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9 Nights in Vic Falls, Okavango Delta & Cape Town: Trip Notes

9 Nights in Vic Falls, Okavango Delta & Cape Town: Trip Notes

Old Jun 14th, 2023, 08:41 AM
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9 Nights in Vic Falls, Okavango Delta & Cape Town: Trip Notes

9 Nights in Vic Falls, Okavango Delta & Cape Town: Trip Notes

We recently completed a 9-night trip to Southern Africa, with 2 nights in Victoria Falls, 4 nights on safari at two camps in the Okavango Delta, and 2 nights in Cape Town. It was an amazing trip, with the highlight being the extraordinary up-close-and-personal game viewing in the Delta.

What follows are some trip notes with practical information for those planning a trip to Southern Africa, rather than a diary-style trip report. Below, you will find our overall itinerary, followed by three separate parts -- 1) Cape Town, 2) Victoria Falls, and 3) Okavango Delta Safari – with various topical sub-parts.

OUR BASIC ITINERARY

Day 0: Evening arrival in JNB; overnight in Johannesburg

Day 1: Morning flight from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia; afternoon visit to Zambia side of Vic Falls; overnight in Livingstone

Day 2: morning Walk With Lions; afternoon visit to Zimbabwe side of Vic Falls; overnight in Livingstone

Day 3: early morning Livingstone Island & Angel’s Pool; transfer from Livingstone to Kasane, Botswana; bush flight from Kasane to Okavango Delta (Splash Camp); afternoon and overnight at Splash Camp

Day 4: full day and overnight at Splash Camp

Day 5: full day and overnight at Splash Camp

Day 6: morning at Splash Camp; mid-day bush flight from Splash Camp to Pom Pom Camp; afternoon and overnight at Pom Pom Camp

Day 7: morning at Pom Pom Camp; late morning bush flight from Pom Pom Camp to Maun, Botswana; afternoon flight from Maun to Cape Town; overnight in Cape Town

Day 8: full day sightseeing in Cape Town; overnight in Cape Town

Day 9: guided drive along Cape Peninsula; evening flight from CPT

1. CAPE TOWN

We had two full days in Cape Town, and the best use of our time seemed to be to do one full day on our own sightseeing in the city and one full day with a guide/driver visiting the sites around the Cape Peninsula.

This was early June (South African winter), and much of what we planned to do was centered on the outdoors and was going to be highly dependent on the weather. We decided to do the first day in the city and the second day on the Peninsula so that we could proceed directly to the airport after the drive. We had very little flexibility to adjust our plans based on the weather, so we just hoped for the best.

* City Sightseeing Day *

For our day of city sightseeing, we started with Table Mountain, proceeded to the Bo Kapp neighborhood (Malay Quarter), then walked around the central area of the city (Company’s Gardens, Garden Synagogue, various nice buildings and statues around the area), visited the Castle of Good Hope, and ended the day walking around the pier and V&A Waterfront.

Table Mountain was the definite highlight of the day. We really lucked out with the weather, and had beautiful clear views the entire time. In the interest of time, we took the cable car both ways. If we had more time, it would have been really nice to hike up and then take the cable car down. The entire Table Mountain operation is really organized, well maintained, and professional. The cable car rotates 360 degrees around as the car moves up/down, which means that everyone can just stand in his/her place and still get to experience all of the views. At the top, there’s a really nice and well-signed path that basically circles around the entire mountaintop. We spent a good hour-plus taking our time walking around and taking photos of all the different views. It is very cold and windy at the top.

We didn’t find any of the other sites/stops to be absolute must-dos or highlights. In other words, putting aside Table Mountain, it’s a city that is lacking true star attractions.

That being said, we had a very enjoyable day doing essentially an improvised walking tour of the various highlights of the city. The various sites/stops are collectively interesting and it was nice to walk around and explore some of the various areas of the city.

The city is rather sketchy in places, but in broad daylight with street smarts we felt safe enough.

* Cape Peninsula Day Trip w/ Amazing Guide Charlie Ratcliffe *

The Cape Peninsula is beautiful, and a day trip driving around the Peninsula is a must-do. Highlights were the many impressive views of mountains and beaches along the drive, seeing the cute penguin colony up close at Boulders Beach, walking up to the lighthouse at Cape Point, taking a cheesy photo with the sign at the Cape of Good Hope, and detouring around the Cape Point Nature Reserve to see zebras and eland antelopes.

While it’s always great to see beautiful scenery, the Cape Peninsula does not look so different from the California coast. For us, it wasn’t stunning outer-world scenery that we’d never seen before, but it was still a gorgeous drive.

We hired Charlie Ratcliffe as our guide/driver for the day trip. We had a wonderful day viewing the beautiful sites on the Peninsula drive and chatting with Charlie about South African history, life, politics, etc. He is outstanding and we would unconditionally recommend him for everything and anything in or around Cape Town.

It would have been easy enough to do this day trip as a self-drive, but with our limited time, it would have been a big hassle to rent and drop off a car just for a one-day trip. So, we got quotes from various chauffeur companies and as well as from Charlie, who had great recommendations on the internet. Charlie wasn’t cheap and was well more expensive than getting a random driver from a chauffeur company, but we were very impressed with his reviews and our communications with him and decided to splurge on what appeared to be a very good guide.

