What It’s Like To Stay At 3 Luxury Safari Lodges in Botswana

Mambo Camp view

In Botswana, wildlife abound and rife in the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta system in the world. Filled with water channels, deep lagoons, swamps and other islands, it’s a wetland paradise (some say a “miracle” created by floodwaters) unique to the region, but travelers often say the best luxury safari lodges in Botswana make the journey worth it.

botswana safari
Botswana safari

At luxury safari lodges in Botswana, sightings of the Big Five are possible, and there’s a good quality of luxury game reserves to choose from. “Luxury” is the intimacy of the camps—most cap at 10 lodges—with carefully selected amenities and an eye on design that can make a lodge “chic” without losing sense of the rustic appeal and atmosphere.

Here are the best luxury safari lodges I stayed at in Botswana.

Mombo Camp

Mambo Camp view
Mombo Camp

I truly fell for my ranger at Mombo Camp (considered among the top game reserves in the world), whose strict safari passion heightened our experience. He could have been a South African model in another world but thankfully he was in ours, his charm and excitement for animals infectious, his companionship memorable. Ultimate, the ranger you have can make all the difference, and ours exceeded expectations.

In our 6-passenger jeep, we often camped out by tall trees to gauge the distance of predators by honing in on monkeys’ panic calls. We witnessed a leopard finishing lunch (poor impala) and digesting under a comfortable shade. The intimate reunion of lion prides was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting and predictably missed without our ranger’s animal kingdom alertness and instincts.

Mambo Camp
Mombo Camp

Back on my veranda at Mombo Camp (9 tents in total), I felt like an extra on Animal Planet: giraffe, elephants, zebras, monkeys, baboons and various birds enlivened the sprawling terrain of my backyard, stunningly surreal but so deeply natural. With such environment, light interaction didn’t seem absurd. A slender, lime-green bush snake held me captive at my tent, slithering in circles at my front door until I stomped it away (the mischievous brat was returning to retrieve a dead field mouse he left on my terrace).

It wasn’t just the animals at Mombo that made the experience worthwhile; equally satisfying was the al fresco, candle-lit dinners under the starlight, walking the connecting raised platforms while animals roamed freely underneath and the comfortably chic lodges that were fit for the savviest of travelers.

Vumbura Plains

You can feel absolutely Liliputian at Vumbura Plains, which features massive tents at 800 square feet (with ceilings reaching ten feet). That’s what made this lodge stand out to me. It felt truly luxe.

Perched on a small reserve in the extreme north of the Okavango, Vumbura amasses about 150,000 acres chockfull of unique birds indigenous to the region, like the slaty egret and waddled crane. Here, the rare sable antelopes will often make a cameo if you’re lucky (and you are).

All 14 sumptuous tents flaunt private plunge pools and large outdoor terrace with cushioned seats. The entire wall structure of the tent is floor-to-ceiling screen, enclosing mosquito-netted bed, island vanity with indoor and outdoor shower and a sunken living area.

Botswana safari

One of the highlights of Vumbura is the traditional mokoro (long narrow boat used for more than three hundred years) that guests can take with a poler into the floodplains. Our mokoro weeded through lilies and wild reeds, traversing lagoons where we watched elephants grazing shoreside. We docked briefly for cocktails and, as the sunset created an atmosphere of purple hues and orange fire in the sky, a hippo emerged from the waters ten feet away from us.

Savuti Camp

Nothing felt as exciting as spotting two cheetahs over at Savuti Camp, an intimate, 6-tent lodge along the Savute Channel. The marsh here refilled almost a decade ago (it had dried up in 1984), bringing a whole new harvest of animals, destined to completely change the ecosystem.

The Savute’s flat waters mirror the sky like a slate of new glass. The sky itself is so blue, riddled with clouds that start to look like animals themselves, with the grass so green you can almost taste the chlorophyll.

Travelers come to Savuti, one of the best safari lodges in Botswana, to be inspired, to remember a forgotten time where, adopted baby or not, they will be visitors to a world that’s completely untainted and not yet expired. They’ll bring home memories and sunburns and photos and appreciation for a journey that was only a temporary affair and it will have to be no more than that. After all, while Botswana is truly another world, admired by all types of travelers, the land unarguably belongs to the wildlife.

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

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