Botswana & The Okavango
The photographic wonders of the Okavango and Chobe
|Tour||Dates||Days||Group Size Limit|
|Botswana & The Okavango||Monday 25th November - Saturday 7th December 2019||13||6|
|Victoria Falls Extension||Saturday 7th December - Monday 9th December 2019||3||6|
- The incredible scenery and wildlife of the Moremi Game Reserve and the Khwai Concession
- Amazing wildlife in the world famous Chobe National Park, from Savuti eastwards
- Excellent chances of great encounters with Wild Dogs (African Hunting Dogs)
- Frequent encounters with large cats
- Amazing daily encounters with a fantastic variety of other large game
- A superb variety of bird life, much of which is approachable and photogenic
- Transport by extended safari Landrover or Toyota Landcruiser with removable roof, all-round visibility and low sides. . The perfect photography platform that can go anywhere
- Maximum 5-6 group members in the vehicle
- Only one vehicle and a very small group size for the best possible photo safari experience
- Two boat trips offering entirely different wildlife photography experiences
- The awe-inspiring Victoria Falls (on an optional tour extension)
Botswana is home to some of Africa’s best national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and has some of its most diverse wildlife, and yet it is still less well-known as a destination for wildlife photography tours as compared with places like Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. One reason is that the great national parks and conservation areas of Botswana are still real wildernesses that are both difficult and expensive to access.
This wonderful wildlife photosafari will take us from Maun in the southwest of the Okavango region to Kasane in the far northeast of Botswana, passing through the Moremi Game Reserve, the Khwai Concession Area, Savuti and eastern Chobe National Park as we go.
This is no ordinary Botswana wildlife photography tour. We will be staying in spacious and comfortable tented camps (including proper beds and bed linen, with a private bathroom en-suite!) in exclusive private campsites within the national parks and wildlife reserves, whilst travelling in our customized safari vehicle that is specially modified to make it perfect for wildlife photography.
Now that’s the best way to get to the heart of Botswana’s wildlife in comfort and style!
Accommodation & Road Transport
During our Botswana and Okavango photosafari we will be staying in exclusive luxury tented camps which are specially erected for our stays in private campsites within the national parks and reserves. The tented accommodation is both spacious and comfortable, and includes beds and bed linen, with a private bathroom en-suite. The camp is serviced by a safari chef and camp assistants, complete with a supply vehicle. Road transport is by a customized safari vehicle which is specially designed for wildlife viewing and photography. These special vehicles are amazingly good for photography, with all round (360 degrees) views and very low sides, allowing lower angle shots. They have a roof cover in case it gets hot or rains, and even have a fridge stocked with cold drinks. The few main roads are mostly good or reasonable (but there are also plenty of rough tracks in the sanctuaries and some ‘off-road’ driving).
The walking effort is easy throughout our Botswana and Okavango photosafari. Walking is restricted to a few specified areas in the national parks/game reserves. This is of little hindrance and indeed we can approach many large birds and mammals far more closely in a vehicle than we could on foot.
At this season in the Okavango and Chobe regions of Botswana most days will be warm or hot, dry and sunny, but overcast conditions are fairly frequent and there may well be some rain.
If you use a DSLR for photography you should bring telephotos (and converters) that will (with a full-frame body) cover the range 200-500mm or 600mm or more. You will also find a wide angle lens good for landscapes. There will be only limited opportunities to use a macro lens. If you bring a good quality bridge camera it will be best if it has an optical zoom of 18-20x or more, combined with a reasonable wide-angle at the other end of the zoom range.
The safari vehicle has a battery charger on board, but even so we would recommend having plenty of spare battery power. Dust is ever-present in Africa, so cleaning your photography equipment is important. A monopod can be helpful if you use a heavy telephoto, as the vehicle sides are low and so often unsuitable for resting on. A beanbag can also be very useful for wildlife photography. If you do not have one yourself, let us know as our local agent can usually provide one. Don’t forget a flash for night-drives. If you would like to talk over suitable equipment, please contact our office. We will be happy to advise.