Charlie is the consummate professional. He was able to highly customize the day both to fit our specific interests and to help us “navigate” around the weather. There are a lot of pre-fabbed generic Peninsula tours, but we told Charlie in advance what interested and didn’t interest us. Charlie was really able to help us prioritize the various stops so we could spend more time at the places we liked, while quickly seeing the places that didn’t interest us as much. We also told him we wanted to avoid the tour buses, and he gladly picked us up at 8am to get us out ahead of the crowds.

Best of all, when we met up with Charlie in the morning, he told us that bad weather would be coming in at around 3pm, and he rearranged the plans to make sure we got in the most critical outdoor/viewpoint activities before then. Sure enough, bad weather hit at 3pm and there was almost no visibility. We were very lucky to have Charlie’s ability to add value by thinking on his feet and considering our interests and the weather in order to maximize our day. This day would have been much worse with an ordinary driver who was robotically following a set program.

Charlie’s email address is [email protected] . In addition to guiding in Cape Town, Charlie leads safaris all around Southern Africa, so he might not have so much availability. But if he’s not booked, definitely book him.

* Cape Town Hotel*

We stayed at the Portswood Hotel, which is adjacent to the V&A Waterfront. We wanted to be on or near the Waterfront because that seemed to be the safest area, and the Portswood Hotel seemed to be the most affordable hotel that got decent reviews. It was a very nice hotel and we are happy we stayed there.

* Getting Around Cape Town *

We used Uber to get from the airport to the hotel and to get around the city. Uber was very cheap, safe and convenient. Rides within the city were often around $2-3. The airport transfer was about $7, and there’s a safe clearly designated Uber pickup area outside the terminal. We found that drivers would usually appear within 2-3 minutes, and they were all very nice, safe and professional.

* Flying in South Africa *

We took two flights on Airlink (Joberg-Livingstone & Maun-Cape Town). Airline is a former subsidiary of South African Airways, and was perfectly functional.

* Money *

Credit cards are widely accepted in Cape Town, including at all the major tourist sites. And we used Uber for all our transport. We barely had to use cash.

* Overnight Layover in Johannesburg*

We had an overnight layover in Johannesburg upon our arrival in South Africa. We didn’t have time to see anything in Johannesburg, and had no real desire to. There didn’t seem to be any tourist attractions of note, and what we knew about city’s crime situation made venturing out into the city even more unappealing.

We stayed at the Marriott Protea near the airport, which was a perfectly nice and clean hotel. The downside is the inconvenient airport shuttle.

The hotel has a free airport shuttle, but it only runs every 30 mins. It’s only a 5-minute drive, so there’s no reason the shuttle can’t run every 15-20 minutes. On arrival, we just missed the shuttle, so we figured we’d just take an Uber. Our SIM cards weren’t yet picking up the network, and the airport WiFi is stupidly designed in that you need to check your email to register in order to use it. So, we couldn’t order an Uber. We didn’t want to take a risk with a random taxi, so we just waited for the next shuttle.

*Final Thoughts*

Overall, we had a very enjoyable two days in Cape Town. One day of city sites and one day driving around the Peninsula turned out to be a very good combination. Plus, our wonderful guide Charlie Ratcliffe really enhanced our experience on the Peninsula. Cape Town is a beautiful city / region in terms of the natural setting, but, outside of the Waterfront, we felt that it was a pretty icky city in terms of the streets, buildings, people, etc.

We’re definitely glad we visited Cape Town as part of our Southern Africa trip. However, we didn’t find it to be the type of city that, on its own, would be worth flying halfway around the world to visit. It’s also not a city that we fell in love with and would want to ever live in. Also, as mentioned, the region looks quite a bit like California, so, while we appreciate beautiful scenery, it didn’t feel particularly exotic to us.

Cape Town is the kind of city we’re truly fortunate to have seen once, but wouldn’t rush back to. In other words, spending a few days in Cape Town is a definite must-do for anyone on a Southern Africa safari.
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Old Jun 14th, 2023, 08:42 AM
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2. VICTORIA FALLS

We had an afternoon, full day, and morning in Victoria Falls. We decided to stay in Livingstone on the Zambian side rather than in Vic Falls on the Zimbabwean side for two reasons: (1) the bulk of the activities we were interested in doing were from the Zambian size, and the only thing we were planning on doing from the Zimbabwean side was the Zim falls; and (2) we liked that Livingstone seemed more off the beaten path, and Vic Falls seemed like the type of tourist trap city that we typically can’t stand. Staying in Livingstone turned out to be a really good choice.

We essentially had time for four activities. The Zim falls and the Zam falls were definite must-dos, and we read that both the Zim and Zam falls seemed best to do in the afternoon from a weather perspective (photography, lighting, rainbows, sunset, etc.), so those became our two afternoon activities. Livingstone Island was also a must-do, but we learned the first day the Island would be open (after the closure for when the water levels were too high) would be June 1st, which happened to be our final morning in Livingstone. So, we had no choice but to do Livingstone Island on our final morning despite the hectic nature of trying to cross the border to Botswana for our bush flight. That left us time for one more activity, and we debated between the Rhino Walking Safari and the Walk With Lions, both of which were very appealing to us, and, in the end, we opted for the Walk With Lions.

