Botswana: Chobe National Park – Kasane
We crossed into Botswana from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to the small, but bustling town of Kasane. This is the ideal base to explore the Serondela area (or Chobe riverfront, which has the densest population of wildlife in Botswana’s Chobe National Park.
On the afternoon of our arrival day, we were booked onto a river cruise on the Chobe River. We left the Chobe River Lodge and headed into Kasane and down to the bank of the river. There were about 20 of us from the lodge on the trip. We boarded a pontoon boat, and our guide and driver steered us out in the wide channel of the river.
This section of the Chobe River is a border between Botswana and Namibia, and in the middle of this part of the river is a long, flat island that for a while was disputed territory between the two countries. Botswana eventually won possession and it is now a part of the Chobe National Park.
Our boat headed out towards the island, passing by some fallen trees that were sticking out above the surfaces of the water on which sat an African Darter (ahinga), also known as the snake bird, not because it eats snakes but due to the fact its long neck looks like a snake when it is swimming in the water. The island is a haven for animals and waterfowl, and our flat bottom pontoon boat was able to navigate in the shallow inlets of the island, so we got close up to pods of hippos wallowing in the river and groups of spoonbills, egrets and African jacanas wading in the reeds in search of food.
From the island, we headed over towards the banks of the Chobe River on the Botswana side. Here we saw an enormous crocodile on the shoreline. The boat brought us within a few feet of the croc, and we got a close-up of its scary-looking set of gnashers. Our presence spooked it and we got to see it slip into the waters, where it disappeared out of sight.
Our journey took us down the river, which is a major draw for wildlife in the National Park, which is largely dry and arid. A group of Kudu antelope had made its way down to the river, there were half a dozen females and one large male with spectacular spiralled antlers.
Chobe National Park is famous for its herd of elephants, which is numbered in the thousands, and it was not long before we got to see some of these elephants. A large group of fifty or more had assembled on a beach by the river and were enjoying the water. A small number of juvenile elephants had found a muddy pond and were playfully splashing around. Our cruise continued and we saw more and more elephants. Hundreds of them! It was mind-boggling to see so many amazing animals all in one place.
Every day large numbers of elephants make their way from the depths of Chobe National Park to the river, crossing across the water onto the island and in some cases to the banks on the Namibian side, which is not a national park but is farmland. Elephants are very destructive, so their presence is not welcomed by the farmers, which presents a potentially hazardous conflict for man and beast!
The crossing of the river is not an issue for the elephants, who were surprised to find out are good swimmers. They can even use their trunk as a snorkel. We got a chance to see this in action when our boat pulled to and we watched three large male elephants get into the water and start swimming. Sadly, some of the touring boats got too close, which blocked the elephants’ passage, which looked like it could result in a nasty situation. The elephants then decided to hang out in the river and play around a bit. We left them to it and continued our journey.
The further we passed down the river, the narrower it got. But there were still small islands, and one of these was being used by African skimmers as a nesting ground. These smallish black and white birds have a long red beak that is translucent. This translucency was very apparent the sun low in the sky. These birds feed by flying low over the water to catch fish and insects near the surface, hence the name ‘skimmer’. We were able to pull up very close to the island where we could see the birds sitting on their nest. Some of the eggs had hatched and the young birds, who were still flightless, were scuttling around on the sand. So cute!
By now the sun was beginning to set so we had to start making our way back to the pier. When the sun begins to set in Africa that means it is time for a sundowner, so the cooler was opened and the beer and wine began to flow as we made our way back down the river. It was a beautiful sunset, and we got some lovely sights of elephants on the shore of the Chobe River silhouetted against the orange setting sun.
We had an early morning rise for a dawn game drive in Chobe. This time we were going in by game drive vehicle.
It didn’t take long to reach the gate of the National Park, and we were soon headed through a forest of small trees. The roads were extremely rutted and full of sand, s the going was tough. After about an hour we hadn’t seen much, including any elephants, which was surprising as we’d seen so many the day before. According to our they were likely making their way towards the river at that very moment – but were not here yet.
