Try Duba Explorers Camp for One of the Best Okavango Delta Safaris

The wooden boardwalk leading to Duba Explorers Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta 

Boardwalk leading to Duba Explorers Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta

It’s mid-morning and I’m crossing the long, raised boardwalk leading to the island, my excitement building with each plank left behind. I’ve come to Duba Explorers Camp, in Botswana, part of the Great Plains Conservation portfolio, in the first half of an eight-day Okavango Delta safari.

BK and Daps, two members of the Duba Explores team, greet me with infectious smiles.  Both are dressed in crisp white tunics and trousers looking cool as cucumbers in the sweltering 90-degree heat. BK offers me a welcome drink in a martini glass, a safari tradition—a delightfully cold fruity concoction I down in three seconds flat.

Baps hands me a damp washcloth fresh from the freezer, another beloved custom, and I gratefully wipe the sweat and Okavango Delta dust from my face, relishing the delicious shock of the ice-cold cloth against my skin.

View of the marsh on either side of the camp's boardwalk at sunrise
View from the boardwalk at sunrise

Duba Explorers Camp

Duba Explorers Camp (formerly known as Duba Expedition Camp) is in the northeastern corner of the Okavango Delta in the private, 77,000-acre Duba Plains concession.

Its owners, famed National Geographic explorers at large and wildlife documentarians Dereck and Beverly Joubert, relocated the camp in June 2018 from its original spot near its posh big sister, Duba Plains Camp, now a five-minute flight away. The latter expanded its footprint as part of a major renovation and the couple felt the Delta would be better served to distance the two properties.

Today, Duba Explorers’ five rustic-luxe guest tents sit on an island bordered by a permanent waterway on one side and a marsh (a seasonal channel) on the other.

Mixed with vast plains and acacia woodlands, this region is blessed with a diverse ecosystem and supports a wide variety of flora and fauna including rare species like African wild dogs and the rare sable.

The Main Tent

The heart of the camp is the large, open-air main tent with a sprawling deck overlooking the bush and shaded year-round by towering Jackalberry trees. This is where we dine al fresco, enjoy cocktails and conversation around the fire pit, and meet before every activity.

Inside Duba’s Main tent is a lounge and dining area with a decidedly early 1900s sensibility. Large, overstuffed leather couches are cozy enough to curl up and take a nap. A campaign-style writing desk showcases the couple’s many books. On the large, weathered wooden coffee table, a polished lion skull sits center stage, and over one of the sofas hangs one of Beverly Joubert’s stunning black-and-white photo of elephants.

My Tent

Guest tents are positioned in a loose horseshoe configuration from the main tent. My tent is a two-minute walk down the sandy pathway, the second tent on the left.

The bed and a view of Okavango Delta from my tent at Duba Explorers Camp
My bed and a view of the bush. Divine.

Walking up the steps to my private verandah, I hear the soft cracking of a lone bull elephant munching on a tree opposite my tent on the far side of the marsh. (Being so close to wildlife is why I love unfenced camps.)

My tent is the size of a small studio. In the middle is an elegant canopy bed dressed in cream linens with blue-and-gold accents and framed by mosquito netting tied back like curtains. The headboard is a dividing wall separating the living area from the dressing area and ensuite bathroom behind it.

The bathroom features two large wok-sized brass basins, environmentally safe toiletries, a flush toilet, and a spacious waterfall shower with a view of the camp through netted windows.

A sizable wooden trunk with brass fittings rests at the foot of the bed not far from a campaign-style wooden writing desk.  On it, there’s an old-fashioned brass lamp and a thermos of cold water, but as soon as it’s known I favor Diet Coke, an ice-bucket appears filled with chilled cans.

View from the boardwalk of my tent on the far left - Duba Explorers Camp Okavango Delta Safari Botswana
View from the boardwalk of my tent on the far left
Scenes from my Okavango Delta Safari in Botswana

Okavango Delta Safari: Game Drive Diaries

Eyes closed, inhaling deeply, I savor the scent of warm African sage as we search for wildlife. I fell in love with this fragrance during my last trip. For me, it’s the Okavango Delta version of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I smell it and I am immediately content.

A pod of hippos in a watering hole up ahead sees us coming and like submarines, they submerge all except one. He launches his 2-ton physique out of the water, diving headfirst into the ripples the others left behind, like a character from a Looney Toons animation. For an instant, I swear I see the soles of its webbed back feet.


Wait. What?

“Did he just dive?” I ask Thaloganyang “Carlos” Rantole, my guide, thinking I had to be mistaken.

Leslie, another guest, chimes in “Oh my god! I’m so glad you said that, I thought I was seeing things.”