* Zambian Falls *

The Zim falls are more impressive than the Zam falls, and it was good to do the Zam falls first as an introduction to the falls and as a lead-in to the “better” falls. Doing it in the reverse order would have been a little bit of a let-down.

It was nice to see the Zam falls to see the falls from further back and get a broader perspective on their scale. However, because the mist is so strong, we couldn’t really see and appreciate their full extent. We knew going into the trip that June isn’t the ideal time to see the Zam falls and we were prepared for this. Nevertheless, even with all the mist, we still got a decent sense of how far these falls stretched on for.

There were several nice walks and beautiful viewpoints at the Zam falls. A major plus of the Zam falls is being able to stay in the park and see the falls at sunset, which is impossible on the Zim side given when the park closes. The Zam falls are also very neat for the chance to see a cross-section of the falls from up-close, as well as to see the top of the falls from up close as the water falls down right in front of you. These were views that we didn’t get on the Zim side.

The Zam falls are certainly less popular than the Zim falls, but we’re definitely glad we saw both. If one is traveling halfway around the world to see Vic Falls, we’d say it’s a must-do to see the falls from both sides.

* Zimbabwean Falls *

The Zim falls are more up close to the face of the waterfall than the Zam falls, and the Zim park offers more and more varied viewpoints. The park has one main trail leading to about 17 different viewpoints. Some viewpoints were absolutely clear and gorgeous, some were a bit misty but still largely visible, and some were totally covered by the mist. We had read that the rainbows are best from 2-4pm, and, true enough, we experienced some beautiful rainbows during this time.

To get to the Zim falls from Zambia (or vice versa), you’ll need to cross the famous Vic Falls bridge. In the interest of time, we walked one away across the bridge and drove the other way. It’s a beautiful and easy 20 minute walk, with lots of cute baboons along the way. If you can, walk across the bridge at least one way.

The touts outside the Zim falls, along the bridge, and at the border crossings are pretty persistent but they’re friendly and harmless (and sometimes quite funny).

* Livingstone Island & the Angel’s Pool *

We found it rather confusing to get correct and official information about Livingstone Island and the Angel’s and Devil’s Pool, particularly when it is open and what the difference is between the Devil’s and Angel’s pools and which are available and when. The official website for the Livingstone Island operation is: https://devilspool.net/ . You can book directly with them, and email / WhatsApp with them directly. They answered all our questions, and explained that the Livingstone Island tour, period, only operates for a portion of the year – from around June until March. If Livingstone Island is open, they will use either the Devil’s Pool (Aug/Sept to Dec) or alternatively the Angel’s Pool (the other times it is open). So, if the tour is operating, you’ll at least be able to go to the Angel’s Pool and won’t be stuck going to no pool.

The Devil’s Pool is what people have heard of, but I’m convinced that most people are using Angel’s Pool and Devil’s Pool interchangeably and don’t know the difference and are saying they went to the Devil’s Pool even if they went to the Angel’s Pool. From photos I found online, they looked almost the same. Up close, they’re right next to each other, and the main difference seems to be that you have to swim past the Angel’s Pool to get to the Devil’s Pool.

Our tour had only 4 people, even though they take a maximum of 24. We took a very scenic 5-7 minute boat ride on the Zambezi river over to Livingstone Island, stripped down into our swimwear, locked up our valuables, and proceeded to the Angel’s Pool.

The Angel’s Pool experience was unbelievably scary. The Internet has made the Angel’s/Devil’s Pool into a very “Instagrammy” experience, so, judging from the “Instagrammy” people who had been there, we figured that it would be fun and perfectly innocuous activity. While some travel blogs we read portrayed it as scary, we figured that they were massively exaggerating – as travel bloggers tend to do. Boy were we wrong. This was one of the scariest things we’d ever done, and your life is literally in the hands of two men, each of whom are holding one of your legs.

The guides seemed to be very highly skilled and experienced. They also took their jobs and safety very seriously, and seemed to appreciate that people’s lives were literally in their hands. They told us exactly where to walk/stand/etc. and we felt confident that they knew what they were doing. Nevertheless, it’s still a totally scary experience.

Putting aside the danger, it was really an amazing experience to be so close to the falls – both to hear and see them at the closest possible point before literally falling over a massive cliff. And, while frightening at the time, it’s a great experience to look back on. But it’s certainly not something we’d do twice.

* Walk With Lions *

We did the Walk With Lions with Mukuni Big 5 Safaris. It was a group of 6 – the two of us, a single guy, and a family of three. First, we got a safety briefing. Next, we got to pet the lions. Then, we went on a walk in the bush with the lions. Each party essentially in the group essentially got their own experience (petting and walking), as we took turns. We met two lions – a male of 1 year, and a female of 6 months. It was a really magical experience to see and feel these beautiful and majestic animals up close.

