Embark on a true African safari to Botswana, where the wildlife is pristine, and our days are timed with the rhythm of nature. Botswana is visually exciting—each of its unique habitats have distinct features, most famous of which is the Okavango Delta. This tour is limited to just eight participants traveling with local experts and Naturalist Journeys’ guide Greg Smith.
We call this one “ultimate,” not for contrived creature comforts, but for the amazing opportunity to intimately take in the spectrum of Botswana’s wildlife. Designed by Naturalist Journeys’ owner and founder, Peg Abbott, who has decades of experience visiting Africa, this is an ultimate experience for seeing Africa’s birds and iconic large mammals. With three nights at almost all locations, you will find a marvelous sense of place at each unpacking.
Our journey starts from Maun, where we stay at Nxamaseri Island Lodge, prized also by fisherman for its permanent water location. We find exciting birds and mammals in this realm of tall fig trees, papyrus, and reeds. From here, we can also see ancient rock art at the nearby Tsodilo Hills with a local guide. We then fly to the fascinating and vast Kalahari Desert where our lodgings are right on an active waterhole. Here we see unique birds and mammals of the arid lands, and have our best chance to see the Bat-eared Fox. We then spend six incredible nights in Moremi Game Reserve, a critical stronghold for several endangered species. We spend our Moremi days on the move, at two varied locations, kept comfortable by the support crew of a mobile-tented camp, complete with private bathroom, a chef, and a wildlife and birding guide with an unparalleled 25+ years of experience. This mobile camp is designed to get us as close to the wildlife as safety allows. Imagine the richness of those wild nighttime sounds!
From Moremi we fly on to Chobe National Park where we explore first from a fabulously comfortable hotel, then our own chartered houseboat. Pangolin photo experts are along on our boat trips and game drives to give us tips, perfect to make the most of our efforts at any level of photography throughout the trip. Chobe can get crowded (Botswana’s Yellowstone) but is always special so we keep it on the itinerary. And we go beyond the crowd on a three-night houseboat trip, mooring on a quiet section of river where we can be out at dawn and dusk for the wildlife action with ease beneath skies awash with southern stars. We get amazingly close views of birds and wildlife without disturbing their interactions and day-to-day survival.
If big game, stunning birds, southern constellations, and the enchanting sounds of wild Africa beckon, this journey is sure to entice.
- Explore the Okavango Delta’s papyrus-lined channels and lagoons, the riverine woodlands of Chobe National Park, and legendary wetlands and Mopane forests of Moremi Game Reserve
- Stay 3 nights at Nxamaseri Island Lodge, on permanent water of the Okavango River; look for Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-backed Night-Heron, colorful nesting bee-eaters, and Sitatunga
- Experience the fabulous Kalahari Desert with prime lodging at Nxai Pan, where wildlife and birds congregate at our tented camp’s waterhole
- Follow wildlife and elegant, colorful birds with expert guides on a six-night mobile camp in the heart of the renowned Moremi Game Reserve
- Live “National Geographic moments” in real time on each morning and afternoon game drive
- Find signature birds like Slaty Egret, Black Heron, African Openbill Stork, Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, Southern Ground Hornbill, bustards, hoopoes, and of course, the stunning Lilac-breasted Roller
- Hone your photo and wildlife-spotting skills daily on drives and boat trips in Chobe National Park
- Look for Leopard, often seen in both Moremi and Chobe National Park
- Spend three nights on the Pangolin Voyager cruising the wildlife-rich Chobe River, where we watch Elephant, Lion, Sable Antelope, and a host of herons and egrets, including the world’s largest: the Goliath Heron
- Capture that ultimate African sunset—acacia tree, Giraffes, and more!
Sat., July 31: Arrival in Maun | Nxamaseri Lodge
Most flights to Botswana route through Johannesburg and we find that many overnight there, and then take a morning flight up to Maun. As it’s a long trip, we do recommend a night ahead either in Johannesburg (“Joburg” to locals) or Maun as a good idea to rest up—be able to make the most of your safari. We will coordinate our short flight up to Nxamaseri Island Lodge once we have all the group members’ flight times, approximately 2PM. Those coming from Namibia will simply drive, and meet us at the lodge. In Maun you are met by staff of the small air company we use at the airport and escorted out to the plane—take off for a wonderful overview of the Okavango River region.