Carlos unfazed, smiles and nods. He’s seen a diving hippo before but Leslie and I haven’t even though we’ve both been on multiple safaris.

It’s moments like this that keep me coming back for more. Every game drive is different, I always see something new regardless of whether I’ve seen a species countless times before.


The Pretty Kitty

We’re on the lookout for a cat. We heard over the radio that a troop of baboons chased a female leopard into some bushes and we are on our way to find her.

Wait. What?

A very pretty kitty

Leopards love to eat baboons, but baboons really hate to be eaten. Hence, if the leopard is small (they rarely chase a male), and there are enough pissed off primates, the predator becomes the prey.

In route to her hiding place, we pass a large troop strolling toward a clump of trees. Whatever transpired is apparently over.

We park in front of the bushes to wait and as if on cue she appears. First, she’s tentative, sniffing the air, then she boldly walks in front of our vehicle, lies down on the grass, and grooms herself. At two, maybe three-years-old, she was smart to hide, so many baboons would have killed her.

Beautiful leopard looks for a route through the marsh
Our leopard looks for a route through the marsh

Walking to the edge of a wetland beside us she scouts entry points in the high grass hoping to cross, only to turn around when she hits the water.

Fifty yards away, a lone red lechwe catches her eye. She tenses, crouching low, her stomach skimming the ground, as she slowly begins to stalk her prey.

At this point, my heart is in my throat. Am I about to see a kill? Both excitement and dread wash over me at once.


She crawls along a narrow elephant path where the grass has been smashed flat and is laser-focused on the lechwe, the tip of her tail twitching in quick, jerky spasms.

The tension is palpable but quickly shattered by what sounds like a child’s toy. It’s the alarm call of an African ground squirrel. The lechwe freezes then runs away. Thwarted, the leopard relaxes and starts to roll in the grass, transforming from a deadly killer into a cuddly house cat before our eyes.


A cheeky young bull shows off

The Puffed-Up Pachyderm

The following morning we come upon a small breeding herd of elephants. I love breeding herds because there’s usually a young bull full of himself that feels the need to show off.

As it so happens, a little Napoleon about seven-years-old appears through the high grass. He holds his ears straight out and raises his head in an effort to make his suburban-sized figure seem bigger.

Every now and then he shakes his head in warning. He would be genuinely dangerous if he decided to ram our vehicle but he won’t, and we won’t give him a reason to. He’s still a juvenile, and this charade is more bluster than guts. He’s still a mamma’s boy and will be for a few years to come.


Cheetah momma scans her domain in search of prey

Cheetah on the Prowl

Another sighting comes over the radio. A cheetah with two, one-year-old cubs is in the grasslands not far from camp. When we find them it’s clear they haven’t eaten in a while: I can see the barest outline of their ribs. The mother is on the hunt, moving through the high grass on a mission, her two youngsters trotting behind her. Occasionally, the two tackle each other in play until they realize mom is too far ahead, and then they quickly scamper to catch up.

The female climbs a high termite mound and scans the horizon. She sits at its peak, looking to her left, forward, right, behind her, then repeats. She does this for 10 minutes with no luck. If something is out there, she doesn’t see it. The endeavor is abandoned, at least for now. She and the cubs move to a shady area under a tree and lie down. The day is heating up and apparently, it seems it’s time for a break.


Mokoro Rides

We’ve decided to mix it up a bit. We’re going on a walking safari but first a mokoro ride to where we’ll start our hike.  Mokoros are low riding, wooden canoes steered with a long pole to push and navigate, similar to a gondolier.

A mokoro we will go - Duba Explorers Camp Okavango Delta, Botswana-77432018110901
A mokoro we will go

A mokoro offers a different perspective of the delta than a vehicle. No longer above the landscape, we’re at eye level or lower. Everything slows down. Sounds normally obscured by the roar of an engine fill the air: birds calling to each other in the trees; the squeal of a baby baboon, the buzz of a dragonfly.  In the distance, a zebra barks a crazy donkey-like whelp the Joker would make if he were an animal. The bush is a symphony if you sit back and listen.

We glide past a delicate night blooming water lily, evidently not aware the sun has risen, and pass channels carved out of the grass by elephants and hippos, now used by other animals to cross the delta. A mokoro ride is a Zen-like experience, giving me ample time to savor the beauty of my surroundings.

Carlos leads on our walking safari

Walking Safari

Silent, we walk through the bush, only our scent and the swoosh of our pant legs against the grass to give us away. We follow Carlos in single file-–we’re less threatening that way. Imagine if we were walking side by side like the Earps in Tombstone toward a herd of zebra. All we’d see are striped bums sprinting in every direction. A straight line is also safer. Carlos leads, and his trained eye can see things we may not such as poisonous snakes. If we’re beside him, he’s unable to monitor everyone at once.