As mentioned above, we debated between the Walk With Lions and the Rhino Walking Safari as our final activity. We had serious concerns about the ethical aspects of the Walk With Lions, and we did a fair amount of research in advance – both internet research and asking serious questions to the operator. It seemed like there were two schools of thought: 1) any lion walk is inherently unethical and there isn’t a single ethical one; 2) some lion walks are cruel and unethical, but it inherently can be done in an ethical manner where the animals are treated well, the money is well used, the animals don’t end up turned into canned hunting prizes, etc. We weren’t sure what to think, but leaned towards #2. It seemed like Mukuni’s lion walk was on the up-and-up, they seemed professional and said the right things; and, even being there, we didn’t detect any mistreatment.

Despite having a magical experience with the lions, sitting here today, we still aren’t necessarily comfortable with our decision and we wonder if we made the wrong move and contributed to the unethical treatment of these beautiful cats. Even if you’re in the camp that a lion walk could theoretically be done ethically, the problem is that there’s no way to really know what’s going on behind the scenes – it’s all such a big “black box” that it’s impossible to have certainty that there’s no funny business going on. Perhaps that’s a good justification for the camp that it’s better to not take any chances, and not do lion walks, period.

* Hotel *

We stayed at the Victoria Falls Waterfront Hotel in Livingstone. The room was very clean and functional enough, but not luxurious. The hotel is actually set on the waterfront of the Zambezi River, and the views of the river and falls are stunning. This is a great choice for a mid-range hotel.

As Livingstone is a real city (whereas Vic Falls, Zimbabwe is a tourist town), most of the hotels in Livingstone are in the city and don’t have that “nature” feel. We preferred that “nature” feel over a random African city hotel, and found that relatively few hotels in Livingstone had the former. The hotel we chose was perfect for what we wanted.

* Getting Around *

In Livingstone, it would probably be best to pre-arrange your transportation (airport transfers and trips to falls and other activities) with your hotel or some other transport company. Livingstone isn’t the type of place where you can just randomly hail a cab off the street.

We pre-arranged with a private driver, Dennis Munsaka, who turned out to be complete disaster -- https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopi...SE-Zambia.html – so we obviously wouldn’t recommend him.

* Visas *

The Zambia-Zimbabwe border crossing was easy and uneventful. Zambia is visa-free for US and EU Citizens, so we simply needed a single-entry visa for Zimbabwe for $30/pp.

* Photography *

If you’re into photography, definitely have a waterproof camera handy for the falls. I kept my waterproof GoPro on my wrist and would pull out my dSLR as needed when I felt that it was dry enough. Without a waterproof camera, I either would have ruined my dSLR or missed out on quite a few shots.

* Miscellaneous *

This was June 2023, and we were shocked at how few tourists were visiting the falls. We encountered a handful of people during our entire time at the Zam falls, and there couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred people in the entire park on the Zim side during our several-hour visit. We expected large crowds at such a major tourist site, and it was very nice to have the peace and quiet at almost every viewpoint.

The admission fees for the falls are scammy, particularly the $50/pp foreigner charge on the Zim side. That money is going directly in the hands of a massively corrupt government, rather than doing any anything to help improve the lives of their very impoverished and desperate populace.

* Final Thoughts *

We had a great 2 night experience in Vic Falls. The falls themselves are beautiful and majestic, and there are many highly appealing activities/adventures to do while in the area (such as the famous Devil’s/Angel’s Pool). As with Cape Town, I’m not sure it’s worth it to travel halfway around the world “just to see a waterfall,” but if one is going on a Southern Africa safari and one can spare extra two days, Vic Falls should be a must.
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Old Jun 14th, 2023, 08:42 AM
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3. OKAVANGO DELTA SAFARI

We did a 4-night safari in the Okavango Delta, with 3 nights at Splash Camp and 1 night at Pom Pom Camp. These camps are on opposite sides of the Delta, and are both operated by the Kwando company and located in private concessions.

* Background & Context *

For context, it probably helps the reader to know something about the writer’s safari experience level. This was to be my second safari, and my wife’s first. Before we met, I did a 5 day private safari in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. I had my own driver/guide who stayed with me for the entire trip and did all the game drives from the various camps.

We’d been wanting to do an African safari when we had right the opportunity – and we had our eyes on the Okavango Delta, which seemed like both a good “first safari” for my wife (good introductory safari with good animal sightings and intimate animal experiences) and a good “second safari” for me (different enough from the Serengeti, but still just as great). The Delta ecosystem and the opportunities to do water activities seemed special and unique. Plus, we both really wanted to see the painted dogs, which made Botswana and the Delta highly appealing.

* Planning / Booking *

This was a very last-minute trip (booked within a month of departure), and we unfortunately had exact travel dates that were totally inflexible and left us only 4 days for safari. From my first safari, I knew that it was a must to be in locations where the jeeps can off-road and aren’t stuck staying on the paths. We quickly learned that Botswana and the Okavango is perhaps the most expensive safari destination in Africa. So our focus was on spending money to be in good locations with abundant game where off-roading was an option (i.e., private concessions), and we wanted accommodations that were functional but didn’t need or expect luxury.

