Offering the highest density of elephants to be found anywhere in Africa, Chobe National Park is the ultimate safari destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
During the dry season between June and November, safari-goers can expect to see four of the Big Five (only the rhino is locally extinct).
Lions and leopards are plentiful in Chobe, while the elephants share the grassy floodplain with vast herds of buffalo, zebra, giraffe, and impala. Rare antelope species like sable, roan, and the Chobe bushbuck can also be spotted here. But the star attraction is undoubtedly the hundreds-strong elephant herds that come to drink, swim and play in the meandering, perennial river.
Boat cruises in the company of hippos, crocodiles, buffalo herds, and elephants
Where to go in Chobe
As a well-traveled Frommer’s Guide writer says, “Chobe is all about the river”. She says this is where the best, most varied sightings are, and yes, it’s home to the densest concentrations of game, perfect for safari. This is especially true in winter when the sapphire blue Chobe offers a ribbon of opportunity for game to come to drink deeply and cool off, making visibility better than ever.
Forest and floodplains line the Chobe River, and besides some semi-permanent pans further south in the park and the Linyanti River, there’s not much other water to be had in the dry season. This is where the main action takes place. It’s a magnet for elephants – sometimes, they dot the floodplain for as far as the eye can see.
Lucky guests cruising along the river on a houseboat safari can see lions on the banks and hippos slumber and wallow in the shallows. Every so often, a croc will be seen basking in the sun like all reptiles love to do. Chobe is also virtually the only place in Botswana to find Puku antelope and the Chobe bushbuck.
The riverside is also close to the most accessible point of entry to the park, the town of Kasane, and is popular with families, couples, and solo travelers alike.
Lodges and accommodation are scattered along the Chobe River. Most establishments are not within the boundaries of the park itself, and a couple are even on the other side of the river, in neighboring Namibia.
There is also the option of a tented or mobile safari. Operators set up camp – some a lot more luxurious than you might expect – in a private space within the park, which means no rush for the gate on the early morning game drive.
The Chobe River is also where the distinctive houseboats moor and river safaris take place in slipper-shaped craft. This area (also sometimes called Serondela) is a megatick for birders year-round. Author of Birds of Botswana, Peter Hancock, recommends the Kasane Rapids to keen birders for a birding safari.
“This is the best place in Botswana to see African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, and Rock Pratincole [which nest here]. It is also a good place to see Pel’s Fishing Owl. In addition, there is a large, active heronry at the rapids where significant numbers of Yellow-billed Storks nest annually.”
Highlights of the Chobe Riverside
A Safari Boat Cruise
Few parks in Africa can offer this Chobe staple. Languid safaris, safely afloat on the blue river, get close to numerous herds and birds. A languid sunset cruise in one of the nimble riverboats that ply the watercourse is an excellent contrast to rocking about the plains in a vehicle.
Elephants by the hundred can be seen during their social drinks hour, hosing themselves down, applying soothing mud to the skin, and interacting in endlessly fascinating ways. Crocs, buffalo, hippos, and water birds such as spoonbills and kingfishers add to the show.
The Chobe is home to over 90 fish species, but the king of them all is the tigerfish, the fastest freshwater fish in Africa. This vigorous striped predator has an average weight of 10 to 12kg/26lbs (the record is a 70kg/154lbs monster) and likes to fight back. The Chobe is also home to gigantic catfish, bream, and Zambezi yellow fish. Most lodges practice ‘catch and release’ fishing.
Photographic safaris are another Chobe Riverside specialty, featuring specially kitted-out safari boats for photographers. Photo boats come with swivel seats and arms upon which experts can mount their gear; some of the better outfits even provide the camera and lenses. Guides know both river and photo opportunities intimately and will share their technical knowledge, so snappers have the freedom to concentrate on the shots.
Dedicated photo trips that combine time on the plains (in a vehicle with bean bag mounts) can also be booked.
All things great and small besides umpteen elephants, spotted hyena, impala, bushbuck, sable, wildebeest, kudu, and giraffe can be seen. In 2017, Travel Africa magazine noted that 40 lions in four prides hunted along the Chobe Riverside.
Surprises may include water lilies in the river, the size of the ants, bushbabies in the trees, and the eerie squeaks and whistles of Peter’s Epauletted Fruit Bat. Also remarkable are the Great White pelicans that “commute” almost daily from the Chobe River 300km (186mi) south to feed fish to their chicks on Sua Pan.
A houseboat trip is one of the best ways to experience the Chobe. Happiness is floating about at night, the deck washed with starlight, hippos honking, and hyenas whooping in the distance.
River and game safaris can be arranged from these floating lodgings. These are generally all-inclusive experiences, popular with families and honeymooners.
Meals are of good quality, although check whether Halaal and Kosher requirements can be met. The itineraries are relaxed and tailor-made. As some of the craft operate from Namibian waters, there can be some extra paperwork, but your tour operator will steer you in the right direction.
Good to Know about the Chobe Riverside
The kick-off point for most Chobe adventures is the growing town of Kasane, where warthogs cross the main street and residents have found elephants munching through their flowerbeds.
Chobe is not fenced; all the better to allow natural migration routes and patterns to play out. Kasane is not the frontier town it once was; the gravel airstrip is now an international airport, and you can get just about anything you might need. Most guests will fly here from Johannesburg, South Africa, or via Botswana’s capital city Gaborone, and it is perfectly possible to drive the 1,200km (746mi) in an ordinary car. However, not everyone would be up for such a long trip.
Just past Kasane, the Chobe River spills into the Zambezi, at the confluence of four countries: Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Its waters travel all the way from its original source in Angola, where it is called the Cuando River; it later becomes the Linyanti and then, at Ngoma, the Chobe.
At this point, the Chobe is a convoluted, wide channel dotted with islands and swampy areas. A ferry crosses the Zambezi at Kazungula. Opposite Kasane is Impalila Island (Namibian territory), where David Livingstone once camped before pressing on to Victoria Falls.
Guests can walk through local villages to see an ancient baobab tree, alive when the Romans were still around. While eastern Chobe Riverside’s proximity to town may not be a plus for everyone, it does add an extra layer of possibilities to a trip, which is good for families that need to break up the game-watching regime.
