Visit Duba Explorers Camp for an Amazing Okavango Delta Safari

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, part of the Great Plains Conservation portfolio, in the first half of an eight-day Okavango Delta safari and though I’ve been to Botswana before, I couldn’t wait to return.

Boardwalk leading to Duba Explorers Camp

BK and Daps, two members of the Duba 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, a safari tradition, in a martini glass—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 dust from my face, relishing the delicious shock of the ice-cold cloth against my skin.

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 environment would be better served distancing the two properties.

View from the boardwalk at sunrise

Today, Duba’s 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 has a diversity ecosystem and support a wide variety of flora and fauna including rare species like wild dogs and 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, there’s a lounge and dining area that has a decidedly early 1900s sensibility. Large, overstuffed leather couches are just the place 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 branch out from the main tent in a loose horseshoe configuration. A two-minute walk down the sandy pathway, the second tent on the left is my home for the next four nights.

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 me 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.

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

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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 Delta version of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. I smell it and I am 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 head first into the ripples the others left behind. 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.

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.

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 housecat before our eyes.

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.

A cheeky young bull shows off

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 on the Prowl

Cheetah momma scans her domain in search of prey

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.

14 thoughts on “Visit Duba Explorers Camp for an Amazing Okavango Delta Safari

  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!

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