We can all use a bit of luxury every now then, amirite? I splurged on an 8-day luxury Botswana safari this past spring and it was one of the best experiences of my life. In my opinion, a safari is a perfect place to blow that vacation fund you’ve been saving. I hope by the time you’ve finished reading that you will agree!
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Southern Africa bordering South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
The Botswanan Pula. $1 USD is 10.55 Pula. You don’t need it. You don’t need money at all on this safari except for tips and US dollars are happily accepted. The pound, euro, and South African rand are also accepted.
Official languages are Engish and Tswana
“Hello” is dumela rra (doo-meh-lah rah) to a man and dumela mma (doo-meh-lah mah) to a woman
Arrival is to Maun in the Northwest of Botswana. I had previously been in Namibia so I had to fly from Windhoek to Johanessburg THEN Maun. Africa is not the easiest place to get around.
South African Airways is the only major airline that flies into Maun. So if you are coming from outside Africa, get yourself to Johannesburg first and fly from there. Many major European cities have direct flights to Johannesburg but coming from the United States will involve a stop somewhere in either Europe or the Middle East.
The Okavango Delta is famous for many reasons and is a UNESCO Heritage site. The Okavango River drains the summer (January–February) rainfall from the Angola highlands and the surge flows 1,200 km (750 mi) in around one month. The waters then spread over the 250 by 150 km (155 by 93 mi) area of the delta over the next four months (March–June). The high temperature of the delta causes rapid transpiration and evaporation, resulting in a cycle of rising and falling water level. The flood peaks between June and August, during the dry winter months, when the delta swells to three times its permanent size, attracting animals from all around and creating one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife.
Botswana is known as the elephant capital of the world and the Moremi game reserve is known as the predator capital of Africa. I had watched countless nature shows about this region which has almost mythical status to me and I’ve wanted to visit since I studied biology at university.
When I started researching safaris in Botswana, I came across the Sanctuary Stanley Camp and I knew right away that this was the place for me. It looked like the perfect bush resort, in perfect harmony with nature. When I wrote to get an estimate, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the whole process. It turns out, the Sanctuary group actually works as a tour company and can make arrangements for you to have an incredible experience at 4 different resorts in the region, depending on the time you have allotted. They will arrange transport between all of them, which involves a small chartered jet. All the food and alcohol is included. Yes, that’s right. Alcohol is included. More on that later.
Sanctuary is a company that does “luxury naturally”. It’s not ostentatious and obnoxious. It is simply perfection, utilizing natural local materials that blend into the beautiful surroundings. The properties seem like an extension of nature. Nature does indeed insert itself into the properties in the form of wild animals strolling through the grounds at times! I enjoyed the rustling and cooing of mongoose in the shrubs under my tent at Sanctuary Stanley, the warthogs scurrying around outside my plunge pool and the baboons in the trees hollering next to my tent at Chief’s Camp. A fellow traveler I met at Stanley’s Camp had seen a lion right outside her tent early in the morning at Chief’s Camp! Amazing but terrifying!
A Sanctuary representative met me upon landing in Maun and others at the airport and once we obtained our luggage, we were whisked out to the private teeny planes. I was beyond excited. Flying over the famed Okavango Delta is the perfect introduction to the safari. The landscape is gorgeous. There are no roads, just flood plains.
Fly to Sanctuary Stanley Camp which is on a private concession bordering the Moremi Game Reserve
Flight to Sanctuary Chief’s Camp on an “island” in the Moremi Game Reserve
Fly to Kasane airport near Chobe National Park. A guide from the lodge will pick you up and drive you to the Chobe Chilwera Camp.
These two days are actually in Zambia near Victoria Falls. You will be driven to the border where you get your visa ($50 USD) and then take a little boat across the Zambezi river into Zambia where a Sanctuary representative will meet you and help with your customs and then drive you to the Sussi and Chuma Tree Top Lodge.
After the trip is over (SAD DAY), you will be driven to the airport or wherever you are going in the area. I was continuing to travel in Zambia (which I will write about in another post) so I was dropped off at a hotel in the town of Livingstone. This itinerary can be done in reverse and they will change it up based on availability. These aren’t huge resorts and they can only accommodate a handful of people. That’s what makes it so special.