Practical Advice for the Chobe Riverside
Many lodges in Chobe – the more luxurious offer private plunge pools and voluminous rooms – charge all-inclusive rates, as do mobile and guided safaris. This includes all meals and standard drinks, park fees, and a couple of daily activities, such as guided game drives or cruises. This makes the total less alarming than it may seem at first.
There is only one permanent lodge in the park itself at Chobe Riverside (and some mobile outfits), so most game drive vehicles in this area travel to Sedudu Gate for access – and must leave by dark. Being in the park is advantageous as one can linger longer and be first on the scene at dawn.
Different lodges cater to varying needs for families, couples seeking romance, and solo travelers. Note that not all accept children, and tots may not be allowed on game drives. Ask your Discover Africa expert about child-friendly accommodations.
The area closest to Kasane gets super busy in the high season. To try and manage high season congestion at opening time, officials at Sedudu Gate allow tour operators entry for the first hour, followed by day visitors. Guidebook writer and journalist Gill Staden says she “always stays at the western end of the Riverside. That end is quiet.” Gate times from 1 April to 30 September are 06h00 to 18h30; from 1 October to 31 March, they open at 05h30 and close at 19h00.
The park’s very sandy and slippery clay roads require a 4×4 vehicle. Petrol is only available at Kasane – or Maun. Take a good map, ask about road conditions, and factor in much higher fuel consumption in deep sand, says guidebook author and occasional guide Mike Main.
More adventurous overland, mobile safari participants and some self-drivers will camp. There is only one public campsite in this area, unfenced Ihaha (GPS: S 17 50. 19; E 24 52. 40). It has ten sites (avoid the tempting #2 as baboons like to sleep in that shady tree) and simple ablutions with hot showers and flushing toilets. These sites get booked up fast, especially during local school holidays. The DWNP has outsourced the campsite to Kwalate Safaris to run. Contact them at +267 686-1448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The old picnic site on the Chobe, known as Serondela, has since closed, but it is Botswana-based author Mike Main’s favorite spot in the park. “Not only is it very beautiful,” he says, “but it was here, in the 1930s, that the Susman brothers, foresters who had concessions in Western Zambia, cut timber and hauled it to the crest of the escarpment overlooking the Chobe River. It was loaded onto carts that ran on a wooden railway line down the riverbank.” Main’s African Adventurer’s Guide to Botswana is a valuable resource for self-drivers.
Tiger fishing permits can be obtained from the Department of Wildlife & National Parks, Kasane, +267 625-0486.
Kasane International Airport (+267 625-0133) is the main transit point for Chobe National Park.
There are two more areas within this 11,700km2 (4,517 square mile) wilderness to explore, both very distinctive and far more remote than the bustle of the Chobe Riverfront. These are Nogatsaa, and Linyanti.
Nogatsaa, an off-the-beaten-path sweeping expanse of grasslands with mopane and deciduous woodlands, is only 80km (50mi) south of Kasane but feels like another world. There is just one lodge in Nogatsaa (at Kwikamba Pan, opened in 2017), and the tricky deep sand and notorious ‘black cotton’ soil in the area tend to keep all but the most tenacious of self-drive vehicles at bay.
The clay-bottomed pans here are magnets for game and provide water well into the dry season. Herds of elephant, buffalo, and antelope stop by, making viewing excellent on a Chobe safari. Exciting species include oryx (gemsbok), eland, roan, and the delicately limbed oribi.
Boreholes now top up key drinking holes when it’s dry, so the area is never deserted, although it’s not the best destination for those desperate to tick off key species within 24 hours. Nogatsaa is a place for repeat safari-goers who will relish the pure wilderness experience, couples wanting a remote and beautiful bolthole, or adventurous families and groups keen to explore on a mobile safari or private guided tour.
The game is less used to traffic and can be skittish. A bit further south of Nogatsaa is Tchinga Pan, and there are hides at various water sources in the area, too, perfect for those who like to stretch and picnic between game-driving stints.
The oft-dry Ngwezumba River runs to the west of the Nogatsaa area and has some beautiful trees along its length. The road further south to Zweizwe Pan and Goha Gate runs alongside it.
This beautiful part of Chobe, located on the far western boundary, runs along the Linyanti River for just 7km (4mi) or so. Across the river is Namibia. Further south, the wilderness extends to Moremi and the Delta. It’s blessed with lagoons, wetlands, and floodplains, dramatically different terrain to Savuti.
Lush riparian woodlands dot the landscape and contain the birds that enjoy this habitat, which is perfect for a birding safari. There is a public campsite and several permanent tented safari camps and lodges, some dripping with style and comfort. This is especially true for the private concessions that extend the wilderness beyond Chobe’s borders: the Linyanti Game Reserve and Selinda (where you can go exploring by mokoro, the canoes of the Okavango).
Many big names in the African safari world have signature camps in this slice of wilderness, where roads are few and far between, and expert guides seek out excellent game encounters. Guest numbers in the concessions are limited, and lodges offer walks and, in some cases, horse-riding safaris.
Linyanti is a perfect place for adventure – as well as romance. Going private guarantees being the only vehicle at a sighting during busier times of the year (like school holidays and high season).
The permanent Linyanti River that gives the region its name becomes the Chobe River further north. This region is the stomping ground of many elephants, hippos, and crocs, especially in the dry season.
Other wildlife specials in the area are big-eared “painted” wild dogs, rare cheetahs, sable and roan, carmine bee-eaters, red lechwe, and leopards.
For the average visitor, driving all the way across Chobe National Park – or from Maun or Namibia – will be “brutal” as one traveler on Tripadvisor puts it.
Aside from adventurers who like nothing better than taking a vehicle where few have gone before, this is the time to opt for a flight. Then, if the budget allows, check in at a fine lodge, where the excellent staff will ensure you don’t have to lift a finger, never mind decipher a map or tackle the marshy areas.
Flying in is one of the great Chobe experiences in its own right, as charter flights zoom across the great expanses of the park, puffy clouds throwing shadows on pebble-sized elephants.
Highlights of Nogatsaa and the Southern Private Concessions
The Linyanti area is one of the best places to encounter these characteristic animals, which are nowhere common but always sought-after. Even fenced reserves can’t keep wild dogs in – they are remarkable nomads, often covering huge areas. But they have been known to den in the region, which means that for a time, they stay put.
