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What’s your dream safari spot? Perhaps a place where lion prides roam across the plains? Maybe a place where you can watch an elephant spraying water over its back? Or perhaps it is where you can witness a leopard or cheetah out on a hunt? Everyone starts a safari adventure with images in their head. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve seems to take all these preconceptions and roll them into a dazzling package. Fly into Maun and then transfer to a light aircraft that drops you in the heart of the world’s second largest reserve. Then set off on a game drive and watch the dreamlike scenes come thick and fast. Majestic black-maned lions patrol the scorched ground and their echoing calls provide the evening soundtrack. Cheetahs and leopards emerge in the late afternoon, hunting in the insipid light and preying on the young and sick. Elephants add dramatic size and power, while the antelopes add a continual source of enchantment. And this is just the start of your camping adventure.
Day 2 - 3
Last night you slept in a fixed camp that’s surrounded by the wildlife of the Central Kalahari. Today you head even deeper into the wilderness, driving off-road and exploring vast stretches of big cat country that rarely see human eyes. This is African landscape at its most raw and untamed, a place where the lack of water dictates life in the desert. Follow the nomads as they plod to permanent waterholes, the thirsty antelopes often escorted by a pride of black-maned lions. These majestic cats are expert hunters, patrolling the evocative savannah with effortless grace. Roll up to them and admire their beauty, their stunning manes rarely seen across Africa. Then feel your heart skip a beat as a set of ferocious teeth are revealed and the pride begins its dinnertime search.
Each night you sleep in a mobile camp, harmoniously hidden in the wilderness and miles from any other tourist tracks. It’s rustic and basic, but you’ll still have a surprising degree of comfort. A shared western toilet is provided, along with raised beds, and a campfire that crackles beneath the stars. Before bedtime your guide will provide a safety briefing. It goes a bit like this. Before leaving your tent in the dark you must first listen to what might be nearby. Then shine your torch and check that nothing is too close. Alternatively, shout for the guide to do a safety check.
While the fire should keep away the predators, the location of the camp adds continual excitement. Wake up to see leopard prints nearby, something that means the next night must be spent at a different mobile camp. Open the tent to see elephants crossing along the horizon, and then spend a full day game driving around this immense stretch of wilderness. It’s a surprise to see other people and the day’s charm can come from a variety of sources; perhaps a hyena causing panic at a waterhole, maybe a tower of giraffe in the forest, and always the daily theater delivered by the lions.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
Day 4 - 5
Camping adventures are always about finding the most beautiful and remote. Whether you’re in the US, Africa, or anywhere in the world, it’s the escape from modern civilization and immersion in nature that defines a camping experience. Nowhere can epitomize this immersion more than the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan, a vast white wonderland that’s bigger than a few European countries. This was once on a lake, although it’s long since dried up and left little behind but salt and the odd elephant print. Gaze across the shimmering mirage and try to make sense of the landscape, the ground and sky blurred by a levitating blanket that floats and swirls before your eyes. Makgadikgadi has been exceptionally preserved. Of course there are no roads or permanent buildings. Quad bikes must follow each other’s trails in order to minimize the impact on the environment. So flick your wrist and gently set off into this whiteness, shaking your head and starting to believe that you’re traversing the moon.
At times it’s blinding, although the 360 degree panorama never becomes monotonous. Sporadic interruptions evocatively rise from the salt, dead trees and wandering ostrich initially providing a shock. Elephant prints appear then bizarrely disappear, before a colony of meerkats poke heads up from their burrows and you delight in their antics. Approach them slowly and they won’t be alarmed. Some people are welcomed eagerly by the meerkats and the colony starts playing around them. But sudden movements or shouts could irreparably scare them off. Keep driving through this hypnotic land until you reach undulating sand banks and wait for an astonishing sunset to unfurl. As the shadows stretch across the pan, the sun burns through the mirage and sends darts of color across the horizon.
