Going on a safari in Africa is an amazing experience and there are many places to choose from. Chobe National Park in Northern Botswana is one of those choices and, despite having been on a few safaris, it offered something new and unique: We were able to watch wildlife not only on game drives in open jeeps, but from a boat along the river, adding some great sights and photo opportunities – it’s certainly worth adding to your list of places to visit!
We arrived in Chobe overland on our Cape-to-Victoria-Falls tour, after having visited Etosha National Park, Namibia, the Okavango Delta and the Elephant Sands Lodge. Despite having seen so many animals that the excited cry of “Zebras, nine o’clock!” on our bus didn’t trigger a whole lot of reaction anymore, Chobe National Park wowed us within hours of our arrival. We checked into a small river boat with shaded seating on the bottom and a few choice seats on the rooftop for great views and perfect photo shots!
Our trip started just 2 hours before sunset and all animals will congregate at water at some time during the day, most often around sunrise and sunset – so I was excited about the timing and opportunity. It didn’t take long for our hopes to be fulfilled: We spotted a giant crocodile on the banks of the river, the wide body resting in the mud! If you have ever seen how fast a crocodile can move and how high it can reach, you’d be as happy as me to be on the rooftop of the boat! Fortunately, tourists were not on its diet and we left with everybody on board and lots of photos taken.
The next sighting was a group of hippos in a muddy pool on the side of the river. You don’t realize how big the hippos are until they emerge from the water. I’d seen them from a safari jeep before and they seemed a lot more relaxed about a boat nearby than a jeep, so we got some quality time watching them and taking photos, without them paying much attention to us!
There are plenty of elephants in the Chobe National Park and we got to see lots of them from the boat. One of the lights of our visit was seeing – for the first time of my life – an elephant crossing a river. I never thought an animal as huge as this could swim – but they can! The elephant waded slowly into the river, deeper and deeper and finally, almost like in a Disney movie, lifted his trunk and started to swim through the river, to soon wade out on the other side – what a remarkable sighting! With one amazing sight after the other, the peaceful sunset over the river was a fitting and relaxing end to our boat tour, giving us a chance to reflect.
For the next morning, I had signed up for a game drive with a jeep into the park in the early morning with good chances of seeing animals at dawn. Our trip didn’t appear to be under the luckiest of stars – we had a flat tire not far into our trip. Fortunately, it got better from then on and we soon got lucky: The first sighting was also one of the creepier ones: A tree full of vultures. While I had seen vultures before, I had never seen so many of them, just waiting in a tree for their next meal. While I don’t really like watching them circling over a dead animal or feeding one one, seeing them just hanging out made them even more unsettling to me…
Our driver was trying for a lion sighting this early morning and heading deeper and deeper into the park. We soon saw a huge herd of buffaloes stretching all the way to the horizon – there must have been hundreds or thousands of them dotting the area. And we were not the only ones watching them – our eagle-eyed guide spotted a pride of lions on the horizon, heading towards the herd! We were glued to our binoculars and cameras, waiting for events to unfold. But there is strength in numbers: With the big male buffaloes on the outside of the herd, the female lions continued to circle around the herd without attacking, crossing our path right in front of us and heading into the brush, likely looking for a wounded or young buffaloe to be easier prey than the huge, male ones right in front of them. It was the most intense part of our game drive, watching the lions and buffaloes so close to each other, without an attack – and knowing, that something would happen later, just out of sight!
Everybody was following the developments so intensely, we all – including our guide and driver – were not paying attention to the time at all – and had spent much more time than planned. We had to hustle back to our camp to catch our onward trip. They say you should leave a place when you like it best, so you keep a happy memory – and that held true at Chobe National Park. The unique sights along the river from the boat, combined with the stunning game drive at dawn, provided a very memorable safari experience all its own!