“As we look down at the spots of harsh bush that stretch for miles around us upon landing, we question the supremacy of the nearby Chobe River. Boy, were our doubts unfounded.”
Having experienced brief international fame in 1975 for being the site of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s second nuptials, the far northeastern Botswana town of Kasane deserves another look at as a place of natural wonders. Our travel correspondent guides us through the main hub of Africa’s Chobe District and nearby attractions.
(See also: An Epic 6-Day Heli-Adventure Through Bhutan)
Chobe Marina Lodge
After landing in Kasane, we travel by shuttle to Chobe Marina Lodge, which is a 10-minute drive from the airport. The Chobe Marina Lodge is one of four hotels that lie right on the banks of the Chobe river. So upon entering the lobby, we are first greeted by the breathtaking serenity of the river—a stark contrast to the sandy roads that led us to there. The direct access to the river makes it unbelievably convenient for hotel guests to board the river cruise that Kasane is famous for. Beyond our excitement over the view of the river, however, is that for the grasslands behind it. We are standing in Botswana looking across the river to Namibia.
On our first day there, we sign up for the river safari, which begins at 3pm. Just 10 minutes out from the hotel, we spot grasslands in the middle of the river, occupied by hundreds of elephants. Other animals are present too, such as crocodiles and hippos, but the sight of an elephant matriarch testing the waters for her herd before leading them to the next plot of land is by far the most exhilarating.
The Chobe River empties into the Zambezi River on the northern border of Botswana, which drops into the mighty Victoria Falls. A day trip there was a must.
The next day, after a hearty hotel breakfast, we leave the hotel early at 7am with our guide arranged by Wilderness Safaris. Reaching the Kazungula exit of the Botswana border in 20 minutes, we drive around 40 minutes in Zimbabwe’s dry bush to reach the Flight of Angels, our chartered helicopter ride over the Zambezi River. The 15-minute helicopter ride is smooth and offers scenic aerial views of Victoria Falls. June to January make up the dry season, so the water flow is not at its mightiest, however, pictures turn out better as you can see the riverbed and depth of the gorge at this time.
We go down for a quick lunch in the city centre, which looks like a ghost town with the exception of men hustling to sell a million Zimbabwe dollars for a few pennies. We buy them, literally taking souvenir of their broken economy. Then it’s off to our final destination, Victoria Falls.
We chose to see the Falls from the Zimbabwean side for two main reasons. Firstly, we are visiting in the drier months but the main falls on the Zimbabwean side flow all year round. Second, on the Zimbabwean side, there are also more viewpoints connected by organized pathways as 75 per cent of the Falls are on the Zimbabweans side. These reasons overrode the more convenient trip to Zambia where Thai citizens can obtain visas on arrival.
The walk is picturesque and because the water is flowing modestly, we are able to get to all viewpoints safely, without struggle and the need for raincoats. After a satisfying trek, we take a car back to Kasane, spotting baboons and deer on the way.
Because the best times to spot animals are when they are embarking or returning from a hunt, safaris take place at sunset and sunrise. At 6:30am the next day, we get into our jeep and cover ourselves in the blankets provided, as mornings are cold even during the cusp of summer. A five-minute drive takes us to Chobe National Park to begin our safari. The sun is nowhere to be seen.
Our main mission is to see lions. We are told that cheetahs are nearly impossible to see. Thus, we are surprised when we see both in the first half an hour!
Our guide also points out hippos, kudu, eagles, zebras and giraffes in their natural habitat—sometimes spotting them miles away or in deep camouflage. As the sun starts to rise, we prepare for the most glorious sunrise we have ever witnessed. What an amazing send-off before a flight to Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, to catch in the afternoon.