VICTORIA FALLS PHOTOGRAPHY EXTENSION
As our Botswana wildlife photosafari ends in Kasane in northeasternmost Botswana, it is very easy to extend your holiday and add in a visit to the incomparable Victoria Falls. The Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) are situated on the mighty Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The falls are some of the largest and most spectacular in the world, offering some remarkable opportunities for photography, and so are well worth a visit if you can spare an extra two days. We would recommend travelling to Livingstone in Zambia to see the falls (only about one and a half hours from Kasane), spending two nights there. There are regular flights from Livingstone to Johannesburg.
The price will depend on the number of people wishing to take the option. Please indicate on your booking form if you are interested in this extension and we will quote a cost once we know how many Botswana photography tour participants are interested. We can arrange this extension for just one person if need be, but naturally transfer, excursion and guide costs per head reduce with more people.
Other Wild Images wildlife photosafaris in Africa:
Prices are provisional
Tour Price: £5790, €6500, $7930 Maun/Kasane.
Includes surface transportation (including two boat trips), accommodations, meals, both soft and alcoholic drinks (while on safari), and entrance fees.
Kindly note that tips/gratuities for the local driver-guide and for the camp staff are excluded. Please allow around US$400 for this 13 days itinerary.
Single Accommodation Supplement: Nothing while on safari! Five of the luxury safari tents are available for single occupancy at no additional charge. There is a charge of £80, €90, $110 for a single room in Maun.
Deposit: £700, €840, $980.
Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates used are: £1 = $1.370 and €1 = $1.220.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.
BOTSWANA & THE OKAVANGO: WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR ITINERARY
Our Botswana photography adventure will begin at Maun International Airport in northern Botswana, from where we will be transferred to our hotel for an overnight stay.
This morning we will board our safari vehicle and make the journey northwards to Xakanaxa in Moremi Game Reserve for a three nights stay in our tented camp. There will be plenty to see during the journey. On the open plains large herds of African (or Cape) Buffalo and Red Lechwe can be seen, while large breeding herds of African Elephant live in the mopane scrub and, in the waterways, pods of Hippopotamus are a common sight. We will enjoy our first opportunities for wildlife photography along the way and we should arrive in Moremi Game Reserve in time for some initial exploration.
During our time in the Xakanaxa region we will explore the surrounding wilderness of the Moremi Game Reserve during morning and afternoon wildlife photography drives. Moremi lies at the eastern edge of the Okavango Delta in northernmost Botswana. Habitats found here range from wide-open floodplains, marshes, lagoons and papyrus-fringed channels to woodland and savanna. The mopane woodlands alone range from towering trees around Xakanaxa (where there is sometimes a cathedral-like feel owing to the trees being so tall, with a continuous high canopy) to classic climax mopane woodland and, in the dryer and harsher areas, mopane scrub woodland. The San-ta-Wani region has scattered ephemeral water pans with large floodplains and areas of camel-thorn woodland. As a result of this wide variation in habitats, the diversity of both wildlife and birdlife is excellent and sometimes we will not know which way to point the cameras.
Moremi is amongst the best game reserves in Africa for viewing and photographing the endangered African Wild Dog. Xakanaxa is also home to a resident herd of several hundred African Buffalo, whose range covers the territories of at least four prides of Lion which may often be seen flanking the ever-moving herd. Breeding herds of elephants move between their browsing areas in the mopane forests and the fresh water of the Okavango Delta. Red Lechwe are one of the more unusual antelope species and commonly found here, while the rare Sitatunga antelope may be spotted along the waterways of the Xakanaxa Lagoon.
The rich diversity of habitats is also home to a wide array of birds, and some of the more obvious and/or interesting photography subjects we may encounter include African Skimmer, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Storks, Goliath Heron, Dark Chanting and Gabar Goshawks, Shikra, Tawny Eagle, African Fish Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, many of most of Botswana’s hornbills including Red-billed, Southern Yellow-billed, African Grey, Bradfield’s and the mighty Southern Ground, and numerous other goodies including the globally-threatened Slaty Egret and Wattled Crane.
At this season wintering Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagles have arrived in Botswana from Eurasia and local cuckoos, including Diederik, Levaillant’s, Jacobin, Great Spotted and African, are very active and vocal. Other brood-parasites that we may encounter and photograph include Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, and spectacular Shaft-tailed, Pin-tailed and Eastern Paradise Whydahs.
Time permitting, we may visit the lagoons and waterways of Xakanaxa where the largest heronry in southern Africa exists.
