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Lebala and Nxabega trip report: Life can be pretty in tents

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Back from a wonderful trip to Lebala and Nxabega camps in Botswana. I’d been on safari just once before--last year, to Londolozi Tree camp in the Sabi Sands—and I really wasn’t quite sure how, or if, Botswana would be different.

I was looking forward to spending a long week close to nature. I certainly love watching animals be themselves, and I just as much love soaking up all of the sounds and smells of the environment that I’m in.


Kwando Lebala was my first camp, and I’d arranged for a private safari for my 4 days/nights there. Richard Randall, my guide for the 4 days, met me at the landing strip, and Monique, the camp’s co-manager gave me the tour of the main lodge and my tent.

The tent had a wooden floor/deck and was divided into 3 areas: an entryway/foyer with a desk, the bedroom, and a bathroom with flush toilet, large claw-foot tub, and sinks with hot and cold water. Each area had a zippered flap that served as a doorway. The bedroom’s flap opened onto a veranda with a marvelous view of the plain, the foyer’s flap was the entrance to the tent from the camp, and the bathroom’s flap led to a outdoor shower (again with hot and cold water).

As usual, there were two game drives daily. Lebala is on quite a large concession in Linyati, so there was no danger of having to cover the same territory over and over again. Also, I’m just as happy watching elephants or antelopes or zebras (ok, especially elephants) as I am watching the big cats.

Richard is extremely knowledgeable about virtually all of the animals in the area, though his knowledge tends to be more from years of formal study than from growing up in the bush. Simply as personal preference, I prefer the latter type of knowledge (for example, learning that a certain type of baboon call indicates that danger/predator is present, as opposed to learning about the morphology of wildebeests). Richard is a contractor – that is, he does not work for Kwando, but he is hired by Kwando (and other operators) when they need a supplemental guide; as a result, he has spent far less time at any one camp than most or all of the guides and trackers who are full-time workers at that camp. (For my purposes, Richard also just talked too much. More than once I had to politely ask him to be still so that I could enjoy the peace of the moment.) While I might have preferred a different guide, I still very much enjoyed the game drives. We saw the requisite predators (cheetah, lions, hyena), but I most enjoyed being among the mating herds of elephant, the lovely plains filled with zebra and impala and wildebeest, or watching red lechwe leap with incredible grace and skill through the watery grasslands.

Elephants roamed through the camp regularly, and hippos from the nearby river came out regularly at night, occasionally interrupting the after-dinner walk from the lodge to the tents. On my first night, a group of elephants meandered next to my tent – and I mean within 1 or 2 feet of my tent -- just after I’d put the lights out. It was not until the next morning that I found out that the ellies don’t want anything to do with canvas so there was really no chance that they’d come tromping through the tent. This city boy really, really could have used that information when the elephants were making a great deal of noise and I saw their unmistakable outline brushing against the rail of the veranda. But it was nice, a very long time later, when my heart resumed its task of beating.

Lebala has many wonderful features, including its terrific managers and staff, excellent food, and a very special bird hide. Harry, Monique, and every staff member could not have been more welcoming and anxious to make me and all of the guests comfortable. In addition to coffee and muffins at wake-up, Lebala serves 3 full meals: breakfast after the morning drive, lunch at 3.30, and dinner after the afternoon drive. Breakfast includes cooked-to-order eggs and breakfast meats along with cereals, fruits, and a hot bread item. Lunch is a variety of salads plus a hot meat dish, and dinner is a soup entrée, followed by a meat main dish, 3 or 4 vegetables and starches, and dessert. After dinner, people migrate over to the campfire to chat or just enjoy the African night.

My very favorite spot at Lebala is the bird hide, overlooking the river and the endless Botswana plain. I skipped 2 drives just to enjoy the hide: camp was nearly silent with all of the other guests out on drives, and it was a major treat to let Africa pass by me instead of my being driven around to see Africa.


CC Africa’s Nxabega camp is in the Okavango Delta, offering both land-based activities (game drives, safari walks) and water-based ones (mokoro, motorboats). Guides Soly and Gee met me at the airstrip, and Joyce (co-manager, along with Effy) showed me around the camp and to my tent.

The tent at Nxabega was a bit less rustic than at Lebala: it had a fixed door rather than tent flaps, the shower was inside the tent, and electricity was available in the tent for lamps and to recharge batteries. The view from the veranda was spectacular, overlooking a magnificent marsh.

There was even more nocturnal activity at Nxabega than at Lebala. One night the camp was kept awake by some ongoing commotion (or maybe it was just a community sing-a-long) featuring an elephant herd and a group of lions. Added to the crickets and an astounding number of bell frogs, it made for an unforgettable symphony.

I hadn’t originally scheduled a private vehicle, but I asked to arrange one after my first day. Joyce and Effy were able to provide me with one, and Mr. Gee was my wonderful guide for 3 days. We had a wonderful time enjoying the Delta, teaching each other a few songs, and all in all having a marvelous time. It was Gee who listened to the baboons and moved to a spot where a magnificent leopard was trying to cross a bridge from one island to the next. A small confrontation developed, as our vehicle blocked the leopard’s path. I was transfixed, staring at this noble beast through my binoculars, even though the beast was no more than 1 meter from the front of the Land Rover. The leopard started getting just a bit frustrated – what was this ugly machine doing in his path!! After several minutes, Gee backed off, the leopard jumped over to where he was going, and the vision of that face and those eyes – THOSE EYES!! – are crystal-clear a week after the fact.

The mokoro ride was my favorite of Nxabega’s activities. The mokoro was originally made of a dug-out tree, but Nxabega uses the fiberglass model. Gee did all of the poling, as we moved silently through reeds and open water. It’s a spectacular feeling, hearing the wind, feeling the sparkling clean water on your hand, seeing a water lily. A beautiful way to spend a morning.

The motorboat excursion went deeper into the Okavango, into some spots where the reeds were dense and high. I’d have to say that I much preferred the calm and serenity of the mokoro.

At Nxabega, there is a light breakfast before the morning game drive, then a very extensive brunch after the morning drive. This brunch included about 8 or 10 dishes – salads, pasta, a main meat dish, fruits, and dessert, all served in individual bowls on a large tray. The formula was very similar to what I’d experienced at Londolozi, and I’m guessing that it’s part of the CC Africa formula (though Londolozi is apparently no longer in the CC Africa group). Dinner was sometimes served formally in the lodge, and some nights served less formally alongside a barbecue pit. The quality was always excellent.

Overall, a fantastic trip, and I would absolutely recommend both camps to anyone.

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