We put out a few feelers to travel agents, and quickly learned from multiple agents that the Kwando brand of camps was going to be our best bet. Kwando offers very attractive last-minute rates within 30 days of the stay, and, with these rates, the Kwando camps were going to provide, by far, the best value for our money.

All the camps, including the Kwando camps, had very limited availability at the time, which is to be expected in early June (the start of high season). With limited ability and focusing on the Kwando camps, our options were extremely restricted. Some Kwando camps were fully booked, and others had one room only on some of our 4 nights.

We determined that the best possible arrangement, given the availability situation, was 3 nights at Splash and 1 night at Pom Pom. Life isn’t perfect, and something had to give. We liked the opportunity to visit two different camps in two different parts of the Delta, and 2 + 2 would have been ideal. 4 nights in one camp seemed less than ideal due to the lack of variety in the game viewing. 2 nights at each Splash and Pom Pom wasn’t available, but 3 + 1 was. While the 1-nighter was far from ideal, the opportunity for 3 nights at Splash (the nicer property of the two) seemed pretty appealing. We also had the option to do 2 nights at Splash followed by 2 nights at Lagoon Camp (which is outside the Delta), but we weren’t so keen on leaving the Delta and the idea of backtracking with the flights seemed like a waste of time.

We ended up booking with a Lelobu Safaris, local operator (owned by Anton), due to its excellent online reviews, its competitive pricing and the great conversations we had with our agent Joshua. We highly recommend Lelobu without reservation.

Joshua was totally “on the ball,” even after booked – which is a sign of a great agent. (Any agent can be very responsive until you’ve paid them.) A good example of Joshua’s attentiveness is that, a few days before we departed, Joshua reached out to tell us to make sure we do our water activities at Splash Camp because there would be a good chance that the water levels would not be high enough at Pom Pom by the time we got there. Joshua was totally on top every detail of our trip, including closely coordinating and monitoring our tightly timed airport transfer and border crossing to make sure we got on our flight – and speaking to us on WhatsApp on the day prior about this to make sure there were no glitches.

Honorable mention goes to two other local operators, Gondwana Safaris (agent: Cristelle) and Savannah Safaris (agent: Emmelyn). Their prices were all very close to each other, the agents mentioned at both of those two companies were very professional and helpful. We felt like we could would have been in good hands with those companies as well. We had a great experience with Lelobu, but it doesn’t hurt to shop around – and these are two additional options to consider.

* Game Drives at Splash & Pom Pom *

The game drives at both Splash and Pom Pom were absolutely spectacular, and these two camps together provided a good combination. In our 4 days, we saw: 3 leopards (during 3 different game drives, and at both camps), including one eating up a zebra bone right in front of our jeep and another looking to hunt impalas; ~20 lions (during 3 different drives) including 2 full adult males, lots of cubs, packs with two different zebra carcasses; packs of painted dogs (at both camps), including 5 wild dogs on a hunt and ~10 wild dogs near a den; a dead elephant carcass being eaten by many hyenas, jackals, etc.; a wild cat at night; 2 different massive herds of cape buffalo; several different elephant herds, including a one that chased our jeep trying to protect a baby; several hippos out of the water, including an angry bachelor that charged at our jeep; tons of zebras, giraffes, and gnus; a wide variety of antelopes (impalas, kudu, springbok, red lechwe, etc.); many different species of colorful and beautiful birds (ostriches, eagles, storks, etc.); and, supposedly, the rare sitatunga at night. All in all, this was a massively successful yield over 4 days.

Perhaps the best experience was a game drive where it was just the two of us, and we found a pride of lions that we had all to ourselves – with no other vehicles whatsoever -- for over an hour. Just relaxing and watching the mothers and cubs cuddle and relax, feet away from our jeep, was an immensely special experience.

Seeing the painted dogs twice, in two different situations, was amazing. The dogs are truly beautiful and fascinating animals. It seems that even safari veterans want to come to Botswana and the Delta to see the dogs, and we were very fortunate to have seen them.

Another highlight was beginning our safari with a leopard sighting within 10 minutes of getting off the plane. What a great way to start a safari. Coincidentally, on the way back to the air strip on our last day of the safari, we happened to spot a leopard who was preparing to hunt impala; we stayed with him for as long as possible, and our guide even sent another jeep to clear the airstrip for us so we could hang out with this leopard for longer.

One more memorable experience was watching the feast on the aforementioned dead elephant carcass, which was easily viewable from our room/balcony at Splash. Our first night, we kept getting woken up by the hyenas – which was totally annoying at the time, but makes a good story after the fact. The next day, Kwando arranged for a tractor to drag the carcass 10 minutes away to prevent the wretched smell of the carcass from disturbing the camp. And it helped our sleep.

We didn’t see any cheetahs for whatever reason, which was interesting given our success with leopards and lions. We figured cheetahs would be the easiest of those three to see, and that seemed to be the case for me in the Serengeti. But we can’t complain given our overall success with the big cats.

We also didn’t see any rhino, which comes as no surprise as Splash has none and Pom Pom has one in the area. It would have been nice to see a rhino, but weren’t looking to tick the boxes and collect all of the Big 5 and were well aware that these weren’t the camps to see rhino.

