The Ultimate Southern Africa Safari: Botswana and Kruger

A 12 day trip to Botswana 
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Southern Africa’s mythical landscapes are filled with secrets and stories. A stunning collection of wildlife provides the poetic narration, but which tale do you follow? This itinerary combines Southern Africa's three most abundant national parks, offering the ultimate safari experience and ensuring you experience everything. Kruger, Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, and Victoria Falls; this is Southern Africa’s finest wonders in 12 days of nonstop action. 

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Kruger National Park, Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Chobe National Park, Savuti Channel, Victoria Falls

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Days 1 - 3: Spectacular Big Five Safari in Kruger National Park

Every vacation should start with a warm welcome. But it’s hard to guess who will say hello first as you fly into Kruger National Park. A good bet will be on a slumbering greeting from a few rhinos; this park has so many that you’ll quickly lose count of how many you’ve seen. Perhaps an elegant zebra herd will be your first safari sighting? Maybe it will be an elephant emerging from the woodland? It could be a lion pride lounging in the middle of the path, content in the sun as you are transferred to the remote Sabi Sands. Settle into your luxury lodge and gaze out of the floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows. You probably came to Africa to see the Big Five. Over three days, there’s a good chance that you’ll see all five and more from the comfort of your bed.

Kruger National Park stretches for over two-million hectares, but the wildlife roams even further, wandering into a handful of private concessions that share unfenced boundaries. In an untouched animal kingdom of this scale you’re not going to be restricted to a few glimpses. This is complete submersion. Jump in with two feet and shake your head at the baffling abundance that surrounds you. Elephants prefer the forest, thumping away at trees as you slowly drive past. Hippos are magnetically attracted to the swamps, fighting over mating rights as they plow into the water. Out on the savannah and grasslands you’ll find dozens of antelope species, each bringing something new to the landscape. When it rains they’re spread far and wide, ferociously grazing on nature’s banquet. Arrive in dry season and they congregate around water, easily found by you and easily picked upon by Kruger’s predators.

Each day usually includes two long game drives. Wake early and explore the park at its most active. As a layer of mist still hangs in the distant valley the ungulates are on full alert. This is prime hunting time and it doesn’t take long before you spot a cat on the prowl. A leopard is advancing in the insipid light, dipping its neck and coldly moving through the grass. The impala seem to be a safe enough distance away, but one youngster has strayed a little far from the herd. It all happens in a flash, the leopard’s stealth perfectly complimented by its powerful jaws. It's just one example of the drama that welcomes early risers. During the hottest part of the day you relax at the lodge, soaking up the Kruger landscape from the pool, your room, or a raised wooden balcony.

Two rivers make game viewing around here remarkably easy. Sabi Sands becomes a haven for thirsty wanderers, and it’s easy to spend a few hours watching the procession pass by. Rhinos never seem to be far away when you’re in Kruger and they’re usually down at the river. Less than 20,000 wild rhinos remain in the world. Over half can be found here. Swap the wheels for hiking boots and go on walking safari through the riverine forest, armed game trackers ensuring that you’re safe amidst this world of rhinos and big cats. Smaller wildlife like bushbuck and springbok provide a charming alternative to the raw power elsewhere, while graceful kudu and hartebeest are best admired from this new angle. Over these three days you’re guaranteed to see a lot. And it’s all going to be experienced from a breathtaking proximity.

Days 4 - 6: Lost in the Astonishing Landscapes of the Okavango Delta

Try to imagine the Kalahari for a second. Brittle grassland hardly grows, scorched landscapes are as inhospitable as they come, rain rarely falls, and wildlife wanders aimlessly in search of water. Also consider its size. If it was a country, the Kalahari would rank within the top 30 in the world. Are you able to picture the scene? Now imagine a huge river delta that’s bigger than some US states. Picture it in the heart of the desert. Grassland flourishes, immense floodplains reflect the sky, and meandering waterways head off in every direction. The Okavango is the world’s greatest oasis, a phenomenal expanse of water that appears in the middle of the Kalahari. Wildlife travels for thousands of miles to feed on its bounty. Most remarkably, it still hardly rains here. The Okavango River flows from the Angolan Highlands, picking up tributaries and providing a surreal feast for everything and everyone.

Experience the immense scale on a hopper flight to Moremi Game Reserve. From Kruger you’ll fly to Johannesburg, and then cross the Kalahari on a scheduled flight to Maun. Most camps and lodges are only accessible via tiny airstrips that are surrounded by wildlife. Gaze down onto the watery wonderland and then touch-down on Chief’s Island, an isolated and exclusive part of the reserve. Buffalo herds chew on grass beside your camp, zebra seem to cover every open space of floodplain, and lions are regularly spotted from the comfort of your own raised balcony. It’s sometimes far too much to take in. The wildlife is literally everywhere. So where do you look and what do you listen to? Three days are recommended as they ensure you can relax and really appreciate what is going on around you.

Head out on a traditional mokoro, a hollowed out canoe, your guide expertly paddling alongside an enchanting hippo pod. They might look big and cumbersome, but there is a certain charm to their continual antics. A few hippos disappear beneath the water and you play a quick game of “Guess Where?” Perhaps they’ll emerge just there? Maybe beside the rest of the pod? Suddenly a pair of eyes emerges just five meters away from the boat. Males croak and snort, vying for attention and squaring up for mating rights. Another has had enough, and he marches out of the river to gorge himself on the green turf. Elephants also provide intimate moments as you go on boat safari, while crocodiles cover the sandy banks.

