A stark contrast to the swamplands of the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park in northeastern Botswana encompasses a large swath of Kalahari Desert that contains salt pans in the south, wetlands in the west and the Chobe River running along its northern border. It is the third largest national park in Botswana and home to Africa’s largest population of elephants.
And unlike the intimate experience of the Okavango Delta, the Chobe river gets crowded with convoy of safari jeeps and river boats clogging its roads and riverbanks. On land and water there were groups of up to 5 vehicles or 10 boats jockeying for position to watch animals. We were herded onto safari boats that were 60-person river cruisers and game drive vehicles that seated 10. Yep lot more people here. Still, it didn’t make any real difference thanks to the abundance and variety of animals there.
The river safaris leave in the late afternoons, when many animals would be looking for a break from the heat and a cool drink. When we got to the dock to board our boat there was already a line of people 50 deep hoping to get a good seat. We discovered that the right side of the boat closer to the stern provided better viewing opportunities. There was also a roof-top deck (standing room only) which we went up several times to get a panoramic view of the river and the animals below. The sun was blazing hot which made the ride initially uncomfortable.
On our first outing there was an abundance of wildlife, hippos in various places along the banks and herds of elephants and buffaloes on the island munching away on the grassy island in the middle of the river.
And of course there were the bad-ass Nile crocs sunning away on the banks.
The boat safari on day two was the total opposite, with few animals on the island. Just the way it goes, I guess. Some of the more interesting highlights were:
- Groups of elephants doing what looked like a four-legged moonwalk, stirring up dirt and moving grass around. Apparently it helps them pick and bundle the grass for easy grabbing with their trunks. Pretty sharp.
- Elephants swimming across the river.
- It was interesting to watch a small herd hesitate to enter the water and having the matriarch go in first, splash around and holler at the rest to follow.
- Elephants sparring and splashing themselves along the river bank.
- Huge variety of birds.
The morning game drives were equally different between one day and the next, and very different from the river safaris. Our first morning drive followed the river and gave us an interesting perspective on the local wildlife behavior. A different set of animals visits the river in the morning that does in the afternoon. Our second trip was further into the interior of the park and again we got a totally different experience with respect to wildlife.
One major downside was sitting behind a couple of Italian tourists who yammered continuously for three hours during our first game drive. Everyone else on both drives was quiet, at most whispering when they saw something cool. We were actually prepared to bail out of our second day drive if they had shown up on our vehicle. Under different circumstances they would probably be fun to hang out with but on safari drives not so much.
Highlights on land were:
- Spotting a leopard near the road. Unlike our AfriCats experience, this was a truly wild cat. We came close to seeing it again the next day as the cat has been hanging around the same place for several days.
- Watching buffaloes swim across the river. Our guide mentioned that he had only observed that himself once before.
- Following a track in the sand in which a lion had dragged its kill a fair distance before dragging it under a bush. Our guide did his best to find the lion and kill but could not get to the most likely spot as we were limited to only driving on the designated 4×4 paths.
- Watching a herd of elephants walk past us within yards of our vehicle. Our guide spotted the elephants headed toward the road, backed the vehicle up to where it intersected with their game tracks and we sat and watched.
- Admiring the majestic looking sable and getting great close-ups of tsessebes.
- Spying a pair of African Barred Owlets perched high up in a tree.
And back at the resort:
- There were baboons and warthogs running around the grounds when we arrived
- A vervet monkey climbed onto our balcony.
- A female bushbok was eating the landscaping foliage outside our room one morning.
Scenes from Chobe National Park
Chobe Safari Lodge
Our home base was the Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane, another over the top Africa-themed lodge along the banks of the Chobe River. After baking for three days with no respite at Oddballs Camp, a plush air conditioned room was a welcome change. Andy booked us a 2 day package tour which included two morning overland game drives and two afternoon river boat safaris and meals. The meals were these elaborate over the top buffets.