Sandra, our General Manager, was excited to host 5 of our agents from the USA on a FAM trip to Botswana. This country has become synonymous with the iconic Okavango Delta, the great Chobe National Park and the sprawling Kalahari Desert with the Makgadikadi Salt Pans.
What was it like travelling with the Covid-regulations?
I was excited to be given the opportunity to travel again so that I was happy to fulfil any health requirements. As it turned out, it was easy! I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and walked straight to the National Health Systems, where my Covid-19 test was done in 15 minutes. The very same evening, I received a text advising that my test came back negative. On Sunday morning, I collected my stamped certificate and went to meet my fellow FAM trippers.
I was joined by US travel advisors who had signed up for our FAM trip to Botswana. The only initial concern was the timing of their PCR tests in the US: they had to be valid for arrival in South Africa and to connect to Botswana the same day. Both countries require a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.
There were few passengers on the flights and at the airports, which made us feel comfortable. I think that I can speak for all of us: we felt safe travelling with all the health protocols in place. We flew with Airlink from Johannesburg to Maun. On arrival, the Botswana government has implemented a compulsory antigen test for everyone entering the country. It’s free of charge and administered in an outdoor facility (with strict health protocols in place) before you’re allowed to enter the terminal building.
How was your stay at the new Khwai Leadwood Lodge?
This is a brand new lodge situated in the Khwai community-run concession. While it hasn’t officially opened yet, we were among the first to have the privilege to experience it.
The décor has a touch of contemporary flair to it while still maintaining a traditional style. Woven baskets and beaded items are used throughout the lodge and are available in the curio shop (the proceeds are passed on to the local communities).
The tents are large and well-appointed; we could open the doors and sleep with only the “mesh” front panel of the tent between us and the outdoors. While the first night was daunting for one or two travelers because of the noisy hippos splashing in the river below and a lion roar in the distant Moremi Game Reserve, everyone settled in nicely on the second night, and we all enjoyed falling asleep to the sounds of nature.
Our activities were super exciting. The water levels were exceptionally high, so we often had to drive through deep water on our game drives. One of our highlights was a surprise helicopter flight over the Delta; this is a must-do for everyone. It gives one a totally different perspective, not to mention some aerial game viewing. The lodge automatically includes this with a 3-night booking.
We enjoyed our first ever mokoro excursion on the second afternoon, which was an unforgettable experience. Gliding quietly through the channels as the sunset was just magical!
Next, you stayed at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. What were some highlights?
This is definitely a 5-star, eco-friendly lodge: the staff, the large tented suites, the wildlife that comes to drink at the permanent waterhole in front of the lodge and the amazing cuisine!
I had stayed there many years ago before the refurb, and I was impressed with the new look. Everything was perfect from the moment we landed (a small herd of elephants waited for us next to the runway) until our farewell. Our guide, Robert, was excellent and gave us an incredible safari experience!
It’s important to note that the lodge is situated in the Savute National Park, which means that the vehicles keep to the roads and night drives aren’t allowed. Despite this, it offered one of the best game viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve never seen so many elephants!
Xigera is in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Was there a stand-out moment on this safari?
WOW! Everything about Xigera Safari Lodge is exceptional! We were transferred to the lodge by boat; as we approached, I knew it would be a special stay. It’s hard to describe the serenity created by the vibrant colours, the attention to detail, the exquisite Ardmore ceramics and art throughout the lodge, the passion for sustainability…and the amazing Spa!
The lodge also has a Baobab Treehouse, a 3 story stand-alone “building” surrounded by a sculpture that resembles a baobab tree. This off-the-grid sleep-out is just a quick mokoro from the main lodge. Guests can spend the night or simply dine. This is on my “to do” list if I ever have the privilege of returning to Xigera.
One of my highlights was during a night drive when we spotted a lioness walking in the road. She had a small animal hanging out of her mouth, so I assumed that she’d been hunting. But when she veered off the road, we approached slowly, and were surprised to see a newborn cub. We moved along quite quickly because our guide explained that the lioness would most likely be giving birth to more cubs, and we shouldn’t encroach on her.
A moment I’ll never forget!
Tell us a bit more about Jack’s Camp?
Flying from the Delta to Jack’s Camp was like flying to another world. I watched lush green waterways give way to awe-inspiring Makgadikadi Salt Pans in the rugged Kalahari below us. It was almost impossible to believe that these two worlds were separated by only a light aircraft flight of about 1,5 hours.
The pictures only begin to capture this one-of-a-kind lodge. The large main “tent” has draped luxurious interiors which take you back to an East African safari of yesteryear. It stretches from a cosy billiard room with a Natural History exhibition – through an inviting lounge area – to my favourite: a Moroccan style tea parlour. We kicked off our dusty shoes at the entrance to the tent and stepped into the cool serenity of this oasis of low sofas and scattered cushions.
The theme of a bygone safari era is carried through to the tented suites with their private swimming pools and hanging day beds on the deck—the perfect setting for a wonderful massage on our second afternoon. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to enjoy the stand-alone pool pavilion – yes, it’s as grand as it sounds!
This destination had been on my bucket list for many years, and it didn’t disappoint.
Unfortunately for us, there had been quite a lot of rain the past couple of days, so we weren’t able to ride the quad bikes onto the salt pans, nor were we able to do the iconic sleep-out under the stars. While we were naturally a bit disappointed, we were quickly swept away into the magic of the salt pans by our guide Super – who is truly “super” with his knowledge, experience and larger than life personality.
I’ll never forget my incredible interaction with the habituated meerkats. I can confidently say that this experience has been etched into our memories forever. Watching the sunset while standing alone on the endless salt pans, walking with the local San people who were eager to share their knowledge of the bush and how their ancestors lived off this arid landscape, watching them light a fire with just two sticks and digging out scorpions as entertainment … there’s no other place like this!
Find out more about safaris in Botswana, or get in touch with us to start planning your Botswana safari.