Like the mokoro, a walking safari offers another perspective. It’s less about wildlife viewing and more about the flora, animal tracks, small creatures, bones, and other aspects of the bush we’d miss otherwise.

Because animals are more skittish (and dangerous) when humans are on the ground, we keep a healthy distance especially from the temperamental species such as elephants, buffalo, and hippos.

The rules for this adventure are simple: remain quiet, walk single file, do whatever Carlos tells us, and keep our eyes open.

An elephant we come upon during our walking safari. We stay much farther away from it than we were in a vehicle

During our exploration, Carlos quizzes us on the animal tracks we find along the way. We see elephant, giraffe, and old hyena prints. I guess a few but others stump me.

“Did you know elephant tracks are different in the front than in the back?” Carlos asks. Their front feet are round but their back feet are oval, and they overlap when they walk.

He tells us poachers in the past used to strap elephant feet to their own to disguise their footprints. Early settlers unfamiliar with elephants, didn’t recognize the ruse, but the indigenous bushmen knew better. Eventually, they let everybody in on the secret.

Carlos shows us how hornworms are devouring a kudu skull

We learn the difference between elephant paths (remember the leopard?) and what is nicknamed a hippo highway. Elephants flatten all of the grass as they walk, leaving a 3-foot-wide path in their wake. Hippos, on the other hand, walk with their front and back feet in perfect alignment, like the wheels on a car, leaving a pristine line of grass down the center.

Carlos shows us various plants and talks about their traditional uses. African sage, for example, makes a great insect repellent. Wild basil’s strong scent masks the smell of decay around cadavers to mask the smell of decay.

He tells us that as a boy he used the blue bush to brush his teeth. He takes a stick from the plant and chews on one side, stripping off the bark. The frayed, naked end he uses on his teeth. “Before Colgate and a toothbrush, I too preferred this,” he says.

I giggle to myself thinking, When the zombie apocalypse comes, I want to be with Carlos. He’ll know how to survive.


Dining

Most luxury camps in Africa accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences, what they can’t do is promise I won’t gain weight. At Duba, the food is very good and there’s a lot of it.

In the mornings, I indulge in hot chocolate (most guests have coffee brought to their tent) with a few biscuits to wake me up.

Breakfast is in the bush in a safe spot with a lovely view. I keep it light, opting for yogurt with homemade granola, a hard-boiled egg, and perhaps a muffin.

Couse Couse in a silver plate -
Cous Cous

For lunch, there’s a buffet on the main deck. On my first day, Lungile Mbangi, the camp’s young chef, prepared polenta with pepper jus, pickled picante peppers, grilled Brussels sprouts, oven-roasted butternut squash with toasted green pepitas, a veggie stir-fry, grilled chicken thighs (sans bone), and sundried tomato brown bread. I manage to pile a little bit of all of it on my plate and retire to my tent so I can eat while editing photos.

At 4 pm, we have high tea in the main tent along with sweet and savory nibbles, a little something before the final game drive of the day. I am so full from lunch I skip the tea preferring to meet Carlos when it’s time to depart.

At the end of our afternoon game drive, we indulge in sundowners, probably the most well-known safari tradition.  Light bites out in the field, wine, mixed drinks, and if we have a glorious sunset it puts a cherry on top of our day.

The beauty of sunset in the bush

For dinner, there is an appetizer, a meat, fish, or veggie option for the entree, followed by dessert. The meal is served family-style under the stars on an elegantly set table with white cloth napkins with lanterns all aglow.

Afterword, some guests stay by the fire and chitchat but I prefer to turn in. A staff member escorts me back to my tent (guests are not allowed to walk alone when it’s dark) and I can hear the telltale baritone, saw-cutting-through-wood vocalization of a leopard on the far side of camp. I can’t help but smile.

At night, there are so many sounds in the bush I often stay awake just to listen. I look forward to the low, staccato roar of a lion or the symphony of birds in the trees. The eerie whooping of a hyena that starts low but then rises to a high-pitched crescendo–it’s music to my ears. There’s nothing more magical than being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the bush.


I was a guest of Duba Plains Explorers Camp but the opinions expressed in this post are my own. There are affiliate links on this post which means if you purchase something I feature I’ll make a little commission at no cost to you.


