Rekindling an old flame in Botswana, Ryan Enslin discovers the magic that time spent in this African country can impart. Here’s the best of Botswana on a budget.
Botswana is one of my favourite African countries to visit. There is something quite primal and authentic about this land of the Okavango Delta and the Chobe River. Each time I visit I am struck anew by a sense of awe for these ancient lands and, for a brief time, imagine what it must have been like to first encounter such pristine beauty. Living in South Africa, as I do, we too are spoilt for choice when it comes to nature, but there is a heightened intensity to the experience when it comes to time spent in Botswana.
At just over 580 000 square kilometers, 70% of which is the Kalahari Desert, Botswana is a large, sparsely populated country. To truly take in all facets of this fascinating destination, you would have to spend a fair amount of time travelling, or otherwise explore Botswana over a series of several trips. Here is my suggestion for getting a decent dose of Botswana fever in one trip, and on a budget.
I have not included the Okavango Delta below, as this inland river delta deserves a dedicated trip all of her own. At least I think so.
For my money, I believe time spent in the Chobe National Park and then down to Sua Pan, one of the pans of the Makgadikgadi Pan Complex, will give you an authentic Botswana welcome. And it will probably plant a desire deep in your heart to return for more.
Botswana Air and regional carrier Airlink both offer direct flights from Joburg to Kasane, located on the Chobe River, and mere minutes from the Chobe National Park. Depending on your flexibility and travel dates, you could score yourself a return flight from just R6 500.
Failing that, if you are one of those people who love to drive through the grassy landscapes of Limpopo, and you fancy a 15-odd hour drive, you could motor up to Kasane from Joburg. The 4×4 community message boards seem to indicate you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle for this trip, but I have only ever flown into Botswana.
Kasane and Chobe National Park
Located in northeastern Botswana, Kasane has a recently renovated airport that reminds me of Lanseria International Airport in northern Joburg. At just on a 90-minute flight, you arrive in no time to be whisked away to your accommodation on the banks of the Chobe River. A mere 15 kilometers from Kasane, at Kazungula Bridge, lies the meeting point of four countries – Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. In fact, this is the only place on the planet that sees such a meeting.
Chobe Safari Lodge, on the banks of the mighty Chobe River and adjacent to Chobe National Park, is the ideal base for this leg of your Botswana adventure. In addition to the lodge’s luxury and family rooms, they offer a sheltered campsite for the budget-conscious traveller. All activities offered by Chobe Safari Lodge are available to every guest, no matter your accommodation type opted for.
On a recent trip to Chobe Safari Lodge, I enjoyed a magnificent sunset cruise on the Chobe River. It turned out to be a very successful game viewing outing too, complete with a guide who shared much about the landscape we were taking in, as we sailed down the river that eventually joins the mighty Zambezi. Much of the cruise was spent navigating Sedudu Island, which was alive with buffalos, elephants, crocodiles, hippos and a vast assortment of buck. The river forms part of the Chobe National Park.
The following morning I joined fellow guests as we hopped onto a game viewer and ventured into Chobe National Park. It was a great compliment to the game viewing we had enjoyed the afternoon before on the riverboat, now able to take in and enjoy a different angle from within the bush. Sadly our sightings were somewhat fewer than the previous day but we were well rewarded with a sighting of a days-old elephant calf and mother. Plus we enjoyed a bout of bush coffee to ensure everyone had their morning fix of caffeine.
Chobe Safari Lodge also offers day trips across the Zimbabwean border to Victoria Falls. With the lodge so scenically located on the banks of the Chobe River, you may just want to spend a day at the poolside or sipping on cocktails. There are plenty of options at the lodge to keep you busy.
A sundown cruise costs P330 (the local currency is Pula, this converts to around R445) and excludes the park fee of P190 (R256). Game drives cost P340 (R460), which cost also excludes the park fee. Should you like the idea of a day trip to Victoria Falls, the cost is P2 295 (R3 092) which includes transfers to and from the falls, a guided tour of the falls, the park entrance fee and lunch.
Nata and Sua Pan
For the second leg of your Botswana experience, you won’t go wrong with a three-hour trip down the A33 national road, headed for the village of Nata. Here you will find the Nata Bird Sanctuary and Sua Pan. The road is in good condition and if you don’t have a vehicle to get you there, Chobe Safari Lodge can arrange a transfer to ensure your exploits around Botswana continue.
In fact, the road between Kasane and Nata is known as the game drive route, owing to the likelihood of spotting wildlife along the way. When you find yourself north of Pandamatenga, be on the lookout for elephants, buffalo and giraffe. This is the profusion of wildlife I had come to associate with time in Botswana on my last trip, and I was elated to witness it once again.
The Nata Bird Sanctuary is a community-driven project that benefits four local communities and is the only place where both greater and lesser flamingos breed together. This was what I was in Nata to take in.
With Nata Lodge as my base I arrived just in time for a late afternoon visit to Nata Bird Sanctuary, and those magnificent pans. Trips to the pans are offered as one of the many activities to guests of the lodge.
Sua Pan forms part of the greater Makgadikgadi Pans Complex, found in north-eastern Botswana. I had visited Nxai Pan (located further east) on a previous trip, and spent the night under the stars sleeping on the pan. I think this is where my love affair with Botswana began, because as I travelled along Sua Pan this time, those feelings of serenity and an immense appreciation for such splendour, rushed back in an instant.
It’s difficult to adequately describe the pans, and the time spent travelling their crusty surfaces. Or the endless horizons dotted with wildlife that thrive in this environment. The first rains of the season had arrived mere days before my arrival and the pans were awash with pools of now-salty water.
I returned to Nata Bird Sanctuary the following morning at sunrise, intent on taking in Sua Pan and the 40 000-odd flamingos that call it home for a time. These magnificent birds come from as far as Walvis Bay and the Great Rift Valley to breed, and provide a magnificent display of nature at its finest. Botswana had truly lived up to her reputation on this trip.
Nata Lodge is well equipped to cater to every explorer’s needs, with luxury chalets, glamping tents and a shaded campsite on offer. Just ten minutes from the Nata Bird Sanctuary, this palm tree oasis is the ideal place to enjoy some downtime between visits to Sua Pan, which truly does require at least two visits to fully appreciate.
A trip into Nata Bird Sanctuary costs P325 (R434) and includes the park entrance fee and your first drink at sundown. The lodge also offers tours of Nata Village, which has been around since 1834, for P195 (R260). If you go on the tour, be sure to taste the traditional wine brewed locally from the berries of the bastard brandy bush, I rather enjoyed it.
Botswana truly is a must-visit African destination. Book that flight or fuel up your vehicle, nature is calling.
Follow more of Ryan’s adventures here.
Pictures: Ryan Enslin
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