Therefore here I have included five very different safari camps and lodges in Botswana. All are unique and stunning in their own different ways, yet the reason I have selected them for my ‘top five safari lodges and camps’ is because of a certain something else that they possess.
For me, luxury and beauty aren’t just about the sumptuous linens and gold taps. These days, we must recognise ‘beauty’ and ‘luxury’ for what it truly is; the experience, the view, the privacy, and above all immersion in the empty wilderness.
Today’s luxury is ‘space’ and this is something that we are short of these days. In our crowded world, we all seek indulgent escapism, with nobody except us and loved ones in the wilderness immersed in an exclusive experience. These lodges are those where I have experienced this, as well as being very comfortable and in some cases visually stunning in their architecture and their extra fixtures.
One of my favourite camps in Botswana is Abu Camp, and despite my above note, there is indeed a high level of luxury and beauty here! The staff are some of the best in the country, the passion from all working here shows in an elegant and professional way. The food is simply incredible and one dines gourmet-style three times a day.
The rooms are large, airy and elegant, subtle shades create a surreal calming environment and one has all the provisions and necessities one needs. What makes Abu Camp ‘beautiful’ is all of the above together, as one would expect of a high-luxury lodge. The scenery is also phenomenal! Abu lies in the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO heritage site with stunning wildlife. The Delta is a water wilderness filled with biodiversity amongst palm trees, small islands, and waterlilies. What’s more, Abu Camp has a herd of very special elephants.
Abu's became a refuge to three elephants many years ago. The elephants had been rescued and brought back to Botswana to live out their days in the wilderness. Two of the original three, Cathy and Shereni, still live here. The elephants are used to being around humans as they have been rescued and cared for by the owners of the Camp for many years. However they are free to roam in the wild and spend their days foraging in the wilderness surrounding the camp.
Over the years there have been many babies born, all sired by wild bulls. However the rescued matriarch and her herd still choose to return to the safety of their boma at night to avoid conflict, and every member of staff at the camp considers it a privilege to be part of their family.
The amazing experience here includes spending time with these elephants and witnessing the herd in their natural environment. This is a humbling experience indeed. At specific places around the concession guests can get close to the herd (without invading their freedom) and learn about their individual personalities from the guides.
On my last visit I was walking with the herd and suddenly right next to us bounded away a leopard. He had been lying low thinking no one would see him, but had a rethink at the last minute when a forest of elephant legs descended too close!
Now this is a truly stunning and beautiful lodge with a unique architectural style. The main lodge building and the individual wooden pod chalets are covered in wooden tiles and designed to be reminiscent of a giant scaled pangolin at rest. The guest ‘pods’ are raised up so one is looking out over the reed beds.
Inside they are cool and organic and beautiful, a cross between Scandi and African in style with light colours, organic textures, deep colours laid across lights, and a massive bed adorned in a white mosquito net.
A memory of Sandibe that sticks with me is of sitting on my private deck with the world seemingly stretching ahead of me, resting after the mornings’ activities. The only sounds were bird life in the trees around the deck, their calls soothing and restful after a morning’s activity.
I drifted and dozed away but gradually had a feeling of being watched. Tentatively opening an eye, I found two bushbuck watching me quietly, I was no threat to them so they dropped their heads and carried on munching away tiptoeing, through the undergrowth.
Positioned on the fringes of the Okavango, one stays at Sandibe for dry-land experiences rather than for water activities. Game drives and walking safaris in beautiful woodlands and over the open plains of this private concession are fantastic experiences, where one can often spot lots of wildlife including the ‘Big Five’.
Most exciting of all, one can take the lodge’s private helicopter over the Delta for breath-taking private scenic flights, seeing the marshes, islands, and channels laid out before you. As you swoop across the Delta you get a sense of the vastness of this unique ecosystem.
Xugana, (pronounced Koo-ga-na), is also situated in the heart of the Okavango and borders possibly the most beautiful horseshoe-shaped lagoon in this water paradise. No other camp in the Delta sits on such a large lagoon and to me, this makes it one of the most beautiful settings. Trees including giant ebony and African mangosteen trees and sycamore figs shelter the lodge and the reed-walled rooms that overlook the tranquil waters of the Xugana Lagoon.
The trees provide food and shelter, somewhere to nest and lay eggs and the birdlife is always excellent here because the wildlife has grown and accepted the camp over the many years. For the last 40 years, lesser striped swallows have nested under the office eves every year, whilst Egyptian tomb bats have been using the same wall to return and have their young every year.
The combination of the view over the lagoon (each ‘mesasa’ – room – overlooks it), and the bird song which is present from before dawn to bedtime - there is always a chirp from something – makes this a truly sublime stay. Xuganas beauty comes from its genuine and relaxed atmosphere and setting and some of the friendliest staff in Botswana.
The tranquil waters of the lagoon add the serene ambiance, and ending the afternoon with a quiet canoe ride through the shallows is pure luxury, the colours, the calmness and setting of the sun, G&T in hand, has to be one of the best endings to the day.
This is a romantic, beautifully made, one-of-a-kind camp set in an extraordinary landscape. San is actually one of only three camps in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, but San Camp stands out for its style and its beauty, amongst the stark pans.
It does indeed stand out, as it sits on the edge of a huge open salt pan with golden grasslands swaying in desert breezes. Singular or double tall palm trees stand guard over the brilliant white tents which sit underneath. Inside is a contrast of deeply coloured Persian rugs and four-poster beds, colonial artifacts, and furnishings; all rather Bedouin.
Not only is the style of the camp beautiful, but its beauty comes in the 360° view of nothingness and the luxury of being on your own in miles and miles of emptiness. Take a few steps out into the pans and breathe, relax and unwind and watch as your shoulders drop and you become one with the landscape.
During your stay here you can visit the habituated meerkats colony, walk with Kalahari San people, search for stone-age tools in the salt pans and end the day with a gin and tonic whilst watching a herd of graceful springbok, their legs seemingly getting longer in the setting sun.
Ngoma Lodge features on my beautiful camp list because of the elevated setting overlooking the Chobe River floodplain and the small size of the lodge as well as the lovely rooms. A stay at Ngoma Lodge is the most relaxing way to enjoy this piece of paradise.
The main lodge is small, yet has a lot of private spaces including different levels that take you to a sundowner spot under a baobab tree. There is lots of character – this camp has an elegant, organic African style. Colourful beaded heads serve as lampshades and rock pools and indigenous plants are used as perches by birdlife coming for a quick drink.
Be sure to have binoculars on hand at all times as the wildlife passes by below on its way to the water edge. On one visit I fancied a quick dip in the plunge pool at my room, but plans soon changed when a mother elephant and three youngsters came to drink all the water from the pool!
Botswana is full of some of the most extraordinary safari experiences and these are simply five of my own personal favourite camps to stay in, which are visually beautiful and also give one a fantastic safari experience.
This is by no means all that Botswana has to offer, and if you would like more information about any aspect of taking a safari to Botswana, please do contact me directly or at The Explorations Company, I would be delighted to help! You can also explore our video library for some more Africa escapism!
Images kindly provided courtesy of Sandible Lodge, Xugana Camp, San Camp, Ngoma Lodge and Abu Camp. Abu Camp's herd by sleepout copyright to Crookes and Jackson.