On Safari: Chobe National Park

(written by Jen; approved by Ian)  Sometimes life throws you so many lemons, all you can see are the lemons.  You forget how to make lemonade and “#positivevibes” makes you nauseous.  That's where I found myself just a few days before our trip to Botswana.  Jeanie (my friend and travel agent) and I were going through the itinerary a few days before Ian and I left.  Jeanie wanted to talk about how fantastic the trip was going to be, and all I wanted to discuss was how stressed I was about packing my camera equipment.  I could have used a good slap.  

No one would ever describe me as a glass half-full gal. Sure, I love some positivity screamed at me for forty-five minutes by a spin instructor while sweating on my Peloton. But, I can’t exactly advise clients on litigation risk with a simple #positivevibes. Leading up to this vacation work had been exceedingly busy with lots of travel, and I found myself in the hospital with a rare disease diagnosis of Addison's (not curable, but treatable).  I was having trouble seeing through the fog of every day life and mentally dodging the curveballs life is so fond of throwing.

Our first view of elephants in Chobe National Park in 2007

Our first view of elephants in Chobe National Park in 2007

But Jimmy Buffet was on to something. Change my latitude; change my attitude.  After a short plane trip from Johannesburg, South Africa to Kasane, Botswana, we drove (well, were driven) into the Chobe National Park.  My obsession with safaris started at this very location, and we had not been back since.  Our first lodge on our first safari was located just outside of the park, and every safari drive started just as our drive into the park that day.  Our first sighting on that first trip was a herd of elephants, and so it was on that drive.  Nothing like spotting twenty elephants to help you shake the concerns of every day life.

We stayed at the Chobe Game Lodge, which is the only lodge physically located in the Park. It’s also a lodge with only female guides. We had our first female guide ever, Flo, and she was fantastic. In fact, she was the first female to ever be hired to work in the Park. The Lodge is a great place for large groups and families, but this should not deter the solo or couple traveler/s. And, if you have any reservations, do what we did, and pay for the private guide/ranger.

You can stay busy all day at the Lodge with the option (when we were there in July) of two game drives and a boat ride on the Chobe River every day. We only stayed at the Lodge for two nights, which was great for taking in the activities, but I would have enjoyed an extra day there to savor the grounds and our room. We were upgraded (thank you Jeanie!) to a suite with a private plunge pool, which we did not have a chance to use.

Chobe River from the Boat

Chobe River from the Boat

Our first evening was a private boat ride on the Chobe River on one of the Lodge’s solar powered boats. We always enjoy safari boat rides because it provides a unique perspective for viewing the animals and the bush. We spent some time watching a young elephant entranced with climbing a ledge on the beach. And, as we were cruising, we saw crocodiles, hippos, wading elephants, and giraffe in the distance.

But, by far, the best sighting was watching a heard of buffalo munch on grasses by the water as the sun set behind them.

The next morning started with a 5am wakeup call, followed by 530 am coffee, and then out on the gave drive at 630am. Not a far drive from the Lodge were lions. Because we were in a National Park, there are a good amount of vehicles coming in from outside of the park, and, of course, word of lion is going to spread quickly. So, the lion sighting was busy. But we waited it out and not before long, the crowds moved on, and we were able to watch the lions scope out some prey.

The River felt choppier than it looks . . . .

The River felt choppier than it looks . . . .

After breakfast back at the lodge, it was time for our safari boat ride at 11am. We saw elephants, crocodiles, and fish eagles. It was rather windy. So, it was hard to get a steady shot of anything. Ian allegedly spotted a leopard drinking by the water, which had gone back into the trees by the time I turned my head around. I was convinced he was seeing things. After the boat ride, we had a light lunch at the lodge. You will never overhear on safari nor will you ever utter on safari: “I just can’t get enough food.”

Ian on the boat

Ian on the boat

After some tea and coffee at 3:00 p.m., we were back on the vehicle for an evening drive. Intrigued by Ian’s supposed leopard sighting, we drove to the tract of land bordering the river where the leopard was based on Ian’s description. As we rounded the corner, there it was as if Ian had called it up and made an appointment with it.

Chobe Game Lodge Leopard.jpg

After this rare leopard sighting, we had a very picturesque sighting of lionesses with a brood of cubs, including cubs so little, I swear they could have fit in the palm of my hand. We were expertly positioned so as to watch the pride approach us over a small bank by the River.

Now, just listen to the adorable meow of a lion cub.

On our final drive the next morning, after a memorable sunrise over the Chobe River, we spent some time with two playful sub-adult males lions.

I will never subscribe to the positive vibes hashtag. Life experiences just aren’t always positive. But I may put some Jimmy Buffet on my workout play list . . . ♪These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes 🎶

P.S. This trip was planned by our wonderful travel agent (and friend), Jeanie Fundora at Travel Beyond.  Jeanie has been planning trips to Africa for 19 years and has been named by Travel + Leisure magazine to its prestigious A-List for her expert knowledge in Africa, having traveled to Africa 24 times. Jeanie is a fierce advocate for her clients, making sure every need is accommodated on diverse trips from honeymoon safaris to multi-generational family safaris in both East and Southern Africa as well as India. If there’s a way to make out-of-the-ordinary details work, Jeanie will find it.