On the same trip with Jamie’s parents and our friend Chris in September, we went to Chobe National Park in Botswana. We traveled from Joburg to Zambia (Victoria Falls) then from Zambia to Botswana. OK guys, if you plan to do something like this you REALLY need to read my tips about traveling amongst African countries. There is A LOT you need to know that we only learned through the experience. I would have much rather known some of these things beforehand, but we made it through OK, albeit a little wide-eyed. If you fly directly to Chobe, the airport is in the town of Kasane and it is simply the Kasane Airport.
Jamie and I researched and found the lodge we were to stay at near Chobe called Elephant Valley Lodge. It is only a short drive from the park and, I am telling you, we could not have chosen a better place. As with most lodges in Africa, they are all inclusive (food, activities, levies, etc), with the exception of your alcoholic drinks (as was this place). You are charged per person, not per room as in a hotel. This property was the proper “glamping” experience – camping with glam and style 🙂 They called it a “luxury tented safari camp”. Each tent was structured on a cement foundation with an ensuite bathroom and 2 twin beds. You get there and it’s hot and you think “OMG how am I going to sleep with no air con?!”, but it gets cool at night and I slept like a baby! Jamie’s parents were silently freaked out for the first day, I think, because it seemed a little too “wilderness-y” for them, but they quickly came to love it. The lodge and the tents are very nice, clean and comfortable. Here are all the cool things we experienced at Elephant Valley Lodge:
- The main attraction was that they built their camp next to an active watering hole! This lodge was the only one around that had this access, which was the main reason we chose it. Dinner was served outside with direct viewing of the spotlighted watering hole and animal after animal, herd after herd, came while we were eating dinner! It was THE most spectacular thing! At one point, nearly 100 Cape Buffalos came to the hole! At the hole we saw about 10 giraffes at once, plus others, loads and loads of elephants, hyenas, Cape Buffalo, and tons of other animals!
- The food is all home cooked and was delicious. They serve you breakfast, lunch and dinner, all outside and the dinner is served braai (grill) style outside near the watering hole.
- You can leave you tent windows open (still screened in, though)
and watch the animals come by all through the night. Chris did this and woke up to an elephant chomping on an Acacia tree right outside his tent. The entire grounds are fenced in, so the big animals can’t just walk up to your tent and trample you or anything. The fence line was right outside our tents. Ummm…might be a good idea to read my Baboon tips now, as well…
- You have the options to do a river cruise in the morning and a land safari in the afternoon each day you are there. They are included in the price of your stay. Our guide, Eugene, was the best. We found out that he is the head honcho of the safari guides in Chobe, so we got lucky with him. If he told a guide from another lodge to get out of the way so we could see whatever animal it was, they did it with no hesitation. If you go to Elephant Valley lodge, request he be your guide. They pair you with the same guide for the length of your stay. With Jamie and I being GIANT Disney fans, of course we were singing Lion King songs in our head and expecting to see every animal from the cartoon. Without even knowing that about us, Eugene would say the name of the Disney character when we saw the animal! Haha! For example, when we saw the red-billed hornbill bird he said, “we are coming up on Zazu here on the right!” I LOVED IT!
OK now onto the safari and all it’s wonderfulness! We stayed there a couple days and got the opportunity to go out on 2 afternoon land safaris and one morning river cruise.
We loaded up each afternoon into the safari truck and went on to the park. Tip: you have to really climb and swing yourself into these trucks, so if that is difficult for you, ask the guide if you can sit in the front with him. It’s not a problem and it’s just a regular car door height. Also, if the truck is stadium styled seating, which most are, the back seat is high up. If you are short your feet won’t touch the ground, so I would recommend sitting on rows one or 2. And the back row is a BUMPY ride.
When you drive into the park you are climbing a hill. When you come around the bend and start to descend it is so picturesque it doesn’t even look real. Out on the horizon was a savannah with hundreds, if not thousands, of elephant silhouettes. It was magnificent. Truly beautiful. Fun fact: in the dry season, the river recedes. At this time, the Cape Buffalo cross the low spots of the river and live in the marshy grass that has been created. Once the rainy season comes, they cross back over to the savannah and live and graze there until the dry season again. During the dry season, they are not as often preyed on because lions cannot cross the river.
We saw so many elephants my brain still cannot comprehend it. There are about 120,000 elephants in Botswana, the most in a localized place in the world. I asked our guide why and he simply said “they like it here, so this is where they migrate!” OK, I can understand that! Remember, I mentioned in my Big Five post that there are no rhinos to view in Botswana as they all have been, sadly, poached out. Since then Botswana has laid some major poaching laws. Since there were no rhinos, our family didn’t get to see all of the Big Five, but we saw a couple animals that are so rare, I know many people who live here who have still never seen them. Those were the leopard and the wild dog.
Now, also remember, I mentioned in my rainy versus dry season post that if you go on safari during the dry season you can see the animals who like to hide more clearly as the vegetation is low. This is the only reason, I believe, we got to see the leopard. It was hiding under a bush that had lost most of it’s leaves. It was amazing. The wild dogs were just on the side of the road on our way from the lodge to the park! Our guide pulled over RIGHT next to them! There were maybe 5 or 6 adults and a mother with, get this…PUPPIES! Can you believe it?! Not only did we get to see wild dogs, but we got to see wild dog puppies! Adorable.