Overall, I was a bit surprised that the pure density and concentration of animals is so much greater in the Serengeti than in the Delta. In the Serengeti, everywhere you look, there are thousands of animals. At Splash Camp, we could sometimes go 10-15 minutes without even seeing a single impala. (We got the sense that Splash isn’t ideally located in the Kwara concession, as we went west towards or past Kwara Camp for most of the good game viewing, which seemed like might have wasted valuable time.) The overall concentration of animals at Pom Pom seemed substantially greater than at Splash, and, anecdotally, it seems like the ease of “high profile” sightings is a bit greater at Pom Pom than Splash. Nevertheless, for us, both camps turned out to be great for the “high profile” sightings.

* Night Game Drives *

Both Splash and Pom Pom offer night drives, which is something that I did not experience in the Serengeti. We thought the night drives were a mixed bag, and our sense is that they’re great if you already know the location of something great to see -- but that they’re a total longshot if you’re randomly driving around looking for something.

We got lucky in that, on several of the night drives, we went back to spots where we had already seen something cool and knew it would still be there at night. For example, on the first afternoon, we spotted a leopard with his kill, and the guides knew he would still be there at night, so we went back to visit him. On the second night, we visited the aforementioned elephant carcass. On the third night, we didn’t find anything good so we went back to the same elephant carcass and watched more of the hyenas; certainly cool to see again, but we figured that if we were there for more nights, they’d keep bringing us back to that same dead elephant if they couldn’t find anything else. The last night, at Pom Pom, we saw a wild cat but nothing else of note.

The night drives are a bit boring because there’s literally nothing to see and do unless and until your guide and tracker find something. In the daytime, even if you’re not finding anything great, there are always zebras, antelopes, interesting trees, sunrises/sunsets, random birds, etc. to keep everyone entertained.

Both camps use the same schedule all year around, where the afternoon game drive goes from about 4pm to 7/7:30pm. Sunset is about 5:45 in the winter. The schedule seemed rather silly to us. We thought it would have made more sense to start the afternoon game drive perhaps 30 or 60 minutes earlier to have more late afternoon daylight time and less time on the night drives.

* Water Activities (Motor Boat & Mokoro) *

We ended up doing all of our water activities at Splash Camp (which has permanent water), as we were told that the flood levels were unexpectedly low in 2023 and that it would be impossible to do them at Pom Pom. The water activities were nice and pleasant and relaxing, and a good change of pace from game drive after game drive. However, they weren’t particularly amazing and we got the sense that time on a short safari may be better spent on game drives. We’re very fortunate that, since our game drives were so successful, we didn’t “lose” anything by doing the water activities.

We enjoyed the mokoro more than the motor boat; the mokoro was pretty nice, but the motor boat was just okay. In the mokoro, it’s nice being low to the water and experiencing the slow-paced ride. From the motor boat, it was quite boring from the lower deck (the reeds were too high to see anything) but the perspective from the upper deck was nicer. We were on the upper deck of the motor boat for sunset, which was quite nice. Though, it was a little disappointing that we didn’t see any hippos or elephants during our motor boat ride.

The locations where Splash does the mokoro and motor boat aren’t particularly beautiful and are a bit dull, and we sensed this from pictures we saw prior to our trip. If we had the opportunity to do our water activities at Pom Pom, I think it would have been prettier. From our water activities at Splash, we didn’t get experience that classic Okavango Delta floodplain scenery.

Speaking of water, the Delta was totally dry and we didn’t really experience any of the classic Delta scenery during our entire time on the ground. However, the bush flights did allow us to see some of this amazing scenery from the air, and it was very special.

* Guiding at Splash & Pom Pom *

The spectacular game viewing at both camps wouldn’t have happened without our spectacular guides and trackers. Our guide and tracker combo at Splash was Matt and Village, and at Pom Pom was Ryder and Gordon. All four men were total professionals who worked their tails off and totally went above and beyond to maximize our game viewing experiences. We had three days with Matt, and he was a total superstar. We only had one day with Ryder and he was equally great; he felt bad that we had such little time, and truly wanted us to see as much as we could on our short time.

These guides are incredible people who put in very long hours – driving a jeep in incredibly difficult terrain, trying to find animals, talking to the guests in a loud jeep, conveying their immense knowledge, dealing with guests with great expectations, etc. Our guides genuinely cared if we experienced great sightings and it was clearly their mission to help us have the best experience possible. They always stayed out far later than the planned ending times of the game drives, and had no interest in rushing us back to the camp.

Having had the same guide/driver for the entire Tanzania safari, a guy who I personally hired and spoke to prior to the trip to make sure he was a good fit, I was nervous at the setup in Botswana where the guides work for the camps rather than the guests directly and feared that we might end up with a mediocre guide who had no particular incentive to work hard and provide excellent service. I was pleasantly surprised that our guides and trackers were so eager to give everyone the best possible experience.

* The Camps at Splash & Pom Pom *

Splash Camp is totally gorgeous and felt like pure luxury to us. The rooms are huge and were recently renovated with much care. The common areas are very beautiful, too. Splash was perfectly run, and the staff – from the camp manager Bino, and on down – were all amazing and attentive, and no detail was missed.