My excitement dial was turned up to maximum and I probably looked like a coked-up kitten by the time my plane landed. I was whisked into a Land Rover and introduced to my guide, “Professor Ice”. Ice was a from the Bushman or San tribe. He said he was a professor of botany but he pretty much knew everything about the animals as well as astronomy. He promptly drove me into the bush near a watering hole where some zebra and warthogs came to “welcome” me and there was a little set up of champagne waiting for me. How did they know that was my favorite beverage? Since I was the only guest (which is weird in some ways), I drank the whole bottle. I don’t waste champagne people and I needed to calm the adrenaline high I was on.
Ice talked to me a bit about what I would be doing the next 2 days and instead of going back straight for lunch, I opted for a game drive. Buzzed on champagne, I was ready to see some wildlife! Ice and I totally bonded and he quickly realized that I wasn’t one of these “let’s tick animals off of a list” tourists but someone who had avidly studied biology and wanted to really see the wildlife and spend time around it.
Essentially I saw Pumba and Zazoo from the Lion King on my first afternoon:)
Ice then took me to the “Buffalo Village” and the “Hippo Village”. That’s what he called the areas where those animals hung out and of course, he always knew where to find them. He promised me that we would visit the “lion village” soon.
As of that wasn’t all awesome enough, the highlight of the day was seeing this African Wild Dog chilling in the road on our way back to the lodge. They are hard to find since they are endangered and they happened to be animal I most wanted to see.
Sanctuary Stanley is a classic tented camp situated on a private concession overlooking the Okavango Delta floodplains in Botswana. After the successful first game drive, I was ready to rest and EAT! I was shown to my “tent”. They call this a tent? I guess technically it is!
I met the manager and was given the same intro I was given at every subsequent camp. Don’t walk alone at night. If you see an animal, don’t run (only prey run). YIKES! Also, I was given the meal and game drive schedule as well as optional activities. In this part of the delta, the water level was high enough to do a traditional makoro (hollowed out canoe) ride. An elephant interaction was also an option (it had to be pre-arranged and was an additional $400). I had already signed up for this but I was skeptical. I was assured that this was not exploitative to elephants and was ethical but I’m ALWAYS skeptical.
The next morning was the elephant interaction. Ice came to get me in the morning for breakfast. It was pre-dawn and a bit dark so I needed an escort. We heard a certain type of bird give a cry and Ice explained to me that it was a type of alarm. A predator was nearby and the bird apparently sends a warning. Cool huh?
After breakfast, we drove to the elephant interaction and just minutes from the lodge we came across a female Wild Dog (likely the same one we saw the previous evening) with a fresh kill. Good for her! This must of been the cause of the “bird alarm” we heard.
We watched her a bit then left to let her dine in peace. On to the “Living with Elephants” experience.
I was with 3 other guests from Sanctuary and we were introduced to Sandy and Doug Groves. It’s a long and interesting story but Sandy from South Africa and Doug from the USA met in South Africa, both working in wildlife conservation. They encountered 2 baby elephants that were orphaned as part of a culling operation in Kruger Park. They decided to rescue these elephants and keep them in Botswana. The Groves have an arrangement with the Sanctuary properties to live and keep the elephants on the land here in a private reserve. Doug and Sandi have dedicated over 30 years of providing extraordinary care to these orphans. The elephants, Jabu and Morula, live in a large natural elephant habitat, which gives them the freedom to exhibit natural behaviors. Jabu and Morula cannot be released fully to the wild because of several factors including chronic injuries.
The costs of keeping 2 elephants are, as you can imagine, exorbitant. To get some help with this, low volumes of Sanctuary visitors can visit Jabu and Morula and have an intimate yet highly educational bush walk while learning about the African elephant, its role in the ecosystem and watching the elephants go about their day as they forage and wallow around the bush.
This is Jabu and he is simply magnificent. A very handsome and gentle bull.
We got a chance to take Marula “for a walk” by the trunk. She is a sweet elephant but I think she was the one in charge here!
We had a full elephant anatomy lesson, learned about how elephants act, some of their behaviors, their sounds and then walked through the bush with the elephants following as they ate leaves and grass along the way. We eventually came to our picnic site and a large pile of yummy elephant treats (leaves and branches) was set up so that Jabu and Marula could also eat.
