Chobe National Park, Botswana

Bull Elephant, Chobe National Park, Botswana
••• Paul Souders/Getty Images

Chobe National Park in the northwest region of Botswana is renowned for its high density of elephants. On a recent visit, I literally saw hundreds of elephants in just three days. They were swimming across the Chobe River at sunset, prodding their little ones forward on a march through the dry landscape, and casually stripping bark from whatever trees they had not yet destroyed. It is a remarkable national park at any time of year and not surprisingly, Botswana's most visited park.

Besides elephants big and small, Chobe is home to all members of the Big 5, along with huge pods of hippo, crocodiles, kudu, lechwe, wild dogs, as well as over 450 species birds. The Chobe River offers wonderful opportunities to watch the sunset as hundreds of animals come down to the river banks for their sundown. Chobe's proximity to the Victoria Falls and all its available activities, is another added bonus. Here's a brief guide to Chobe National Park, where to stay, what to do, and the best time to visit.

Location and Geography of Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park covers an area of 4200 miles and lies north of the Okavango Delta in the north west of Botswana. The Chobe River at the northern end of the park, marks the border between Botswana and Namibia's Caprivi Strip. Here's a detailed map from Botswana Tourism. Chobe is blessed with a variety of habitats ranging from highly fertile floodplains, grasslands and thickets bordering the Chobe River, mopane woodland, forests and scrub.

Savute and Linyati
Savute and Linyati are wildlife reserves adjacent to Chobe National Park. They are popular for visitors looking for exclusive camps (see below) where you can take night drives and enjoy walking safaris. Most of the camps are fly-in camps in these areas due to their remote nature.

Savute is an arid region located in the southern part of Chobe National Park.

The area is bisected by the Savuti Channel, a temperamental body of water that is once again flowing after staying dry for decades. Savuti has open plains which are the permanent homes of elephant, lion and spotted hyena. An hilly area is home to San Bushmen paintings. Large herds of Burchell’s zebra visit the region in late summer (February - March). Savute used to be the perfect destination during the summer, but with the Savute Channel now offering year round water, the dry season (April - October) is a great time to visit as well.

Linyati is a wildlife rich area just north of the Okavango Delta, fed by the Kwando river. Linyati is famous for its large elephant population as well as its Wild Dog population. The best time to visit is during the dry season (April - October) when the main source of water is the Kwando river, where animals then congregate to drink.

Just beyond the Chobe National Park borders lies the small town of Kasane. Kasane is a one-road town, but perfect for stocking up on supplies at the (two) decent supermarkets and bottle stores. There's a Indian/Pizza restaurant opposite the Spar that I can recommend for a good lunch or dinner. A post office, several banks, and a few craft shops rounds out the Kasane experience.

Best time to Visit Chobe National Park
The best time to visit Chobe is during the dry season from April to October. The pans dry up and the animals tend to congregate close to the river banks making it easier to spot them. The dry season also means the trees and shrubs lose their leaves, and the grasses are short, making it much easier to see further into the bush to spot wildlife. But the "green season" after the rains start in November to March is also very rewarding, This is the time of year that the little ones are born and nothing can be cuter than baby zebra, warthogs and elephants. Birdlife is also best when its green and watery from November to March, as migrating flocks come to visit.

What to See in Chobe National Park
Chobe is famous for its huge elephant herds, and the other members of the Big Five are also commonly spotted.

On my last visit I saw leopard, lion, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, and jackal in just a single morning game drive. Chobe is also a fabulous place for spotting hippo in and out of the water, even during the day. It is also one of the few places you'll see Puku, Waterbuck and Lechwe.

The Birds
Over 460 species of birds have been sighted in Chobe National park, a remarkable figure. Every official safari guide will know a lot about birds, so do ask them what you might be looking at when you're on a cruise or drive since an amateur eye may find it hard to discern between species. The flash of color from a carmine bee-eater is wonderful, but spotting an African skimmer is just as fascinating when you get to know its characteristics. I happened to meet up with some keen birders on a recent visit to Chobe which was fantastic. Within a two-hour period we spotted more than 40 species of birds including raptors, eagles and kingfishers.

What to do in Chobe National Park
The wildlife is the number-one attraction in Chobe. The lodges and camps offer three-hour safari drives, three times a day in open vehicles. You are allowed to take your own vehicle into the park, but it should be a 4x4. During the dry season in particular, (April - October) even a noon safari drive can yield a large amount of sightings as the wildlife heads to the Chobe River for a drink as the day hots up. Half way through the drive you'll be able to get out of your vehicle for a drink and snack to stretch your legs, usually at the banks of the river during the dry season.

Safari cruises are a highlight of any visit to Chobe. The larger cruise boats usually sail on the Chobe River in the morning or afternoon and take about three hours. Drinks and snacks are available on board, and you can go on to the flat roof for better photo opportunities. I recommend you charter a small boat for your party if possible. It gives you more flexibility to get close to a pod of hippo, group of elephants, or any other wildlife on the river banks. If you are a keen birder, a smaller boat gives you the opportunity to stay still and marvel at the African skimmers, Fish eagles and the host of other wonderful birds that live here.

Where to Stay in Chobe National Park
The best place I have stayed in the Chobe area is on a Ichobezi luxury safari boat. A truly wonderful experience, that I highly recommend. Spend at least two nights to make the most of it. The boats have five rooms with en suite bathrooms. Delicious meals are served on the top deck and the bar is open all day. Each room has its own small boat that will take you on a river safari once the boat has docked at various beautiful locations along the banks of the Chobe. The Ichobezi lodge offers transport to and from Kasane, and they will help you with immigration formalities since they are on the Namibian side of the river.

There is only one lodge within the Chobe National Park boundaries, the Chobe Game Lodge. It's a very fine place to stay but it does not have the same exclusive feel to it as the camps in the Savute and Linyati reserves (see below). I have stayed at the Chobe Safari Lodge just outside the park gates, in Kasane and had a wonderful experience. Excellent service, good guides on safari drives, and lovely sundowner cruises all at very reasonable prices. The Chobe Safari Lodge is a great place for families traveling with children and people traveling alone as well.

Other recommended lodges close to Chobe National Park include: Zambezi QueenSanctuary Chobe Chilwero, and Ngoma Safari Lodge.

Where to Stay in Linyati and Savute
Recommended camps in Linyati and Savute include: Kings Pool CampDuma TauSavuti Camp, and Linyati Discoverer Camp. They are all exclusive tented camps that offer visitors a unique bush experience. Camps are remote and accessible by small aircraft only. These camps are not suitable for children under eight, but otherwise quite family-friendly.

Getting to and from Chobe
Kasane airport has regular scheduled and charter flights coming in from Livingstone, Victoria Falls, Maun and Gaborone. Savute and Linyati have their own airstrips for charter flights, your camp or lodge will usually help organize transport.

Chobe National Park is conveniently located for those who want to combine a safari with a visit to the magnificent Victoria Falls. Day trips can be easily booked through the lodges and camps in town. It takes about 75 minutes by road to get to either the Zimbabwe or Zambian side of the Falls. Bushtracks is an excellent company to use for transfers to and from the Victoria Falls, They have representatives in Kasane, Livingstone and Victoria Falls.