Botswana has a third of the remaining population, and northern Botswana is their favorite. Kasane-based conservation organization Caracal’s Dr. Kathleen Alexander says domestic dog diseases and road accidents threaten the painted dogs, but Chobe offers a haven from both.
The Selinda Spillway
Walk, ride, paddle- the Selinda Spillway is another erratic watercourse, but when it contains water, paddling in Mokoro is possible and a silent (if somewhat strenuous) way to experience the bush. The best times for this activity are June to August when floodwaters from Angola peak.
The concession areas of Linyanti and Selinda also offer the chance to do bush walking safaris, not available to most lodges in the Chobe National Park itself. Coming upon a creature as small as a warthog – never mind an elephant – on foot can be an incredible experience.
Lastly, the occasional operator offers horseback safaris for competent riders, a surreal chance to admire game at close range.
Nogatsaa doesn’t have the big rivers that attract some flashier bird species, but Peter Hancock, the co-author of Birds of Botswana, notes that the area has a host of specials.
Look out for the Western Banded Snake Eagle, Orange-winged Pytilia, Brown-backed Honeybird, Green-backed Honeybird, Racket-tailed Roller, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Purple-banded Sunbird, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Emerald Cuckoo, Miombo Rock thrush, and Magpie Mannikin.
Other species you’ll encounter include the Bearded Scrub Robin, African Goshawk, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Three-banded Courser, Isabelline Wheatear, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Lizard Buzzard, Croaking Cisticola, Cuckoo-finch, Western Marsh Harrier and Woodland Pipit.
Taking a birding safari in Nogatsaa is something birders dream of.
Far from serious light pollution, the enormous African sky glitters like the Queen’s jewels. Dusk turns to dark abruptly on a Botswana safari, and the light show begins. Some of the best-known sights at the right time of the year are the flashy planets Venus and Mars and the arrangement of stars known as the Southern Cross.
The heavens also contain the “Big Five of the African Sky”, according to the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa: celestial deep-sky objects. These are the flickering Southern Pleaides (an open star cluster), Omega Centauri (a globular cluster), the eta Carinae Nebula (a bright nebula), the marvelously named Coal Sack (a dark nebula), and our own expansive galaxy, the Milky Way.
When the stars come out, so do the night creatures. Listen for the initially alarming yowls of bushbabies, the snickering spotted hyena, and of course, lion roars, which can be heard for up to 8km (5mi) away and, if close, reverberate in your chest. The fiery-necked nightjar is a quintessential sound of the bush. Moths take to the air, as do bats, including “megabats”: fruit bats with ethereal calls. Of course, canvas walls bring all these delights so much closer.
Mobile safaris and many lodges will offer dinner under the stars, while some stellar accommodations have “star beds”: safe places to sleep outdoors under a mere mosquito net and starlight.
Nogatsaa is about 80km (50mi) south of Kasane, but the roads may not be accessible when wet.
Linyanti is on the far northwest boundary of the park.
The Linyanti private concessions border the Linyanti River (Namibia is over the water) and stretch further west and south.
Practical Advice for Nogatsaa and the Southern Private Concessions
Charter flights limit luggage to just 20kg/44lbs (including hand luggage and cameras), and bags must be small, soft, and flexible to fit into the tiny craft: no shell suitcases! Bags should be no bigger than 62cm/24in long, 30cm/12in wide, and 25cm/10in high. Many lodges offer complimentary laundry services so you can pack light. Flying is generally essential when visiting the Linyanti and Selinda concessions. It will affect the budget: a flight from Kasane to Savuti, for example, can set you back around $325, excluding VAT.
You can’t yet fly to Nogatsaa; the lodge in the area organizes land transfers.
Linyanti is a good add-on to Okavango, Moremi or Chobe Riverside destinations.
Self-driving in the Linyanti area is limited: there are not many game drive roads in the area to ramble around – another reason why choosing a lodge in this area makes sense.
Baboons and vervet monkeys can and do raid supplies. As Gill Staden says, it’s vital to understand that “animals have a much better sense of smell than humans. Humans tend to think that if food is not visible, then it won’t be found. Wrong. Keep it in containers that do not allow the smell to get out.”
There is currently no public campsite in the Nogatsaa area.
Nestled in a remote section of Chobe National Park, Savuti provides a dynamic game-viewing experience.
Savuti is a huge area sprawling across the western side of Chobe National Park. It comprises grassland and savanna habitats that attract astounding concentrations of wildlife. It’s renowned for its annual zebra migration and the associated predators that give chase, such as lions, hyenas, and cheetahs.
Savuti is also known for its elephant-hunting lions, a relatively rare phenomenon and one that might be attributed to the notoriously large size of prides there. Elephants congregate in impressive numbers in the dry season.
Experience our Tailor-made Tours in Chobe National Park
When is the best month to travel to Chobe National Park?
Chobe in January
Summer December to February is the peak rainy season in Chobe, and the Riverside area receives more rain than anywhere else in Botswana: up to 650mm/26in a year. The great herds won’t be visiting the Riverside, but elephants and hippos are always present.
Vegetation everywhere will be splendidly lush, and the herds dispersed. By now, trees like the sour plum, African Mangosteen, and marula trees are fruiting: taste them! “Green season” is the time to look for excellent accommodation specials.
A Savuti safari can be perfect at this time of the year. Migrant birds will be swooping around the park, perfect for a birding safari. Malaria risks are higher in summer, so get medical advice on the correct precautions before traveling.
March usually sees the last of the rains, and the bush is verdant. A lovely time for those happy to enjoy the space, big skies, and landscapes and prepared to spend a little more time on the move looking for good game sightings.
Nogatsaa can simply be too wet to traverse at this time. Zebra could be migrating through Savuti. Nearby Victoria Falls will be in a full flood if the rains were good, so consider it an add-on.
March and April are the highest malaria risks on the Chobe Riverside.
Some say Botswana is the most beautiful country in Africa this month – and it’s still shoulder season, so specials can be found.
Temperatures are definitely cooler in the mornings and evenings, so take layers. Kasane and the Chobe Riverside will be getting busier as the high season approaches. Game of all kinds will start to be drawn to water sources and is easier to see, but it’s still a little early to guarantee enormous herds. Nogatsaa can see a mini-migration of zebra and wildebeest in April and May.
