I don’t start most travel write ups by stating the obvious but in this case, especially as we had been told repeatedly that it’s the truth, I have to admit and say that safaris in Botswana are very different to any other safaris around the world. When people told us that a Botswana experience would be something special, we did not know what to expect, especially as we have experienced so many incredible safaris around Africa. Now we understand and I can guarantee that whatever I write below will not do complete justice to what we experienced. But I will try. And I will say that anyone thinking about visiting Botswana should take my experience and expect something exactly like that if not better.
A large part of what made our Botswana experience so special and so unique was due to my wonderful travel partner Wilderness Safaris.
Everything we did from transfers, luggage transfers, airport requirements to their resorts and service, was absolutely impeccable. From the drivers, airport personnel, pilots to chefs, cleaning maids to safari guides, each person is a true symbol of what makes Wilderness so authentic: friendly, caring, warm, beautiful, family.
We entered Botswana via the Zambia land border meaning we had a 1-hour drive from our last location. However, the 1 hour flew by because Rafael, a driver for 20 years with Wilderness, regaled us with his stories, each one better than the last. As we got closer to the border the laughter subsided slightly as he informed us of some important travel tips for Botswana, especially while navigating the borders. The most important one was children’s birth certificates. You have to carry children’s birth certificate copies with you, otherwise they will not let you in. Another important travel hack is to carry separate shoes as they check all shoes for foot and mouth disease meaning they dip the soles in chemicals. It’s more of a formality and a way for them to lessen the risk to their cattle which is their 3rd largest export, but it can be a nuisance, so carry an extra pair and use them to get past the shoe check.
Other than that, the border people were absolutely lovely, we had all the docs so we spent last than 10 minutes at immigration and then we jumped back in another Wilderness car, and we were on our way to the airport for the flight to the Wilderness DumaTau Camp. At the airport we had another travel hack to learn as heavy bags and large suitcases not accepted on the Cessna planes but no worries, the wonderful Wilderness crew guided us to the Wilderness private lounge where we transferred everything we needed into soft duffel bags, and we were on our way (actually turned into a great lesson in packing lightly and efficiently! However we were traveling for three weeks!)
Our flight, in our private Cessna Grand Caravan, adds to the Botswana experience; because the moment you are in the air, the majesty of the Botswana terrain and the amount of wild animals wandering around literally hits you with its intensity. Botswana is known as the “Land of Giants” – this is because it has the largest population of elephants in the world. And you can see it from the air, picking out these majestic animals as they traverse land seeking water.
While we could have continued to enjoy our “air safari”, a dusty single track landing strip on the horizon showed our destination was near; after a smooth landing, we were swiftly escorted from the plane straight into our customized safari jeeps where we met our guide for the next couple of days: Rogers. Anything I write after this point is in many ways directly related to how Rogers conducted himself and what he gave us in what was our first Botswana safari experience. Excellence bar none is how I would summarize Rogers and absolutely the personification of Botswana people and the Wilderness family.
Because safari is why you are in Botswana, I will share my collective experience that was gained over many game drives over a coupe of days. If you have experienced a safari before you will know that every morning your drive starts bright and early around 6-7am while the evening drive starts around 3-4pm with sunset drinks and back to camp. In the middle you have time to unwind, have brunch/lunch and take in the wonderful camp settings.
So here, in no particular order but loosely based on the level of jaw dropping amazement is what we saw on our various game drives over an action packed 48 hours of wile animal watching:
· Peekaboo around an ant hill - leopard and lion – an absolutely thrilling encounter where a female lion casually walked up an ant hill to survey the land but just happened to stumble upon a leopard on the other side, who adapted to the surprise but leaping up a gigantic tree, leaving a bemused lion starting up at her and lamenting the fact that she nearly had leopard for dinner – all while we were parked next to the tree
· A pride of lions (1 male, 3 females, 6 cubs) gorging on a dead elephant; this was nauseating, horrific, thrilling, dumbfounding all at the same time but personified nature just taking its course right before our eyes
· A pride of 6 male lions, nicknamed “Army Boys”, because they are fearsome, hunt in destructive ways, kill anyone who threatens them including other male lions and male cubs, with one of them actually called Cub Killer, a large, frightening looking male with huge mane and a look that literally said killer. We found them next to a dead hippo, occasionally gorging on the feast while also trying to mate with the one female that had reluctantly agreed to tag along. The rawness of this whole experience was quite jarring but again led more credence to the fact that safaris in Botswana are on a different level. However strong the male lion is, he will never mate without the permission of the female lion – mostly her just giving in – but nether the less, waiting for permission
· As mentioned before, elephants are everywhere but they also move in huge herds which can be dangerous if you come across with many babies in the midst as that is when the herd and especially the mothers become aggressive in their behavior; there were numerous occasions where we had to speed up rather than get caught in a situation where we were surrounded back an angry herd of elephants. This is also where we learnt why Botswana has so many elephants. Some of the neighboring countries either though game hunting or war, have made Botswana a safe sanctuary for the elephants who keep migrating for safety.
