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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
For dinner, there is an appetizer,
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.
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.
- 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
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 a 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 leastone pair of outdoor pants you can hike in through tall grass and twigs or keep you warm on chilly mornings.
- Include hiking shoes
I wear a good 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.
- 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 c harger.
Expect hotter temperatures. Grasses have dried out, water is scarce, and cooler temps in the early morning and at night are the norm. June,
November and December have been uncharacteristically
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 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 (E
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.
- 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.