things that we value. Generally we stay in four star camps. If your interest is elegance and gourmet dining, go five star and stay at a Wilderness Camp. Or And Beyond. We like reasonable comfort in the “tent” we stay in – large bed, good bedding, separate bath, indoor/outdoor showers, double sinks, a little sitting area and ideally a view of some kind. The food needs to be basic home cooking; we saw less buffets this time and more featured menus but the food was good. We like smaller camps – no more than 20 people. But what is most important to us is the game viewing experience. So we like variety, variable terrain, good quantities of each species, different species, yes the cats, but also elephants, giraffes and for sure wild dogs. And the other key factor is the guide (and tracker if applicable). We want pleasant guides with experience and knowledge, those able to track and find dogs, a leopard and so on. Above all we want guides who are photography sensitive, and know how to place the vehicle to get the best visibility, lighting and so on. And guides who are sensitive to what their guests like to do. In fact we have several Botswanan guides who are now personal friends.
The first camp was Gomoti Plains Camp, part of Machaba Safaris, who also operate Machaba and Little Machaba Camps. This camp has capacity for 20 people. Gomoti was opened in 2017, and is located in the southeast part of the delta. This camp has a variety of habitats including mopane woodland and broad floodplains along the Gomoti River area. During our visit, the whole area was very dry, and the river extension normally in front of the lodge was totally dry. We found the camp itself clean and fairly modern for a safari camp, with no particular distinguishing features. The individual units were classic tents on wood floors, with a zippered front access, a large bed, double sinks, indoor/outdoor showers and a commode. Overall the food was served at individual tables midday, and at a long outdoor table in the evenings. The food was reasonably good. Guides did not generally eat with the guests. The camp did provide a lovely evening outdoors in the bush with dancing, singing, great companionship, and a very good meal. We rated this camp as a 3.5/5.0.
The game viewing at Gomoti was average at best, probably because of the dry conditions. We saw lions and leopards several times; the primary focus of the guides seemed to be cats. Otherwise the herds of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, cape buffalo and so on were sparse and smaller than normal. Bird-life was spotty, and our guide had little interest in the birds. Unfortunately our guide was not photography oriented at all; it is a good idea to stress your interest in photography when you make your booking. Positioning, lighting, visibility are all key. We would not return to this camp nor to this location on the south end of the delta.
Splash is a new camp in the established reserve of Kwara; it has 12 rooms. This reserve is located adjacent to the Moremi, north of the location for Gomoti. We had been guests at both Kwara and Little Kwara on several occasions; these two camps have been demolished and replaced at a different location within the reserve with Splash Camp. Kwando Safaris, the owner, is also currently building a new version of Kwara, scheduled to open this fall. Splash Camp opened last year, and has a 24 guest capacity with groups of six or more allowed to reside in Splash Enclave; this basically provides separate dining and lounging, ideal for families. Thus we were treated like a family, with dining at our own table in our own lodge. Food was very good, and our waitress Base was a delight. Our guide TJ and the general manager Pro ate with us every meal.
Individual “tents” were more like cabins, but well laid out and comfortable. A full deck and an outdoor shower provided very nice views of the local waterhole and usual game – elephants, baboons, impala and some dogs.
We return to this area for two main resons. One, we like Kwando’s practice of having a guide and a tracker on each safari vehicle. Two sets of eyes make for more successful game finding, especially when tracking cats or dogs. Two, we have found the wildlife quantity and quality always superb in this reserve. This visit did not disappoint. We saw Special, a “special” cheetah, several times. We saw leopard as well. And both female and male lions, including Puffy and Big Man. In addition the wild dogs were encountered on several drives. Elephants were numerous, as were giraffes, zebras, buffalo, wildebeast, kudu, tsessebe, waterbuck and of course the ubiquitous impala. While the area was fairly dry, there was enough water in places to attract game.
Sable Alley Camp
Sable Alley is also quite new, just in its’ second season, and has 12 rooms. It is located in the Khwai Private Reserve, east of Kwara and adjacent to the Moremi. The terrain is quite varied and interesting. Near the lodge there are extensive mopane forests and woodlands. Beyond that are substantial grasslands, and along the main channel great expanses of wetlands. The main facility is large, well appointed and very attractive. Each area offers great views of a natural waterhole, really an extension of the river system, which contained a good quantity of hippos.
This place had more of a Wilderness Safari lodge. Diners ate separately from one another, and typically the guides did not intermingle with the guests. Again the food was quite good. The individual lodgings were tented on wooden floors, each with a deck overlooking the pond.
Game viewing was quite good; we saw lots of elephants, differing species of antelope, giraffe, zebras, wildebeest, several lions but no leopard or cheetah. One group did see a leopard briefly one evening.
Muchenje Safari Lodge
This lodge offered a real change of pace, as it is located overlooking the Chobe River alongside Chobe National Park. It is located on the west side of the park away from Kasane, so the drive from Kasane is about an hour across the park on a paved road. The lodge and 11 individual casitas are located several hundred foot above the flood plain, and offer magnificent view. Built in 1996, the whole facility is African in decor and feel, and has high ceilings, lots of wood and stone floors. Decking is substantial, and the pool area is the best we have seen in Botswana. The managers are old friends from our first visit to Meno a Kwena Camp, so the comfort level here was very high. The food was excellent.
We love this area because one can do boat rides on the Chobe River, which offers wonderful, closeup views of elephants in the water, hippos and buffalo out of the water, lots of wonderful colorful bird life and a variety of reptiles like crocs and monitor lizards. One day after our three hour cruise, we drove along the park waterfront and encountered huge numbers of elephant, along with lots of giraffe, baboons, some lions, kudu, waterbuck and other assorted wildlife. The closeness of the elephants to our vehicle was simply stunning.
We also did an afternoon ride in the park itself, and encountered a pride of eight lions right along the highway. We also visited a local village and school, quite interesting.