Today, following an early breakfast, we will take a slow game drive through the Moremi Game Reserve northeast towards the Khwai Community Area for a three nights stay in our private tented camp. The Manuchira Channel is known as the Khwai River at its easternmost extremity and today’s journey follows this watercourse, with the track weaving from the riverside and floodplains into the mopane veld and the woodlands that make Khwai one of the most scenic areas of the Okavango.
We pass the magnificent Dombo Hippo Pools in the morning stopping to enjoy the scenery and the antics of the resident Hippopotamuses. The western mopane veld is home to breeding herds of elephants, but the eastern reaches of Khwai River are home to some impressive old bulls. The mature bulls revel in the cool waters of the Khwai and are far more approachable while drinking and bathing than the breeding herds, often making for some wonderful photography opportunities The river has an unusually high density of hippos, as well as some huge Nile Crocodiles.
Predators including Leopard, Cheetah, Serval and Lion are all possible along this route and both Xakanaxa and Khwai are included in the home ranges of two different packs of African Wild Dogs. General game is common and includes Southern Giraffe, Burchell’s Zebra, Tsessebe and Red Lechwe, with the spectacular Roan and Sable Antelopes being less common but possible.
Raptors are common in this area and we may also come across the huge Kori Bustard, while in the mopane woodland the bird parties may include Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Neddicky, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Chin-spot Batis, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Red-headed Weaver. The margins of the swamps are good for African Crake, Black Coucal and the lovely Rosy-breasted Longclaw.
Photography opportunities abound, so, with all the mammals and birds we will see today, the cameras should be busy!
The Khwai River forms the boundary between the Moremi Game Reserve and the Khwai Community Area, and for these two days we will explore the Khwai floodplains on wildlife photography drives both during the day and at night.
Exploring after dark with spotlights offers an opportunity to experience some of the nocturnal animals that are rarely encountered during the day. We may also come across predators like Lion, Spotted Hyaena or even Leopard that are also active by day but which appear rather different at night.
We will also have the opportunity to explore the wilderness on foot and enjoy an up close and personal encounter with Botswana’s flora and fauna.
It is important to note that night drives and guided walks are not permitted within the Botswana national parks and reserves, so these activities are conducted outside the boundaries of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Khwai Community Area. Staying here allows us much greater freedom of action and the chance to enjoy some unusual activities that are not possible for visitors who are restricted to the parks and reserves.
We will split our time between the dry-land habitats of the lead-wood and camel-thorn woodlands and savannahs and the riverside and marshy back-waters of the Khwai.
The Khwai region boasts an excellent population of African Elephant, both solitary bulls and breeding herds. African Buffaloes use this area seasonally, with large herds moving in during the summer rains and the swampy areas in the west are home to Red Lechwe. Other ungulates include Tsessebe, Blue Wildebeest, Southern Giraffe, the impressive Greater Kudu, Sable and Roan Antelopes, and Impala.
Khwai has a marvellous selection of predators. Lion, Leopard, Serval and African Wildcat are all regular in this region, with African Wild Dog and Cheetah less likely though possible.
The whole area is also one of Botswana’s birding Mecca’s, with raptors and waterbirds being particularly abundant, making for some great photography. We shall be on the lookout for such raptors as the huge as Martial Eagle, the impressive Bateleur, Long-crested Eagle and Black Sparrowhawk, while the entire Khwai River is a favoured hunting domain for Bat Hawk. Waterbirds include African Rail, African Crake, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen and Greater Painted-snipe.
A highlight of Khwai will be a journey by mokoros (local punts) along the quiet waterways of the Khwai River, part of the famous Okavango Delta system. We will be silently poled along by our experienced boatmen and should have some great encounters with birdlife, several species of mammal and Nile Crocodiles, as well as have the chance to take some beautiful images of the watery landscapes.
Today, we head further northeast as we make our way to Chobe National Park, were we will initially spend three nights camping in an exclusive wilderness campsite in the Savuti region.
It will be a fascinating drive as we pass through the desert-like landscape, which is evidence of the vast Paleo-Lake Makgadikgadi that once covered much of northern Botswana but which dried up some ten thousand years ago. The most challenging part of the trip is crossing the Magwikwe sand-ridge that formed the shoreline for this massive inland sea. The winding track through this deep sand area makes for interesting travel!
