Evidence of elephants surrounds you in Chobe. Trumpet calls echo through the forest, great swathes of trees have been uprooted and trampled, and fresh dung encircles a waterhole. Gaze up from your verandah and start counting. There is one slowly emerging along the horizon. Here’s another, creeping around from behind your camp. A third already patrols the water, taking its time as you eagerly take photos. You’re not counting individual elephants; you’re keeping track of herds. Some number 30 individuals, while other herds join forces and move together, forming a giant grey mass that seems to be descending on your camp. African safari is all about the wow moments, the unique snapshots that paint a picture of both grace and power. It’s the elephants of Chobe National Park that offer your first moment; some people gasp and shake their heads, others shriek in excitement, and then the guide reminds you that you haven’t even been on a game drive yet. This is just the sight when you open the en-suite tent.
Chobe is home to the largest collection of wild elephants on the planet, almost 100,000 of them marauding across thick forest, sandy trails, and ancient rivers. A first game drive reveals that they’re not alone. Hippos are counted by their pods, zebra by their herds, and giraffe by their number of towers. It’s this rich abundance of nature’s largest mammals that makes Chobe such a spectacular first stop. After landing in Maun International Airport you’ll take a light aircraft into a tiny airstrip in the Linyanti Reserve along the northern perimeter of Chobe. Almost immediately you’ve swapped modern civilization for an astonishing landscape, one that seems overrun by the biggest nature has to offer.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 2 - 3
First game drives often pass in a blur as a thousand foreign sights accompany every turn. With three days you’ve got time to relax and slowly savor the bounty that Chobe has to offer. Tight turns and meandering tracks take you into the forest, dense vegetation adding a continual element of surprise. The trees provide a natural cover for the safari truck, enabling you to get remarkably close. Turn a corner and a dozen elephants cover the trail, many of them towering over the safari truck. Exit the forest and find giraffe and hippos crossing the dusty bushland. Now hear some rustling and slow down for a closer look. Is it? Could it be? A lion pride is resting in the long grass, half camouflaged, half yawning, and now rising to attention as you enjoy your first big cat sighting.
While this landscape provides the perfect bounty for elephants, predators and prey must fight an ongoing survival battle. During the dry season, permanent water sources become warlike scenes as the battle for resources reaches its pinnacle. So sit back and enjoy the drama. Lion prides leave their shady cover and glance down on the timid impala taking a drink. Are they out hunting? Maybe. But the sentry performs his duties well and the antelope skip away. While Chobe does have a rich collection of lions, leopards, and hyenas, the vegetation means that they’re not as easily spotted as they are in places like the Maasai Mara. However, the quality of sightings is often exceptional, as the cats will either be on the prowl or resting at stunning proximity.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
The Okavango Delta is like a huge animal party, attracting nomads from hundreds of miles around. Deep in the heart of the Kalahari Desert you'll find one of the world’s largest river deltas, an epic oasis that must feel like the Promised Land for thirsty mammals who trek across endlessly parched plains. As the water tumbles down from Angola it spreads into a myriad of rivers and lagoons, some stretching onto the horizon, others surrounded by thick swathes of elephant grass. Admire it all from the sky and then touch down on Chief's Island, an isolated expanse of land that combines savannah, grassland, floodplains, and forest. Nature’s largest are also here, but feast your eyes on the elegant antelopes. Kudu? Springbok? Gazelle? Gemsbok? Don’t worry; it won’t take long before you can recognize the different species.
Anywhere with a large collection of four hooves will inevitably attract an enviable assortment of predators. Chief's Island is one of the best places in Southern Africa for thrilling big cat action. Dramas seem to surround your camp, from the lion calls that accompany your alfresco dinner to the panicked herds that gallop towards the horizon. There’s no safe space for the ungulates as Nile crocodiles patrol the water, leopards rule the trees, lions dominate the grassland, and a plethora of scavengers seek out an easy meal. As always, your luxury camp offers all the comfort you could ask for in the wilderness. Raised beds offer views onto the action, the en-suite bathroom features Western toilets and hot bucket showers, and a private verandah allows personal viewing of your own piece of the Okavango.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
Day 5 - 6
In the cool morning air a leopard is on the prowl. It waits in the grass, keeping its body close to the ground and effortlessly maintaining the camouflage. A zebra herd grazes nearby and they seem unaware of the danger. There’s hush in the safari truck, nobody wanting to upset nature’s odds. A young zebra on the edge of the herd appears to be the target, but there’s still 30 meters between predator and prey. In the wildlife documentaries everything is shown in a reel of highlights. But a real hunt takes time and the leopard waits five minutes before carefully stepping closer. Let’s not get ahead of time and predict the outcome of this scene, because the undeniable element of surprise is a huge part of your safari experience.