Towards the end of the month, go tiger hunting – tigerfish, that is, “18lb of pure fight”. This is when smaller fish start moving back from the floodplains to the main river channels. Late May and June see feeding frenzies as tigerfish lie in wait.
It’s cold at night and in the early mornings (temperatures can drop close to 0°C/32°F) so take warm extra layers for game drives, but sunshine during the day is almost guaranteed.
It’s the start of high season, so you’ll meet other vehicles on the roads and share sightings, especially on the Chobe River. But what sightings! Day by day, there will be more elephants, plus buffalo, crocs, and much more.
Savute will be dry now, but permanent boreholes attract thirsty animals, and competition for the precious water makes for great sightings. Self-driving adventurers can tackle the park’s dirt roads, which is not always possible in the wet season. This is an excellent time to drive to Nogatsaa, although the game will be moving north. It’s also prime time for tiger fishing at the Riverside.
Nights can get freezing, although the days warm right up. The elephant extravaganza continues on the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers.
Literally hundreds can be seen at the river at a time, as well as great herds of buffalo. It’s peak high season, which also means more park visitors – so if you want peace, it may be worth heading to the further reaches of the park or the private concessions of Linyanti and Selinda.
Linyanti’s prime game-watching window period is also the winter months, and the area is known for wild dogs. The dogs den this month, making these sought-after predators easier to find.
It’s still cold enough to need warm layers for early mornings and evenings. It’s wild dog puppy season, and the Linyanti concession areas are the best place to see them. The number of elephants at Chobe Riverside proves why Chobe is rated one of the best places in the world to admire these giants.
It’s still high season, which means more park visitors and more elephants – so if you want peace, it may be worth paying extra and heading to the further reaches of the park or the private concessions of Linyanti. The Selinda Spillway may have enough water for mokoro paddling.
There’s a catfish run in the Kasai Channel, and it’s still a good time for tigers.
It’s pretty hot by day now, with Kasane temperatures averaging about 30°C/86°F. The first bird migrants return: yellow-billed kites and carmine bee-eaters are first back; woodland kingfishers come later. Botswana’s Independence Day is celebrated on 30 September.
The dry season continues, so, once again, the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers are the places to be for big game sightings on safari. The Selinda Spillway may have enough water for mokoro paddling. Tiger fishing on the Chobe River should still be good (although the fish can be caught year-round).
October is one of the hottest months in Chobe, with temperatures hitting about 35°C/86°F to 40°C/104°F. Elephants will soon start to disperse from the permanent rivers, after which things quiet in Chobe Riverside.
Shoulder season rates kick in, but as there is likely to be little rain, this is still a good month for travelers who like it warm. There’s good fishing around Impalila Island. Hot nights are also good for sleep-outs and camping.
The weather is still mostly hot and clear, but “Green Season” begins. The first rains settle the dust (wet, hot African soil smells better than just about anything else on earth).
Acacia trees, baobabs, sausage trees, and apple leaf begin to flower, and nutritious grass sprouts up soon after the first showers, triggering calving season. It’s a baby bonanza with skinny-legged herbivores wobbling to their feet all over the bush.
It’s also shoulder season, so look out for accommodation specials. November/December sees the beginning of the zebra migration. Following ancient migration routes, they head south from the Chobe River to enjoy the new grasses at Savuti Marsh and the Mababe Depression and will continue on to the pans further south. They return to the Chobe river area by May.
The wetter weather can bring cooler temperatures, so pack a jacket or jersey. The antelope baby boom peaks, and by mid-month, most wildebeest, impala, tsessebe, and warthog will have dropped their offspring.
Good rains will have soaked the earth, and termite alates (often called flying ants) will erupt from the ground, sparking bird feeding frenzies.
Even raptors like Steppe eagles love termites. Many park roads become tricky or impassable, so self-drivers should pick a dryer month. December is a wonderful time to visit Savute.
The depth of the Chobe river is 3m; it is truly impressive.
Some areas won’t suit the family and it's also wise to be aware of malaria in others, however, South Africa has a few malaria-free safari locations and there are other safari lodges and bush camps throughout Africa that cater to young children and toddlers, just do the research beforehand.
You are putting yourself in a position where you are exposed to wild animals for which many of them are dangerous. However, on a safari every precaution is made to ensure your safety when going on a game drives or walks. This is why it is of absolute importance that you listen to your well-trained guide at all times, failure to do so might result in harm, however, if you are respectful of your surroundings and the fact that you are in a wild place you will be perfectly safe and have an experience of a lifetime.
If you're looking to experience the large elephant herds and the other variety of wildlife on show in Chobe, then a visit during the dry season months of May - November are ideal as the animals will congregate around water sources such as the Chobe River. If you're a keen birding enthusiast, then the wet months of December to March is your best to see the migrant birds.
Chobe National Park has safari accommodations to rival the best on the continent. If price is not a concern, choosing a safari is more about personal preferences and the desire for action and adventure or peace and tranquility. Some may also choose accommodations according to their key interests, such as summer migrant bird species or certain predators.
The Chobe Riverside will have suitable suites and lodges, but it depends on whether you’ve come to Botswana to avoid the crowds. In high season, this entire area becomes very busy, and as Chobe is a national park, sightings are often shared with other vehicles, to the point of jostling for position.
If the thrill of river cruises and seeing enormous herds of elephants and buffalo are more important than exclusivity, visitors will be more than happy. There are also excellent birding safari opportunities and fishing in this area. You can also consider renting an entire “floating villa” or houseboat.
Otherwise, those who prefer more intimate lodges with ample space will wish to head further afield, deeper into the park, or to the private concessions. Flying is the quickest and easiest way to get around (and scenic planes fly low). Charter flights from Kasane or Maun are easily arranged.
It may be best to pinpoint your primary aim. If the sights and sounds of the bush and game drive safaris with expert trackers are all that is required, look for an intimate lodge with fewer guests. Private concessions will be able to offer night drive safaris and guided walking safaris, unlike most of the rest of the park, adding an extra dimension to the trip.
