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Visiting Northern Botswana in style

It’s 3am and I’m sleeping soundly in my tent. I use the word tent advisedly, this is not some derisory Boy Scout number, this is a palatial affair, with wardrobes, desk, sofa, huge king size bed, ensuite bathroom and a private, romantic, claw-foot bathtub on the verandah. Technically the word tent only applies because the walls and roof are canvas. Suddenly I wake to hear a substantial sounding creature thundering towards the room. I sit bolt upright in bed, reaching for the bedside light. Something large, very large, brushes against the outside of the tent. Next I hear snarling and roaring, and what sounds rather like a lion, or even two, runs past, again brushing against the canvas as it goes. I hold my breath, ears straining to hear more, as I try to figure out what has just happened. A lion roars a few hundred metres away, somewhere near the staff accommodation. Some minutes later, still sitting up in bed, I hear the eerie whoops as a hyena passes nearby, followed a little later by some bickering jackals. Eventually the noise dies down, and the night descends into silence once more. I get out of bed, torch in hand. Opening the door, in the sand, right on the doorstep, I can see the indentations of buffalo and lion footprints. It’s dark, and I’m a little too nervous to investigate further, so retire to bed, trying to imagine exactly what has happened. Next morning the camp is abuzz with talk about what had happened during the night. We drink our early morning coffee, as the cook and her assistant regale us with tales of what had gone on in the staff compound in the early hours of the morning. After charging past our room, almost getting entangled in the tent’s guy ropes on their way, a huge buffalo with three lions, two males and one female, in hot pursuit, stumbles into a clearing amongst the staff houses. One of the males leaps onto the buffalo’s hindquarters, almost bringing it down, but is distracted by the sight of the other male getting amorous with the female. Torn between his desire to eat and his desire for love, he abandons the buffalo and turns on the other male. The two scrap and fight. Periodically the two males break off from their battle and turn their attention on the buffalo. But, in the end, they are so busy fighting that the buffalo slips away unnoticed. The lions too slip away after a while, and the staff finally manage to get back to sleep. By the time the story has been told, coffee has been drunk, toast, muffins and porridge have been consumed, and it’s time to head out on a game drive to see if we can find any trace of the previous night’s activity. We are in Botswana’s Linyanti Concession, a vast and wild region in the north of Botswana. Access is difficult, only 4×4 vehicles are able to negotiate the thick sand and rough roads. Most visitors, like us, arrive by light aircraft at remote airstrips. But it’s well worth the journey. This is an area of incredible wildlife and stunning scenery. Renowned for its abundance of elephants, huge herds of buffalo, zebra, giraffe and more. This is a place for people who are passionate about raw Africa. We are staying with African Bush Camps at their Linyanti Bush Camp, set in a private game reserve, that shares an unfenced border with the north-western reaches of Chobe National Park. Remote and with an incredible sense of space, the camp’s six luxury tents overlook the Linyanti Wetlands, marsh and floodplains, and Namibia in the distance. Setting out on the trail of the lions and buffalo, not far from camp, we find the battle scared, exhausted, but very much alive buffalo, sheltering as inconspicuously as possible under some bushes. We find the lions a little later, resting in the shade and surreptitiously licking their wounds. The victorious male, lies with ‘his lady’ by his side, and has several deep, oozing wounds on his face. The lady in question, nonplussed by the attention she has generated, is asleep.   Back in camp, a delectable brunch is served, so delectable in fact that I ask the chef for some of her recipes (which she obligingly gives me, neatly typed and in an envelope, when we bid farewell the following day). Hundreds of colourful birds swoop and dart in the branches of the trees overhead and just as brunch is drawing to a close, a small family of elephants saunter past the dining room and down to the waterhole. We round out the afternoon with sundowners by the water. Glasses and bottles glisten in the afternoon light. Platters of delicious food to tempt us. The channels of water on the floodplains light up like molten lava, as the sun sinks in the sky. A family of elephants look on as we toast the experience. Half an hour’s light aircraft flight from the Linyanti bush airstrip, but still staying in the North West of Botswana, we move to the Khwai Bush Camp in the Khwai Community Concession. Khwai is 1,800 square kilometers, wedged between Moremi and Chobe National Park, and comprising the north-east fingers of the Okavango Delta. There are no fences here to restrict animal movement, and the area has a reputation for magnificent wildlife sightings, something we were about to discover for ourselves. Early morning finds us sitting silently beside a hyena den. At first it seems there’s nothing to see. But as the sun rises and the air grows warmer, we spot a couple of moist, black noses poking out of the den’s entrance, testing the air. A minute later eight baby hyenas tumble out. There is no sign of any adults, and two smaller babies stay close to the entrance of the den, nervous and ready to disappear at the first sign of danger. The young hyenas are equal parts cute and curious, we spend some hours watching them play and wrestle. One particularly brave youngster heads over to the vehicle and stands by the door looking up into our eyes. A little later in the morning, as we sit watching some birds fishing in a waterhole, a wild dog appears. She splashes through the water towards us, and making a last minute detour around the vehicle, walks with purpose, until she eventually disappears from sight. Heading in the direction she had come from, we find a wild dog den. It is quiet when we arrive but, within minutes, another female arrives, calling out with a high-pitched chirrupy voice. Five babies emerge from the den and run towards her in great excitement. She regurgitates some food and they gobble it down. Once they’ve had their fill, we’re treated to a wrestling match, before the babies eventually tire and disappear back into the den. Next stop on our itinerary is sister camp to Khwai Bush Camp, the nearby, newly opened Khwai Leadwood. This is a stunning, elegant camp, with six beautiful ‘tents’ and one family unit, all tucked under the trees on the edge of the Khwai River. The river is all that separates the lodge from the iconic Moremi Game Reserve. A tranquil afternoon spent paddling in a mokoro, is followed by deliciously chilled gin and tonics on the bank, as we watch six huge bull elephants wade through the channel in front of us. Back to camp, and pre-dinner drinks, by a roaring fire, before moving on to a fantastic dinner served at a long table that overlooks the river. Khwai Leadwood effortlessly combines total luxury with the feeling and excitement of being in the African wilderness. The grand finale to our time in northern Botswana is an ‘open doors’ helicopter flight over some of the most remote and untouched areas of the Okavango Delta. Taking off from the Khwai Leadwood’s private helipad, we fly across the Khwai River and over Moremi Game Reserve. Elephants, giraffes, waterbuck, lechwe and herds of buffalo, all looking so small from above. The water below is so clear we can see hippo trails on the bottoms of the channels and waterholes. This is an incredible way to wind up our time in the special and beautiful northern Botswana. This is a fantastic part of the world and one I hope to return to time and time again.