Eugene got a radio call that there were 3 lionesses watching a herd of impala (deer-like animals) so we bolted! Chris and I thought we were going to watch a hunt, but once we got there we realized that lions, much like my domesticated cat, are pretty lazy.
The 3 ladies just sat there and watched the impalas from a distance and we just sat there and watched the lionesses from about 3 METERS away! We were super close to them, but they didn’t care about us. They were beautiful. We also saw a young male lion, a teenage Simba, if you will, walking across the savannah at one point (minus Timon and Pumba). But the cherry on top of the lion experience was the last day, even on our way out of the park. Eugene heard on the radio that there was an adult male lion close enough to see. He drove us over there and there were a few other lodge trucks blocking the view, so what did Eugene do? Told them to move it or lose it! We were still kind of far away, but you could see him with the binoculars. From what we gathered, the guides are supposed to stay within a few meters of the trail,
but Eugene did the unthinkable. He drove us about 15 meters away from the lion, counted to 10 and headed back towards the exit! He told another guide, “don’t mention that to anyone!” I took as many photos as I could on shutter speed for those 10 seconds! There was also a lioness sitting right next to him, but you can’t tell from the picture as she is on the other side.
Also on the safaris we saw the always majestic giraffes, Debbie’s favorite, as well as warthogs (Pumba), monkeys – Vervet and Baboons (of course), zebra, kudu, fish eagles, several other species of bird, impala,
Sable Antelope (Bobby’s favorite), jackals and lots more! We weren’t able to see Timon and Pumba together. Meerkats live in the countries in the northern part of Sub-Saharan Africa. Apparently there are a lot in the Serengeti in Tanzania.
The Chobe River runs through Chobe National Park and that is where we were. It borders Botswana and Namibia, so some parts of the marsh are Namibian and some are of Botswana. There is a Namibian flag right in the middle of one area of the marsh. The Chobe River eventually runs into the Zambezi River in an area called Kazungula.
Please don’t take what I am about to say about the river cruise as a reason for you not to take one. It really can be an awesome experience. With that said, I will never do a river cruise again in the same fashion as we did this one. Main reason: I am PETRIFIED of hippos! Like, to the core terrified and I don’t want to have anything to do with them. I know you’re probably thinking “oh but they look so cute on TV and at the zoo”…well, with all due respect, you don’t live in Africa. We have only been here 10 months and we have had 2 close encounters and that is 2 too many, not to mention our friends that have, as well.
Here’s how it went down: Eugene took us out on this little river boat. I think it sat maybe 10 or so people and was just a little flat bottom, metal boat. Nothing fancy. When we were walking to the dock we passed a sign that said “Beware of Hippos”… my radar went up and I though to myself “yeah, I don’t think this is going to be good for my mental health”. But, of course, I got into the boat. What else was I going to do? Go sit at the bar that was in the lodge connected to the marina and talk to the warthog wandering around? Yes, there was a warthog that walked up to the bar there, no joke. Jamie and I alternated sitting on the aisle and the edge so we could share the picture taking experience.
We saw lots of things: hippos, Cape Buffalo, crocodiles and tons of water fowl. And we saw them very up close. Eugene had no problem pulling us within a meter of some of these animals, including the crocs and hippos. I just closed my eyes until I felt the boat moving again. I know I haven’t yet elaborated on what exactly it is about hippos that scares me (haha predictive text changed that to “hippies”…I’m scared of them, too! jk 🙂
I am sure you have read or seen on Planet Earth that hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa, and that is true. But you have to really understand why, and I am telling you this from experience. Hippos are mysterious when they’re in the water and mad as a wet hornet when they’re out of the water. They just aren’t happy animals. Another thing you might not have known about them is that they can’t swim. They run. And they run fast. You will only find hippos in shallow water, only a few meters deep. When a hippo slyly goes underwater (without making a sound) they are going to the bottom to walk or run to where they want to go next. So you can’t see their movement. See…this is why they are mysterious. Another thing you might have learned on Planet Earth is that male hippos, called bulls, fight for territory or for control of a pod. The loser has to skedaddle and be on his own until he can find another pod to try and take over. OK, now you know a bit about them…
We were just floating along and came around the bend to find a lone bull hippo grazing. Once he saw us he growled and charged at us! He ran right into the water behind us and we couldn’t see him! Eugene hit the gas, but this tin can of a boat wasn’t going anywhere, and I just realized, this is it. This is how I’m going to die. I am honestly expecting that this hippo is running on the bottom of the river, chasing us and is going to pop up and flip the boat. This has happened to people, guys! I am not overreacting here! What felt like forever later, we noticed the hippo was heading in a different direction than we were, so the nerves calmed a bit. I think he just did it to scare us – even Eugene was a little freaked! He might not admit it, but I saw the look on his face!
My heart rate has gone up just in writing this bit, so I’ll stop by saying I am open to doing a river cruise again, but in a boat big enough that a hippo can’t get to me.
Botswana is a must for a safari adventure! It has the densest population of animals per square hectare, and is extremely beautiful. We are planning a trip to the other side of the country to the Okavango Delta, so stay tuned for that! Here are some more pictures of Chobe. Enjoy!