Quick Guide to the African Safari (Chobe National Park)
Rather than giving you a complete guide to the safaris, I am just giving you the quick facts and tips to Chobe National Park. If you really want a complete guide, there are tons of material online and from travel books. One that I would recommend is Fodor’s Travel: The Complete Guide to African Safaris.
Why Chobe National Park?
Chobe National Park is one of the best safari parks out there in Africa. First of all, it’s huge. This park is 12,000 square-km which is pretty much equivalent to 4,000 central parks, large enough to have all different kinds of animal. At the same time, this park is easily accessible that it isn’t completely isolated. Unlike the Okavango Delta in Botswana where you need to take a private jet, you can get to Chobe through the town of Kasane. Also, Chobe’s rich variety of landscape offers a higher chance to see the African Big Five.
However, this is not like the Kruger National Park in South Africa. At Kruger, although famous, it attracts millions of tourists around the world, making it one of the most crowded safari parks in Africa. If you want to see a pride of lions, you may find yourself along with 200 other people taking photos of the same animal (that is if there is no line-up).
Chobe also offers a different perspective for safaris. It is mostly rivers and forests. This is quite different from Etosha where it is mostly sand, or Serengeti where it is mostly savannahs.
Though, there are a few shortcomings with Chobe. First, you won’t see all Big 5, namely the rhino. I would recommend you to travel to Etosha at Namibia to see the rhino instead. Second, it is not located anywhere where the Great Migration takes place.
Some notable safaris park include: Masai Mara from Kenya, Etosha Park from Namibia, Serengeti Park from Tanzania and Ngorongoro Crater from Tanzania.
What are the Big Five?
I’ve already mentioned the word Big Five many times. So what exactly are the Big Five? They are:
Sorry, giraffes and zebras never made it on the list.
Out of the five, leopards would be the hardest to find. While I was at Chobe, it took us three days to spot a leopard. On average, you will only find one leopard per week. By the way, cheetah sighting would be once per year.
Do you know that there are the Ugly Five? They are the hyenas, vultures, warthogs, wildebeests and marabou storks.
So what exactly can you see at Chobe?
There is so much to see at Chobe besides the Big Five. In particular, I saw:
Honey badger - rare
Warthog – not as big as Pumba
Sable – rare
Chameleon – rare
Malachite Kingfisher – rare
How to get there?
There are plenty of ways to get there. Chobe shares the border between Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
You can get to Chobe from those three countries. I was transported by my travel operator from Zimbabwe, and reached the city of Kasane, Botswana.
If you intend to fly between a few countries in Africa, be sure to consider the Star Alliance African Airpass, which can be purchased only by international passengers arriving in Africa on a Star Alliance carrier (this includes Air Canada, United, South African Airways etc.). It is supposed to package your flight into a bundle and make flight fare cheaper. Though, I am sure that you need at least 5 different flights in order to qualify for the air pass.
How much is it?
The range for a safari tour is very wide. It can cost between $666 to $3,500 per person. It really depends on what kind of tour you want, and whether you want a luxurious experience or not. For expensive tours, you will stay in a nice hotel/lodge at the park. The downside is that the hotel is usually not inside the national park, as such your driver may not explore deep enough in the park to get a different view. For travelers like me, I went on a budget (yet comfy) tour at the safari. Although I sleep in tents, I get to travel deeper into the park because I’m already inside the park when I wake up.
What is the best time to go?
At Africa (especially Chobe), there are only two seasons: wet and dry. Wet season goes from December to April, and dry season goes from May to November.
You do not want to go on a safari tour during wet season. Because you are out in the wild most of the time, you are on a safari van all the time (usually with no windows). The rain, the wind could blow towards your face and it will destroy the experience. Not to mention, if there is rain, there will be no reason for animals to come out from their hiding spots for water. It will be difficult to spot a rare animal (i.e. a leopard). Dry season forces animals to come out of their home and travel to the river for water.
If you are looking into other safari parks to find the Great Migration, April, May, July and November are great months to visit the safari. You can see the Great Migration at Serengeti Park in Tanzania.
The Great Migration is where all animals travel together to find food and to populate. During the time, more than 2 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras, 70,000 impalas will migrate. It is quite a scene!
There are several tour operators at Chobe. The one I was part of was Lelobu Safaris. In this tour operator, you can choose between 1 day, 2 days and 1 night, 3 days and 2 nights or a week.
I personally suggest spending at least 3 days and 2 nights in the safari. This is because you increase your chance to see different kinds of animals significantly, especially the rare ones. When I was at Chobe, I was able to see the leopard for 2 minutes on my last day of the tour. You never know what you can see unless you spend the time at the National Park.
Besides, why would you want to spend so much money to fly to Africa just to spend 1 or 2 days?
At Chobe, my tour operator set up a camp site and provided tents for everyone. The chef cook delicious food and served box wine (that’s right box wine, not glass wine). There’s also a “shower” at the camp site where you pull a string for warm water to come down to cool your body.
By the way, at night, if you want to go to the washroom (bushes), you should listen to the sound outside of your tent first. Since there are no fences, you may find yourself next to a lion, or an elephant. If you don’t hear anything, slowly unzip the tent and peak out. If there are really no other animals, you may proceed. It is also best to have a friend accompanying you to the washroom.
Photography Tour – for those who are into hardcore photography, there is also a photography tour where the tour operator supplies you with DSLRs and tripods. What you do is stay inside the van at all times and to have the camera face out of the window to take beautiful pictures.
What to bring?
Below are the things that you should bring with you when going on a safari tour:
Head lamp – you really need the head lamp if you want to go pee in the middle of the night
Warm jacket – don’t underestimate this. You would think Africa is hot. During night time or early dawn, when you are on a van with no window, the wind can be quite harsh on you.
Shorts – zip-off longs are best
Binoculars – kinda optional to be honest
Selfie sticks? You can get lots of selfies with animals
Since Chobe National Park is located between the Chobe River and the Zambezi River, this place is a heaven for animals where they would call it home. There are around 50,000 elephants at Chobe National Park. The number of elephants was causing trouble to the park because there was not enough food for them. It later became a serious concern where the Botswanian government had to debate on the elephants’ future destiny. This is because a lack of action will cause the elephants to take over other animals’ natural habitat.
A clever idea was to transport the elephants to several countries, such as Mozambique, South Africa or Angola. Since countries have no real fences for border, many elephants were able to walk back to Chobe. You know how far that is? Far!
Here are some specific animal facts:
Impala – they are polygamous types of animals. In a group, there’s always one male and several females.
Lion – Lion mating, a very interesting sight. The female and male lion get together for 5 days (dating). They make sure the pride of lions leave, so that they have privacy.
Leopard – They always hide from lions. They give their territories to lions. Unlike lions, they work alone.
Honey Badger – They are always in a pair. Together. Forever.
Buffalo – They always STARE. They can eat grass all day, but once they notice your presence, they will stop everything and stare at you. They also lose a lot of hair, so they always roll on mud to prevent mosquitos.
Elephant – The heavy weight animal walks very slowly because his head is too heavy. Elephants mate based on hierarchy and strength. Their tusks are used to scratch trees, dig minerals and fight. Overtime, they deteriorate.
Hippo – A group of hippos are called a pod of hippos. They live under the leadership of a male. You rarely see two males in a pod unless they are brothers. If there are two, they usually fight and exile the loser hippo.