Sarah Kingdom

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, before moving to Africa at the age of 21, Sarah Kingdom is a mountain climber and guide, travel writer, yoga teacher, trail runner, and mother of two. When she is not climbing or traveling she lives on a cattle ranch in central Zambia. She guides trips regularly in India, Nepal, Tibet, Russia, and Ethiopia, and takes climbers up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro numerous times a year.

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  1. This story really proves the old saying of a picture being worth a thousand words. Fantastic, top-class selection of pictures which paint a beautiful picture of Botswana.

    1. Thanks Nick, It’s such a beautiful part of the world that the pictures practically take themselves! You must visit sometime.

  2. I’ve always argued that travelling in style is the only way to go. If my travel isn’t better than my routine daily existence then I’d rather stay at home.

    1. Lorraine, I couldn’t agree more! When I was younger the idea of roughing it wasn’t a problem, but I’m a little older and a little fussier now!

  3. I’ve done 4 safaris spread over some 30 years or more. Without doubt the one to Botswana was the most stylish. 100% recommended.

    1. Jim, you are right, Botswana really does know how to put on a stylish safari! You should try Zambia sometime, we have some very special places here too. Sarah

  4. It doesn’t get any better than that first photo. What an invitation to take a safari in Botswana. Two loungers looking out over a great African sunset. Drinks served as well.

  5. Karen, you are so right, I love that first photo too, it really sums up the whole experience. I’ve been going on safari for more than 15 years, and probably do more than 5 or 6 a year, but it never loses its appeal. Sarah

  6. I am looking to take our first safari and I couldn’t be more excited! Did you plan this yourself or through an agency? Also, I have a husband who hates to fly (funny as we own a niche travel company, biblical sites/countries) could you recommend a place where once you arrive in Botswana, you could stay put and yet still see some of the amazing animals/bird and nature you spoke of? Thanks for your time and your amazing story telling :)

  7. Hi Dorothy,

    Nice to hear from you. I organised this trip directly with African Bush Camps, they have lodges throughout Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. To get to the places that I mentioned in this article you would need to fly in a small plane. I know you mentioned that your husband hates to fly, but I will say the bush pilots in Botswana are excellent, highly professional and experienced.

    If you are reluctant to fly between camps I’d suggest looking at getting to Kasane or Maun.

    From Kasane you can visit Chobe National Park and travel by road, via Zambia, to the Victoria Falls and also stay in Livingstone on the Zambian side of the Falls. (I’ve written a few articles on the sight you might like to check out including one on the Zambezi Queen houseboat and one on places to stay in Livingstone to see the Victoria Falls).

    From Maun you can visit by road, Moremi (on the edge of the Okavango Delta), The Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Makgadigadi and Nxai Pans National Park. I’d check out Desert & Delta Safaris for some good options here.

    Good luck with the planning


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