Botswana delivers the ultimate in exclusive safaris as there are many private concessions that contain only one or two camps ensuring that visitors have the wildlife all to themselves and never find a traffic jam of vehicles, actually it is rare to even see another vehicle. Some concessions are hundreds of thousands of acres of prime wildlife habitat and yet there may be only three vehicles out in the entire area.
Such exclusivity and remoteness can come at a steep price but during the Botswana summer, known also as the green season there are some exceptional Botswana safari specials. In fact during this time of year (December through March) we can deliver phenomenal safaris at costs that rival any other safari destination, inclusive of meals, drinks, laundry and activities for less than $300 per person per night, well over 50% off from the high season months.
What’s the catch, how does the experience differ from the high season?
Certainly such enormous price differences indicate that something is quite different. In my view there are actually a large numbers of positives to travel during the green season that I will list below but first let’s look at the cons.
During the green season it sometimes rains. Botswana is a very dry country, and other than Namibia it receives the least amount of rain for any major safari country. The rainiest months only average about 4 inches and typically rain comes for a short period late in the day or evening. It is rare to rain all day and have major impacts on activities but of course it is possible to have more prolonged rains.
Rains fill up waterholes throughout the area and thus wildlife disperses over a wider area. Specifically, in the dry season there are large concentrations of elephants and buffalo but during the green season they are spread out. It is still common to find elephants, mostly lone bulls and family herds of 10 to 30 individuals but concentrations numbering in the hundreds are unlikely. Buffalo become a much rarer sight but are still found in many areas. Other species are still present, but because they are not forced to a few remaining water sources as they are in the dry season it is less predictable and can take a little more work to find animals. That said I have had trips during the green season with more than 40 mammal species sighted including excellent quality viewing of every major species.
As the season progresses leaves on trees thicken and grasses grow taller again making it a bit more difficult to spot some animals.
Strengths of the Green Season
Tremendous value, stay in the same private concession areas within wonderful camps and lodges for a fraction of the high season cost.
Green vegetation makes for vivid experience full of the lush life of the region, this is especially evident in photographs. It also means very little dust is floating around, which in dry season can be a nuisance.
Following the first rains many herbivore species begin their calving making it a great time of year to see young animals as well as an active time for predators in pursuit of easier targets.
Bird life is at its best. Many species migrate from northern regions during the green season and resident birds are nesting making it the most diverse and interesting time.
It is actually the high season for the Kalahari desert areas which can include huge herds of oryx and springbok as well as excellent predator sightings.
Fewer people. As many people want to travel during the USA/European summer they visit during the high season and thus the green season often means camps are at less than full capacity, sometimes you even get lucky with private vehicles at no extra charge. These camps are small to start with but it becomes even more intimate when they are not full.
Access to more area. It is counter intuitive but the majority of water filling large floodplains and creating channels comes from the annual flood waters arriving from Angola which actually fills the waterways during the dry season and in many concessions impacts what terrain can be reached. Typically rain has little impact on water levels and during the green season the flood has resided so access across terrain is at its best.
When it does rain the sky and the event can be extremely dramatic and add to the wilderness experience.
There are two special Green Season deals that encompass many of my favorite camps in Botswana.
Kalahari Summer Special
Under this deal we have access to a number of outstanding camps and lodges in the Okavango Delta, Chobe Riverfront, and Kalahari Desert for a tremendous $290 per person per night, this represents 55 to 65% off of high season pricing. Some recommended lodges included are:
Mapula Lodge – Mapula is set in a magical location in the far north of the Okavango Delta making it one of the most remote camps. This happens to be my personal favorite place because of the tremendous community staffing the lodge and the welcoming atmosphere they provide, the scenic location of the camp, the outstanding accommodation that is very comfortable but not over the top, and most of all the focus on finding wildlife. All of the guides are outstanding and work with trackers to actively pursue predators, the area is vast and diverse as is the wildlife. In my view Mapula is the best deal in Botswana at any time of year. See here for my report on Mapula
Delta Camp – This camp is low impact with only mokoro (dugout canoe, the traditional means of transportation in the Delta) and walking activities. Walking takes place on Chief’s Island, which is known to have amazing year round concentrations of wildlife. See my previous blog entry for more about Walking on Chief’s Island.
Grassland Bushman Lodge – This is the home base for my predator/livestock conflict research. This also is one of the best locations to interact and learn from the bushman people, the original human culture. The green season grasses transform the Kalahari and it is a wonderful time to see the plains game. This is one of the few lodges where you can do some wildlife viewing on horseback.
Ichobezi Safari Boat – A unique way to safari cruising the Chobe National Park riverfront on a house boat. Four en-suite cabins house the guests on this unique boat, which contains a plunge pool and pulls a smaller boat for additional game viewing. The highlight is as darkness falls and all other boats must go in for the night while the Ichobezi remains on the river and spotlights the shoreline for animals coming to drink.
5 Rivers Special
This special includes the legendary Kwando Camps, famed for their hard core game viewing. During the 5 Rivers Special we can book participating camps for $325 per person per night (about 65% off high season rates for some camps). Some recommended lodges include:
Kwara Camp – The Kwara area is large and diverse with a great variety of predators and during the green season the game viewing remains outstanding. The tents are very basic yet comfortable but the setting by a lagoon is remarkable. This is one of my top areas for gameviewing.
Lebala Camp – The tents have recently received a needed upgrade and the area has always been known for its prolific game viewing. A couple of Botswana’s finest guides work here and it remains one of the best year round locations to sight predators.
Deception Valley Lodge – This Kalahari destination is another of my favorite all around experiences. The sands of the Kalahari lend well to tracking and the bushman trackers are the most skilled in the world. It is extremely exciting tracking one of the many leopards or lions in the area and eventually locating the animal. A walking experience with the bushmen and a day trip into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve during the green season to look for large herds of oryx (also called gemsbok) and springbok with good possibilities for cheetah rounds out a brilliant experience. Add in lovely chalets, outstanding food and wonderful camp manager hosts and Deception Valley is highly recommended.
It is possible to mix and match to create an itinerary using both specials. In my opinion this is the best safari deal available anywhere, tremendous quality at prices that rival budget mobiles in small dome tents in public reserve areas.