Roll out mattresses and sleep beneath an astonishing sky of stars; you will quickly lose count of the number of shooting stars on display. Then wait for the sunrise to deliver a beautiful wake-up call that is far more effective than a dose of caffeine. On day four you will have flown from the Central Kalahari to the edge of Makgadikgadi by light aircraft, and then departed from the base camp. On day five you first explore the colorful bird life of the sand bank, before continuing the quad bike adventure and returning to base camp. Now you return to indulgent luxury and enjoy hot showers, huge king-sized beds, private wooden verandahs, and one of Botswana’s finest camps.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6 - 8
Over the past five days you’ll have hardly seen water. You’ll have discovered how nature’s most precious resource is continually fought over, and how wildlife has evolved and adapted to the challenges of the desert. So it’s a shock to the eyes when you fly over the Okavango Delta, a shimmering expanse of lagoons and channels dancing beneath the plane window. Wildlife migrates for hundreds of miles to reach this oasis; it’s the animal equivalent of going from a stale sandwich to a king’s buffet banquet. Zebras gallop without inhibition, kicking up water as they go. Hippo pods fight for wading space, pushing and grunting as they look to impress the females and assert their power. Then a lion pride decides that it’s time for a drink and hundreds of ungulates run for cover.
Fly over the Okavango and touch down on Chief’s Island in Moremi Game Reserve. This isolated land is surrounded by elephant and hippo-filled channels, not to mention a wonderful array of birdsong. A remarkable ecosystem has developed here, one that’s marked by abundance rather than drought. Lions, leopards, hyenas, immense elephant herds, continual hippo antics; the action never stops on Chief’s Island and you’ll be getting closer than you could ever imagine. Set off on foot, taking tentative first steps and following the tracks of kudu and impala. Your skilled guide picks up on all the clues, inspecting dung and immediately knowing how close the elephants are. While this is big cat territory, a network of guides communicates with each other and uses all of their experience to ensure you’re never on the dinner menu.
Wander into the trees and hold your breath as a giraffe stands barely meters away. Feel your heart begin to pump as an elephant herd crosses the path in front of you, a cute baby turning to smile and stare. There’s an unforgettable realism to a walking safari. Nothing separates you from the animals and their true size can only be appreciated from this angle. These three days involve walking safaris in the early morning and late afternoon, with a leisurely rest at the camp during the middle of the day. Sometimes the boots will be swapped for a traditional dug-out canoe and you’ll explore the riverbanks, gently paddling past the boisterous hippo pods and thirsty predators.
Each camp is pristinely situated in the wilderness, accessible only on foot and far away from any other tourists. Even from your bed you’ll see a succession of four-legged mammals sauntering past. But while this three day walking safari is a thrilling adventure, there’s a wonderful tranquility to being on foot. No artificial sounds break the silence; it’s just the ground crunching beneath your feet and nature’s provocative soundtrack. So savor the wilderness and soak up one of the planet’s most untouched animal paradises.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
Day 9 - 11
After the ruggedness of your walking safari it’s time for three days of idyllic relaxation in Etosha National Park. Cross into Namibia and savor the indulgent luxury of your camp; en-suite bathrooms offer hot showers and western toilets, the sumptuous wooden fitting raise you above the country’s best national park and it’s easy to spend a whole day sitting back and watching everything wander along the horizon. Swirls of dust circle across the saline desert, traveling at speed and overtaking the elephants that cover the horizon. Head off on game drives into the forest, discovering the country’s finest collection of big cats, before allowing the antelope to gently graze beside your tent.
The forest seems hushed in the early morning light. Rustling reveals a group of impala in the trees, each with their ears and eyes on full alert. Wildlife spotting in this dense vegetation is not always easy and your guide’s experience is a huge help. He points and you look. But what are you supposed to be looking at? Follow the finger and you still can’t see anything. Then a quick swish reveals the tail and you spot the leopard descending from the high branch. Follow its stealthy movements, admiring the elegance that accompanies its raw power. It moves silently and any sound that pierces the air causes you to briefly jump. Follow the cat as it darts between the trees, always sure of its cover, continually surveying the surroundings as it stalks prey. Hunting scenes like this are common in Etosha, and they make for ongoing talking points around the campfire.
These forests hold new surprises and a pair of rare black rhino approach the safari truck. They wander past, grunt, and wander on, everyone eagerly snapping away as the final one of the Big Five is ticked off the list. Their immense bulk and lumbering size don’t come as a shock. You were expecting that. Yet black rhinos have a wonderful grace and serenity, happy to roam without leaving their personal karma. Less than 20,000 wild rhino remain in the world, so a first-hand experience can be the highlight of any Botswana safari. Etosha is vast and relatively devoid of tourists, so your three days are all about the famous Big Five and the lesser known mammals that dart across the ground. And while game drives can get you close, sitting back and marveling at it all from your balcony is one of Africa’s most sublime experiences.
Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast
Day 12 - 13
Completing the camping safari adventure is one of Africa’s most bewitching landscapes. Shimmering red mountains stand over lonely giraffe, stunning granite outcrops rise from seemingly endless plains, and an encompassing silence fills most moments in Damaraland. These otherworldly rock formations look like nature’s great magic trick; archways and domes stand like pieces of an incomprehensible jigsaw puzzle, while pointed peaks take your eye on a merry dance. Spend these two days marveling at this phenomenon, taking in the desolate and dramatic landscape via a variety of walking trails.
Lose yourself and appreciate the surreal solitude, before suddenly finding that you’re not alone. As you stand on a peak and gaze down onto the red scorched land, the telltale shape of an elephant or rhino cuts a distinct path towards your vantage point. Completing the experience, your camp is one of the finest in Africa. It’s been designed to maximize the tranquility and ensure that this art gallery of rock formations is available at all angles.
Transfer to the airport and connect to your international departure. As you scroll through the photos it’s still difficult to believe the experiences and sights.
For ideas on how to customize this adventure, see the safari tour reviews in Botswana section.
Namibia and Botswana revel in their ability to surprise. While much of Africa seems to come straight from the popular wildlife documentaries, destinations in these two mystical countries seem to reflect some kind of parallel world. Salt pans dazzle, sand dunes baffle, lagoons splash with elephants and hippos, and bizarre rock formations defy the eyes. Nowhere on the planet can offer such natural visual euphoria. This itinerary combines five inimitable destinations, each offering something remarkable and mind-boggling. Mobile camping and secluded airstrips catapult you from wilderness to wilderness, and ensure that the wonders surround you from all angles. Then a smorgasbord of Africa’s most indelible four-legged residents drenches the experience in enchantment. It’s certainly an adventure, losing yourself in nature’s most evocative and beautiful landscapes. Yet there’s also a wonderful degree of tranquility and relaxation; so get ready to indulge in the wonders of Southern Africa and sleep beneath the stars in prime elephant country.
Start in Botswana as you're treated to a stunning array of colors in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, and Okavango Delta. It’s a journey that goes from dusty red savannah to glistening white salt blankets, and then a shimmering blue water world. The first two stops are raw and rugged, places where life must evolve and travel in search of water. Hyenas inspect the tent before wandering off towards a waterhole, each morning brings an assortment of antelope grazing on the horizon, and game drives ensure an intimate experience with most of the big cats. Makgadikgadi’s lunar-like world then shimmers before your eyes, a white mirage floating above the ground, sporadically interrupted by a melancholy elephant bull, comical ostrich, or meerkat colony. Quad bike into this surreal wilderness and roll out a mattress beneath the stars and indulge in the inimitability and beauty.
This itinerary takes you to the places that very few people get to see or have ever seen. Fixed camps offer all the luxury you could ever want in the wilderness, including hot bucket showers, western toilets, and raised beds. Forget any impression of being uncomfortable. Botswana and Namibia know how to offer remote accommodation for the most discerning of travelers. Mobile camps are more rustic, but their flexible locations more than compensate. When a camp is erected for just a day or two, the wildlife gets remarkably close. In some cases you have a tent and raised bed, while in others you’ll simply roll out a mattress and gaze up at the stars, listening to a crackling fire as you doze off. These two countries are all about isolation and seclusion, and a camping safari is the perfect way to elevate the experience.
From Makgadikgadi you fly into the Okavango Delta for a three day walking and mokoro canoe safari experience. It's an adventure that takes in hippo pods, elephant herds, and predator paw prints, all from stunning proximity. Namibia beckons and its number one safari destination is Etosha National Park. Swirling dust blows across saline desert, mopane woodland is packed with big cats, and grassland brings the grazers. Game drives should reveal the full African Big Five and, like everywhere on this itinerary, the experience isn’t about glimpsing a few animals. This is a land without roads, people, or modern civilization. So sit back and watch an astonishing array of wildlife wander past the tent.
Completing the itinerary is a serene two days in the otherworldly landscape of Damaraland. Like always, you arrive and shake your head in disbelief at the beauty. Then you slowly get used to the hypnotic vistas that surround your tent. Southern Africa has its fair share of natural wonders and this itinerary takes you into the heart of its most untouched and unadulterated lands. Even when you relive the experience via the camera roll, it's difficult to comprehend where you’ve just been.
$7345 per person (excluding international flights)