THE GREAT NORTHERN LOOP
On this route you’ll see the Okavango Delta and Panhandle, the Zambezi Region, the Kwando River, the Zambezi River, the Chobe River, Victoria Falls and Makgadikgadi Pans.
DAY 1 Southern Botswana
It’s a long drive to Botswana. Depending on where you live in South Africa, you’ll possibly only cross the border on the second day of your holiday.
If you’re travelling from the Western Cape, Eastern Cape or Northern Cape, head for the town of Kang on the western route to Maun via Ghanzi.
If you live in one of the other provinces, travel to Serowe and approach Maun on the central route.
OUR PICK! Kalahari Rest near Kang (page 85, western route) and Khama Rhino Sanctuary near Serowe (page 86, central route).
DAY 2 Maun & Okavango Delta
If you’re on the western route, you’ll travel through the Kalahari to Maun. The central route will take you along the Boteti River. (See page 22.)
Maun is one of the biggest safari towns in the country. You can join a tour on a day trip to Moremi, or do a mokoro outing. Book at least one extra night’s accommodation if you want to do any of these activities.
Maun is on the southern edge of the Okavango Delta, but the landscape is flat and you can’t really see the vast expanse of water. The best way to see
the delta properly is from the air. Take a 45-minute flight – see page 90 for rates and bookings.
Sitatunga Camp (page 89, western route); Drifter’s Camp Maun (page 90, central route); Island Safari Lodge (page 89, either route).
DAY 3 Okavango Panhandle
Book your flight over the Okavango Delta for early morning. Afterwards, do your grocery shopping for the next few days because Maun is the last big town you’ll see for a while. Drive to Sehithwa and turn north – this tar road is in a poor condition so drive carefully.
The Okavango Panhandle is the wide part of the Okavango River before it fans out to become the delta. There are many camps on the river with great birding and fishing opportunities. It’s not as wild as Moremi so you can sleep soundly, but there are hippos and crocs so stay away from the water.
DAY 4 Okavango Panhandle
Stay on the panhandle for two nights – relax in your camping chair or in the shade of a waterberry tree. You can also go see the rock engravings at Tsodilo Hills (a World Heritage Site), but the road there is for bakkies only. Mokoro and houseboat cruises from Sepupa are also popular.
Sepopa Swamp Stop, Shakawe River Lodge, Drotsky’s Cabins – page 94.
DAY 5 Okavango River, Namibia
Now for Botswana’s secret corner: the Zambezi Region (formerly the Caprivi Strip). It’s not in Botswana, but this part of Namibia is a logical addition to a holiday in this region. The small area between the Mohembo border post and Divundu has more campsites and lodges than the whole panhandle on the Botswana side.
Plus you have access to two great parks from here: Mahango Game Reserve and Bwabwata National Park.
Game viewing in Mahango is easy because the roads along the river are usually traversable in any vehicle. You’ll see elephant, giraffe, buffalo, sable antelope and roan antelope. Game viewing in Bwabwata on the other side of the river is 4x4 only, but you can do a guided game drive if you’re in a Corolla. (Book via the place you’re staying at.) If you’re interested in the history of the South African Border War, visit the ruins of the 32 Battalion military base.
DAY 6 Okavango River, Namibia
Stay on the banks of the Okavango for at least two nights. Three is better. Four? Why not. You don’t have to drive every day. Watch the river flowing past and look for elephants on the opposite bank.
Ngepi Camp, Nunda River Lodge, Shametu River Lodge, Mahangu Safari Lodge, Ndhovu Safari Lodge – page 101.
DAY 7 Kwando River, Namibia
The Kwando River is so pristine that it catches you off guard. The new tar road south of Kongola leads you almost right to the camps where you want to be. Stay here for one night to break your long journey east through the Zambezi Region. If you have time, do a river cruise or a guided game drive in nearby Mudumu National Park.
Camp Kwando; Malyo Wilderness Camp (wild); Namushasha River Lodge (more tame) – pages 101 – 102.
DAY 8 Zambezi River, Namibia
You don’t have to cross another border to see the mighty Zambezi. Set up camp south of Katima Mulilo, book a sunset cruise and sip a G&T while the riverine forest groans under the weight of all those birds. Try to hook a tiger fish while you’re here!
Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge; Namwi Island Lodge; Caprivi Mutoya Lodge; Island View Lodge – pages 102 – 103.
DAY 9 Kasane
When you drive back to Botswana from Katima Mulilo in Namibia, go via the Ngoma border post with its clump of baobab trees. Elephants are often seen here. The tar road from Ngoma through Chobe National Park to Kasane shouldn’t be overlooked – you might see a lion next to the road!
Kasane will be your base for the next few days. The town is busy but still quintessentially Botswana: there are baboons on the roof of the liquor store and warthogs in the Spar parking area.
DAY 10 Vic Falls, Zimbabwe
We recommend a day outing to Vic Falls – even if you’ve been there before. Why? Every visit is different and the tumbling water touches you on an almost emotional level. Go have another look… and another!
Leave your vehicle in Kasane and book a tour through the lodge you’re staying at. You’ll be taken to the Zimbabwe border as part of a group, helped across the border and picked up by a tour operator on the other side who will transport you to Vic Falls.
This way you won’t have to pay extra fees to get your vehicle across the border (R800+) and someone else will take care of all the logistics. You can just enjoy the day.
DAY 11 Chobe National Park
You can switch day 10 and day 11 around if you’d like – or skip Vic Falls and spend two full days in and around Chobe National Park. Your park fee is valid for the whole day: Visit the park early in the morning for a guided game drive (book at the place you’re staying). The roads in the park are very sandy and for 4x4s only – rather let an experienced field guide take you straight to a lion.
The highlight of any Botswana trip is a late afternoon cruise on the Chobe River. Again, book via your lodge or camp. Sit back with your camera and binoculars and enjoy one of Africa’s best gameviewing experiences: elephants in the shallows 10 m from the boat; a buffalo crossing the river; every kind of kingfisher under the sun and maybe a cameo appearance by the resident lion pride.
Chobe Safari Lodge (page 98); Thebe River Safaris (page 100).
DAY 12 Nata
Time to head home. Look for elephant, zebra and giraffe next to the road (and on it) between Kasane and Nata. There are lots of animals in the area.
If you haven’t seen enough ellies yet, overnight at Elephant Sands north of Nata. During the dry season, hundreds of elephants flock here to drink water. Bird lovers can visit Nata Lodge south of town and the eastern tip of Makgadikgadi Pans at the Nata Bird Sanctuary. Sometimes thousands of waterbirds like flamingos and pelicans congregate here. The pan occasionally has about half a metre of water, but it’s mostly dry. OUR PICK!
Elephant Sands; Nata Lodge – page 93.
DO IT YOURSELF
VELD & VLEI. The roads in Botswana are generally in a good condition (above). But drive slowly because the odd pothole can cost you a tyre.On the 12-day Great Northern Loop, you can enjoy a boat cruise on the Chobe River (opposite).