In the parched African bush, water is life, and the banks of the Chobe River teem with an awe-inspiring abundance of wildlife.
This is the “Land of the Giants” – so-named because it’s home to Africa’s largest herds of elephants (more than 120,000 ellies).
Elephant spotting on a Chobe safari
From a riverboat on a Chobe safari, you see them in the shallow water, yanking out grasses with their trunks, waving their magnificent tusks as they shake the clumps clean to pop into their mouths.
Sometimes the elephants are so close you can almost reach out and touch their wrinkly skin. (Of course, you shouldn’t.) You might even get sprayed with droplets of water when they drink.
The wonder of this place is that it’s not only elephants found here in prolific numbers.
The “Land of the Giants” – better known as Chobe National Park, an unfenced 4,500-square-mile park in northern Botswana – is also famous for its huge herds of Cape buffalo, large prides of lions, countless antelope and pretty well every other African animal imaginable.
Indeed, Chobe has one of the greatest year-round concentrations of wildlife in all of Africa. The only one of the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) hard to spot is the rare rhinoceros.
We had already seen elephants up close and personal on a previous Chobe safari on the the elegant Zambezi Queen. And just like an elephant never forgets, we hadn’t forgotten how incredible it is to be within touching distance of them.
So as we set off on a full-day’s game drive in an open Land Rover, bouncing along red-sand tracks criss-crossing the scrubby bush by the river, we’re excited at the prospect of seeing wild ellies again – along with all the other creatures that live in Chobe.
A “Noah’s Ark” of wildlife
Large Chacma baboons swinging through the trees quickly catch our attention.
Then a dazzle of zebras. (Don’t you love the name for a group of zebras? Their black and white stripes are certainly dazzling!)
We pass a bull elephant giving himself a dust bath with his trunk, his ears flapping.
When two male giraffes circle each other in what looks like a curious dance, we stop to watch; after each circle, they curl their sinewy necks down and bump the other’s body with their heads – playfighting, we’re told.
We can’t wait to see lions on our Chobe safari. And we do!
Driving up to observe four resting in the shade, we’re amazed yet again at how close the animals allow us to get. (Most safari viewing in Africa occurs on game drives, and the animals are habituated to the sight and sound of people sitting in open vehicles.) When one lioness yawns, we can clearly see her fearsome teeth.
And the birds!
African fish eagle, ground hornbills, sacred ibis and the most beautiful, the lilac-breasted roller – in flight, the tips of their turquoise wings look like they’ve been dipped in royal blue ink.
So many animals and birds rotate through this kaleidoscope of nature that our necks get sore swiveling from right to left.
That they co-exist in harmony is a marvel too. With their tusked snouts, comical warthogs dig up mud which baboons then root around in with their nimble fingers, picking out juicy bulbs to eat. Antelope even prance around near the lions! At night, yes, the cats hunt. But now, it’s all one peaceful scene.
Still, it’s the elephants we gaze at later in the day in the river that tug at our heartstrings the most.
Globally, their numbers are declining. But here in the “Land of the Giants,” they are safe for future generations to witness and enjoy.
Where to stay?
We bedded down in the intimate and deluxe Ngoma Safari Lodge, just outside Chobe National Park’s less-visited west gate.
Best time to go on a Chobe safari
- The dry season from May to early November is the best time to visit, when animals congregate around the Chobe River to drink.
- September and October are prime game-viewing months for a Chobe safari. But beware: September is also known as the “suicide month” because it’s so hot.
- If you’re heat-averse, you’re best advised to go between May and July; you’ll still see plenty of game! We visited in June, and thought it was a perfect compromise of very pleasant weather, not too-dry scenery and more than enough animals to exhaust our camera batteries.
All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except first and last image)
Our magazine feature
A version of our Chobe safari story was recently published in Taste of Life magazine. Click on the image below to read it.
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