Accommodations at Nxamaseri Lodge (D)
Sun., Aug. 1 & Mon., Aug. 2: Okavango River | Nxamaseri Lodge
What a way to begin, with three nights at a most delightful lodge, nestled under palms on an island in the Okavango River. It is a popular lodge for birders and fisherman and affords some wonderful photo opportunities. Goliath Heron are often on patrol outside the lodge and here we may find White-backed Night-Heron and Pel’s Fishing Owl. It’s nice to be able to walk around the grounds and gardens and to gather around the campfire at day’s end. Our day is varied on the water and exploring from Camp. By boat we visit a quiet lily-lagoon where African Swamphen and African Pygmy Geese can be found. In addition to birding, the lodge is known for its great location for fishing, so if any in our group want to fish, a morning or late-afternoon outing can be arranged (additional cost).
Those that wish can visit a nearby World Heritage Site, Botswana’s archeological gem: the Tsodilo Hills. Here 3000-year old rock paintings adorn colorful rock walls and you also find Botswana’s highest peak, all in a tiny inselberg mountain range visible for miles around. This is a day trip and you arrive back at the lodge mid-afternoon. There are good opportunities there for birding as well as the cultural site. If you prefer to go fishing, or remain in camp, you can do some land-based birding and another boat trip.
The Okavango is not unlike our Everglades, a slow moving, major river system that allows water to fan out across the Kalahari Desert, transforming it into a paradise for wildlife. It is the largest Ramsar designated site in the world, set up to protect globally important wetlands.
Accommodations at Nxamaseri Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues., Aug. 3 - Thurs., Aug. 5: Kalahari Desert at Nxai Pan
Botswana is very well organized for getting around by air, we book you on a short flight from one lodge to the next, a wonderful way to make the most of our field time. After a morning outing we head to the airstrip, then greet the wonderful guides from our next lodge as we head to lunch there. Your first experience of the Kalahari and its vastness is from the air.
Experience the arid Kalahari Desert from the comforts of one of our favorite lodges. This camp features nine beautifully crafted casitas on the edge of a large salt pan, replete with birds and wildlife. The camp is 100% solar powered, with central area dining and bar. Rooms face the permanent waterhole, which draws in numerous birds. Elephants have been known to approach closely for a drink in the small fresh water swimming pool.
Nxai Pan is part of the greater Makgadikgadi/Nxai Pan National Park. From our comfortable base, enjoy birding and wildlife drives with lodge naturalists. Little has changed there since 1862, when the British adventurer and artist, Thomas Baines, explored the area and made famous its enormous Baobab trees. Watch for breeding larks that are active at this time, including Sabota, Rufous-naped, Red-capped, and Fawn-colored among the more common. Beautiful Capped Wheatear, White-quilled Bustard (Black Korhan), and Kori Bustard can be found in open country; watch for barbets and hornbills and possible Bat-eared Fox starting to consider their den sites.
Elephant frequent the waterhole; their presence against the immense silence of this remote location is memorable. We should see family groups and also huge bachelor males. We may also see Gemsbok and certainly many Springbok, desert adapted animals that are rare and typically not seen in Moremi. Lion, Giraffe, Impala, and Wildebeest are here too, as are some of the more elusive species: Bat-eared Fox, Honey Badger, and Cheetah. Photographically, the edge of the waterhole provides unending beauty as species line up to drink, multiple species shots are prized!
For those that wish, the lodge provides a unique experience. Many of their staff members are people of the Kalahari, the San also known as Bushman. You can walk with one of the San trackers to enjoy an informative walk that takes place within the camp’s footprint. Learn about how the San lived nomadically, how they hunted, gathered food, their water sources, and which plants were used for medicinal purposes. Their wealth of true bush knowledge is unparalleled, and one of our guests’ favorite experiences at our desert camps.
Coffee around the campfire starts your day and social time around it, under the beautiful African night sky ends it. You are on safari!
