If we had to pick the most miraculous African place of all, it might well be the Okavango Delta, where the 1,000-milelong Okavango River gives up on its search for an outlet to the sea and seeps lifegivingly into the sands of one of the world’s most uncompromising deserts, creating a vast and mesmerizing oasis. As Frans Lanting wrote in his elegiac book Okavango: Africa’s Last Eden, “The [Delta’s] very existence in the middle of the Kalahari Desert is nothing short of miraculous . . . like a dream.”
Botswana’s wilderness is expansive and—to our scurrying senses—timeless, and the Okavango isn’t its only dreamy place. Our under-two-week safari takes us to three others, right up near the top of African marvels: Chobe National Park and, up near the Zambian border, the exemplary Moremi Wildlife Reserve, quite close to another phenomenon of miraculous rarity, Victoria Falls.
Day 1 En route.
We begin our adventure as we wing to South Africa.
Day 2 Johannesburg
After arriving at O. R. Tambo International, we’ll be escorted to the Saxon Boutique Hotel and Spa in Johannesburg’s tree-lined suburb of Sandhurst. This luxury hotel has much to be proud of but says, touchingly, that its greatest “boast” is that the late Nelson Mandela chose the Saxon as his sanctuary at which to complete his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Tonight, we’ll also enjoy dinner at the home of family friends.
Days 3 & 4 The Okavango Delta
Our base in the Delta is Xugana Island Camp, exactly the camp of an Okavango dream: brainily constructed, logically luxurious, set on a lush, wild ebony tree–shaded island overlooking a lagoon much frequented by animals and birds, permeated by peace and quiet, a lagoon considered by many the lagoon of all Okavango lagoons. We’ll explore the Delta’s complex waterways by mekoro, or canoe, and on foot, accompanied by well-versed guides.
At some point we may experience “one of the Okavango’s delights,” as Lanting wrote, “the sheer surprise of seeing an elephant emerge from underwater”; we’ll certainly see many elephants, lots of bobbing hippos, sun-bathing crocodiles, lounging (and hard at work) lions, and scores more creatures large and small.
Days 5 & 6 Chobe National Park
A quick flight takes us to Chobe’s semi-arid Savute region, famous for its aforementioned exceptionally large and numerous elephants, for its lofty baobabs, and for its Kalahari mystique (operative day and night; Laurens van der Post wrote in The Lost World of the Kalahari about the “night silence in Africa [that] always holds the far sea-sound of urgent stars”).
Savute Safari Lodge, set beside the once-dry, now wonderfully watery Stolen River—frequented by thirsty beasts of all varieties, chummily visible from our verandas—is a fine base for exploring Chobe, for immersing ourselves in a still fiercely wild—but not in the least bit unfriendly—place, one of the great earthly deserts, unique, abiding.
Days 7 & 8 Moremi Wildlife Reserve
Another short flight takes us north to the Khwai River and Machaba Camp, designed in classic 1950s safari style, so well suited to its surroundings that animals wander down to the river insouciantly, delighting us as we watch, sundowner in hand, from our tents. And, not to be outdone by Chobe, Moremi gives us the chance to see the huge African night sky that ever captivated Elspeth Huxley, a sky “bristling with innumerable stars, as close-packed as the quills on a porcupine.”
Days 9 & 10 Victoria Falls
The Royal Livingstone Hotel and Victoria Falls draw nearly universal praise, so here we’ll repeat something a good friend of ours once said: “Victoria Falls is billed as one of the world’s greatest waterfalls, but, as a matter of fact, it’s one of the world’s greatest anythings.”
Days 11 & 12 Johannesburg and onward
We fly from the Falls to Johannesburg and connect with our international flight home, arriving on Day 12.