For predators, a Savuti safari remains a must-do, both in the dry season when animals congregate around the waterholes and when the zebra pass through on their annual migrations. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs are all present.
Those who know they enjoy an extra level of activity may consider adventures such as a mokoro paddling adventure in Selinda (note this is entirely dependent on water levels). Include the Okavango if it’s on your bucket list. Horse riding safaris and walking safaris, again all in the private concessions, are easier to guarantee.
Birding and photography specialists can ask about top-end guides to help scratch the itch for that elusive species or perfect shot. Private guided safaris that offer the best guides in the business and a deluxe camping experience are options for those who want the sound of the bush filtered through canvas and no electricity to dim the stars.
Top-end names to consider, which all have their own style and approach, include Great Plains, Wilderness Safaris, &Beyond, and Desert & Delta.
Practical Advice for a Luxury Chobe Holiday
Botswana isn’t really a shopping destination, but look out for quality wooden carvings, and the area’s specialty: intricate baskets made from Mokolwane palm fibres, handwoven as taught to Hambukushu women by their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The colours are made by soaking the fibres in natural dyes. Traditional patterns had evocative names such as Flight of the Swallows or Knees of the Tortoise, Ian Michler writers in The Insider’s Guide to Botswana. The baskets are world class but quite hard to find in Chobe; ask your lodge for advice.
Travelers lucky enough to be armed with strong international currencies should be able to explore Chobe in perfect comfort (sometimes top-end comfort) for a reasonable price – but remember that Botswana is a destination where low-volume, high-income tourism is promoted. As such, you might need to look for ways to keep costs down.
Most lodges and camps in Chobe Riverside, Savuti, and Linyanti are all-inclusive, which means that once you’ve paid the lump sum, you theoretically won’t need to touch your wallet until it’s time to tip the staff and say goodbye.
But not all seasons are equal, and this is where you can make considerable savings. Great deals can be had in the shoulder season (around May and November, when the weather and animal activity is less predictable) and the “green season” (December to March, when it’s hot and humid, and wet weather can make road travel tricky).
As an example, one high-end brand’s high-season lodge rates were $1,000 per person per night in 2019; their low-season special was $580, and shoulder season rates $750. This does not include a single supplement.
For those determined to get close enough to the wilderness to hear buffalo chewing at night in, say, Savuti, a mobile safari operator is an option. These cater to varying budgets, but the better options will take the trouble to pack good bedding and quality food, and guests can enjoy a deluxe camping experience.
Guests will sleep in large dome or walk-in tents with stretcher beds and good linens, and water will be warmed for hot showers, plus short-drop toilet facilities provided rather than a spade and a loo roll. Better mobile safaris may even have “en-suite” tents.
Guests usually travel in an appropriate game-viewing vehicle while a second vehicle hauls the gear and sets up camp. This has the advantage of getting one deeper into Chobe without flying and having that authentic safari experience so many yearn for.
Of course, affordable options mean traveling with a group of other people. As an example of costs, one “mini” seven-day mobile safari with a top-end outfit is from $3,540 per person in low season to $6,050 per person in high season. This is based on a group of six.
For pure exclusivity, you need to book a private guided safari, and that, unfortunately, is not within everyone’s budget.
Although the private concessions of Linyanti and Selinda are generally more high-end and thus possibly only an option in green season, there are a few simple yet quality options that are easier on the budget. Check with your Discover Africa expert.
Practical Advice for an Affordable Chobe Holiday
The Chobe Riverside lodges and camps can work out to be more reasonable than those deeper in the park, especially the concessions. The western Chobe Riverside can be more expensive than the east. Also, check accommodations over the Chobe River in Namibia.
Another possible way to save is to look at newer lodges opened by the excellent safari lodge brands. These sometimes offer lower prices as they are becoming established.
Tipping can be an awkward subject. There is no obligation to tip for poor service, and it’s always voluntary. Don’t be embarrassed to ask the manager about the camp’s policy – some lodges will have this information in the info packs in your room. As a general guide, tip only at the end of your stay. Consider first tipping your guide, who you will spend a lot of time with and who may become a friend. $10 a day is suggested for group guides and $20 for private guides. Then most camps have a “staff tip box” or envelope for the general staff, from cleaners to chefs and waitrons. Here, we recommend giving a lump sum divided equally between the staff, based on around $5 per guest per day.
Firstly, it’s best to accept that Botswana is a pricey destination. The country’s rulers have elected to promote low-volume, high-income tourism to protect its remarkable wilderness areas while creating as many jobs as possible – it’s possibly the most expensive safari destination on the continent.
There are many ways to get close to the marvels of Chobe National Park. Still, those on a budget will generally save hard cash but expend more time and effort.
It’s also worth considering that while the prices of certain accommodations may seem excessive, they are all-inclusive. Meals, drinks, park entrance fees and, importantly, activities such as game drives and river cruises are included in the rates.
If you add up the extras needed to be self-sufficient, from fuel to cooking equipment, tents, and 4×4 hire cars, maps, and permits, the camp and lodge prices start to come into perspective. Add the difficulty of sourcing fuel and quality food in a more remote area such as Savuti or Linyanti to the mix. Of course, for adventurers and families, this can still be the way to go.
For independents with their own 4×4 and gear, the public campsites at Ihaha, Savuti, and Linyanti are reasonable ($50 per adult a night for internationals, $25 per child aged eight to 17 a night).
One campsite can accommodate up to three vehicles and eight people. Park fees are extra. The three public campsites aren’t huge and are extremely popular, especially in local school holidays. Booking a year or more in advance is recommended.
There’s also the option of booking into self-catering accommodation in Kasane (there are also private camping options available) and dipping into the Riverside area as desired. Note the daily entrance fee allows for multiple entries.
Charter flights are a significant expense, so the park’s further reaches are more inaccessible to budget travelers who wish to avoid driving or camping.
Consider a budget mobile safari. This involves traveling with a group and camping in private areas, and some outfits pare back the luxuries to make the experience more affordable.
You will generally stay in two-person dome tents with sleeping bags and mats rather than walk-in tents with camp beds and good linen, but guides are skilled, and you can get away from the crowds and into the really wild places. Ask your Discover Africa expert about the best options.
