At the beginning of March, I packed my (small) bags for a month-long adventure in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. I was beyond excited to return to Botswana, the first place I ever experienced a safari. The country as a whole mesmerizes me, and I am constantly reliving the “special” moments that captured me on this most recent trip. Although it’s hard to narrow down an incredible trip to only a few moments, I’ve created a Top 6 (I couldn’t choose just 5!).
The Elusive Cheetah
I have only seen cheetah in the wild one time before this trip, when I was in Kenya. They tend to be harder to come across in many ecosystems due to the dominance of lions and leopards. While at Little Kwara in the Okavango Delta, I had the joy of spending about an hour watching a cheetah with her two cubs. Although it was a hot day, the cubs were incredibly active and constantly playfully attacking each other. They kept running out near the vehicles, getting scared, and then running back to their mom. Meanwhile, mom was clearly trying to nap and conserve her energy — something that the cubs definitely weren’t allowing! What made this cheetah experience even better was that over the course of that game drive, we also saw lions and a leopard – nothing can quite compare to seeing the three major predators within a few-hour time frame.
Mokoro rides are always such a peaceful experience. My favorite of the trip was at Little Vumbura, when I was able to glide through the waterways without anyone else around besides my two guides. A mokoro trip is much different than the intensity of game drives and a needed relaxation after being in the bush for a few weeks. My poler, Johannes, did an incredible job of showing me the little creatures that aren’t always appreciated. I’m still unsure of how he found so many frogs that were about the size of a dime– and stunning! We also saw elephants walking through the water in the distance. The pure silence of exploring the Delta in a mokoro is something everyone should experience.
My favorite animal to see in the bush is the elephant. I have so much respect for them and am always blown away by their humanlike interactions with each other. They are such emotional creatures. I love coming across large herds of elephants and simply watching them. When I got to Lebala in the Kwando Concession, I was shocked by the sheer number of elephants — they were literally around every corner. If you’ve ever been to Botswana, you know that impala are seen everywhere; in this concession, however, we actually saw more elephants than impala — something I never thought I’d be able to say! Big bull elephants, 1 week old babies, and everyone in between were roaming around. Being surrounded by their beauty, compassion, and power is a memory that I will always cherish.
Lions, Lions, Lions
I had some really great lion sightings on this trip, but my favorite was on a night drive at Shinde Camp. We were returning to camp after dark and came across lions walking down the middle of the path. We stopped the vehicle as they split to either side of it and continued their walk within inches of us. After they passed, we continued our drive and came across even more lions, doing the same. Again we froze as the lions avoided us– it’s such an eerie experience when they come so close to the vehicle, especially in the middle of the night.
Scenic Helicopter Flight
I’ve flown in a helicopter once before in Zambia, but my two scenic helicopter flights on this trip were beyond incredible. The first one was special because it came as a complete surprise – if you are ever looking to surprise your travel companion while in Botswana, this will surely do the trick! We stopped at a small, wild island in the Okavango Delta for a glass of champagne and to appreciate the sheer beauty. The second helicopter flight was even more mind-blowing. They took the doors off of the helicopter so there was nothing that separated us from the wildlife below, except for the height of the helicopter. Flying above elephants, my favorite animal, with my arms outside to take pictures was beyond exhilarating.
Swimming in the Okavango Delta
During my luxury mobile camping in the Moremi Game Reserve, we ventured out to a remote island for a night of camping under the stars. While this whole experience was a major highlight for me, the absolute peak of my time with Uncharted Africa was climbing out of our boat to go for a quick swim in the Delta. The Okavango Delta is a very sacred place for me, so being able to completely immerse myself in the water was amazing. Be sure to only do this with a guide who knows the Delta like the back of his hand – you wouldn’t want to be surprised by a hippo!
All in all, my return to Botswana reminded me of what drew me to Africa in the first place. The range of experiences can be endless, the animals are stunning, the people are kind and welcoming, and the landscapes are priceless. Once again, a piece of my heart has been left behind on this wonderful continent.