The old lake bed is now the Mababe Depression. The dense clay floor of the depression results in vegetation that offers high-protein feed for wildlife and the area teams with game after rain. During the rainy season the depression is often impassable due to the ‘black cotton’ soil and alternative routes must be used. Today is a day when anything could happen!
The range of habitat that is covered encompasses most of the habitat types of northern Botswana. We pass through excellent Lion country and some of the best Cheetah country that our safari will cover. Elephants occur throughout the drive but are more common at the start and end of the drive where permanent surface water can be found.
The Mababe Depression is a paradise for birdlife. The nutritious grasses that grow on the rich soils provide excellent seed for an impressive array of finch-like birds. Among these are the magnificently coloured Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Village Indigobird, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Paradise Whydah. These in turn provide a good food source for small raptors such as Gabar Goshawk, Red-necked Falcon and Lanner Falcon. It is not only the small birds that feed on the grass seeds, but rodents too. There are annual outbreaks of huge numbers of rats and mice. As a result good numbers of Secretarybirds, Black-shouldered Kites, Steppe Buzzards and Tawny, Wahlberg’s, Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles are often present and provide more photographic distractions for the cameras!
Unlike the vast majority of the country, Savuti, in west-central Chobe National Park, is not a totally flat landscape. Large outcrops of volcanic rock reach up out of the Kalahari sands, towering over the endless savannah. These hills provide habitat for a completely different array of smaller mammals, birds and plants.
The ‘Savuti Marsh’ has been the stage for many of the most dramatic wildlife documentaries about Botswana or indeed Africa as a whole. The wide open country, good ungulate populations and particularly strong prides of Lions and Spotted Hyaena clans make for dramatic wildlife interactions and excellent viewing opportunities. The often-dry Savuti Channel runs through this landscape, linking the dry sand-veld, the waterholes, the hills and the grassland that together comprise the ‘Savuti Marsh’.
Undoubtedly the most unusual photography attraction here is the interaction between lions and elephants. The area is inhabited by a huge pride of Lions, known as the ‘Marsh Pride’, with numbers fluctuating between 20 and 30 members. These remarkable predators have learned over the years how to hunt these massive pachyderms that are supposedly above predation. Launching their attack under darkness and using their numbers, they manage to kill adolescent and even young adult elephants! Night photography here is not allowed, but if we are really in luck we will find a pride at an elephant kill.
The marsh is prime Cheetah country too and in the rainy season it is not unusual to have African Wild Dogs hunting here too. There is a real chance for Leopard here as well, although it cannot be counted on.
The surface water that is pumped up here by the Botswana Government provides a major attraction for birdlife. In the dry season thousands of doves and Double-banded Sandgrouse and other species come down to drink in the mornings and are under constant surveillance by a variety of raptors, including Yellow-billed Kite, Tawny Eagle and African Hawk-Eagle. Red-crested Korhaan are common in the Kalahari Apple-leaf (Lonchocarpus nelsii) veld and the marsh is home to good numbers of other interesting birds, such as Dickinson’s Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon, Northern Black Korhaan, Meyer’s Parrot, Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Sparrowlarks, Red-naped Bushlark, African Pipit and Desert Cisticola. At this season they are joined by Montagu’s Harriers from Western Eurasia, Caspian Plovers from Central Asia and Amur Falcon’s from even further east.
A further point of interest in Savuti is the Bushman paintings of giraffe, elephants and eland that, unusually, have been painted on rocks out in open country rather than in caves. They are thought to be well over a thousand years old!
Today we will leave Savuti to travel northeastwards along the Chobe River, arriving at our campsite in the early afternoon for a two nights stay. The drive takes us through the stunted mopane scrub of the Goha clay basin, across some sand-ridge country and through the wonderful Zambezi teak woodlands of the Chobe Forest Reserve and along the Chobe River itself. The Chobe floodplain is tens of kilometres wide and in years of exceptional rains the water stretches as far as the eye can see.