The other possibility for social adventurers is an overland tour. Overland safaris involve traveling long distances in relatively large groups in a heavy-duty vehicle. Trips tend to take in all the major sights and not linger in any one place for long, and guests often help set up camp and help with food preparation. While they are not for everyone, others find them full of camaraderie and company.
Of course, wildlife has no respect for budgets and is wonderfully egalitarian. A budget safari vehicle has just as much chance of stumbling on explosive predator action or being surrounded by a breeding herd of elephants rumbling to each other and chewing on trees. What really counts is your guide’s experience and knowledge. It’s worth paying for the best you can afford.
Travel Tips for a Budget-Friendly Chobe Holiday
Self-driver alert: the black-cotton soils around the Nogatsaa area are notorious when wet. Author Mike Main’s tips for driving on it? “Don’t unless you absolutely have to. Try to select the appropriate gear before entering a stretch of mud; slow and steady without excessive speed or revving is the key. At any water stretches which might be doubtful, send [an unfortunate companion] ahead to wade through!”
Enter wonderland. Tucked up against Botswana’s northern border with Namibia, the Chobe National Park is the ultimate haven for vast herds of elephants. As many as 120,000 of the charismatic animals depend on its life-sustaining waterways as the dry season kicks in.
Nowhere else on Earth has more of these remarkable giants; many travel from neighboring countries to this, the Elephant Capital of Africa. Of course, they’re not alone.
Quintessential African game species such as buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest swirl around the 11,700km2 (4,517 square mile) Chobe National Park, trailed by the big cats: lion, leopard, and cheetah. Spotted hyenas are common, wild dogs less so, while hippos, crocs, and water-loving antelope like the red lechwe call the park home. The skies are alive with some 450 bird species, making it perfect for a birding safari.
For many, the focal point of this famous park is the flashing blue Chobe River itself. It’s described as one of Africa’s most beautiful rivers, winking at the world through its fringes of jackalberry and ana trees. The beauty of Chobe Riverside and the tiger fishing, safari cruises, and riverside lodges that accompany it make this the park’s most accessible game-watching safari destination, and it can get busy.
Happily, there is plenty of room in Chobe National Park and other habitats further afield to explore. Savute is the best known: a crispy dry region that inexplicably turns into a wetland on the rare occasion water flows through the Savute channel – famous for elephant-hunting lions.
Little-visited Nogatsaa, to the south of the Chobe River, boasts a cluster of clay pans, valuable drinking holes that last well into the dry season. Last is Linyanti, a wedge in the northwest of the park, rich in floodplains, woodlands, and predators like wild dogs. Plus, the borders of Chobe are extended by various private concessions, like Selinda and the greater Linyanti area, which offer excellent, exclusive experiences away from the crowds. Top-quality, differing experiences can be had in all these safari locations.
The enormous ecosystem is blessed with a range of accommodation options, from top-end lodges which will anticipate your needs to more pared-down nights under canvas. Specialized experiences cater to many tastes, be it birdwatching, wildlife photography, or fishing.
Most Botswana guides are highly skilled and experienced, ensuring you’re best placed to see marvels on game drive safaris and cruises. Imagine cruising out early, before the sun warms the dust, to see a lioness erupt from hiding to topple a buffalo calf – and the calf then being rescued by a snorting mass of protective aunts!
As a guide working at a lodge in Savuti wisely says, “Yesterday’s not today; today’s not tomorrow”. The bush is ever-changing, from season to season, and visit to visit. Every pink-tinged dawn is an invitation to adventure.
Chobe Fast Facts
Chobe National Park and its animal inhabitants have been protected since 1968
The park stretches over 11,700km2 (4,517 square miles)
Four of the Big Five roam the bush (rhinos have been reintroduced to Botswana, so chances to see them will increase in years to come)
450+ bird species can be seen
There are more elephants here than anywhere else on Earth
Chobe is located in a country that has banned hunting
Meet the Locals of Chobe
Puku: a medium-sized and rare antelope that likes wetlands and floodplains; males whistle to tell others to stay away from their territory
Wild dogs: rare, rangy, gregarious hounds that hunt in packs (rather messily). They are also called painted dogs.
Buffalo: like enormous cows at first sight, until you realize they’re just great slabs of muscle capable of violence. Some say they look at you “as if you owe them money”.
Secretary birds: long-legged birds of prey that dispatch snakes with a kick and have glorious eyelashes.
Couples heading to Chobe National Park will be able to find accommodations, pick modes of travel to suit all tastes and budgets, and always have someone to share that marvelous encounter when an entire herd of elephants crosses the road ahead of you, bulls trumpeting and matriarchs encircling the baggy-skinned babies.
Whether on a top-end cruise or camping independently, couples can seek out the creatures and experiences that make them happiest. And certain adventures are just made for two, like mokoro rides, although you’ll have to go to the Selinda concessions for that.
Many couples come to Chobe National park to mark an exceptional occasion: a honeymoon, an anniversary, or a romantic retreat. Privacy and luxury can be as important as the quality of the game viewing, and this may also influence decision-making.
First-time safari-goers and honeymooners will enjoy the quieter options on the Chobe Riverside. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent a five-week honeymoon here decades ago, and many more have found a love for the bush while celebrating their marriages. Note that the western side is quieter, with fewer vehicles vying for entry at the gates at dawn.
The luxurious “floating boutique hotels” or houseboats on the Chobe also appeal to many. Drifting in the currents and savoring the stars from the deck are lovely and romantic experiences.
Honeymooners and couples seeking romance should also look at the size of the camps and lodges – often, the smaller they are, the more intimate the experience. They will also probably prefer to avoid the more family-friendly establishments. Still, even camps that cater to both markets will ensure the honeymoon suite or tent is suitably located in the quietest area.
Getting to Savuti in a bean-sized Cessna 206 is part of the fun. It’s a raw and wild place that will satisfy newcomers and old hands alike. Now that Nogatsaa has a spacious camp, too, couples seeking peace and wilderness as much as wildlife viewing can consider this less-utilized area too.
If you’re in a position to splurge, you’ll find excellent accommodations, perfectly appointed with the highest standards of service and dining. Some will have extra romantic activities, such as “star beds”: sleep-outs in fine linen under the enormous sky, bathed only in mosquito nets and moonlight. Exclusivity is assured in private concessions in Linyanti and Selinda, outside the park.
