While the Okavango will never be a cut-price holiday, these lodges prove a rich experience
Wind the clock back to 2019, and at this time of year, there would hardly be a bed free in the Okavango Delta. Winter is the dry season in Botswana, and yet there is water just about everywhere in the northern reaches of the country.
That is because, though it has been months since the summer rains, the Okavango Delta is in flood, as the rain waters that fell in the distant mountains of Angola wend their way inexorably towards the Kalahari. Eventually, they will soak away without ever reaching the sea, but en route, the crystal-clear channels create a lush oasis home to an astonishing array of bird and animal life.
In a normal year, with the delta in spectacular flood, the upscale lodges that are scattered across private concessions and community-owned reserves would be brimming with well-heeled foreigners. But, well, we all know what international tourism is like right about now. It is a crisis, but that presents a rare opportunity for South Africans who have long put Botswana on top of their bucket list.
And while the Okavango is never going to be a cut-price holiday, rates are lower than they have ever been. And will likely never be again. So if you have had Botswana on your to-do list, now is the time. These lodges tick all the right boxes, with rates that won’t break the bank.
First plus-point about Mma Dinare? You can get there without a costly flight, with 4×4 road transfers included in the rate. And that is just to start. This contemporary lodge offers nine under-canvas suites stretched out along a meandering wooden boardwalk.
All suites boast a private deck overlooking the Gomoti River, where hippos grunt through the night and elephant ford the waters at sunset. Days are spent on game drives and mokoro excursions, and I’d wager there are few finer sundowner spots than the fire deck overlooking the Gomoti.
In the northern reaches of the Delta, situated on the vast Kwando concession, Kwara offers a quintessential Okavango experience coupled with enviable levels of wilderness luxury. Nine expansive suites, each larger than my first apartment, gaze out over a permanent lagoon. Again, the wildlife comes to you as red lechwe graze in front of your private terrace, and monkeys wreak havoc in the trees above.
There is a welcome intimacy to the camp too, with a pair of serene pool decks bookending the camp, offering no end of quiet moments between the game drives and speedboat safaris that take you deep into the Delta channels. That they will end with a G&T on the water at sunset simply seals the deal.
Chobe Safari Lodge
If the Okavango is a stretch for your pocket, consider the Chobe River instead. Direct daily flights link Johannesburg with Kasane, and a five minutes’ drive from the airport you will find yourself on the banks of one of Africa’s great rivers.
At Chobe Safari Lodge, the suites are pitched on the riverbanks, and come evening, grumbling hippos and calling fish eagles will be your sundowner soundtrack. The lodge is the oldest in the region, dating to 1959, but the 68 rooms and suites are each decorated in a bright vibrant safari aesthetic. They all offer private terraces, with ground-floor suites giving straight onto lawns leading to the river.
The lodge borders the Chobe National Park, where you will find wild bushbuck, warthog and banded mongoose wandering freely in the gardens. Fill your days with game drives in the national park, or cast a line for the hard-fighting tiger fish in the rapids downstream. The highlight, however, are the evening cruises that take you up close to the famous elephant herds of the Chobe. It is as wild as the delta but much kinder on the pocket.
Words by Richard Holmes