For my first ever safari experience, I visited Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Botswana has strict anti-poaching laws in place to protect wildlife. Hence it has a thriving wildlife population.
Covering 11,700 sq.km, Chobe National Park is known for its diverse and large concentration of game. Besides this, Chobe National Park is also home to large herds of massive elephants. According to our guide, there could be 40,000 to 50,000 elephants within the wildlife park.
For convenience’s sake, we signed up for a day tour package. Such day tours typically include two-way transfers from lodgings to Chobe National Park, Safari drive-thru, lunch and river cruise. Depending on the tour operators, the sequence of the activities differs. Some do the safari drive-thru before lunch while others do the river cruise first.
It took us around 50mins drive to get from Livingstone to Kazungula, a border town of Zambia. From Kazungula, we took a boat across the Zambezi River to Botswana’s border town of Kasane. These boats were hired by individual tour operators to ferry their clients over the border for safari tours.
At present, boat and ferry crossing are the only way to cross 400m wide river. The Kazungula bridge is under construction and expected to be completed in December 2018. Regular Kazungula pontoon ferry services currently convey commuters and vehicles to and fro the Zambian town. Personally I like this way of crossing. The surround was peaceful as ours was the only boat crossing at that time. With the sound of splashing water and the smell of the river, the ride had a more rustic feel as compared to zipping across the bridge in a car.
Upon reaching the Botswana side, we were taken on a short ride to the border post to clear immigration. Thereafter another 10 mins drive and we reached the entrance of Chobe National Park.
The safari drive-thru was in a Toyota Land Cruiser with capacity for 10 passengers. Luckily for us, we were a group of 7 so all save one had a seat by the side.
Before the thrill of the drive began, we had a short tea / coffee break of 15mins. Light refreshments of tea or coffee and lemon fluffy muffins were served. A little DIY picnic on the bonnet of the 4-wheel drive.
We had a 2.5 hours safari drive-thru. But before that a quick safety briefing was given. The rules were quite commonsensical, which included ‘no talking loudly, no whistling or clapping etc to attract the animals attention or standing in vehicle’.
Then off we went through the National Park’s Sidudu Gate into the vast African grassland.
First glimpse of the African Savannah, as we strained our eyes for sights of wildlife.
It soon got much easier as we drove deeper into the National Park. We soon got to see animals at intervals of minutes and near to the track too. At times, they were strolling literally next to our vehicle!
The beauty of safari drive-thru was really getting to see animals going on with their daily life in a natural habitat. A camera with powerful zoom lens was most helpful in capturing the animals we saw along the way.
This pair of antelopes was among the first animals we saw.
This tree squirrel huddled up on a branch was such a sweetie.
A herd of impalas, a species of medium-sized antelopes native to Southern and Eastern Africa.
A kingfisher perched on a rock.
This looked like an African Ground Squirrel to me.
Towards the tail-end of the drive-thru, I was lucky to catch sight of a giraffe, one of the animals I most wanted to see in the African grassland.
There was a chance to see the only predator spotted in that morning but we missed it. We were given the information of a lioness being spotted when we passed other vehicles. By the time we got to the location, the lioness had left, which was really a let-down.
Lunch was included in the package and we enjoyed an international buffet at 4-star Chobe Safari Lodge.
The spread was good and food was delicious. But we had to dodge the bees that buzzing around the dessert stand hoping to have a share of the sweets!
After lunch, I wanted to get a magnet as souvenir for my mum to add to her collection at the hotel’s retail shop. After spending some time choosing one, it out that they did not accept US dollars as I had assumed. Payment was to be made in Botswana pula only. So I went away without one.
A two-and-a-half hours river cruise came after lunch. Cruising along Chobe River, we were somewhere in between two countries: Botswana and Namibia. As with the drive-thru, we saw the inhabitants of Chobe River going about their daily lives.
The lucky stars were shone on us as we chanced upon a herd of elephants crossing Chobe River. These male elephants (we were told) were making their way to the other side for the patches of grass. All of us were so fascinated at the sight of these gentle giants; marching across the river, having playful jostles in the water.
And we were told sights like this don’t occur frequently even with the large elephant population. It was very much like watching a wildlife documentary coming to life in front of us. We were so carried away we could rival excited young children. At one point, I was so excited I leaned too much out of the boat and got a stern warning from the guide. *blush* I definitely don’t want to end up as the crocodiles’ dinner!
Yes, we were this close to the elephants. We were so engrossed watching the elephants, we must have spent close to an hour around this spot. But no one’s complaining.
To be honest, we had not anticipated such delightful sightings. A fellow tripper had shared her experience on other safari tours, where sightings were far and between. So, we were all delighted with what we saw.
On our transfer back to Livingstone, we reached Kasane at slightly past 4pm and thereafter took a river crossing to Kazungula. The border post at Kazungula closes at 18:00 hrs. Watch the time you cross the border to prevent being stuck on one side for the night.
As a reference, we paid US$185 for the package. Botswana is currently one of the more expensive countries to visit in the African continent. In addition, the Botswana government was contemplating to impose a Tourism Development Levy of US$30, with the funds said to be used for conservation and national development. The initial start date of the levy was planned for 1 Jun 2017 but subsequently postponed. You may want to check if that is to be paid for your trip and budget that in. If you are not in a hurry to settle your itinerary, it may be better to sign up for a similar tour at Victoria Falls Town. The price we were quoted the day before was US$170, a saving of US$15.
The experience I had in Chobe National Park was certainly worth the time and money spent.