Not all couples want petal-strewn beds and perfumed baths. Many enjoy the experience of being out in the wilds and will forgo the trappings of electricity and formal plumbing in favor of being surrounded by the night’s chirps and roars in the middle of the wilderness. Authentic tented mobile safaris also hark back to the romance of bygone eras, when getting away from it all meant leaving the world behind in favor of flickering firelight and freedom of movement.
Independent camping is also possible in Chobe’s three public campsites, and equipment and vehicles can be hired in Maun and Kasane. Being on the road alone is something many couples relish; both partners should, however know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Guided specialist mobile safaris are the preferred alternative for extra creature comforts and peace of mind. Couples can team up with like-minded people on such adventures, and small groups will be formed for set-date departures. Of course, a private guided safari is the most exclusive alternative, but costly.
Overland safari adventures, which involve traveling long distances in relatively large groups in a heavy-duty vehicle and often participating in camp and meal preparation, definitely ticks the adventure box rather than the romance box for most.
Travel Tips for a Romantic Holiday in Chobe
While dinner is communal at most camps, private dining in your room or at a table for two can be arranged.
If prepped and there is the staff available, some camps will provide a private game drive vehicle and guide at a price, but generally, the small groups in safari vehicles are good company and not intrusive.
Watching a child see their first elephant twirling trunkfuls of water to its mouth or laughing in delight at the impossible scale of a giraffe is a wonderful thing. Children and wilderness areas can go together like ducks and water. The bush can be wildly exciting and a tactile and stimulating experience for children – miles away from the screens and stresses of their ordinary lives. Few children will not delight in a good tent and a campfire on a family safari.
That said, young ones have very different energy levels, attention spans, and, when they get older, interests. Long, bumpy car journeys and extreme heat will not make small children happy on a safari with the family. The hours-long game drives that keep adults enthralled may also feel interminable to a very young child.
Lodges may insist that families with children under a certain age have their own vehicle for game drives or other activities, which can involve extra costs. And there are potential health issues such as malaria, making travel for under-fives riskier. As such, doing adequate research or asking for expert advice before booking your dream family trip are wise decisions.
All sorts of specialized safari activities are on offer at certain lodges and camps. These can include mini eco-tours or walks on lodge grounds, educational art and crafts, caring for the environment, private flexibly timed game-viewing activities for families (it does take the stress out of trying to keep the kids quiet when they see their first lions), treasure hunts, pizza-making, and shortened kiddie game drives.
In the end, however, it’s important to remember that you know your child best. There is often no need for a lengthy list of child-friendly activities; some “games” can leave children nonplussed. Decide what’s most important for your family: babysitting, children’s meals, a swimming pool, and the right accommodation with interleading rooms or family suites and tents are all some families need. Making memories together on your family safari is the important thing.
We’d recommend the Chobe Riverside area to families with young children. There are more activities on offer, from river cruises and land-based safari game drives to tiger fishing (yes, some lodges will help your child catch and-release their first fish).
Prices, too, can be more manageable as accommodations are more plentiful and charter flights need not be taken. Proximity to town can be a plus and a distraction from the daily game drive regime. Attractions here include CARACAL, a conservation center where you can see rescued animals such as long-fingered bushbabies (they do excellent conservation work, too); open 9 am to 5 pm daily.
Shopping doesn’t interest most kids, but they may enjoy curio shops while parents seek out the beautiful handwoven mokolwane palm leaf baskets made by Botswanan women. Even buying a stick of sugarcane from a roadside vendor can be fun; chewing on the stalks is bound to be a new experience.
And visiting an African village on Impalila Island or elsewhere will give the children a lot to think about (cultural tours can be booked). Take a soccer ball to make instant friends.
Some accommodations will also have games and TV rooms, whereas a swimming pool is a real plus for families with children of all ages on a safari – although they may be unfenced.
Older teens will miss contact with their peers more, and (unless you can persuade them to pack away their phones), will appreciate WiFi connectivity. Again, the Chobe Riverside is best placed to offer this, although you may get lucky in patches deeper in the park.
Mobile and private guided safaris in the Riverside area as well as Savuti and Linyanti, are options families – and family friends – can consider, although once again, there are likely to be age limits, and we would recommend children who are 12 and up. Pairing with other families where possible and depending on the group sizes may be desirable.
Gill Staden, a Zambian-based journalist and author, notes that “parents have to think carefully when taking small children into Chobe National Park because distances and driving time can be long. And then, when in camp, parents have to be on the lookout for wildlife hazards. I took my son through Chobe when he was small, but he was used to being in the bush and loved every minute of it. Having said that, we were often in the company of friends with other children. I think if I were a parent of young children, I would want to be in a group of at least one other family. Parents can take turns entertaining the children.”
For those lucky few for whom budgets really are not an issue and who have children over six years old, fly-in options within the private concessions in the Linyanti and Selinda areas may be the answer. It’s not as busy and commercial as the Chobe Riverside, and you can expect excellent service and care on your family safari.
Travel Tips for a Family Safari in Chobe
Before leaving, let first-time safari kids practice using binoculars.
Keeping checklists gives children that sense of achievement many enjoy.
Pack child-friendly sunscreen in case it is difficult to find.
The hottest month is usually October, and even the green season may be too warm for some.
Most lodges (and mobile or privately guided trips that set up camp) are located in unfenced areas. If your child is small enough to need constant supervision, this is likely to be exhausting for the parents. Some Chobe Riverside properties are fenced.
Babies under two, if accommodated, can usually stay free, but note the next point.
Game drives will often have an age limit. Expect rules such as “Children between the ages of 5 and 11 years are permitted to participate in the game drives at the sole discretion of the lodge manager. Children under 5 require the permission of the lodge manager and is subject to the booking of a private vehicle.”
Game walks are generally off-limits for children.
Chobe is a malaria area, and prophylaxis is officially recommended. Use mosquito nets, repellent, and long sleeves and trousers to avoid being bitten, as no medication is guaranteed 100% effective. Most antimalarial medications, however, cannot be given to infants or very young children: discuss this with your doctor or travel clinic.
The sun can be shockingly intense: hats and high factor sun-creams are essentials year-round. Remember the top of the feet!
