One of our first major destinations on the African continent was Chobe National Park, arguably containing the largest and most diverse collection of game after the Serengeti. Botswana’s first official park had originally belonged to the Basarwa people, but was assimilated into the government and opened for business in 1967, a year after the country gained independence from the British Empire.
In order to reach Chobe, many tourists find their lodging in Kasane, but due to its popularity, many of the accommodations can be rather expensive. Fortunately for us, we were able to find a cheap place to stay at the Kwalape Safari Lodge—a military tent complete with two beds, a fan, porch, and daily housekeeping for 20 GBP—which proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable time.
Situated just a few miles from the city centre along the A33 motorway, the Kwalape Safari Lodge is well-placed within Kasane and offers a hodgepodge of modernised African interior design, homely amenities, a campground for DIY campers, as well as collection of military tents and cabins.
The pathways were beautifully decorated with rows of colourful flowers and plants, bordering a scenic passage that weaved through the central campgrounds. The common area contained two restaurants with a limited, but nevertheless satisfying menu that catered to both locals and tourists.
We were able to access the park at two locations: firstly, with a guided tour provided by the resort to access the Chobe Flood Plains, and secondly, by hiring a taxi to the city centre and traveling by boat near the Sedudu Island, just southwest of Kasane along the Chobe River. The first offers a majestic landscape of the flood plains and nature, complete with its impressive biodiversity, and the second illustrates the rich and multifaceted nature that lives amongst the river, which demarcates the border with Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
We met some of the celebrities of Botswana’s stellar park, and decided to have our own up close and personal moment as paparazzi, both on wheels and on water. Here are our best takeaways:
We had this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a pair of (possibly) Transvaal lions having breakfast near the flood plains. These two were overheard crunching on the bones of their recent catch, which had been killed two days prior to our visit. An inhabitant of the bush, lions are skilled night hunters and will return to their kill to consume it entirely over the course of 5-7 days. These two young but fearsome cats immediately demanded our respect as kings of Animal Kingdom.
Graceful and slender, these docile creatures towered above the treetops and were easy to spot, as they tend to forage on leaves and shrubbery. Most adults can grow up to 5.7 metres tall and walk with a slow gait, feeding in groups during the dry season and venturing outward as food becomes more plentiful during the rainy season. As our jeeps approached them, they stared at us with a skeptical glance and then continued onward, reminding us that we were guests and to mind our manners whilst in the park.
One could not imagine that hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa after the mosquito. Meaning “water horse”, these portly creatures may appear adorable at a distance, but whilst submerged in the delta they become territorial, surfacing just before motorboats to chew them in half. The hippo pictured was ostracised from his group after becoming too aggressive and getting into countless fights, as indicated by the large scars on his body. Fortunately, they are vegetarians and limit their diet to shrubs and trespassers.
Arguably the direct descendants of the dinosaurs, African crocodiles are a step above their American cousins. In Africa, the most common breed is the Nile Crocodile, which is the second-largest of all its brethren save for the Saltwater crocodile—the most fearsome reptile on Earth. Some of the ones spotted at Chobe reached up to 5-6 metres long and weighed approximately 800 kilograms. Normally, they are found basking in the sunlight with their mouths open, which regulates their body temperature during the hot midday sun (better for us), but as nightfall approached, some began creeping into the river to hunt, making our return trip uneasy.
We saw these massive beasts fording the river in groups to help each other along. Elephants here are often seen wallowing—covering the body in mud as a makeshift sunscreen—and using their trunk (proboscis) to lift various objects; some as heavy as 750 pounds! Elephants have incredible social skills and are acutely intelligent creatures capable of greeting, memorisation, and elaborate communication. It is even said that when a member of the herd dies, the rest of the pack will mourn. Mothers are especially protective of their calfs and are often spotted enjoying a splash by the river in tandem. Unfortunately, elephants are illegally hunted for their tusks (ivory), which are traded on the black market, and many game reserves have increased measures against poaching, often giving harsh punishments to criminals they catch in the act.
Appearing as a mashup of a dog and monkey, baboons are found throughout Botswana’s parks and roadsides. These social creatures are often found in families, troops, or walking alone. During the mating season, males will often become extremely jealous and territorial and will fight viciously to keep their mating partners in check. Depending on who wins the fight, the victor will claim the spoils by stealing women from the loser’s troop. Despite this, the ones we found were actually quite relaxed and didn’t disturb anyone, despite planting themselves squarely in our footpaths. They were quite agile, climbing from trees to rocks almost instantaneously, and would mischievously play with their siblings as the mothers carried on with basking in the sun.