· At one point across a massive landscape of land and river we came across a huge number of vultures; they kept alternating between perching on tree tops to venturing down to the water and cleaning their feathers from all the carcasses they had feasted on – another raw reminder of nature simply at work
· Another unique aspect of Botswana is combining the water into the safari experience. We had a river safari, complete with onboard lunch and a bit of fishing for the kids where whilst our daughter Sisi caught her first ever tiger fish (catch and release mind you..) we also witnessed many elephants swimming across the river right in front of the boat
· We ventured into a bunker next to a watering hole, so while we had coffee and drinks, unsuspecting herds of zebras, antelopes, wild hogs and gazelles came right up to our hiding spot and lapped up the water. The softer, gentler side of nature.
· Outside the entrance to the camp, every night lay “George” the resident hippo. George is as wild as they come, however a few years ago he was in a fight with other hippos and badly injured, he took shelter and refuge during covid at the camp. Every evening he comes from the river and rests on the sand taking comfort in the noise but not coming into the actual camp.
· One afternoon we came out of our room to go for lunch at right outside the wooden walk way, elephants came to graze as we watched from our entrance these mighty giants up close – don't let this scare you as you just keep quiet and walk back into your room and call the guide to come and get you – its just another reason why Botswana is raw, untouched and nature at its finest.
As our vehicles were private use, we can determine our time and day. One of the morning game drives we left at 6.30am and came back at 2pm. An absolutely incredible live game experience that encapsulated everything that is so majestic about Botswana. As Rogers so expertly put it, we have to use all our 5 senses when we are out in the bush and in these game drives all our 5 senses were firing on all cylinders.
Wilderness DumaTau Camp
Located in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve and perched alongside 45km of river bank and nestled between tow busy elephant corridors, the camp of 8 rooms with plunge pools, a large swimming pool, gym and a lagoon fire pit this is your little slice of heaven in the middle of Botswana. Raw, authentic but full of luxury, this is the perfect place to call home when you’ve come back from an invigorating game drive.
No amount of attention to detail is compromised, the service is impeccable where every staff member remembers not only your name but also every type of dietary requirements you may have from your favorite drink to how you like your eggs made. The entire staff, led superbly by Derrick the camp manager, are experts at making you feel at home and nothing is too much to ask for. From playing games with the kids to even letting them go into the kitchen and assist the chef in cooking and baking, no effort is left unturned in making your stay very special and truly memorable.
Also every room is provided with a SLR camera which you can use during your stay and the memory card will be given to you.
Everything that is so special about Botswana and Wilderness Safari camps comes to a resounding crescendo every Monday evening when they conduct their weekly BOMA: African barbecue next to a blazing fire, where stories are exchanged and the Wilderness staff (all of them being from Botswana) send all the guests on a history of Botswana while also showcasing the unique culture of this country with elaborate and traditional singing and dancing. A truly memorable evening never to be forgotten, especially for my kids who learnt more about a country than they ever will from a textbook and my husband who danced with the team.
** for that truly intimate experience, there is “Little DumaTau”, a smaller, much more exclusive camp with 4 rooms, right next to the bigger camp but only for 8 people – great for families to book on an exclusive basis.
While I will have more to say about Botswana in my second part, the experience we had at Wilderness DumaTao was pure magic. Everything was picture perfect.
I will recommend this camp to my clients till the cows come home, literally and figuratively. Its not my first time experiencing a Wilderness Camp across Africa and I hope it wont be my last, but I can say that impeccable service is in their DNA.
What I would suggest is to plan your trip around the dry season and not the wet season. In dry season, animals seek out watering holes so spotting animals is much easier while in wet season because there is plenty of water to go around, it can be harder to spot animals meaning longer unfulfilled game drives which can be hard on impatient children. So plan a Botswana trip around March-August and get ready to have an experience of a lifetime.
Check out this footage of the lion and leopard -
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