One of my favourite safari destinations is Chobe. Located in the north of Botswana with the north-eastern section of the park bordering Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, it is probably best known for having one of the highest concentrations of African Elephant anywhere on the continent, and yet still has more to offer safari-enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike. With easy access from Kasane International Airport and Livingstone Airport (in addition to Maun further south if you fancy a nice long drive), it’s one of the most accessible wilderness areas in Africa. The park offers a great chance for ‘multi-modal’ safari by land, boat or floating bedroom on a houseboat, watching the wildlife saunter by your window. If you’re thinking about travelling to Botswana, don’t miss out on Chobe, and here’s why……..
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Wildlife – 4.5*
One word: elephants! I have seriously never seen so many elephants within such a short space of time. With an estimated 50,000 of them roaming around the park, I’m willing to go out on a limb and basically guarantee that you’ll see them regardless of which part of the park you focus your stay in. If you go in Botswana’s dry winter months (May to October), then my advice for elephant viewing is to focus on boat-based safaris along the Chobe River. This makes for spectacular sunset photography with vast herds of elephants along the river banks kicking up dust. Elephants aside, Chobe is home to a fantastic abundance and diversity of wildlife. In terms of Big 5 game viewing, you’re almost guaranteed to see buffalo and stand an excellent chance of seeing lion and leopard. The only member of the Big 5 family you won’t likely be seeing is rhino (there are apparently some rhino – so technically Chobe is a Big 5 park – but the rhino population is very, very low in numbers). Outside of the Big 5, there’s also an abundance of giraffe, hippo, zebra and hyena and you’ll stand a good chance of seeing wildebeest, cheetah and wild dogs. All of this is of course in addition to the standard plethora of deer-esque animals. If you’re visiting during the wet season (December to April), then focus your efforts away from the river and closer to the interior pans as the animals tend to migrate over there when there’s an abundance of water.
If you’re planning to visit different areas of the park (and head more in to the wilds) then I would suggest that the north-east is the best for elephant viewing, the north-west is best for African wild-dogs and in the south-west you’ll find an abundance of lion.
Scenery – 4*
The area of the park most visited is the north-eastern; otherwise known as the Serondela or Chobe River area. The area is characterized by the Chobe River itself, the flood plains surrounding the river and dense hardwood woodland. During the dry season, animals flock to the river and the floodplains dry out. The drier floodplains create volumes of dust that the elephants just love to kick-up. The result is an almost hazy quality across the uninterrupted plains beyond the river. It’s amazingly picturesque and a fantastic scene when you’re enjoying sunset boat rise or pontoon dock safari with a G&T in hand. When it comes to scenery, you could almost describe the Chobe River area of the park as the quintessential safari experience.
South of the Serondela region of the park are a further two main zones that are less frequented by typical safari-tourists but no less scenic (in fact, more scenic and wild but only really accessible by 4WD with an experienced driver or a more expensive fly-in luxury lodge). In itself this may be appealing but obviously these areas are not serviced as well as the Northeastern portion of the park (particularly if you’re keen on having access to amenities outside of your hotel/lodge). The largest of these zones is the Savuti Marsh which is about 50km from the park’s Mababe Gate. Large areas of the zone are savannah grasslands and the marsh areas are fed by the Savuti channel. The final zone is the Linyanti Marsh in the north-west of the park (north of Savuti) and is next to the Linyanti River. Both of these zones are best characterized as inhospitable, dramatic and a true rough-terrain experience.
Accommodation – 4*
Despite Botswana often being thought of as one of the more exclusive safari destinations, Chobe has the full smorgasbord of accommodation that you could want: all the way from camping through to luxury fly-in safari lodges. The largest concentration of accommodation options (at all budget ranges) is located in Kasane, which is the gateway to the park’s north-eastern, and most easily accessible, portion. If you’re keen on heading deeper into the park in the Savuti or Linyanti areas, then there is accommodation but typically only accessible by self-4WD or chartered fly-in planes on to private air strips (and hence much more expensive). In summary, if you aren’t self-driving and don’t have an unlimited budget, then stick to accommodation in Kasane, and you really can’t go that far wrong. Take a look at the house boat options for unique accommodation options on the Chobe river inside the park: just imagine eating your dinner on the deck of the boat as you watch elephants drink from the river and then you retire to bed, falling asleep to the sounds of lions roaring in the distance…paradise.
Access – 4*
Being located in the north-east of Botswana, Chobe has the distinct advantage of being accessible from each of the four countries it shares a border with; Botswana, Namibia (via the Caprivi Strip), Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The access options are excellent for those visiting the Chobe River portion of the park and staying in Kasane or the surrounding area. Kasane has its own international airport and only 70km away there’s also Livingstone International Airport. Although the latter is in Zambia, most of the lodges in Kasane will happily arrange transfers across the border. The roads surrounding the park are well paved which means you only need to worry about 4WD once you enter the park itself (and that’s only if you’re planning to self-drive in the park which you certainly don’t have to).
If you’re planning on hiring a 4WD and are a confident driver with a solid route plan, then the whole park is your oyster. You can ‘easily’ traverse the park with various lodge and camping options and the trails are supposedly well marked. Obviously, with any sort of wilderness driving you’ll need to plan ahead and should have some solid GPS and sat phone options at your disposal (i.e. probably not best to try it if this is your first rodeo).
Safari ‘X’ Factor – 5*
River safaris, land safaris, pristine scenery, complete wilderness (if you so choose) and even house boat accommodation; Chobe can offer just about everything you’d ever want from a safari. Twin all of this with some of the greatest abundance and diversity of wildlife anywhere in Africa and you’ve got yourself a winner! The sum is definitely worth more than the component parts when it comes to Chobe, and I would rank the park up there near the very top of safari options (it still doesn’t beat the love of my life – South Luangwa in Zambia though!).
More Information: If you’re looking for more information; including park fees, accommodation and park camping details then check out the Chobe National Park website: http://chobenationalpark.co.za
Other Activities: If you’re staying in the north-eastern portion of the park near Kasane then you have the added advantage of being only 70km from Victoria Falls which means that you can easily take a day trip. If you want to stay local then, outside of planned land and river safaris, you could opt for fishing in the Chobe River (including for the scary looking Tiger Fish) or take a trip out to Impalila Island in Namibia. From here it is possible to see all 4 countries and to learn more about local culture from some of the 25 small tribal villages on the island. There are plenty of tour operators in Kasane that can help you plan your time once you arrive in town. You can even book things in advance through Viator (https://www.viator.com/Kasane/).