Accommodations at Nxai Pan (B,L,D)
Fri., Aug. 6 - Sun., Aug. 8: First Mobile Camp | Moremi Game Reserve
Moremi Game Reserve borders Chobe National Park. Within its boundaries lies about a third of the land area that makes up the Okavango Delta. It is a spectacular place where desert meets water. Landscapes of Moremi reveal upland tracts of Mopane forest, open savanna and papyrus-lined water channels, lagoons, and mature riverine forests. Aquatic animals and water birds abound, along with herds of plains game and predators. It has an amazing combination of vegetation types, animal species, and bird life. One of the treats is seeing Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbills calling from the crowns of trees. Birdlife abounds and there are babblers, shrikes, coucals, rollers, barbets, and the gaudy and comical African Hoopoe. Black-backed Jackal, Warthog, Kudu, Impala, and Red Lechwe are often observed here.
Our days start with the call, “Morning, morning, time to get up,” as our lead guide gets us ready for an early start. A quick field breakfast with coffee and tea gets us ready to go out searching for wildlife at first light. Our group is usually the first one out and that always pays dividends. Nocturnal hunters like Lion and Hyena are finishing their hunts, while browsers and grazers (Waterbuck and Kudu) are breathing a sigh of relief as daylight offers them better visibility. It is also the time when the diurnal predators such as African Wild Dog and Cheetah start their hunting forays.
After our mid-day siesta, we head out again, this time looking for those same animals finishing their hunts while the nocturnal predators are starting theirs. Elephant and Giraffe appear out of nowhere, and it is not uncommon to have Lion and other wildlife laying in the shade of a Mopane tree along the road. We are the eyes and ears for our drivers as they take us deeper into the heart of this game preserve. It takes a bit of getting used to, but after a while you are picking out Zebra in the dappled shade that makes them seemingly disappear. We arrive at our private mobile camp with time to unpack, and get settled before an afternoon game drive.
Each evening we gather around the fire for drinks and light appetizers before dinner (and after dinner around the campfire) where we all discuss our day’s sightings, photographs, and experiences. Then the kitchen staff arrive carrying serving dishes filled with different foods that just taste so good after our drives.
Accommodations in a Mobile Tent Camp (B,L,D)
Mon., Aug. 9: Moving Day | Second Mobile Safari Camp at Khwai River, Moremi Game Reserve
As we move from our first camp of three nights to our second camp, there are several routes we can take to traverse the park. Depending on what we have already seen at Nxamaseri Lodge at the start, we may enjoy a morning boat trip from Xakanaxa. Tall papyrus and reeds line the channel and we often have Elephant feeding on the river margin. We watch for a deep-water tolerant antelope, the Sitatunga. And we listen for Chirping Cisticola and on an island lunch stop, have another chance at seeing the rare Pel’s Fishing Owl. Or, we may use this time for a game drive, in search of Wild Dog or Wattled Cranes and many other species.
We break up the drive across the park with a lunch break / rest stop, finally arriving at our second camp. It is a full and rewarding day, often we see over 100 bird species between the driving route and boat tour. Our tents await and we are now well-trained on the routine. On to drinks, dinner, night-sky viewing, and sleep!
Accommodations in a Mobile Tent Camp (B,L,D)
Tues., Aug. 10 & Wed., Aug. 11: Khwai River, Moremi Game Reserve
“Morning, morning.” We are up at dawn as adventure calls. Riverine forests line the Khwai River channel and in this mosaic of habitats we look for Leopard, Red Lechwe, Kudu, and Giraffe. Lion of the Okavango have taken freely to hunting in the water?a behavior rarely seen in other areas. Wild dogs also find a stronghold here and with luck (and persistence) we may find them! Leopard enjoy resting in massive, often flowering Sausage Trees.
This is our guide’s favorite part of the park as game animals and their predators abound. We should find ample numbers of Blue Wildebeest, various antelope species, Common (Burchell’s) Zebra, Warthog, Lion, and Elephant. We make every effort to see as many mammals as possible. Birds are also plentiful (often up to 250 species) and some are huge, such as Ostrich, Kori Bustard, and Southern Ground Hornbill. Some of the birds bear spectacular colors?Carmine and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and possible Narina Trogon to name just a few. And each bend of the river makes for good shorebird and wading bird habitat, with many to inspect at close range!
Khwai has had active Wild Dog packs on both sides of the river in recent years, and at least one of our groups has spotted two species of otter! It’s a scenic area and memorable. Time goes quickly here.