So,our guide decided to take a different road that runs right along the shores of the Chobe River. We had a lot more success here with the wildlife, there were antelope and giraffes that had come to the river to drink and feed. As we travelled further along the track, we came across a large breeding herd of Cape buffalo that was close to the road. Having heard the stories about buffalo attacking people and vehicles we were somewhat wary of being in this proximity, but we were in a large, sturdy vehicle that was a long way off the ground. We peacefully moved by and were rewarded with seeing a carmine bee-eater. Sadly, the wildlife viewing was not great despite searching for lions and leopards we saw none. We stopped for a comfort and coffee break at one of the campsites in the park, before heading back on the trail where we did see some more antelope and giraffes but no elephants or big cats.
Planning your visit to Chobe National Park
A few flight possibilities are available for those who want to fly to Chobe National Park. South African Airways offers flights to some airports in the vicinity of the reserve. From OR Tambo Johannesburg International Airport in South Africa it is possible to travel to Kasane Airport (BBK), Livingstone Airport (LVI) in Zambia and Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) in Zimbabwe. Another possibility is to travel from Botswana’s capital city Gabarone to Kaanse. From all airports, it is possible to continue the journey to your Chobe safari lodge by road transfer. We recommend flying directly from Johannesburg to Kasane, as this is the nearest airport and is serviced daily. The road transfer from Kasane Airport to your destination lodge depends on the accommodation location.
- Park gates are open from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., April through September, and 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., October through March.
- English is the primary spoken language in Botswana and all guides and staff will be well-versed in the language.
- To avoid the risk of malaria, travel during the dry season, wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and in the evening, and carry mosquito repellent. Campers are also advised to keep their tent’s mosquito net closed at all times.
- The driver’s seat of vehicles in Botswana is located on the right side of the car and you drive on the left-hand side of the road.
- Driving at night in Botswana is not recommended.
About Chobe National Park
- Chobe National Park is Botswana’s first national park, and also the most biologically diverse. Located in the north of the country, it is Botswana’s third largest park, after Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Gemsbok National Park, and has one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa
The original inhabitants of this area were the San bushmen (also known as the Basarwa people in Botswana). They were nomadic hunter-gatherers who were constantly moving from place to place to find food sources, namely fruit, water and wild animals. Nowadays one can find San paintings inside the rocky hills of the park.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the region that would become Botswana was divided into different land tenure systems. At that time, a major part of the park’s area was classified as crown land. The idea of a national park which would protect the varied local wildlife and promote tourism was first proposed in 1931. The following year, 24,000 km2 (9,300 sq mi) around Chobe district was officially declared a non-hunting area, and this area was expanded to 31,600 km2 (12,200 sq mi) two years later.
In 1943, heavy tsetse infestations occurred throughout the region, delaying the creation of the national park. By 1953, the project received governmental attention again: 21,000 km2 (8,100 sq mi) was suggested to become a game reserve. Chobe Game Reserve was officially created in 1960, though smaller than initially desired. In 1967, the reserve was declared a national park.
At that time there were several industrial settlements in the region, especially at Serondela, where the timber industry proliferated. These settlements were gradually moved out of the park, and it was not until 1975 that the whole protected area was exempt from human activity. Nowadays traces of the prior timber industry are still visible at Serondela. Minor expansions of the park took place in 1980 and 1987.
There are three main areas in Chobe:
- The Serondela area (or Chobe riverfront), situated in the extreme Northeast of the park, has as its main geographical features lush floodplains and dense woodland of Afzelia quanzensis, Baikiaea plurijuga and other hardwoods now largely reduced by heavy elephant pressure. The Chobe River, which flows along the northeastern border of the park, is a major watering spot, especially in the dry season from May to October for large breeding herds of African bush elephants, families of Angolan giraffe, sable antelope and African buffalo. The floodplains are the only place in Botswana where the puku antelope can be seen. Large numbers of southern carmine bee-eaters are spotted in season. When in flood, African spoonbills, ibis, various species of storks, ducks and other waterfowl flocks to the area. This is likely Chobe’s most visited section, in large part because of its proximity to Victoria Falls, Zambia. The town of Kasane, situated just downstream, is the most important town of the region and serves as the northern entrance to the park.
