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Exploring Botswana with Safari365

WHAT ARE FAMILIARISATION TRIPS?

These types of trips are so hugely important for Safari365, as they allow us to get first hand invaluable experience which we can then share with you. Our clients have so many valid questions – how do I get from A to B? What is the food like at that particular lodge? How many people will be on our game vehicle? What’s the difference between this National Park and that Private Concession? We love to immerse ourselves in the details, so we can easily answer these questions for you.

ABOUT KWANDO SAFARIS

Kwando Safaris are a family-run group of tented camps and lodges, who have been in operation in Botswana since the 1980s. Known for offering slightly more affordable accommodation options (although bear in mind, in Botswana everything is priced in $US – so it’s a lot more expensive than South Africa, for example), Kwando’s portfolio stretches across a diverse range of safari areas – including the Linyanti, Okavango Delta, Nxai Pan and the Central Kalahari.

They focus on high-quality game viewing, with trackers riding shotgun up front on the hood of their Land Cruisers, which house a 400 horsepower engine to get through the sticky Kalahari sand. Kwando’s lodges are known for their more traditional style and the size of their concessions can be mind-boggling: the Kwando Concession (part of the Greater Linyanti area) is 232,000 hectares alone, which is 3.5 times the size of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve (with only two camps in this concession, Kwando Lebala and Kwando Lagoon!).

CLIVE'S TIPS FOR EXPLORING BOTSWANA

Experiences in Botswana
Types of Experiences in Botswana Where to Do Them
1 – Water Based Safari Experiences (year round mokoros/small boats) Okavango Delta, Linyanti
2 – Water & Land Based Safari Experiences (seasonal mokoros/boats & traditional game drives/walks) Okavango Delta, Chobe River, Linyanti, Moremi
3 – Land Based Experiences (traditional game drives, game walks) Savute, Nxai Pan, Chobe, Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi
4 – Desert Experiences (traditional game drives, game walks) Nxai Pan, Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi

If budget allows, choosing a camp in each of the 4 areas offers the widest range of experiences, however, as small aircraft flights are the most convenient means of getting to the camps, often our most popular trips tend to include the first 3 options to save on costs.

Clive also explains that your choice should take into account the time of year you plan to visit. For example you can experience water based activities in the ‘mixed’ land/water camps between June and October (due to water levels). Conversely some of the land based activities may be restricted during the wetter season of December to March.

CLIVE’S EXPERIENCE WITH KWANDO SAFARI

So… back to Kwando!

I started my trip at Chobe Safari Lodge in the northern Chobe River region, which is run by Kwando’s sister company ‘Under One Botswana Sky’. As part of a group of other excited Travel Agents, we stayed in the Safari Rooms at the lodge, which had been recently refurbished and enjoyed pleasant garden views.

The beauty of visiting this area is its proximity to the wildlife-rich river, which is a confluence between the Linyanti, Chobe and Zambezi. The highlight was undoubtedly an afternoon sunset river cruise, where I spotted huge crocodiles, hippos, playful elephants, kudu, impala, and a variety of African birdlife including Fish Eagles, a Black-winged stilt and a Coppery-tailed coucal. The perfect start to the trip!

The next morning the group flew by charter aircraft (which was surprisingly comfortable) to the tented and rustic Kwando Lebala camp, located in the Kwando Concession (Greater Linyanti). This was Kwando’s original camp from the 1980s and like many others in Botswana, was originally a hunting lodge. Although the concession is well known for its abundance of lions, our first sighting was actually a cheetah resting under a tree next to the Lebala airstrip! Magnificent.

We overnighted at Kwando Lagoon Camp that night, also in the Kwando Concession. I was quite impressed with this lodge, which is located on a bend of a river with resident hippos. After a great night’s sleep and a refreshing outdoor shower adjacent to my spacious suite, I enjoyed a morning cruise down a channel off the Kwando River which was such a calming way to enjoy the sunrise and listen to the cacophony of birdsong.

After lunch we continued on by light aircraft to Kwando Kwara, part of the Kwara Concession in the Okavango Delta. Kwara is Kwando’s flagship camp, with each tent offering a spacious deck overlooking the lagoon, plus both indoor and outdoor showers and a gorgeous bath – all of which have views out to the picturesque floodplains. Dinner at the lodge (as with all Kwando camps) was cooked and served home style, with plenty of banter around the communal dinner table and later on around the firepit, where we retired for a nightcap.

One thing to note about all of Kwando’s camps is that they offer ceiling fans in the room and mosquito nets around the beds, but no air con. Many of our guests are concerned about a lack of air con, but I have found that generally in Botswana the design and layout of most lodge suites and tents were deliberately built under the cooling canopy of trees (in this case, fabulous Jackalberry and Marula trees!), which affords ample shade.

After a short game drive towards Kwando Splash Camp the next day (also in the Kwara Concession), I checked in at this popular camp, which boasts wonderful views towards the bushveld teeming with antelope, zebra, warthogs and wildebeest. 

On that afternoon’s game drive, I witnessed one of his most treasured experiences, ever: going on a hunt with wild dogs! The grass was almost a metre high, so keeping track of the 23 wild dogs could only be done by following their white tails. The dogs move deceptively quickly, and when the first kill of a reedbuck came, it was difficult to comprehend how this reedbuck was involuntarily divided into several pieces and devoured in under 3 minutes! The hunt continued until the sun went down and the dogs headed off to find a new den for the night. Spectacular.

The next morning, the group flew to Kwando Mma Dinare (pronounced ‘Mar Dinarrey’) in the Okavango Delta, where en route to the camp we stopped to view the remains of a buffalo that two male lions and a female had taken down the previous night. The two males lay in the sun, legs in the air, panting – with their bellies so full they needed that well-earned rest! 

The Gomoti River flows past Kwando Mma Dinare and this 27,000 hectare concession is adjacent to the Moremi Game Reserve. The following morning, the skilful Kwando guide and tracker located a female leopard out on a hunt as well as several female lions and a breeding herd of elephants. I sat back and thought: this is truly paradise. Back at camp, curious as to why the tree squirrels were chattering and acting crazy on the raised walkway to his room, on closer inspection I found a juvenile African Rock Python under the deck, doing what pythons do, waiting for lunch. Yikes!

My final day was the most surprising, discovering 50+ elephants in and around the waterhole at Kwando Nxai Pan Camp (pronounced ‘Nigh Pan’, and the only lodge of Kwando’s which is not tented). Amongst the elephants were zebras, giraffes, a large herd of buffalo and lively warthogs running in between all these legs. It was incredible!

After a fabulous game drive, we then ventured on a 4 hour round trip to Baines Baobabs, where seven 1000 year baobab trees stand tall and proud together on an island where the water has long evaporated, leaving a flat salt pan surrounding these magnificent trees. A 4 hour trip to see some trees may sound excessive, but standing there admiring nature at its best was almost ethereal and very special.

As I left Botswana for this 4th time, I was struck at how the people of Botswana are just amazing. Always helpful, friendly and very accommodating. We were greeted at most of the camps with a welcoming song from the staff, which really set the tone. The Kwando guides’ wildlife knowledge and intuitive understanding of the animals is undoubtedly in their DNA and I can’t wait to share some of my safari stories and top tips with my clients.