Marula liked to have her trunk stroked and gives very wet kisses. She often just threw her trunk on your shoulder which was incredibly endearing.
I know that the “hands-off elephants” folks out there will give me a hard time for this but I can honestly say that these elephants are in the best possible situation given that they were supposed to be killed. There is no easy solution and money is needed for their care. It’s very easy to judge when you don’t know the whole situation. I don’t see this as exploitation and they are definitely loved happy elephants who aren’t “trained” or forced to perform or do things that aren’t natural. Jabu actually has a knee injury and needs extensive care. If you would like to learn more and donate, here is more information.
Also watch this Animal Planet Special about Jabu and you can fall in love with him like I did.
Professor Ice took me on another memorable afternoon game drive to the ‘Lion village”. They were tricky to find but as Ice said: “You can’t fool a Bushman” and we found them then spent an hour with them. There were four siblings, 2 young males, and 2 females. I couldn’t believe how close we were to them in an open-air vehicle. Simply indescribable.
On my last morning, I went for a Mokoro ride. A mokoro is a hollowed out canoe which is a traditional way of getting around the flooded delta. It’s a peaceful and beautiful way to view wildlife from a different perspective. The mokoro is powered by a “Poler”, a man with a special pronged stick that is used to push the boat through the shallow water. My driver’s name was “Manpower”. Great name.
We saw a large bull elephant, which Manpower kept a respectful distance from.
We also saw crocodiles and at the end came to a hippo pool.
Hippos are extremely territorial and the dominant bull did not want us here. He swam out menacingly to the middle of the pool. It scared me but Manpower didn’t seem worried. Every time the hippo went under water and then surfaced closer, I was like, let’s get the f$%^ out of here Manpower! Finally, he poled us to safety. Whew! I wasn’t in the mood to be tipped over by the deadliest animal in Africa.
After this “near-death” encounter, Professor Ice took me on a little walking safari. Who knew this was a thing? I was a little scared but Ice carried what looked like an AK 47 (yes because I’m an automatic firearm aficionado) and said it’s only used to scare animals away, not to kill them.
Sanctuary Chief’s Camp is located in the exclusive Mombo Concession in the Moremi Game Reserve on Chief’s Island. The Moremi is known as the “predator capital of Africa”. This is the flagship of the Sanctuary lodges here and it is spectacular.
My arrival here was pretty exciting as they somehow got a group of elephants to stroll to the backyard watering hole where they played with some baboons and warthogs. Just kidding, it was all a huge coincidence but it definitely made me feel special. Soon after I was served a delicious pizza with some wine for lunch.
This was my favorite of all 4 places and it’s hard to choose when they are all so fabulous! The cabin here was beyond my wildest dreams.
I wish I could take you on a proper tour of this place. Not shown is the massive indoor shower and outdoor shower! The terrace also had a plunge pool and a cozy lounge area. I loved watching animals walk by while in the pool. Was secretly hoping an elephant would come by for a drink (apparently that can happen).
Ok, let’s talk about this bar area. Every resort had one but this one was above and beyond. They all had coffee, tea, home baked biscuits in little jars, a refrigerator full of distilled water, soda, juices, milk, beer, white wine and Amarula (a local liquor that I’m now obsessed with) and the bar is also stocked with red wine, brandy several other spirits. Seeing this certainly raised my spirits. I became accustomed to an afternoon espresso with Amarula!
These were some memorable times. My guide here, ironically named Chief, was incredible. Here I was placed with 2 Australian couple swho were great fun. He knew of a hyena den where the hyenas would always stay close two because of a new group of cubs!
I will have words with anyone who says that hyenas are ugly!
We were determined to see lions and after 2 days of no sightings, we had given up but Chief was resolute. He knew roughly where some of the prides’ territories were and drove around to all of them. We were quickly losing sunlight and Chief looked discouraged but all of a sudden he heard the alarm call from a bird (remember earlier??). He said “something’s happening”. He noticed some giraffes nearby looking away. Usually, they will look at the car so this was also a sign. He quickly drove in the direction the giraffes were looking and within minutes we spotted lions. A large group.
