Our campsite at Savute Camp in Chobe National Park was fantastic in offering an enormous, open area in which to pitch your tent. There are various options as well though, from an array of campsites surrounding the fortified ablution block or you can opt for one of the safari tents in a separately fenced area (you probably fly in by charter to the airstrip nearby). This airstrip also services the luxury Savute Safari Lodge, all-inclusive. So there are many ways to enjoy the wildlife in this area. Most of the camp (as is most of Botswana) is flat with not much in the way of hills from which to spot game if that’s your thing. And there is an abundance of sand and a scattering of trees…
We set off across the ‘Savute ‘bridge and headed for the Ghoha gate. Elephants are the only game we see along the route. Ghoha is the northernmost entrance of the Chobe National Park beyond which the road borders the Chobe Forest Reserve, which is a very big area of protected natural land.
We followed the road around the northwestern fenceline towards the town of Kachikau and towards Kavimba. When I say ‘road’ I mean to describe a broad section of sand that has been levelled by grader – and not much else, just trees and forest to either side.
This soft, sandy dirt road is about 50 kilometres of remoteness. The ‘check engine’ light has come on again, so we stop a few times to ‘cool down’ – for both ourselves and the engine. There is no cellphone reception in this corridor either. We passed one other vehicle in the space of three hours. I think November is the best time to come here if you like some isolation…
From Kachikau the road is paved once again – so marks the end to the sand and dust! This road follows along the border of Namibia and the Caprivi strip. Luckily there is a ‘Puma’ filling station where we top up our fuel – and the ‘check engine’ light goes off… Mysterious indeed…
At Ngoma, we turn right towards Kasane. Turning left is towards the border crossing into Namibia – that is for another time… At Ngoma, there is also a checkpoint/entry gate into the Chobe Forest Reserve. We are required to check-in at this point, follow the (only) road and sign out at the other end near Kasane. We don’t see any elephants but only very dense (and green) forest.
Chobe River Lodge
Kasane is quite a bustling border town, and as border towns go it has the distinction of being the crossing point between four countries: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are many lodges, camps and hotels along the Chobe River and an array of shops and market stalls. Long lines of trucks are parked, waiting to cross the border. Our destination is the Chobe River Lodge campsite. Little did we realise how cool this experience would be.
Five Star Check In
I don’t know about you, but we have been camping for decades and most campsites have a similar check-in process. This takes place in a sparse reception building/shack devoid of any attempt at creating a welcoming atmosphere. You are required to present your passport and sign the register, before being handed a simple map and motioned to go and find your pitch.
Not so at Chobe River Lodge.
From the entrance to the campsite we are motioned towards the main lodge front desk which is located in the main building of a large thatch-roofed complex.
Various safari jeeps line the parking outside. There is a long wooden counter staffed by half a dozen receptionists. Cool mood lighting hangs from the roof made of thatch and poles. Staff busily runs about guiding guests, cleaning the already spotless floors. A covered walkway leads further into the lodge.
We cautiously approach the reception desk, feeling very dusty and self-conscious in our T-shirt and shorts amongst the well-dressed staff and tourists. “Is this the check-in for the campsite?” we enquire. “Yes, how may we help you?”
As we conduct the paperwork for our single night on a camp pitch, a tray appears with two damp cloths with which to refresh ourselves along with a tall glass of fruit juice. I have never experienced anything like it in all my camping years…
We are then directed to the adjacent camping which is well-shaded and joins onto the lodges by walkways. The camping is dusty underfoot in contrast to the green, lush lawns of the hotel… And the pitch is tiny, barely allowing us to open the roof tent under the low-hanging tree branches. Compared to the last couple of camps, this is quite ‘cosy’…
The Sedudu Sunset Bar is at the campsite – right on the river! And does its name justice with the spectacular sunset photo at the head of this blog post. After having been subjected to very dry, hot, dusty, semi-desert conditions for the past three days the Chobe River’s wide expanse of water leaves me speechless for a while.
The hotel main building is a large, open, interconnected structure with a pool, bar/café and a buffet-style restaurant. All of which are accessible by camping guests. Now, this is styling! The place has a luxurious feel with that typical African flair. There is an ‘activities’ office where we book a river cruise (just in time). After all – we may only get here once, so instead of a swim in the inviting pool, we board a cruise boat (next blog).
There aren’t many guests at the bar for a sundowner drink overlooking the Chobe River. Deep reds and oranges make for perfect photos as the sun sets on another incredible day. At our campsite, we fire up the gas for our dinner and think back to our luck in catching the relaxing cruise that afternoon.
Some wild buck pass through the place. Exotic insects are drawn to our lights. We hear some chatter from the locals and a late arrival pitches camp in the darkness. We retire to our tent glad to rest our heads and stunned by the contrasts from this morning…
If you were going to ask me if I recommend it? Absolutely! It is a destination that caters to a wide range of expectations. Decidedly upmarket, yet also has an easy-going style. I couldn’t think of a more markedly different experience between the dry, dusty, hot, sparse, basic camps of Makgadigadi, Moremi and Chobe to this oasis of water, the Chobe river, full hotel access, a bar…).
Two distinctly contrasting stopovers show the breadth of what Botswana has to offer. You can make your experience as modest or as well-appointed as you like. A very welcome, and thoroughly enjoyable place to visit!
Next, we head back southwards to Elephant Sands Bush Lodge and Campsite!