Accommodations in a Mobile Tent Camp (B,L,D)
Thurs., Aug. 12: Flight to Kasane | Chobe National Park | Chobe River
After a final game drive and brunch, we pack up and head to the airstrip. In just an hour and half or so, we land at Kasane’s commercial airport. The friendly staff of the Pangolin Hotel are there to greet us and it’s a short drive up to our hilltop accommodations with a fabulous view.
Settle in, take a dip if you like in the pool, and mid-afternoon we will head out for our first game drive in Chobe National Park. This route will have many more vehicles than what we experience in Moremi, but the wildlife is used to it and we see a surprising array of amazing things here—Leopards resting in trees, scavengers on carcasses, even a group of Lion on the hunt. This hotel caters mainly to photographers and it’s fun for our group to have some personal instruction. They also have keen eyes and the day to day experience of where to find special species—including some new and exciting birds up in this corner of the country.
Our hotel is intimate, only 14 rooms, and is close to the park gates—perfect for being first on the scene in the morning. Rooms are air-conditioned with private balconies. The dining area and lounge, pool, and fire pit are a part of the hotel’s gracious hospitality and it’s a great contrast to mobile safari to have pleasant creature comforts and connections (yes, Wi-Fi) so readily available.
Accommodations at Pangolin Chobe Hotel (B,L,D)
Fri., Aug. 13: Chobe National Park | Chobe River
Northern Botswana is renowned for its vast herds of Elephant, African Buffalo, and other plains animals. At this time of year they congregate along the Chobe River, especially as the rain-filled pans become dry. Northern Botswana is also known for its very healthy African Lion population and Leopard sightings are frequent. In the lush river-associated wetlands, Hippo and Crocodile abound. The Chobe River supports the largest concentration of Elephant in all of Africa. These Elephant migrate here and depend on the river during the dry season. Some groups that use the river area number in the hundreds and they often feed and come to cool off in the water.
Today we’ll most likely have one boat trip and one game drive, giving you ample opportunities to witness and capture images of wildlife and birds. If you are a photographer, there is an editing room at our lodge and experts at the lodge can share processing tips between the outings.
Spend another magical evening here enjoying the hotel amenities.
Accommodations at Pangolin Chobe Hotel (B,L,D)
Sat., Aug. 14 – Mon., Aug. 16: Cruise the Chobe River with Three-Nights Aboard the Pangolin Voyager
After a last morning outing from Pangolin Chobe Hotel, we do a simple border crossing (the river is the dividing line) into Namibia, where after doing the entry paperwork, we embark on a grand adventure: a three-night cruise on the Pangolin Voyager houseboat. This is very special, a Naturalist Journeys charter (we have the boat to ourselves), to explore the Chobe River! Our route is within and alongside Chobe National Park, though technically we are in Namibia and any landings are in Namibia. As the river is also the national boundary, we board our boats from the Namibia side of the river, so we check out of Botswana, boat over to clear customs and immigration on the other side before heading downriver to settle onto the houseboat.
This is a fabulous river cruise with almost non-stop wildlife action. Elephant abound—they love the river margin.
This is a fabulous river cruise with almost non-stop wildlife action. Elephant abound and love the river margin. In addition to large herds and family groups, we should get good looks at African Buffalo, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Impala, Giant Kingfisher, and African Fish Eagle. One of the opportunities along the Chobe River is seeing bank-nesting birds such as White-fronted or Little Bee-eaters and Malachite Kingfisher in good numbers and at close range. Odd-looking Hamerkop sit perched on their massive stick nests and we do get quite close to herds of African Buffalo. From our houseboat we take smaller skiff excursions for close up views of wildlife and birds. We look for Puku, an antelope that loves the river areas, and Sable Antelope. Best of all, we get past the many people who cluster near Kasane, and while that is still a good experience, it’s nice to extend and get away from the admiring crowds.
Among the reed beds of isolated lagoons along the river we can look for Lesser Jacana, African Crake, Long-toed Plover, Pygmy Goose, and Dwarf Bittern. There are many species of kingfishers to find, both on the water and in the woodlands! Some of the birds we may encounter include the Rufous-bellied Heron and the rare Slaty Egret (endemic to Okavango). Overhead we watch for African Fish Eagle, Pink-backed Pelican, and near the river, African Skimmer.
