All is still. The morning light casts a soft glow on the savannah as elephant after elephant crosses the path of your safari vehicle, the little ones trotting alongside their mothers. You hear the heavy shuffle of their feet on dusty earth, a burst of air from a nostril. There must be a dozen or more. One turns to look your way and you gasp, too moved to reach for your camera. No, there’s no need to get a snapshot. This—the safari of your dreams—will be forever etched in your mind.
Africa plays in your memory long after you return. An endless expanse of plains, marsh and forest. An impossibly starlit night sky. Exotic creatures vying for their very survival as they have for millennia. It is a privilege to witness Africa’s wondrous menagerie in its natural setting. And to do in a small group with Discovery Tours is even more magical as we gain access to experiences that others miss.
Our Botswana, Zimbabwe & South Africa Adventure visits two of southern Africa’s richest parklands, Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, each a magnificent haven of unspoiled beauty and astonishing wildlife—the stuff of your safari dreams.
Chobe National Park: An Elephant’s Haven
For sheer concentration of wildlife, it’s hard to beat Chobe National Park, nestled amidst the northern savannahs of Botswana. Chobe is the country’s first national park, its third largest at 4,200 square miles, and its most diverse. Among its lush floodplain and dense woodlands of teak and mahogany, giraffe, water buffalo, puku antelope and sable roam. Along the Chobe River, spoonbills, ibis, stork and other waterfowl patrol the waters for quick meals. In the early morning hours in the bush, you might even spot a pride of lions fresh from their nocturnal hunt.
But the big cats are not as plentiful here as the large and lumbering Kalahari elephant, the largest known pachyderm in the world. Only 30 years ago, the elephant population was in danger here, numbering only a few thousand. Preservation efforts, including anti-poaching patrols, were put in place and today the park supports some 60,000. Many environmentalists believe that the lineage of elephants here stretches back countless generations, making it the largest continuously surviving elephant population on the planet.
One of the most thrilling ways to explore Chobe National Park is by boat. In the heat of the afternoon, wildlife often gathers on the water’s edge. Antelope, water buffalo, and baboons congregate to drink or hunt, watched over by bateleur eagles, lappet-faced vultures and other raptors. Hippos peek above the water’s surface or graze along the river’s banks. But the highlight of any boat trip is the parade of elephants emerging from the bush to drink and bathe in the refreshing Chobe. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness just such an assembly firsthand.
Okavango Delta: A Watery Oasis
One of the most adventuresome ways to see Africa is by bush plane. From several thousand feet in the air, the continent’s wild expanse of savannahs, grasslands, marshes and forests stretches to a limitless horizon. Far below, you might spot tiny dots roaming the landscape, tendrils of brown dust trailing behind: perhaps zebras wandering to their next water hole. It’s an astounding glimpse of a timeless world.
Thanks to the size of our Discovery Tours small group, bush planes fly us to the Okavango Delta, deep in the wild heart of Botswana. The Okavango is by some accounts the largest inland delta in the world, fed by a remarkable natural cycle of feast and famine.
When the Okavango is flooded, you would never know that this huge region borders the sands of the arid Kalahari Desert. It helps to bear in mind that the delta receives a vast amount of its water from faraway rains. Each year, heavy rainfalls soak the Angola highlands and their waters pour into the Okavango River. The river flows into Botswana with a volume so enormous that its terminal marshlands push southward, surging into the dry and barren delta region. It is a flash flood of biblical proportion: the delta is so large—as big as Switzerland—that it takes the water up to four months to fill it. Months later, the water is gone, lost to evaporation, plant life, or absorption into the earth.
The annual flood creates a massive network of rivulets, channels, temporary islands and lakes. It also attracts countless wildlife—from lions to cheetahs, from giraffe to hyenas, from crocodiles to hippos. An estimated 200,000 large mammals and 400 species of birds congregate here, then depart to greener pastures as the water dissipates and the grasses grow sparse once again. It’s been said of the Okavango that you’re having a great safari day if you see 10% of the wildlife that sees you.
Such a unique ecosystem requires a unique safari vehicle. In addition to the trucks and Jeeps specially equipped to cross shallow streams, our small group explores by handmade dugout canoes, or mokoros. These low-riding boats seat two, and your private punter in the back pushes you through a labyrinth of waterways, following his keen senses so you’ll get an intimate view of the delta’s wildlife and plant life—perhaps tiny frogs clinging to reeds or small islands of lily pads.