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Wildlife & Waterways: a Luxury Safari in the Okavango Delta

Wildlife & Waterways: a Luxury Safari in the Okavango Delta

Over 200 elephant swimming across a river? That’s incredible!” I exclaimed as I scrolled through Erika’s photos; nearly a thousand images including pictures of wild dogs, hyena pups, a leopard slinking past their safari vehicle and a luxury sleep out under the stars.

A senior consultant at Southern Africa Travel, Erika Costa had recently returned from a trip to the Okavango Delta. In just six days she’d seen an unbelievable amount of wildlife and experienced fantastic activities at both land- and water-based camps owned and operated by one of our top travel partners, Wilderness Safaris.

I’ll let Erika share a few of her safari highlights.

Leopard at Abu Camp
A leopard lying on a bridge just a few minutes' drive from Abu Camp.

Abu Camp: Elephant Interaction & Sleep Out

Our first lodge was Abu Camp, and on our way there we saw a pack of wild dogs which was a real treat. Then, a few minutes after leaving the lodge on our evening game drive, we reached a bridge and there lying in plain sight was a leopard – normally the most elusive of Africa’s big cats. The sun was setting and after a while the leopard got up and started walking towards us, so we reversed off the bridge and it slunk past the vehicle. What a welcome! 

So we had fantastic wildlife sightings, but what Abu Camp is best known for is its elephants. I was initially apprehensive about the elephant interaction, worrying that it might feel commercialised. But my doubts soon dropped away as it’s clear that the handlers at Abu really care about the elephants and have formed strong bonds with them. Also, although the animals spend their nights in an enclosure, they’re free to roam the private concession during the day.

Abu Camp elephant-back safari
The elephant interaction at Abu Camp, an unforgettable safari experience!

I’d also highly recommend the sleep-out experience. An easy 10-minute walk from Abu Camp is the elephant enclosure and right next to it is a raised wooden deck with a comfortable double bed covered by a mosquito net. Imagine lying in bed looking up at the stars while listening to the soft sounds of elephant in the enclosure close to you. And don’t worry; the “bedroom” is perfectly safe with everything you need for the night including a full bathroom on the lower deck.

Abu Camp: a luxurious camp with a welcoming feel. There are 6 tented villas each opening onto a private deck with a ball-and-claw bathtub.

Sleep out at Abu Camp
The star bed, a luxurious sleep-out experience at Abu Camp. 

Jacana Camp: Peaceful Camp Deep in the Delta

Next we stayed at Jacana, a water-based camp with a beautiful setting on a small island surrounded by floodplains and reed-lined waterways. You can only access the camp by boat (the ride takes about 30 minutes) and staying here you really get the feeling of being deep in the delta.

A highlight of my stay at Jacana Camp was the mokoro safaris, which are nothing like canoeing or boating. Travelling by mokoro is wonderfully peaceful and such a special experience with the water lilies, tiny reed frogs and rich birdlife – our ride also included a stop at an island and brief walk to see owls. There’s larger game too: we had elephants wading in front of our rooms and there’s a resident hippo on the island.

Okavango Delta mokoro safari
These lily and frog photos were taken while on a mokoro safari at Jacana Camp.

The most rustic of the Wilderness properties we stayed, Jacana Camp is a small and relaxed lodge with a welcoming staff. The day after we left one of the guests proposed to his fiancée, and the staff went out of their way to make the moment magical: taking the couple by mokoro to a spot beneath a baobab tree where they’d cleared the reeds, laid down a blanket with colourful cushions, a bottle of bubbly and some snacks. He asked, she said yes.

Jacana Camp: a comfortable camp with five tents connected by sandy paths, and a lovely swimming pool overlooking the water.

Jacana Camp, Okavango Delta
I enjoyed a wonderfully peaceful stay at Jacana, a water-based Okavango Delta camp.

DumaTau: Watching Elephant From a Luxury Barge

Our next camp, DumaTau, was slightly out of the Okavango Delta, in the private Linyanti Wildlife Reserve. Just flying between camps was a highlight; looking down on the seemingly endless wetlands and spotting wildlife from the air. During our flights we saw buffalo, hippo, antelope, lion, and twice the pilot couldn’t land the plane because of elephant on the airstrip.

We went on a river cruise on the DumaTau luxury barge, which felt more like a lounge as we relaxed on cushioned couches while being fed canapés. The sky opened as we were about to set off, but even in the rain it was well worth it especially since we saw a herd of about 200 elephants crossing the river! They crossed in groups, swimming through the deeper water with their trunks held high in the air. 

Elephant crossing river, Damu Tau
There are wildlife pathways between the tents at DumaTau, and elephant often cross the river close to camp.

This area is an elephant haven but there’s also plenty of other wildlife and on our game drives we saw hyenas feeding on an elephant carcass, lions with their cubs and many other sightings. We also went on a tour of their staff village as well as the camp's solar panel installation – DumaTau runs 100% off solar power.

DumaTau: a somewhat larger but well laid out camp with 10 tents each opening onto a small private deck  I loved the large fire pit – ideal for fireside chats overlooking the lagoon.

Hyena by an elephant carcass
This hyena was one of many sightings on the game drive at DumaTau.

Vumbura Plains: Phenomenal Big Game Viewing

Our last Okavango Delta camp we stayed at was Vumbura Plains, which lies in an area with an interesting mix of Mopane, acacia woodland, floodplains and permanent swamp. This wide variety of habitats lends itself to game viewing that really is out of this world!

Black sable antelope
Stand off between two black sables, a thrilling sighting on a game drive at Vumbura.

On a single one game drive we saw lion, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, a sweet baby elephant, watched a hyena and her couple-of-weeks-old cubs at their den, and tracked a leopard – although the last remained elusive. Another highlight on that same drive was the sight of two male sable antelope competing for territory by a clashing of horns.

Vumbura Plains: rooms are spacious and open-plan with glass sliding doors letting in the wide floodplain views. I loved the large shower, and my outdoor deck with its plunge pool and shaded lounge area.

Vumbura Plains
The open-plan lounge and large shower area in my suite at Vumbura Plains.

Other top Wilderness Safaris Lodges in the Okavango & Linyanti:

  • Jao Camp has nine spacious tents surrounded by seasonal floodplains, and offers both land and water activities (depending on the time of year).
  • Mombo Camp has nine tents on the northern point of wildlife-filled Chief’s Island. Game drives and sensational big cat sightings are the order of the day here!
  • Kings Pool Camp is set on the Linanti River and has nine fit-for-a-king tents each opening onto a private deck with a plunge pool and thatched sala.

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