While there are community areas that we pass through that are settled by local tribes, for the vast majority of the day’s drive we pass through wild country where wildlife moves freely, uninhibited by fences or man. Roan and Sable Antelopes thrive in the teak woodlands, where the low density of predators and lack of competition for food by other ungulates makes this prime habitat for these large ungulates. Leopard occur in these woodlands in low numbers but they are highly secretive and seldom seen.
The Goha region has natural waterholes that hold water well into the dry season and herds of buffaloes, Burchell’s Zebras, Greater Kudus and elephants come down to drink.
A variety of interesting birds occur in this part of Botswana, particularly in the teak (Baikea plurijuga) woodlands. This broad-leafed woodland, known locally as ‘miombo’ provides good pickings for insectivorous birds such as Grey Tit-flycatcher, Ashy and Pale Flycatchers, African Paradise Flycatcher, Amethyst Sunbird and Violet-backed Starling, while other species include Lizard Buzzard, Flappet, Fawn-coloured and Dusky Larks, and Yellow-throated Petronia.
Botswana’s great Chobe River is presided over by an impressive sand ridge. Along this sand ridge, broad-leafed woodland is the dominant vegetation. As we move into the river valley the impact of the high elephant population is strongly felt, with a paucity of the large trees that typically line the rivers of sub-tropical Africa and instead dense, tangled masses of knobbly combretum and woolly caper that appear impervious to the constant onslaught of these browsers. The river itself is broad and meandering, and in the flood season it is an impressive sight. To the east, outside of the park, lie the riparian forests that are home to so many of the more tropical African species whose ranges end abruptly in northeastern Botswana.
Our final full day will be another packed with wildlife. Much of the Chobe’s wildlife comes to drink in the latter half of the morning and in the early afternoon when the heat excites their thirst. In order to give ourselves a very different angle and aspect for photographing Chobe’s wildlife, and particularly its elephants, we will take to a boat on the Chobe River for several hours today. We will be hoping for some rewarding ‘low-angle’ photography of drinking animals.
This is one of the best places to see and photograph Roan and Sable Antelopes. Breeding herds of African Elephant seem to be around every corner here in the dry season and the massive herds of African Buffalo are constantly flanked by the ever-hungry Lions of the Chobe. This is one of the highest lion densities of any national park or game reserve in southern Africa. The eastern Chobe also supports large herds of Burchell’s Zebras.
Puku Antelope occurs nowhere else in southern Africa, but only here on the Chobe floodplains. With the diminishing of the woodlands and thickets, the magnificent Chobe Bushbuck is becoming ever more scarce. Again, a variety of interesting birds will surely crop up during the day.
Following breakfast and an early morning wildlife photography drive, our photosafari ends around mid-morning at Chobe Safari Lodge in the Kasane area of far northeastern Botswana. Transfers to Kasane airport can be arranged (as can a transfer to Livingstone if you are taking the Victoria Falls extension option).
Mark Beaman lives in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire with his Australian partner and fellow photographer Inger Vandyke. He is Managing Director of Wild Images and its sister divisions Birdquest and Divequest.
After graduating from Cambridge University he led an ornithological expedition to the Annapurna region of Nepal and then spent several years studying seabirds in the Orkney and Shetland Islands and elsewhere while based at Aberdeen University. After leaving academia behind, he created Sunbird Holidays in 1978 and subsequently going on to found Birdquest in 1981 and subsequently Wild Images.
Mark has travelled to every continent, including Antarctica, to view and photograph wildlife and has a worldwide interest in every aspect of wildlife travel. The author of several books and many articles, Mark has witnessed at first hand many of the world’s wildlife wonders, taking countless images along the way. He has pioneered wildlife expeditions to numerous parts of the world, especially in Asia, and is most at home in the last wildernesses of our shrinking planet.
With a wealth of experience under his belt (he has led more than 150 tours worldwide and is one of the world’s top wildlife guides), Mark Beaman has the knowledge and experience to solve any problem, even when travelling in the back-of-beyond, and will competently guide you around the most amazing wildlife photography destinations our planet has to offer and get participants to exactly the right places and positions for great shots.
Mark recognizes that many of those travelling with Wild Images are already highly competent photographers, but for those who would appreciate some photographic tuition while on tour, he is always happy to assist and positively enjoys passing on his knowledge, whether it is a case of improving your images in-camera in the field or as regards improving your post-processing in Lightroom or Photoshop.