The females had JUST taken down an impala and along with the cubs, were eating. At the minute we arrived, the male violently snatched away the kill and began to feed, swatting viciously at a poor cub that tried to join.
Yes, I was pretty darn close, huh?
Seeing the babies and females watching the male eat their kill and wait their turn to eat was heartbreaking. They looked sad and hungry. I think lions need a women’s rights movement!!
This was an epic experience, one that I’ll never forget. We were all so excited and had an extra special sundowner that night to celebrate Chief being an amazing guide.
I realize this post is long and you get the point of how this all works by now. Chobe Chilwero is a larger resort and slightly less exclusive feeling than the first two but still beautiful and luxurious. I loved the outdoor dinner and BBQ they had my first night. I got to sit with other guests and actually met a couple from Miami and we knew the same people. Crazy.
The game drives here were in Chobe National Park which is easier to access than the delta, therefore it more crowded with other tourists. (I was rather spoiled from my first few days). The highlight here was a leopard sighting. I didn’t like how many cars were all crowded around it though.
We also saw some adorable elephants.
How beautiful is the Chobe River?
Here you get to go on a sunset river cruise (with snacks and cocktails of course) and we had the lovely experience of being chased by an angry male hippo. Those male hippos are territorial gangsters. Just look at this face!
Meanwhile, on our boat, Kevin (after getting us to safety) starting serving cocktails.
There’s really nothing like an intoxicating African sunset.
OMG there’s more??!! You’re either saying that with delight or thinking that this post will never end. I’m not going to write much because I am saving this info for a Zambia Victoria Falls post but this was the last 2 days and was a delight. A gorgeous tree top resort full of monkeys with fun activities such as a walking rhino safari to see endangered white rhino that are under 24-hour armed ranger protection.
And of course the incomparable Victoria Falls.
This was almost as good as seeing the animals. The food was not only high quality but plentiful. This is the schedule (it varied based on when sunset and sunrise was and when guides could find a good place to stop for breaks).
630 AM Breakfast
700 AM Game Drive
900 AM Coffee/Tea Muffins. This was typically near a hippo pool with crocs to look at (nervously as we drink our tea)
1200 PM Lunch (was 3 courses with wine)
330-400 PM Afternoon Tea. This involved pastries (savory and sweet) and a fresh baked cake or tart.
400-430pm Game Drive
600 PM Sundowner cocktails and snacks. This was usually somewhere with a great sunset view, typically with hippo and croc infested water. I love how the Land Rover conveniently turned into a bar.
700pm Arrival back at the lodge where we were greeted with a cold washcloth and the cocktail of the day. At this point, we were given the choice to hang out at the lodge for cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres before dinner or be escorted back to our cabins to shower and change for dinner.
800pm Dinner. 3 courses with wine or whatever you wanted to drink. There was an open bar.
I could hardly deal. Having all that free wine, full bar in my room, not to mention the endless stream of food made me feel like a kid in a candy store. After a few days, I decided to take a swim and didn’t recognize myself in the mirror so I cut down to 1-2 course meals and no wine at lunch. Sacrifices.
I cannot sugarcoat it, this is expensive. However, I saved by going before the high season, which starts in June. I went mid-April and they waived the single supplement because of the season. The longer you stay the better. You save 30% if you stay 4-6 nights and 40% for 7+ nights. The price for 7 nights can end up not being much more than 5 nights.
Rates include all food, alcohol, game drives, transfers, laundry, park fees and emergency medical evacuation.
After talking to other tourists and people I met in the safari industry, it turns out that Sanctuary is actually a sort of “bargain”, at least the time of year that I went. I understand that “bargain” at this price is a strong word but compared to many comparable safaris, it is. I was flabbergasted upon hearing the prices at some other luxury lodges in the region.
If you have dreams of a perfect African safari vacation, I can’t recommend Botswana or Sanctuary enough. A luxury Botswana safari is the trip of a lifetime and I loved every minute. Please know that I was not sponsored. I am writing this simply to recount an amazing experience that I would recommend.
Stay tuned for my next Africa post that is in the works regarding a more budget-friendly safari in Zambia and more about visiting Victoria Falls.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ON A SAFARI? TELL ME ABOUT IT!