- The Savuti Marsh area, 10,878 km2 (4,200 sq mi) large, constitutes the western stretch of the park (50 km (31 mi) north of Mababe Gate). The Savuti Marsh is the relic of a large inland lake whose water supply was cut a long time ago by plate tectonics. Nowadays the marsh is fed by the erratic Savuti Channel, which dries up for long periods, then curiously flows again as a consequence of tectonic activity in the area As a result of this variable flow, there are hundreds of dead trees along the channel’s bank. The region is also covered with extensive savannahs and rolling grasslands, which makes wildlife particularly dynamic in this section of the park. During dry seasons, both black and white rhinoceros, warthog, greater kudu, impala, Burchell’s zebra, blue wildebeest and a herd of elephants are seen. During rain seasons, the rich birdlife of 450 species is represented. Prides of lions, hyenas, zebras or more rarely Southeast African cheetahs are sighted as well. This region is reputed for its annual migration of zebras and predators.
- The Linyanti Marsh, located at the northwest corner of the park and to the north of Savuti, is adjacent to the Linyanti River. To the west of this area lies Selinda Reserve and on the northern bank of Kwando River is Namibia’s Nkasa Rupara National Park. Around these two rivers are riverine woodlands, open woodlands as well as lagoons, and the rest of the region mainly consists of flood plains. There are large concentrations of lions, leopards, wild dogs, roan antelope, sable antelope, hippos and elephants.
Best time to visit Chobe National Park
Most travelers pick the dry season for a safari in Chobe National Park, as ever-increasing water independent animals stay around the Chobe River. During the hot months – August, September and October – there is some sensational game viewing, if you can stand the heat… The rainy season is definitely worth considering, especially for birdwatching. During the wet season, most accommodations have fewer visitors, so you are in for a very personal experience. Also, child policies can be more flexible during this period. Nevertheless, all camps in the Chobe National Park feel personal, and intimate and are small-scale.
Here’s a little bit about both seasons.
- May to November
- Ideal for a first-time Africa trip
- Nights in the Chobe are never below freezing and the days are seldom unbearably hot
- Note that in November the weather is variable: rain or shine, hot or cold
- Between December and April
- January and February are the rainiest months
- Spectacular skies can change within minutes from cloudy to sunny to cloudy again
- Showers are usually short and heavy, but there are days when the sky remains grey
- Waterproof clothing is necessary, but the rain doesn’t need to stop you from doing anything
Where to stay near Kasane
1. LUXURY: CHOBE SAFARI LODGE
Perched on the banks of the Chobe River beside the world-famous Chobe National Park, Chobe Safari Lodge is northern Botswana’s top heritage stay. Established in 1959, decades of guest experience make this the ideal expedition base for iconic game viewing by boat, tiger fishing adventures or visits to the nearby Victoria Falls. With its modern design and social atmosphere, Chobe Bush Lodge lies beside Chobe Safari Lodge, sharing the same classic facilities and grounds with roaming impala, rare Chobe bushbuck and entertaining warthogs.
2. MID-RANGE: RIVER VIEW LODGE
Set amongst beautifully manicured gardens, River View Lodge offers eleven newly refurbished and tastefully appointed fully air conditioned rooms and free-standing chalets, each with a private verandah to enjoy the views of the gardens and the majestic Chobe River.
Each of our rooms and chalets is uniquely designed and features an en-suite bathroom, air conditioning, ceiling fan and refreshment station.
For those looking for the ultimate in comfort and space, River View Lodge also offers a private home on either a full service or self-catering basis. Featuring a large open-plan living area, en-suite double bedroom, additional guest lavatory, private verandah and garden.
3. BUDGET: ELEPHANT TRAIL HOSTEL
Nestled amongst bars and restaurants, 2.4 miles away from Thebe River Camping, this 2-star Elephant Trail Guesthouse And Backpackers Kasane comprises 9 rooms. Wi-Fi is available throughout the property as well as a free parking lot, a sun terrace and a restaurant are available on site.
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