Like any job, mine has its upsides and downsides. A Botswana safari in the Okavango Delta at the start of one of the best floods in recent years was definitely one of the upsides!
I was being hosted by Ker & Downey which is a well-established Botswana safari company focusing on the 4+/5 star market. I visited each of its four camps in the Okavango Delta – Shinde Camp and Footsteps Camp in the northern Okavango, Camp Okuti in the Moremi Game Reserve and the Kanana Camp in the watery southern Okavango Delta.
One of the things I liked about the Ker & Downey safari camps was that each was very different – no “cookie cutter safari” here (which is what we call it when you go from one tented camp to a very similar tented camp over and over again). Yet each demonstrated the same high service ethic with friendly and obliging staff and the standard of guiding was also uniformly good.
The winter programme for the Botswana camps is to wake-up then have breakfast prior to the game activity. This works well as you are not cold on the vehicles and also means that you can stay out longer (as your tummy is not rumbling). You return mid morning and have an early lunch/brunch with a decent amount of free siesta time before afternoon tea. This system works very well for a safari (and I wish more camps would adopt it instead of trying to force feed three meals into you in too short a space of time!) Talking of food, the food was excellent at all the camps, especially at Kanana. It is homely cooking with delicious salads and plentiful vegetables. With a vegetarian dish offered as an alternative to the main meat dish.
My overall favourite was Shinde Camp, probably followed by Kanana, given the array of water activities on offer there. However Camp Okuti followed close behind and offers excellent game-viewing in the Moremi Game Reserve. You can learn more about each camp by clicking on their names so here I’m giving only my personal impressions…
Shinde, Footsteps and Kanana are all in private concessions within the seasonal waters of the Okavango Delta. This means that walking safaris and night drives are both allowed. It also means that you are unlikely to see many other game-viewing vehicles whilst out on safari. In contrast Camp Okuti lies within the Moremi Game Reserve which is a National Park. This means that there are more restrictions with neither game walks nor night drives allowed. But the variety of terrain in the Moremi, and consequently the wildlife to be seen, more than makes up for this.
Shinde was probably my favourite camp because of the combined attractions of being in a private exclusive concession that was also very beautiful, as well as the quality of the game-viewing; excellent guiding and the attractive camp under the trees. Shinde Camp is unusual in the Okavango Delta in offering good quality game drives, boating and mekoro trips year round. Thus if you only have 3 nights in the Okavango Delta, Shinde would be an ideal base for you.
Shinde Camp has a lovely setting under the trees which keeps the tents cool in the high Botswana temperatures. Ideal for year round. The main buildings are very attractive set high in the trees on a cantilevered terrace of decks. I particularly loved the rather grand dining area under a curved canvas roof. At the ground level, there’s a lovely campfire area overlooking the waters/grassland where people meeting for activities or enjoy pre- and post-dinner drinks. There’s also a swimming pool with shaded lounging area. Shinde is quite a romantic camp and has a honeysuite suite with a double bed so recommended for honeymooners.
Shinde is a private concession so the only vehicles we saw were from Shinde. It is very pretty open terrain with lots of small lagoons rapidly filling with flood water. We had excellent sightings of lion (two groups), leopard, elephant, tessebe, red lechwe, fish eagles, zebra, giraffe. All with a knowledgeable guide Paul who had a nice dry sense of humour.
Footsteps Camp is the most rustic of all the Ker & Downey camps and totally suits its purpose as a base for either walking safaris or family safaris. Having said that, I love this sort of authentic bushcamp and find its paired back style of living liberating…
The focus of Footsteps is on walking so don’t come here if you want to experience the full range of safari activities. . The mornings usually offer a longer 3 hour walk. Typically at Footsteps you will do a shorter afternoon walk and return before sunset. There is a game vehicle based at camp, so you can also do a short game walk followed by a night drive if you prefer.
The camp is very simple with sandy paths. It is in a very pretty, airy woodland area so that the tents stay cool during the day. This is paired down living and so will not suit everyone. The showers are about two metres from your tent and bucket showers so you need to say when you want a shower and they fill it up with hot water. There’s also a charming bush bath (old-fashioned tin bath) which is fun…
Camp Okuti is looking very good, its overall design making reference to the old wagons used by the settlers. The pool area, being adjacent to the main deck with some secluded shaded deck for relaxing during the heat, was particularly nice as it overlooks the river channel. The food was excellent and the staff were exceptionally friendly (especially the lovely Moni!). The rooms are huge with attractive indoor and outdoor bathrooms. Again very well appointed with safe, toweling robes, flip flops, comfy chairs in the room and on the deck, mosquito nets.
The terrain around Camp Okuti is rather special and varied with open airy areas of woodland contrasting with beautiful lagoons and pools and open expanses of grassland. We visited Dead Tree Island which had excellent birdlife and eery lifeless trees silhouetted in the water – great for arty photography. However you are in the Moremi Game Reserve which is a National Park so you do see other camp’s vehicles and also mobile safari vehicles…
Game-viewing is excellent in the Moremi Game Reserve, and especially in this area of the Moremi, and we were certainly very lucky with an exciting (and somewhat horrific) lion kill – three lion on one zebra which we saw from the very beginning (with the lions sleeping) to the start of the hunt to the chase to the bloody kill. However a point to note is that such a notable sighting soon brought a host of other vehicles (about eight!) so I strongly recommend that you combine a Moremi camp with a private concession camp to get that real sense of the wildness of the Okavango Delta.
Kanana Camp is a delightful and attractive camp. A good point for Kanana is the range of activities – game drives, game walks, boat cruises, fishing and mekoro trips.
The Kanana concession comprises both drier and wetter areas so that land and water activities are offered throughout the year, with water activities being predominant during the flood season (June to October).
As I focused on the water activities, one would naturally not see the same quantity of game. This is a general rule when choosing what activities to enjoy on a Botswana safari. Game drives will usually yield a high amount of species seen. A walking safari is usually focusing on the smaller aspects of the wilderness such as small animals, trees, medicinal uses of shrubs, identifying the different spore of animals. Likewise if you opt for a water-based safari excursion such as a boat cruise or a mekoro trip, you will mainly be enjoying the beauty of the Okavango Delta and its birdlife rather than ticking off the predators. This is a general rule. There are always exceptions but keep it in mind!
We were very lucky with our birding! With excellent sightings of huge African Fish Eagles and even the rare Pel’s fishing owl. Thus I would say that Kanana Camp would make a great combination with Camp Okuti or Shinde Camp. I found the camp very charming set around the giant fig tree. Below the raised decks of the main lodge was a camp fire set right at the water’s edge which was very pretty great for pre and post-dinner drinks. The rooms probably the most comfortable of all the camps on this trip.
When booking a Botswana safari, we don’t always use camps from the same safari company. But choose which camps suit the guest and their requirements. However often it does work well to stick with one company… Especially if the camps are in contrasting areas as you get to experience a holistic view of the Okavango Delta, its beauty and its superb wildlife. This is certainly the case with a Botswana safari with Ker & Downey.