This scene plays out all around Chief's Island and the surrounding Moremi Game Reserve. Can you imagine walking through this environment? Moremi offers thrilling walking safari opportunities, allowing you to experience the animal world from ground level. And everything seems a little bigger and a lot scarier when you don’t have a safari truck to hide in. Skilled guides pick a safe route, avoiding any salivating lions and sticking to areas that are usually off a predator’s itinerary. Up to date information on big cat whereabouts is shared, so you’re not going to become an unwitting banquet. Go slowly and silently, wandering past elephants and hippos, gently approaching kudu and impala, and discovering the indelible rawness of Botswana’s ancient land.
Exploring the land is just one side of the Okavango. Nature’s great oasis is best understood when viewed from the water. Board a traditional mokoro, a dug-out wooden canoe that is slowly paddled down the winding waterways. Zebra herds splash through the shallows, kicking up water as they cross to new grazing land. Hippos cause waves as they thunder into the river and boisterously throw their weight around. Thirsty antelope herds leave the trees and come down to drink at the riverbank. Mokoro trips are idyllic and serene, the Okavango’s beauty softly revealed as you gaze across lagoons and weave through the floodplains. Yet the dramatic arrival of a cat ensures that it’s never completely tranquil. During your three days here you can combine game drives with walking safaris and mokoro trips. Each offers a very different experience and helps ensure that every day brings fresh sights and new wonders.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
One glance at the Maasai Mara and it’s difficult to fathom what you’re looking at. For six days you’ve been getting lost in a plethora of winding trails and dense landscapes. And now this! The grassland extends beyond the horizon, spreading out at every angle and offering a sublime panoramic. Gaze out and admire the colors, watching how the sun brings subtly different shades. Now pick out the herds, great groups of wildebeest and zebra sporadically kicking up dust and epitomizing the indigenous meaning of the Mara: “spotted” or “spotted plains.” Crossing from Botswana to Kenya will take up most of the day. Africa is a huge continent, and you’ll take a scheduled flight to Nairobi before transferring by road to the Maasai Mara. Yet any travel tiredness is immediately forgotten as you soak up the Mara’s poetic canvas.
Day 8 - 9
An early start takes you across the famed grass plains, your local guide looping around the favorite hunting spots for big cats. As an insipid layer of mist is finally blown away by the sunrise, a lion pride is patrolling their territory. Sometimes the prides are full and content, happy to simply mark their ground and then lie beside the safari truck; but every four days or so they go out hunting, hiding in the grass and attacking the lame, the young, and the sick. Silence is harder to maintain this time, as the flat plains make it far easier to spot a hunt from a distance. One sweep of the binoculars and you can gain an immediate picture of where the best safari action will be. Just remember that while the Maasai Mara’s landscape makes it easier to spot the wildlife, there will also probably be some other safari trucks in your vision.
Between June and October the great wildebeest migration crosses into Kenya and the Maasai Mara. Exact dates depend on the rains; however, there is usually an ongoing dose of excitement down by the Mara River as huge herds cross in either direction. Outside these months the Maasai Mara is still an absolute gem. Not every wildebeest or zebra migrates, and not every lion is going to track the herds back to Tanzania. This is an all year round destination and most visitors are blown away by the experience. Some will prefer the sudden excitement of Chobe, others will say the highlight of the vacation was the Okavango, while a good percentage will struggle to look past the epic scale of the Maasai Mara. Each safari destination offers a very different experience and ensures that your memories are distinct and intimate, rather than rolled into one ball of safari snapshots.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
Day 10 - 12
After the adventure comes the calm and another of Africa’s indelible highlights. An endless stretch of white sand runs down Kenya’s coastline, nestled between turquoise Indian Ocean waters and palm trees that gently sway. Much of the postcard perfect beaches are near deserted, a couple’s footprints or a rustic cocktail shack the only signs of life. Discover your own piece of paradise and dip your feet into the warm waters of Diani Beach. A private beach house is hidden between the palms, evocatively gazing out onto the ocean and offering the kind of secluded getaway that everyone has once dreamed of.
