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Delta Force

Little Mombo: Unrivaled Intimacy

Surrounded by grassy plains and woodland acacias, this remote six-bed tented reserve on Mombo Island is the height of exclusivity. The entire camp, raised high on a platform, overlooks floodplains that teem with game year-round. Impalas, red lechwe (another kind of antelope), wildebeests, zebras, and sassabies share watering holes harmoniously; predators, such as lions, leopards, and cheetahs, are at every bend. You'll find the same animals elsewhere in the delta, but here they're in such abundance, you're guaranteed to see them all in one stay.

Two enormous linked canvas tents make up our suite, along with a veranda wrapped around an ebony tree, an outdoor shower, and a sala (an enclosed deck) that lords over the plain. The tent wall that faces the flooded desert is sheer netting, which amplifies the late-night sounds of buffalo wading through the stream just below. The first tent is anchored with a blond-wood bed, made up in crisp white linen, shrouded in muslin; a white mohair blanket is folded for chilly nights. Round bedside tables, a leather ottoman, a writing desk, and chairs padded with chocolate-brown cushions refine the rusticity. The second tent houses the bathroom: I have a commanding view of the plains as I brush my teeth.

In the main lounge, a book placed on a leather ottoman explains the origin of the African artifacts used in the lodge: a Cameroonian pygmy stool, a Zimbabwean Batonka door, a Saharan Tuareg bowl. One of the guides, Greg Hughes, offers to take my husband and me—the only couple at the camp—out alone in an open jeep, past a 2,500-year-old baobab tree and across the southern floodplains. Greg points out camouflaged zebras, a brilliant blue woodland kingfisher, a troop of baboons in a tree, and an impala. He snaps off a twig of wild sage, a natural insect repellent, to whisk away flies, and uses his knowledge of the bush to find what will be the highlight of our trip: a leopard leading her two cubs up a tree. According to Greg she is a Paradise Plains female, one of 10 in the area that the rangers know well. A short drive on, we watch a newborn giraffe find its feet, and a rare African wildcat soaking up the sun.

Savute Elephant Camp: Lunar Escape

This is better than a martini at five!" exclaims a fellow guest in praise of a bottle of chilled water. We've just stepped out of a six-seater Cessna onto an unpaved airstrip, and we're hot under the midday sun. It's April, and the grass is green and high, but come the dry season (July through October) Savute will be bleached as white as a bone.

In front of the camp—12 air-conditioned tents strung along a permanently dry riverbed—baboons and antelope find a drink at the waterhole. The lodge's thatched-roof deck has an easy view of the elephants that come, sometimes two at a time, sometimes 30, to take their turn for a sip. On the deck's sofa, cooled by an overhead fan, I nap and listen to their rumblings as they truck by.

Savute is known for its elephants, as well as its lions, and the camp managers make full use of their presence. On a game drive, we stop for sundowners beside a watering spot that's encircled by elephants. Our ranger unpacks a cooler of drinks and snacks (nuts, the dried meat called biltong) and we stand around the jeep sipping gin and tonics while the sun sets into the flatness. After dining under an ostrich-egg chandelier on the camp's deck, we retire to our tent, with its four-poster bed draped in mosquito netting, armchairs, and spacious dressing room with a separate toilet and shower.

At daybreak we drive along the dry Savute Channel, where silvery spiderwebs hang between bushes of aromatic sage. A lilac-breasted roller sings atop an acacia tree; a family of warthogs races past our jeep, tails high. And then one of the rangers radios us: a pair of male lions is heading down the track in our direction. We reverse off the sandy road and wait in anticipation. Five long minutes later, two enormous brothers strut from behind a bend, looking for a haven to sleep out the day. I hold my breath as they walk just yards from our jeep. The leader turns his steely yellow eyes my way, but his pace is unfaltering. Keeping at a comfortable distance, we follow them for 30 minutes before they slip away into the long grass.


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