For a safari virgin, it’s easy to imagine that all African destinations bursting with chic tents and wildlife galore are made equal. In fact they’re not. Each country, and in fact each region within it, has a distinctive vibe, unique fauna and differences ranging from quality of guides to how many other humans you might see during your stay. Botswana is known to be one of the highest-end options, but for very, very good reasons. If you foresee one trip to the great continent in your lifetime—for your most important holiday, nonetheless—it’s worth making it bucket-list Botswana, and more specifically, the Okavango Delta, teeming with life, is your best bet.
This truly one-of-a-kind landscape is shaped in large part by termites and birds, believe it or not—they’re the creatures who can take responsibility for the drip-castle looking island-like protrusions featuring palms and other trees that emerge from the delta’s super-flat expanse, green and lush with plenty of sand that’s flooded with water part of the year. Flying above en route to your camp you’ll probably spot your first animals, maybe elephants or gemsbok, but when arriving at Chitabe, for example, your guide might ask if you wish to start your game drive then and there, or go get settled at the camp—always choose the first option. The sooner you begin to explore the nooks and crannies of the woodlands the sooner you may lay eyes soon a rosette-studded leopard taking a nap in the shade, or a pair of male lions with glorious bedhead panting as they digest their lunch sitting off to the side (two nice big buffalo). There’s plenty of time for tea later.
A lucky day in the delta, you may come to find, can include all the major predators: lions, wild dogs, cheetah, leopard, and hyena, along with elephants, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, warthogs (adorably referred to as Pumbas) antelopes, and wildebeest. Then there are the radiant birds, many of which migrate from Europe and North Africa in the low season (December to April). It’s pretty much a Noah’s Ark of everything nature offers. Even endangered white rhinoceros were reintroduced recently, so with patience that legendary and elusive creature, too, can be found. One reason for the thriving wildlife: plenty of food.
Chitabe exists in a private concession, meaning there are hardly other vehicles or visitors (&Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge shares the seriously massive terrain, with a buffer zone between them). Eco-friendly and sustainable, the Wilderness Safaris classic camp is idyllic yet authentic, with all the classic hallmarks of a safari—G&Ts around a fire pit included—alongside flavorful family-style meals and expert-led morning and sunset drives and walking safaris that are an education each time. To turn up the romance notch, dine in the wild under the glittering, bright stars. It won’t disappoint.
For even more intimacy—both with each other and elephants in particular—continue on to Abu Camp, a holy grail for those who adore the gentle gray giants. Abu is famous for its elephant herd, a family composed of charming rescued ellies (saved from circuses, orphanhood and predators) who are so comfortable around humans that you actually get to interact with them. It’s one thing to see a magnificent, several-ton being in the flesh just yards away; it’s entirely another to stand beside one—or several!—actually touching its rough, wrinkly skin or feeling the Hoover-like effect of its vacuum-like trunk.
The experience of walking side by side with Cathy, the oldest of the herd, and throwing food pellets onto the massive pink tongues inside their wide-open jaws is unlike anything else on this planet, stirring up strong emotions and powerful sensory memories. You can even have tea, or bubbly, with them in the lush green wild—about the only thing they’re not part of is human mealtimes, marked by mouthwatering cuisine. Guests are invited to leave an artistic contribution to the camp perhaps paying homage to this—there are paint sets and easels at each tent, along with a pool.
That’s not the only highlight of Abu Camp, which is built sustainably around massive trees and an amazingly huge termite mound and has not only stunning artifacts in its exquisitely designed asymmetrical tents, which face a lagoon teeming with life for breathtaking sunrises, baths and outdoor showers. Another magical way to spend part of your honeymoon is with a night in the Star Bed, a platform perched on the edge of the elephants’ boma, with a big plush bed surrounded by mosquito netting and glowing lanterns. This setup is incredibly private—if you don’t count the enormous creatures slumbering just feet away—making it ridiculously romantic and, for nature lovers, a once-in-a-lifetime night.
Of course, beyond the elephants there are amazing sightings of big cats and more to be had on drives at this and other epic camps—think Mombo Camp and intimate Little Mombo on Chief’s Island overlooking green floodplains. Trailing a pride of lions as it hunts for dinner while the sun sets in a pink explosion across the entire sky? Honeymoons don’t get better than this.