More Delta Retreats
You can stay at only so many camps in a single trip. Here are four other lodges where the setting and the game-viewing are just as dramatic—and the service equally attentive—as the ones I visited.
Jao: Safari in the Sky Guests often schedule Jao at the end of their stay because it's the perfect place to do nothing. But the camp does have both water- and land-based game-viewing, as well as catch-and-release fly-fishing trips and midday searches for a rare aquatic antelope, the sitatunga. Leopards have been known to stretch out on branches hanging over the walkway to the suites, and elephants and lions regularly cross the channel that snakes through the camp.
Jao is largely owned by fourth-generation Botswanan David Kays and his wife, Cathy, who commissioned Italian architect Silvio Rech to create a treehouse with 360-degree views. What they got was a multileveled hideaway, with stairs leading to viewing platforms, a bar, a dining room, a library. In addition to the sculptural main lounge, nine vast canvas-walled suites teeter in the trees, each with a sala that's open to the sky. If that isn't enough to make you feel at one with nature, the outdoor shower—with its unobstructed views of the floodplain—should do the trick.
Chief's Camp: Classic Comfort Twelve luxury tents overlook the floodplain to the north, home to antelope, elephants, buffalo, and the predators: lions, leopards, cheetahs. The split-level, thatched lodge is shaded by a canopy of sausage, jackalberry, and monkeypod trees, and both levels have views to the horizon. The lounge is spacious and open-sided; the canvas tents are uncluttered. At night, a private candlelit dinner can be served on the pool deck, storm lanterns keeping the dark at bay.
Out in the bush in an open Land Cruiser, it's easy to spot the rhino that have just been introduced to the area. Guests often witness leopards climbing trees to carefully drape their kill on the branches, or pairs of cheetahs scouting for their evening meal.
At Chief's, unlike at camps with permanent rivers, mokoro trips are available only after the floodwaters have arrived, from June through September. To be sure of seeing the animals from a canoe, check the water levels before you book.
Sandibe: Forest Hideaway
Set among wild palms and fig trees, east of Chief's Island and next to the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, Sandibe occupies an embankment of year-round water channels. Eight thatched suites are appointed with a sensual mix of leather and silk. Encircled by towering trees, the central lounge and dining area have decks with hammocks for total relaxation. Elephants and other large animals regularly wander through the camp.
It's worth visiting for the buffalo alone; herds 5,000 strong have been recorded on the Gomoti Channel. Days are filled with game drives, mokoro trips, picnics, walks, birding, and fishing. A bonus: getting close to the game while cruising the channel on Lily, a silent, electric-powered boat.
Jack's Camp: Vintage Adventure
In April, when the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana's Kalahari Desert are full of water, thousands of animals migrate through the region. When the pans are empty, Jack's guides take advantage of the dry mud and load guests onto quad bikes to ride across the salty expanse. Or they group them with San Bushmen to trek over the thick crust and learn how to survive on desert melons and avoid scorpions.
The camp is spacious and understated, with 1920's-style canvas tents and bucket showers. The eight tents are decorated in rich tones, with kilims underfoot and chests on the floor beside canopied beds made up in crisp cotton sheets. Each morning, staff members fill copper basins with jugs of warm water for a wake-up wash. Meals are served in the open-sided mess tent, lit with storm lanterns at night. Between courses, guests can step outside to watch clouds of pink flamingos settle into the pans.
Five thousand years ago, the pans were lush and flooded, just like the delta. When you stop for sundowners and snacks in the arid expanse of the Makgadikgadi landscape, you can imagine what those westerly floodplains might look like millennia from now.