Unforgettable sunrises light up the horizon, fresh crabs and seafood go on the barbecue, and sundowners are served with your feet in the sand. Diani Beach reveals another beautiful angle of Africa and epitomizes the gentle rhythm that most of the continent runs to. Laze away the days in the sun and allow your mind and body to unwind after an action-packed safari adventure. If you get bored, it’s just a short ride to an enchanting collection of beach bars and restaurants in the sand. Otherwise, indulge in the postcard perfect heaven and relish the natural tranquility.
Transfer to Nairobi for your homebound international flight. Note that there is an option for either a land transfer (approximately four hours) or a short flight from nearby Mombassa Airport.
It’s easy to be baffled by choice as you prepare for a first African safari adventure. Even regular visitors find that the diversity of landscapes and national parks make for some tricky choices. East and Southern Africa offer very different safari experiences. Fortunately you don’t have to choose. This unique itinerary combines three of the continent’s most memorable parks, and the best of a Botswana safari and Kenya safari. A myriad of habitats provide the stage for all of Africa’s great mammals to dazzle before your eyes, while an array of experiences ensure you’re always exploring fresh angles. Hippos in rivers, elephants plowing through forest, big cats hunting on the plains, immense migrating herds, and rhinos and buffalos that stare you down, and antelope species that play along the riverbank; of course you want it all. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single national park that offers everything. But by offering the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, and the Maasai Mara, this itinerary ensures that all your safari dreams can be realized.
Start in Botswana, the understated and crowd-free home of endless drama and enchantment. Animal life revolves around water and the battle for survival is dictated by a seasonal cycle of rains. Nowhere epitomizes this more than the western edge of Chobe National Park, where wild game congregates around shriveling waterholes and picks at scorched grassland. Lion prides patrol the water, well aware that the dinner menu will come to them, while thousands of elephants leave their trumpeting calls in the dense forest. These three days reveal the raw competition for resources on African landscapes; male hippos fight for mating rights, a leopard stealthily descends from the branches and picks off a baby zebra, and giraffe clear great swathes of forest canopy. The winners here are nature’s largest, and the thousands of elephants and giraffe offer your first stunning moment of wow. Start soaking up the safari experience and let nature sing you a lullaby as your luxury camp overlooks a permanent waterhole.
Most of Botswana is fenceless desert, and the wandering nomads cover hundreds of miles in search of a drink. Then they reach the Okavango Delta and never leave. Lavishly blue and dazzlingly spectacular, the Okavango showcases what's possible when water is always available. A labyrinth of channels and lagoons surrounds Chief's Island, an astonishingly abundant world of roaming cats, flourishing ungulates, and a healthy collection of pachyderms. Hooves splash up water as the herds cross the water, floodplains are covered with a patchwork quilt of wild game, and all of Africa’s great mammals can literally be spotted from your camp. Like Chobe, this is a place for exploring, for turning corners and coming face to face with an elephant herd or lion pride. Take boats through the lush water world, feasting your eyes on everything that comes down for a drink. Go on a thrilling walking safari into big cat country, and then discover what rustles in the dark on a serene nighttime game drive. Not only does the Okavango offer a multitude of habitats, it offers an unrivaled selection of adventurous safari activities.
But don’t the wildlife documentaries reveal immense grass plains that stretch beyond the horizon? And thunderous herds that kick up dust as they’re escorted by predators? Yes, that’s East Africa, and the famed grasslands of the Maasai Mara. Safari is very different here. You have the endless vistas and continual panoramas that make game-spotting ridiculously easy, as well as the millions of mammals that become part of the great wildebeest migration. While the Maasai Mara doesn’t have the diversity of Botswana’s parks, the scale of the grass plains and the sheer quantity of big cats mean that it deserves its fame and popularity. Lions, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs, hyena; every game drive brings a smorgasbord of hungry predators chasing down their dinner. Like each destination on this itinerary, expect to be wowed, and then expect to watch everything unfold from your bed.
Africa isn’t just for spectacular Big Five safari and epic wildernesses. Completing your itinerary is an idyllic three days of white sand, swaying palm trees, and turquoise ocean. Indulge in your personal piece of tropical paradise and laze away the days with barbecued seafood, deserted beach, and gentle waves waking you each morning. While this postcard perfect image can be experienced all around the Indian Ocean, few places can match the rustic charm and tranquil bliss of Diani Beach on Kenya’s untouched coastline.
$6820 per person (excluding international flights)
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