The rhythm of our days is to be out in the skiffs early and late in the day, taking some down time with viewing from our air-conditioned rooms as we go. The boat’s dining deck has floor to ceiling windows so we never miss a sighting. Up top there is a shade and sun deck for open-air viewing. There is also a chance to walk among Baobab trees on a safe river island, and if you wish, you can schedule a visit to a local village.
Accommodations on the Pangolin Voyager (B,L,D)
Tues., Aug. 17: Departures | Option to Continue with Victoria Falls
It is hard to tear ourselves away, but we must. We do our wildlife watching and birding on the way back to the immigration and customs area, pass out of Namibia and back into Botswana and gather gear we left at the Pangolin Chobe Hotel before heading to the airport. Note most flights to Johannesburg depart around 1:30PM to connect up with International overnight flights home. (B)
If you have not been to Victoria Falls, you may want to consider adding time here. It is an easy drive from Kasane, and can be done as a day trip. You can also spend the night or a couple of nights there and if so, it’s just as easy to book your outbound flight from that International Airport. Ask us for help, suggestions, and details.
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $11,550, subject to actual cost of internal flights, too early to quote (+/- ~$600)
Singles are limited, and not possible on the boat, so please inquire. Partial single supplement (other than the Pangolin Voyager) may be possible if booked early. Cost includes airport transfers, 17 nights’ accommodations, meals from dinner Day One through breakfast Day 18, professional guide services, park and preserve entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Internal flights are included. Several of our lodges and camps are all-inclusive, providing beer and wine, bar drinks, and laundry service.
Cost of the journey does not include airfare to Maun, departing Kasane, or items of a personal nature, like drinks from the bar, telephone, a local guide and lodge gratuities (at your discretion – we will provide a guideline).
The short in-country flights are included with your tour cost and are arranged for you. These are small charter aircraft that provide excellent viewing of the Okavango Delta as you fly. This tour has several internal flights: Weight restrictions for luggage do apply.
You may arrive in Maun at your convenience on July 31. Most flights arrive in the morning, and route through Johannesburg, South Africa. There are now several carriers with direct flights there from Atlanta and Washington DC. Depart from Kasane any time after 1 PM on August 17. If you prefer to add time in Kasane for a day trip to Victoria Falls, or get a transfer over to Victoria Falls and fly out from that International airport we can make recommendations and help with your Kasane transfer.
Items of Note
This safari is limited to just 8 clients and Greg Smith.
Photo credits: Banner: Mokoro Ride, Peg Abbott; African Elephant, Peg Abbott; Lioness before the Hunt, Peg Abbott; Malachite Kingfisher, Peg Abbott; Leopard, Peg Abbott; White Rhino, Peg Abbott; Giraffe, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Ground Hornbill, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Lilac-breasted Roller by Greg Smith; Hippos at Sunset by Peg Abbott; Hyena, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Leopard Scratching, Naturalist Journeys Stock; On Safari, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Lilac-breasted Roller, Peg Abbott; Cheetahs, Greg Smith; Red-billed Hornbill, Greg Smith; Secretarybird, Peg Abbott; Zebra faces, Greg Smith; Leopard, Peg Abbott; Openbill, Peg Abbott; Wattled Crane, Peg Abbott; Chacma, Greg Smith; Topi, Greg Smith; Greater Flamingo, Greg Smith; Hippo, Peg Abbott; Double-collared Sunbird, Greg Smith; African Lion, Greg Smith; African Jacana, Peg Abbott; Goliath Heron, Peg Abbott; Pangolin Voyager, Peg Abbott; Elephant Sunset, Greg Smith; Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Greg Smith; Roan Antelope, Peg Abbott; Botswana Group 2019, Greg Smith; Pangolin Voyager, Peg Abbott; Exploring Mokoro, Peg Abbott; Pangolin Cruise, Peg Abbott; Yellow-billed Stork, Peg Abbott; Wild Dog, Peg Abbott; White Rhino, Peg Abbott; Southern Ground Hornbill, Peg Abbott; Elephant sunset, Peg Abbott; Nxai Pan Sunset, Peg Abbott; Kori Bustard, Peg Abbott; Hippo gape, Peg Abbott; Chacma Baboon, Greg Smith; African Jacana, Peg Abbott; Cape Buffalo, Greg Smith; Cape Teal, Peg Abbott.