Pom Pom is significant “downgrade” from Splash. The room is nice enough and functional and we were fine with that, but it’s definitely not luxurious if that’s what you’re looking for. There were also missing bulbs in the common area, which overall seemed a bit dark and unwelcoming. The beds did not have mosquito nets, which seems like something that could easily be provided at these prices.

Unlike the clockwork operation at Splash, the staff and service at Pom Pom were a bit “off.” It just seemed like the place was not managed properly, as there were a number of logistical/coordination issues that clearly stemmed from lack of leadership at the top and proper training of the staff. For example, the packed lunch they brought to the airstrip for us on our departure day didn’t have any water/beverage, and the guy who drove us to the airstrip had to send for someone to bring us bottles of water. There were a number of other little things like that, which reflect thoughtlessness and lack of attention to detail. Nothing close to bad enough to put a damper our trip, but it was clear that this just was not a well-run camp. That being said, as mentioned above, the guides and game viewing at Pom Pom were amazing, and that was by far the most important thing for us.

* Sharing a Jeep *

One major negative compared to my private Serengeti safari was having to share the jeep with other people. We got fairly lucky in that, during our four days, we had a couple of private game drives, had some game drives where it was just us and one other person or one other couple, and only had the maximum 6 people in the car on a few drives.

The more people in the jeep, the more chance there is that time is wasted on someone being late, lengthy bathroom breaks, divergent interests, someone getting annoyed that you’re taking too long watching / photographing something or asking the guide a bunch of questions, you getting annoyed that someone else is taking too long watching / photographing something or asking the guide a bunch of questions, someone hijacking/dominating the conversation with the guide, etc. For example, one afternoon, it was time to go and we were ready to go out and look for animals, and our jeep-mates who were at the end of an 18-day safari and had been on several previous safaris – and were totally over it and didn’t care -- were leisurely nursing their afternoon beers/wines and were in no hurry to get going, and we had no choice but to sit around and wait for them.

Another issue with multiple parties in the same jeep is having to deal with other people’s flight times and wasting time backtracking / taking other people to the airport. We seemed to get the better end of the stick on that front, and our jeep-mates got a bit screwed having to deal with our flight times.

If it were up to us, we’d have spent as much time as possible on the game drives, and limited the length of time on the tea breaks, sundowners, etc. It’s a bit annoying paying a ton of money for these exclusive camps, yet still being at the mercy of other guests who can take away from your safari experience. The cost of a private safari in the Okavango must be exorbitant, but if we do another African safari in the future, we would certainly look into seeing if we could make a private safari work.

* Bush Flights *

We found the bush flights to be awesome, and an integral part of the trip. The planes fly low and slow, so we were able to see many large animals (elephants, giraffes, and hippos) from the air. The landscapes are incredible, too.

We were the first people on one of the flights, and the pilot offered for one of us to sit up front in the co-pilot’s seat, which was quite the experience.

If you’re used to dealing with TSA nonsense and overcrowded US airports, it’s quite funny driving up to an airstrip in the middle of nowhere and just walking on a plane.

While the flights themselves are amazing, the flight scheduling is a potential nightmare. The afternoon before the flight, the airline will tell the camp your flight time; the airline will determine the schedule for that day’s flights based on many different people going to many different air strips. It’s totally luck of the draw whether your flight is in the middle of the day so you don’t miss out on time on the game drives, or whether your flight is smack at 9am with two stops and preventing you from having a morning game drive at either your departing or arrival camp. We were generally very lucky with the flight times not cutting into our game drives, but saw other people get totally screwed. It’s rather unnerving that people are paying thousands of dollars a night, and could miss a whole morning of activities due to annoying flight schedules. If money is truly no object, I suppose there’s always the option of chartering a private flight.

* Photography *

While I’m a hobbyist photographer and by no means even close to a pro, I’ll offer two pieces of advice to anyone serious about photography: 1) have a good long lens, and 2) get a second camera body (even a cheap camera body) for your normal / wide lens.

I traveled with the Canon 100-400, which seems to be the go-to safari lens. It’s an amazing safari lens.

The problem, which I learned from my previous safari, is that 100mm is often too much zoom – elephants and giraffes may be very close to you, you may want a wider shot showing the overall scene of a bunch of zebras and gnus together with the trees and sky, you may want a landscape / sunset shot, etc. – and it’s a pain to either have to keep switching lenses back and forth or to miss shots you’d want to take if you had the right lens on. This time around, I had a cheap second body for wider landscape shots, and it was extremely handy.

* Weather *

In early June, the early mornings in the Okavango Desert are quite cold – particularly sitting in a fast-moving open-air vehicle. But it quickly warms up. We brought layers that we could easily shed off. The camps provided with blankets and hot water pouches to warm up, which was nice.

