Some of you might be familiar with the series of novels about Precious Ramotswe, heroine of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (£7.99, Abacus), set in beautiful Botswana. These gentle stories reflect a country which happens to be one of my favourite places on Earth.
‘There is just something about southern Africa, and Botswana in particular, that pulls me back again and again. This was mine and my husband Steve’s third trip, and this time we chose to explore the Okavango Delta in the north of the country, and the sensational array
of wildlife that lives there. Obviously seeing majestic creatures such as lions, leopards, buffalo and elephants in the their natural habitat is an enormous thrill, and is the main reason people visit.
‘During every single hour of the day there’s lots to marvel at, especially those large herds of wild elephants – I could sit and look at those incredible, wise, humbling creatures forever. It’s a joy to watch the tiny little babies being looked after by their mums, aunts and grandmas.’
A SPARKLING FIND
A SPARKLING FIND
‘Botswana is one of the safest and most stable countries in Africa. Once ruled by Britain as Bechuanaland, the country became independent in 1966. Almost overnight there was a discovery of massive amounts of diamonds, the main source of Botswana’s relative wealth.
‘With a real commitment to conservation, Botswana has a proper anti-poaching policy in place. Visitors who come “to shoot nothing but film and kill nothing but time”, all help towards keeping animals such as elephants protected.’
‘If you are after nightlife and clubs and pubs, this will not be your idea of a dream holiday. The only bright lights at night are the incredible stars and planets visible in the sky. Free from night pollution, this is an astronomer’s dream.
‘I was given my first telescope by the dad when I was five years old, so that helped my knowledge when I spent hours on safari in Botswana just staring up at the constellations. Steve and I even saw shooting stars, as well as the most breathtaking sunsets and sunrises each day.’
‘Our trip lasted just over a week and I would recommend visiting each separate game lodge for a maximum of three nights. We stayed in three different lodges and each one had something special to offer.
‘You stay in a tent, which sounds basic, but these are super luxurious with hot and cold showers (some of them outside), a proper comfortable bed and even somewhere to charge up your mobile phone.
‘The food is standard but tasty and there’s lots of it, but what you really come here for are the game drives. You need to wake up early at around 5am (which was actually a bit of a lie in for me!) and quickly throw on your clothes, grab a coffee and a muffin before heading out to see the wildlife awaken and greet the new day. It can be a bit chilly, so do wear layers that you can peel off as the sun comes up.
‘Don’t forget your binoculars and your camera. Even in the covered safari jeep, you need to wear a hat and slather on the sunscreen. Your guide will always stop somewhere during the three- or four-hour drive, so you can stretch your legs, and he or she will make you a cup of coffee or tea. Try the local Rooibos bush tea for an authentic taste of Africa.
‘When you get back to your lodge around 10am, there’s a massive breakfast to get stuck into and you’re free to relax, read, go for a swim in the pool or have a nap until lunchtime. After that, it’s time for your evening drive. Again, it can get cool when the sun sets so bring layers of clothing to pull on when it turns chilly.
‘Your guide will stop the jeep for a “sundowner”, a glass of wine or gin and tonic, and this is my very favourite part of the day. Sitting watching a spectacular Botswana sunset with a G&T in hand is very hard to beat. It’s perfect!
‘By the time you get back to camp it’s dark, and there’s a chance to sit around the open fire, swap tales of adventure and animal sightings with fellow guests, and enjoy a delicious, hearty dinner.’
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SPECTACULAR SAFARI EXPERIENCE
Do pack light
You will be travelling to the game lodges in tiny planes and you don’t need a massive suitcase (which won’t fit in anyway) because you don’t need many clothes, especially as they are washed for free. Wear khaki coloured clothing as the animals don’t like bright colours.
Dress for comfort This is not a fashion parade and all you need are sturdy boots or trainers and maybe
a pair of flip flops or sandals with some trousers, shorts, T-shirts and a fleece. Most lodges have a shop with a small range of casual clothes which double up as great souvenirs.
Always listen to your guide. Respect the wildlife and don’t stand up on the jeep and shout or yell – even if you do spot an elusive leopard.
Do make sure you zip up your tent securely, leaving no gaps. We were broken into and all of our possessions, including cameras and iPads were scattered all over the floor. Although luckily nothing was broken. The culprit was a cheeky monkey who managed to unzip the front of the tent and then run amok, throwing our clothes everywhere in search of food.
These clever creatures are well known for raiding guests’ toilet bags and guzzling malaria tablets and other medication thinking they are sweeties. I’d left an orange in our tent, and this proved to be irresistible, so don’t leave any grub behind unless you want to be robbed.
Don’t expect to see every single animal on your first game drive. Be patient. Your guide has a wealth of experience and will find that pride of lions if at all possible, but wild animals suit themselves and sometimes you will be unlucky.
To be honest, I wouldn’t take children under eight on safari, and even then they would need to be genuinely interested in wildlife.
HOW TO GET THERE
We flew with Virgin Atlantic from London to Johannesburg. Then to Maun in Botswana with Southern Airlines, and took a light aircraft flight via Safari Air to the tiny Xakanaxa airstrip.
Transfers to other camps were by small plane and our trip was organised by Rainbow Tours.
We stayed three nights at the Xakanaxa Camp, two nights at Savute Safari Lodge and two nights at Chobe Game Lodge.