It makes sense to explore a delta by boat. But combine the mokoro trips with long game drives across the floodplains and thrilling walking safaris into the trees. Zebra, kudu, impala, buffalo; the ungulates are practically everywhere. And you know what’s lurking nearby when a great collection of four hooves covers the grass. Lion cubs follow their mothers onto these fertile floodplains, unsure of whether they’re supposed to be out hunting or not. Cheetahs stand on raised banks and survey the scene, plotting out their movements for the next few days. Even rare wild dogs are regularly encountered here, and it’s a particularly inspiring sight if you witness the sonar like communication of a pack’s hunt. Slowly lose yourself in this surreal world and remember to savor every moment, because few places in the world are as beautiful or dramatic.

Days 7 - 8: Botswana’s Surreal Secret: The Savuti Channel

It’s easy to simplify African safari. There’s the expectation to see an assortment of animals, and the hope of witnessing a dramatic scene from the documentaries. However, the importance of habitat is something that’s regularly overlooked when people plan safari adventures. A habitat is not just a landscape that provides a backdrop to the action; it’s the very essence of the experience. Take Savuti, a scorched dusty land that’s occasionally interrupted by dead trees or struggling bushland. Until 2010 this area was almost always dry, only coming alive during a couple of wet season months. But after thirty parched years, the Savuti Channel suddenly started flowing again, providing permanent nourishment and attracting nomads from hundreds of miles away. It’s no longer a raw desolate landscape. It’s a lush playground for Africa’s finest.

At the forefront of the animal invasion are elephant herds. Hundreds march together and play in the channel; babies take their first swimming lessons, youngsters splash and frolic, while alpha males gracefully control the herd. Settle into your sumptuous camp and take a seat on the verandah. There’s one. There’s another. Wait; here are two more coming from the trees. You’re not counting individual elephants, you’re counting different herds. Africa’s largest wild elephant population roams around Chobe National Park and the Savuti area is always part of their journey. To reach Savuti you’ll go by light aircraft, admiring the Okavango waterways from the sky and touching down on the western edge of Chobe.

Immediately you’re immersed in riverine forests and flourishing savannah. This isn’t a place for endless vistas and spotting wild game that’s miles away. Safari here is more unpredictable, and probably more exciting. Just like the irrefutable Savuti Channel, each game drive must weave and meander through the landscape. Every turn brings a new sight; a lion pride hidden beneath a tree, kudu crossing the trail, baby elephants trying to keep pace with their mother. They’ll only spot you when you turn the corner, so these forests make for some incredibly close encounters. Now multiply the intimacy of the experience by turning a corner by wooden canoe, or on foot.

Lazy afternoons are easily spent overlooking the water, gazing down on the indelible cast of characters having a drink. When night falls you’ll still see their outlines; each four-legged mammal endearingly illuminated by the moon. Sit back and listen. A sporadic soundtrack makes its way through the trees, echoing and distorting as a dozen distinct calls pierce the still air. Sleep with these sounds and then wake up to inspect the fresh prints beside your balcony. While Southern Africa may have more famous parks or reserves, the sudden appearance of permanent water is making Savuti one of the continent’s most sublime highlights.

Day 9: An Incredible Crossing of Chobe National Park

Now it’s time for a day of real adventure. Head off in the early morning and follow the rugged sandy trails of Savuti. Elephants pass by, giraffes wave their heads above the trees, and a few hidden swamps reveal hippo pods. Gradually you leave Savuti, the game drive taking you through the unadulterated heart of Chobe National Park. More elephants, more giraffe, another zebra herd, and now a lion pride going past the safari truck. Rivers and marshland offer idyllic picnic spots as you cross the whole of Chobe from west to east. It’s just over 100 miles, but given the surroundings it’s likely to take all day.

Keep stopping and photographing as you go on a journey through endlessly contrasting habitats. This is the African landscape of most people’s dreams; raw, untouched, and seemingly endless. And while you could fly to your next destination, today’s experience helps Botswana’s scale really hit home. When you exit the park at Kasane, keep following the elephants and cross the border to Zambia where the Victoria Falls await.

Days 10 - 11: Soaking up the Drama and Charm of Victoria Falls

Even after nine days of safari, spotting a wild elephant will still make you smile. Victoria Falls is less than an hour from Chobe National Park, and the elephant herds literally cross the main highway. Your base is a lodge on the mighty Zambezi, the decisive river that fuels the planet’s most powerful waterfall. 1,000 tons of water drop over the edge and plummet into the abyss…every second. A mile-wide blanket of water continually tumbles into a stark canyon, returning from the depths as clouds of mist. Cross Knife-edge Bridge and explore the viewing platforms that run horizontally to the falls. You’ll probably get very wet because it’s almost impossible to avoid the effervescent spray. You’ll also need to shout as the relentless rumble of the falls intensifies from close quarters.

One afternoon here and it’s easy to smother Victoria Falls in superlatives. Most people are expecting the beauty and charm. However, it’s often the raw power that leaves the most indelible impression. When not admiring Mosi-oa-Tunya, this area provides a wonderful tranquility to complete your vacation. Take luxury dinner cruises along the Zambezi River, relax in one of the continent’s most opulent lodges, and enjoy some gentle days recollecting all the safari experiences. Put your feet up, read a book, enjoy your last glimpses of Africa. And what’s this? A troop of baboons has come to say hello. Perhaps Victoria Falls epitomizes the wonders of Southern Africa. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s a cheeky surprise to finish the day.

Day 12: International Return Flight

If you aren't ready to leave Botswana, consider adding on to your trip. Browse the reviews of Botswana luxury vacations for additional ideas and traveler reviews of their customized trips.

Or, make the short transfer to the international airport, and yes, you’ll probably see a few jaywalking elephants en route. Connect to your international flight and leave Africa with a lifetime of memories.

Price

Starting Price 

$7,195
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.