* Safari Length *

To each his/her own, but it seemed to us that many people book a safari for way longer than they’d prefer to be on safari. The vast majority of the guests at our camps were well-off boomers who had been on several previous safaris, and had the time and money for yet another 2+ week safari. The ones who weren’t at the beginning of their trip generally seemed very bored, jaded and uninterested by the whole experience. Not only did they have no interest in seeing their ten-millionth impala, but they were barely phased by seeing lions, etc. It was a bit sad to witness. I suppose there’s always a balance between what’s not enough time and what’s too much time, and whether it’s better to leave wanting more or to make sure you’ve gotten your fill. I have no idea what the ideal number of days for safari would be (and I doubt there is one answer), but my instinct is that a 2+ week safari is simply too long for most people.

* Final Thoughts *

Overall, we had an amazing 4-night safari in the Okavango Delta. It would have been nicer to have more time, but such is life, and we were very fortunate to see basically all the major animals in such a short time – plus do the water activities of the Delta. Our guides and trackers at the two Kwando camps were simply amazing, and really made our trip special. The privacy and intimacy of the game viewing and off-roading at these private concessions in the Delta is truly special. If one is fortunate enough to be able to go on two safaris in one lifetime, a Serengeti safari and an Okavango Delta safari would seem to be the ideal combination.
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Old Jun 19th, 2023, 12:49 AM
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Great report. On my way home from botswana as well and visited some similar areas, will get a report together soon

Was curious what your thoughts were in terms of the Delta scenery itself. I'm torn as to whether i will need to return to see it in high flood season say July another year. or whether it doesnt make that much of a difference from the ground. Did you feel like you would need to come back sometime? We got a mokoro in Kasana (neighborhood of pom pom) just barely, but was more scenic than one we did in kwara, boat cruise at kwara was interesting but not for wildlife. Agree that there was some inconsistencies with kwando, not sure I'd rebook with them, and not overly sold on value in okavango overall, in terms of game numbers.
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Old Jun 19th, 2023, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by tdiddy23
Great report. On my way home from botswana as well and visited some similar areas, will get a report together soon

Was curious what your thoughts were in terms of the Delta scenery itself. I'm torn as to whether i will need to return to see it in high flood season say July another year. or whether it doesnt make that much of a difference from the ground. Did you feel like you would need to come back sometime? We got a mokoro in Kasana (neighborhood of pom pom) just barely, but was more scenic than one we did in kwara, boat cruise at kwara was interesting but not for wildlife. Agree that there was some inconsistencies with kwando, not sure I'd rebook with them, and not overly sold on value in okavango overall, in terms of game numbers.
Good questions re the Delta scenery. I suppose it's a little disappointing that we didn't get to experience the quintessential Delta scenery during our water activities. But we did see the channels, flood plains, hippo highways, etc. from the bush flights, and that was very, very cool. So we had makeshift "scenic flights" over the Delta.

Is the Okavango Delta -- perhaps the most expensive safari destination in Africa -- worth the safari cost year around, even if one cannot see the flooding? I'm not enough of a safari expert to answer that question. The sense I get is that the "high profile" sightings (including the chance to see painted dogs) in the Delta are top notch, even if nothing else can compete with the Serengeti in terms of overall density/concentration of animals. So I suppose that the Delta ecosystem provides good value, even without the chance to see the waters at their height. But I don't know much, and I'm curious how the experts would justify the value in visiting the Delta -- whether it's worth it, or whether you're paying because it's famous.

Would we go back to the Delta for our next safari to make sure we can do a mokoro and boat ride in "better" waters than what we did in Splash? Heck no.
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Old Jun 19th, 2023, 08:05 AM
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Interesting trip report, LAX_Esq. I’ve not been to Botswana yet but will keep this in mind.

One point of curiosity, you don’t mention the density of lions and leopards where you were, but I did find out on my last safari, when I saw no cheetahs at all in one of the Mara conservancies, that if there are an abundance of lions, they will intimidate both leopards and cheetah, but especially cheetah. So if there were a lot of prides around, that may be why you didn’t see cheetah. I’d never come across that before, but this one conservancy is really over-full with lion and the cheetah are on to that and have moved elsewhere.

I can’t ever imagine being jaded on safari, or being there too long! I miss my cats and real laundry, but other than that I think I could stay out there forever! I do agree that having inconsiderate vehicle mates is a curse, but I’ve only come across that once and I’ve not been shy about voicing my displeasure. ;-)

I’m glad you had a good time overall though!
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Old Jun 19th, 2023, 08:14 AM
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Originally Posted by amyb
One point of curiosity, you don’t mention the density of lions and leopards where you were, but I did find out on my last safari, when I saw no cheetahs at all in one of the Mara conservancies, that if there are an abundance of lions, they will intimidate both leopards and cheetah, but especially cheetah. So if there were a lot of prides around, that may be why you didn’t see cheetah. I’d never come across that before, but this one conservancy is really over-full with lion and the cheetah are on to that and have moved elsewhere.
Not sure how to evaluate the density of the lions and leopards at where we are, but given our sightings and how the guides discussed things, I'd imagine the density isn't bad. Our guide at Splash did say something to the effect of what you're saying -- that cheetahs' numbers are suffering overall in Africa partially because lions and leopards are more successful predators than cheetahs, and their speed alone doesn't allow them to have enough success.
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