How You Can Go on a Safari at Duba Explorers Camp

Duba Explorers Camp is one of eight camps and suites in Botswana under the Great Plains Conservation (GPC) umbrella. GPC also has camps in Zimbabwe and Kenya for a total of 15 camps and suites. A new camp in the Masai Mara will open at the end of the year.

You can book a holiday directly with GPC or work with a travel specialist.


Seasons

Peak season is June 15 to Oct 31.

Shoulder seasons are on either side of that — April 1-June 14 and November 1 – December 19

Green season is January 11 to March 31

Festive is December 20 to January 10.

Peak and festive (ie Christmas) seasons are the most expensive.


How to Get There

Unfortunately, Botswana isn’t the easiest country to get to. You’ll want to fly into Maun (MUB) it’s the main gateway to the Delta. There are very few direct flights to Botswana except through South Africa either to Johannesburg (JNB) or Cape Town (CPT). South African Airways has direct flights to both cities from New York (JFK), London (LHR) and Munich (MUC).

From Maun, you’ll take a bush plane to the Vumbura airstrip where your guide will meet you and drive you to the camp. It takes about an hour or longer if you want to stop for wildlife.

Tip: If you want to include Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls in your itinerary, take a direct flight from South Africa to Kasane, Zimbabwe, and then Maun.

Note: No matter how you go it’s a long journey. If you suffer from jet lag, check out my strategy for beating it. And here are tips for staying comfy on a long-haul flight. For information about vaccinations, visas, and the like, I’ve put together a resource page with helpful links.


Activities

  • Game drives are twice a day: in the early morning and late afternoon, when animals are more active.)
  • Night drives (Typically an extension of the afternoon game drive.)
  • Walking safari
  • Bird watching
  • Catch and release fishing
  • Mokoro rides

How to Pack

The small bush planes that fly into the Delta have strict bag and weight regulations. Most flights restrict weight to 15 kilograms (approximately 33 pounds) total. That means checked bag, carry-on, purse, camera bag, all of it together cannot exceed 33lbs.

Soft-sided bags without wheels are a must for two reasons. First, wheels add unnecessary weight. Second, tiny planes have equally tiny cargo holds and they need your bag to conform to the small cavity. Duffle bags are your best option.


What to Pack for a Safari

Think layers, and pack light

The camp provides free same-day laundry. Use it. Even on the hottest days, it will be cool at night and in the early morning so bring a fleece or some kind of light jacket.

Nothing flashy for game drives

Pack neutral tones (khaki, green, tan) for game drives. You don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb with brightly colored clothes.

Don’t wear camouflage

It’s not a fashion statement in Africa; it’s considered pure military and best to avoid.

Bring at least one pair of outdoor pants

Even if you mainly wear shorts, you’ll need at least one pair of outdoor pants you can hike in through tall grass and twigs or keep you warm on chilly mornings.

Wear a hardy, clothes-toed hiking shoe

I wear a sturdy hiking shoe so I’m prepared for walking safaris. If you think you’ll only stay in a vehicle, sandals are fine.

Don’t forget sun protection

I can’t stress this enough: The sun is brutal. Use plenty of Sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Baseball caps won’t help when the sun is low and to the side of your vehicle.

For more in-depth info, here’s a link to a recommended packing list.


Helpful Tech

  • I never leave home without my travel power strip. That way I need only one adapter (I bring two anyway) and the rest of my gadgets plug into the strip. It’s an easy way to charge multiple devices at one time. Duba has its own version of a universal strip in each tent but a lot of camps don’t.
  • Bring a portable power bank with you. Game drives are three to four hours long. If you like to use your smartphone for photos and video you’re going to need back up juice. I really like the size and versatility of My Charge HubPlus portable charger.

Botswana Climate

Dry Season: April to October

Expect hotter temperatures. Grasses have dried out, water is scarce, and cooler temps in the early morning and at night are the norm. June, July, and August are not as hot, though still in the mid–to high 70s. Nights can get chilly. It’s a good idea to wear hats and gloves. September / October are traditionally the hottest months, early mornings and nights are pleasant.

Wet Season – November to March

November and December have been uncharacteristically hot the last couple of years. In September and October, however, the mornings and evenings are nice. January and February are the wettest months and strong storms are uncommon. In March the rains start to slow down. Everything is brilliant green as if it’s been photoshopped.

I’ve been in Botswana in early November and early March. On both trips, it was cool in the morning and evening. Between 9 am and 5 pm it was really hot but bearable.


Tipping

Tipping isn’t mandatory but it is customary and should be in cash (U.S. dollars). I’ve never been on safari (15 now) where gratuities weren’t earned and then some.

Budget $15 to $20 per day, per person for the staff. The pooled gratuity is split amongst them. There’s typically a wooden letterbox in the main tent where you can place it (Envelopes are in your tent).

