Related: Audley Travel
What you see and do on a safari is often heavily influenced by the time of year and the region you’re in. This is especially the case in Botswana, where water levels fluctuate significantly between the dry season (April to October), which confusingly sees the highest water levels, and the green season (November to March), as well as from place to place.
In the dry season, the Okavango Delta’s lagoons and channels are full of water that has flowed down from Angola’s highlands. During this period, you can head out on mokoro (traditional canoe) trips, passing waterlilies and papyrus reeds full of birds. Later in the season, when water is beginning to dry up, the Chobe River draws in some of the largest elephant herds in Africa, which you can see up close by boat. And, in all regions during the green season, you can head out on game drives in search of big cats, which prey on young impala and wildebeest.
Elephant herds and birdlife in Chobe National Park
Stretching across much of northern Botswana, Chobe National Park is home to as many as 60,000 elephant, which are drawn in by the Chobe River and its vivid green floodplains. Late in the dry season (especially September and October), when waterholes have dried up, elephant almost become a part of the landscape along the riverfront. You can take a boat trip to get up close to them as they quench their thirst, splash and submerge themselves in the water, and roll around on the muddy banks to cool down.
While elephant are still visible in the park during the green season (January to March), this is also the best time for seeing many of the park’s 460 recorded bird species, with summer migrants swelling numbers. African fish eagles watch the water from their lofty perch, swooping down at an opportune moment. Carmine bee-eaters and lilac-breasted rollers stand out against the reeds thanks to their dazzling plumage. Pied kingfishers hover overhead before darting down to the water with speed and precision. And along the water’s edge are many species of stork, egrets, and sacred ibis.
Where to stay: Ngoma Safari Lodge has an elevated position overlooking the floodplain in Chobe Forest Reserve, which borders the national park but sees fewer visitors. Its eight spacious suites have views of the river through floor-to-ceiling windows and from their private plunge pools. From here, you can embark on guided bush walks, game drives and boat trips.
Predators and water activities in the Linyanti Wetlands and Savuti
Papyrus swamps, jackalberry forest and open grasslands make up the area surrounding the Linyanti River in the far north of Botswana. While the water levels here vary according to the time of year, whenever you visit you’re likely to encounter elephant, giraffe, waterbuck, impala and red lechwe. Linyanti is at its wettest between June and August, which is when you’re able to explore by boat or mokoro – look out for hippo watching you from the water’s surface.
The grassy plains of the Savuti region, just south of Linyanti, are littered with grazing antelope and their young during the green season. They act like a magnet to lion, hyena, cheetah, wild dog and leopard. The dramas that play out between predator and prey here appeared on last year’s Savage Kingdom TV documentary by National Geographic. You have the best chance of seeing them for yourself on game drives, with water levels lower at this time.
Where to stay: Linyanti Bush Camp has just six luxurious tents overlooking a seasonal marsh, each with its own shaded private deck. Mokoro trips are offered here when water levels are high enough. Between April and October, those staying for three nights or more are entitled to a complimentary scenic helicopter flight.
Year-round wildlife in the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is what most people picture when thinking about a Botswana safari. It’s the largest inland delta in the world, opening out like a splayed hand across the otherwise arid land. Within the delta area, water levels vary by season and place, which in turn affects the wildlife you might see.
Gunn’s Concession, in the heart of the delta, is a labyrinth of water channels and lagoons for most of the year, with the Boro River helping to feed its waterways. While this means that game drives aren’t possible, you can enjoy boating and mokoro rides at any time of year. As you drift past day and night waterlilies and walls of papyrus reeds, look out for pygmy kingfishers and African jacanas (known as the ‘Jesus bird’ thanks to their ability to walk on water). The concession borders Chief’s Island, where you can head out on foot in search of tsessebe, impala, zebra and giraffe.
Shinde Concession, in the northeast, remains relatively dry. At any time of year you can encounter lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dog from your game vehicle. As the concession is private, bush walks and night drives are also possible, giving you a chance to see nocturnal species such as African wildcats, honey badgers, genets and spring hares.
Where to stay: Gunn’s Camp is set on the Boro River, offering six Meru-style tents with en suite bathrooms and private outdoor showers. Sunset cruises, mokoro trips and bush walks are all offered here. Meanwhile, Shinde Camp is set on an island on the edge of Shinde Lagoon. Its eight tents are set beneath trees and have their own private decks. Three of them are set away from the rest and have their own shared dining area, which works well with families and groups of friends.
Zebras and meerkats in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
Millions of years ago, a vast super lake covered much of central Botswana, including the Kalahari Desert. After drying up, it left behind huge salt pans, perfectly flat and shimmering in the baking heat. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park incorporates some of these otherworldly salt flats, as well as large tracts of coarse grassland dotted with baobabs. Exploring the park by game vehicle, you’ll find that the wildlife and landscape varies dramatically depending on the time of year.
During the dry season (April to September), the cracked, stark landscape is home to playful groups of meerkats. Many are habituated, and often come right up to you for a closer look. Bat-eared foxes patrol the pans’ fringes, while brown hyena howl to each other as they scavenge for carcasses, in direct competition with the vultures that soar overhead.
Come November, the rains begin to fall, and by January the landscape is transformed as grasses sprout and water gathers on the pans. This attracts vibrant hordes of nesting flamingoes, as well as large dazzles of zebra, which return to the pans having migrated west to the Boteti River during the dry season.
Where to stay: Meno A Kwena, set high on the banks of the Boteti River, is an excellent base from which to see huge numbers of zebra during the dry season. Its dining tent is filled with trinkets and maps that hark back to early explorers – the roof is even made from an old parachute. The nine Meru-style tents have private decks with river views, dark-wood furniture and both indoor and outdoor showers. From here you can go on game drives and boat trips along the river.
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