A basic first-aid kit is recommended for independent travelers, but those on all-inclusive trips can be sure guides and staff will be equipped for most common ailments. Some staff will have excellent first-aid training.
Avoid standing water; there is a risk of bilharzia.
Parents on self-drive holidays can pack or take the ingredients to prepare oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhea in children.
No one wants to get bitten by insects on holiday, but it can happen. Take antihistamine creams and keep a sharp eye on any sting sites. Also, treat all minor scrapes and bumps with respect, and disinfect at the first sign of infection. But try not to let health concerns spoil your trip. Botswana has excellent medical facilities. Good health travel insurance is all most will need.
Solo travelers looking to safari in Chobe National Park are spoiled for choice, especially those with a little more to spend. The only limit to consider when enjoying Chobe’s delights? The prospect of self-driving within the park. Even highly skilled local 4×4 drivers used to the lonely routes, deep sand, and unexpected elephant encounters, might not consider driving too far alone. When planning park transects, it’s highly advisable to set out in company and with the right equipment.
The exception may be the main routes in the Chobe Riverside area. This gets so busy in season that, should a vehicle run into trouble, rescue won’t be too far away. For anyone unfamiliar with the bush, it will be infinitely more relaxing to join a tour, hire a guide, or book in at a lodge that caters to all needs and offers game drives.
Trips to the glorious, deep blue Chobe River in the north of the park can include time on a safari boat that’s been kitted out for photographic safaris. Some even provide the gear and lenses to make that perfect shot, so there’s no need to lug cases worldwide. Small charter flights limit you to 20kg/44lbs.
The unique vantage point of the Chobe River allows close-up encounters with splashing herds of elephants, strings of weighty buffalo, charismatic water birds like kingfishers, and – with luck – African skimmers. The guides are tech-savvy and there to teach and help.
Dedicated photo trips that combine time on the plains (in a vehicle with bean bag mounts) can also be booked. This is an all-seasons activity: even if the herds are sparser in green season, there are dramatic skies and deep green vegetation, plus tottering babies that make for irresistible shots.
Solo travelers are welcome on mobile safaris for all budgets and are placed in an appropriately sized group. Some may feel lodge-based safaris are a better option. Lodges need not be lonely places. Guests tend to be allocated a guide on arrival, and activities such as game drives and cruises take place with other travelers.
A Chobe safari is perfect for solo travelers. Set entertainment – from boat cruises to the thrill of game drives – is part of the experience. As any safari regular can attest, if you do both daily activities and all meals, there isn’t actually all that much downtime!
Lodges often have lounges full of private nooks, expansive decks, and daybeds for dreaming and reading. Some have libraries, and an excellent selection of books on the area, and some even provide newspapers. Should a little bit of privacy be welcome, private dining or breakfast in your room are options at the better lodges.
Travel Tips for Going Solo
Travel for individuals is often considerably more expensive thanks to the dreaded single supplement. And Botswana is, in any case, especially pricey as the government has committed to high-income, low-volume tourism. The quality of the game viewing and unspoiled wilderness, of course, make up for this. But to help bring costs down for singles facing a 50% surcharge, consider traveling during shoulder season (May and November, when weather and animal movements are less easy to predict) or the “green season” (December to March). Rates can fall quite dramatically, by as much as 40%. A handful of lodges also waive or lower the single supplement at various times. Ask us about which outfits are most likely to have such specials.
Trips with set-date departures are also good options, as solo travelers can join a group without extra costs.
The smaller and more intimate the lodge, the more likely it is to be a favorite with honeymooners and couples. And just as some lodges are genuinely more child-friendly than others, you can find lodges that support and welcome singles. A Discover Africa safari expert’s advice will be invaluable here.
Enter wonderland. Tucked up against Botswana’s northern border with Namibia, the Chobe National Park is the ultimate haven for vast herds of elephant – as many as 120,000 of the charismatic animals depend on its life-sustaining waterways as the dry season kicks in. Nowhere else on Earth has more of these remarkable giants; many travel from neighbouring countries to this, the Elephant Capital of Africa. Of course, they’re not alone. Quintessential African game species such as buffalo, zebra and wildebeest swirl around the 11,700km2 park, trailed by the big cats: lion, leopard and cheetah. Spotted hyena are common, wild dog less so, while hippo, crocs and water-loving antelope like the red lechwe call the park home. The skies are alive with some 450 bird species.
For many, the focal point of this famous park is the flashing blue Chobe River itself. It’s described as one of Africa’s most beautiful rivers, winking at the world through its fringes of jackalberry and ana trees. The beauty of Chobe Riverside and the tiger fishing, safari cruises and riverside lodges that accompany it make this the Park’s most accessible game-watching destination, and it can get busy.
Happily, there is plenty of room in Chobe National Park and other habitats further afield to explore. Savute is the best known: a crispy dry region that inexplicably turns into wetland on the rare occasion water flows through the Savute channel –famous for elephant-hunting lions. Little-visited Nogatsaa, to the south of the Chobe River boasts a cluster of clay pans, valuable drinking holes that last well into the dry season. Last is Linyanti, a wedge in the north-west of the park, rich in floodplains, woodlands and predators like wild dog. Plus the borders of Chobe are extended by various private concessions, like Selinda and the greater Linyanti area, which offer superlative, exclusive experiences away from the crowds. Top-quality, differing experiences can be had in all these locations.
The enormous ecosystem is blessed with a range of accommodations options, from top-end lodges which will anticipate your needs before you’ve thought to say “gin and tonic” to more pared down nights under canvas. Specialised experiences cater to many tastes, be it birdwatching, wildlife photography or fishing. Most Botswana guides are highly skilled and experienced, ensuring you’re best placed to see marvels on game drives and cruises. Imagine cruising out early, before the sun warms the dust, and seeing a lioness erupt from hiding to topple a buffalo calf – and the calf then being rescued by a snorting mass of protective aunties. A python slowly, slowly swallowing an impala. Or a joyous herd of elephant, teaching new floppy-nosed babies how to swim… As a guide working at a lodge in Savuti wisely says, “Yesterday’s not today; today’s not tomorrow”. The bush is ever-changing, from season to season and visit to visit. Every pink-tinged dawn is an invitation to adventure.