Everything you need to know about your Chobe safari
Welcome to Discover Africa’s Chobe National Park safari guide. A Chobe holiday offers the safari-enthusiast the best of Africa’s bush and wildlife. From the legendary Savuti lion pride, to the elephant herds that dot the landscapes with their majestic presence. Curate your safari experience and let us do the rest for you. It couldn’t be more easy.
Summer: December to February is peak rainy season in Chobe, and the Riverside area receives more rain than anywhere else in Botswana, up to 650mm a year. The great herds won’t be visiting the Riverside, but elephants and hippo 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. Savuti can be very good at this time of the year. Migrant birds will be swooping about all over the park. “Green season” is the time to look for excellent accommodation specials. Malaria risks are higher in summer, so get advice on the correct precautions to take before travelling.
Summer: The rains continue. Spectacular cumulus thunderheads build up and explode, drenching the earth in water and sound. For all the energy of the storms, most are over in a couple of hours. Nogatsaa can simply be too wet to traverse at this time. Birding is fantastic in all regions, with the migrants present and correct. “Green season” is also the time to look for excellent accommodation specials. Malaria risks are higher in summer, so get advice on the correct precautions to take before travelling.
Autumn: 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 at this time. Nearby Victoria Falls will be in full flood if the rains were good, so consider an add-on. March and April are when the malaria risks are highest on the Chobe Riverside.
Autumn Zebra and Wildebeest begin their return migrations towards the permanent rivers as water sources and the bush begins to dry out. Savuti and Nogatsaa can see a migration of zebra in April and May. Low temperatures drop below 20°. The last summer bird migrants are on the wing, heading north again until the next rains. A good time to visit Savuti – and the central areas of the park if not too wet.
Winter: 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 mornings and evenings, take layers. Kasane and the Chobe Riverside will be getting busier as 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 fishes start moving back from the floodplains to the main river channels. Late May and June see feeding frenzies as tigerfish lie in wait.
Winter: It’s cold at night and in the early mornings (temperatures can drop close to 0°) so take warm extra layers for game drives, but sunshine is almost guaranteed. It’s the start of high season, so you will be meeting other vehicles on the roads and sharing sightings, especially on the Chobe River. But what sightings! Day by day there will be more elephant, 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, not always possible in wet season: this is a good time to drive to Nogatsaa, although game will be moving north. It’s also prime time for tiger fishing at the Riverside.
Winter: The coldest month. Nights can get close to zero, 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.
Winter: It’s still cold enough to really need warm layers for early mornings and evenings. Wild dog puppy season! The Linyanti concession areas are the best place to see them and the numbers of elephant at Chobe Riverside proves why Chobe is rated one of the best places in the world to admire the giants. It’s still high season, which means more park visitors as well as more elephant – 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. Fishing alert: there’s a barbell run in the Kasai Channel, and it’s still a good time for tiger fish.
Spring: It’s pretty hot by day now, with Kasane temperatures averaging about 30° Celcius. 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. Dry season continues, so once again, the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers are the place to be for big game sightings. 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).
Spring: One of the hottest months in Chobe, with temperatures hitting about 35° to 40°. Elephants will soon start to disperse from the permanent rivers, after which things quieten down a bit in Chobe Riverside. Shoulder season rates kick in, but as there is likely to be little rain, this is still a good month for travellers who like it warm. Good fishing around Impalila Island. Hot nights are also good for sleep-outs and camping.
Summer: Weather is still mostly hot and clear (lows average 20°C; highs 33°C), 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, baobab, sausage tree 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.
Summer: Humid, with rain. The wetter weather can bring cooler temperatures, so pack a jacket or jersey. The antelope baby boom peaks: by mid-month, most wildebeest, impala, tsessebe and warthog will have dropped their offspring. Good rains will have soaked the earth and termite alates (the ones with wings, often called flying ants) erupt from the ground, sparking bird feeding frenzies. Even raptors like Steppe eagles love termites. But many park roads become tricky or impassable, so self-drivers should pick a dryer month. A wonderful time to visit Savute.
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, 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.
Chobe Fast Facts
- Chobe and its animal inhabitants have been protected since 1968
- The park stretches over 11,700km2
- Four of the Big Five roam the bush (and rhino have been reintroduced to Botswana, so chances to see them will increase in years to come)
- Eyes on the sky: 450+ bird species can be seen
- More wise and wonderful elephant than anywhere else on Earth
- Located in a country that has banned hunting
Meet the Locals
Puku: a medium sized and rare antelope that likes wetlands and floodplains; males whistle to tells others to stay away from their territory
Wild dogs: rare, rangy, gregarious hounds that hunt in packs (rather messily). Also called painted dogs or wolves.
Buffalo: like enormous cows at first sight, until you realise they’re just great slabs of muscle capable of violence. Some say they look at you “as if you owe them money”… respect.
Secretary birds: long-legged birds of prey that dispatch snakes with a kick and have glorious eyelashes.