Your guides, who spend hours of their time and works very hard to make your stay as wonderful as possible, should also receive $15 to 20 per person, per day. You tip the guide directly.

If there is anyone else who makes you feel extra special, of course, feel free to reach out to them directly as well.

Some advice: I prepare my tips before I fly to Africa. I use two envelopes per camp (one each for staff and guide) and fill the envelopes beforehand so I don’t have to worry about pulling the money together at the last minute. It also helps to know the cash is spoken for and I won’t accidentally spend it. I label the staff envelopes and add my guides’ names to the others once we’ve met.


Random Notes

  • If sustainability is important to you, you’ll be happy to know it’s very important to the Jouberts as well. All the electricity for the camp is generated by solar power; guests are given refillable metal water bottles, there’s no unnecessary plastic, and if tomorrow the camp were to close they could pick up shop without leaving any permanent trace.
  • Speaking of plastic, bags are banned in Botswana.
  • The sand, random curves, and dirt tracks in the delta will rock your Land Cruiser from side to side, forward and back like a child’s funhouse ride. After days spent being tossed about, the constant jumble may wear on you. If you have a sensitive back you should keep this in mind.
  • For the same reason, if you’re prone to car sickness, you might want to have Dramamine on hand.
  • There is Wi-Fi in each of the guest tents but it’s slow and unreliable.

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14 thoughts on “Try Duba Explorers Camp for One of the Best Okavango Delta Safaris

  1. Maureen Reilly says:

    Just when I thought I couldn’t be more excited about my first visit to the Okavango, I see this. We love Great Plains and their Explorer camp is a perfect blend of luxury and minimal footprint. Love the fact that breakfast is “on the road” at their camps – staying in camp for breakfast wastes fantastic wildlife viewing hours. And eating off the front of the truck, especially the delicious food that they provide, is amazing.
    I’m curious if you’ve spent any significant time in Maun? We have decided to layover there for a few days and I’m wondering if you have any recommendations or thoughts?

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Hi Maureen –

      No, I haven’t spent any time in Maun, I got the impression it’s really just a place for people to catch flights into the bush. I met a young couple who live in Maun on my last trip. They work in the Safari industry. They said there was little to do except drink. LOL. That said, I can ask Matt Copham who is a renowned guide what he suggests. He lives in Maun with his family. 🙂

      • Maureen Reilly says:

        Thanks! We were thinking maybe a mobile safari for a night or two if it’s not too expensive? We’re kinda blowing the budget on the camps…

  2. Alina says:

    Your photographs are spectacular! Every time I see your pictures, just want to go and see these animals for myself! Botswana was not on my list up until now, but surely is after seeing this!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Alina, I couldn’t ask for a nicer compliment. Thank you very very much. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.:)

  3. Angelyn Cannada says:

    Yes! Botswana is very special indeed! Each of your camp reports is unique. Some people that haven’t been on safari don’t understand that most everyday and for sure every camp Is different. It’s never “the same old same old” as you clearly describe your journeys throughout Africa. Love that you saw a diving hippo at one camp and hung out with “Whitney Houston’s backup singers” at another! Reading your adventures makes me smile and gives me new camps and places to explore!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Angelyn, I couldn’t ask for a nicer compliment. It means a lot that you took the time to go through the posts. Thank you so much. 🙂

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Hi Lydia –

      Rates change depending on whether it’s peak season, shoulder or festive. So snagging a better rate is best when it’s not peak / festive seasons. Africa will never be cheap, and Botswana can be more expensive than other African countries, but it’s spectacular and worth every penny. 🙂

  4. carlamcgill says:

    Would love to hear/see those lions! What an amazing experience, Susan. Thanks for all the great photos. As an armchair traveler, I love experiencing the whole thing through your photos. 🙂

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      It’s quite a wonderful sound. Not what MGM makes you think a roar is like. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Carla. Please share if you think any of your friends or family might enjoy. 🙂

  5. Linda says:

    We are going to Botswana in April and you whet my appetite. We are staying at Sable Alley and Jack’s Camp. You mention that camo is not acceptable attire. Does that mean I should leave a pair of tights and a T shirt at home?

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Hi Linda – You’re going to love Botswana. You’ll see it in the wet season. So much wonderful green. The color is so bright it almost has a neon quality as if it has been photoshopped.

      Re: Camouflage. My recommendation is not to wear it. It’s the feedback I get when I’m there.

      I haven’t been to Jack’s Camp but want to go. Haven’t heard of Sable but will check it out. You’ll have such a good time!

I would love to hear from you! What did you think of the post?