Chobe National Park
The Chobe National Park was declared the first National Park in Botswana in 1967, shortly after the country’s independence. The Park is considered by many to be one of the most biologically diverse of Botswana’s National Parks. Although Chobe National Park is vast, guests tend to visit two main areas within the Park and this is where most of the lodges are located. These are the Chobe Riverfront area near Kasane and the Savuti area. Although both these areas are part of Chobe Park, they are so different in terms of terrain, access, and style of safari that they are almost like two different parks! We have therefore described them separately below.
The Chobe National Park was named after the Chobe River which starts in Angola, where it is called the Kuando River, and meanders for hundreds of kilometers through Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, before becoming the Chobe River. The permanent Chobe River is in fact the northern border of the Park.
The Chobe National Park is huge, stretching far south and east towards the Okavango Delta. It comprises more than 11 700 km² of rich ecosystems, diverse landscapes, and an almost unparalleled abundance of African wild- and birdlife. The northern section of the park near Kasane is close to Zimbabwe and Zambia, and in fact borders Namibia. This makes it a popular destination for those staying nearby or en-route to/from the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, or Hwange National Park. The downside to this easy accessibility to the Chobe Riverfront (Kasane) area of the park is the high number of visitors. The Savuti area is less crowded but can still get very busy compared to the more exclusive private concessions in the Okavango Delta.
The Chobe National Park is home to Africa’s largest elephant population and therefor also aptly and fondly known as ‘The Land of The Giants”. Individual herds of elephant in the Chobe sometimes number in their hundreds! There are an estimated 130,000 elephants in total in Botswana, of which some 70,000 elephants are estimated to frequent the Chobe National Park.
A safari in the Chobe National Park offers superb game drives, as well as river cruises on the Chobe River in the Kasane area of the park, in an unspoiled environment that is particularly well known for the massive herds of not only elephant but also the multitude of buffalo to be found here - unrivalled elsewhere in Africa. Other larger animals in the Chobe National Park include kudu, wildebeest, plains game, impala, and an amazing concentration of lion and leopard. The highly endangered Wild Dog (also referred to as Painted Dog) is also to be found in this area and can sometimes be found here in large packs!
The Chobe also provides bucket-list sightings for birding enthusiasts, with more than 450 species of birds having been recorded. Twitchers can find the Top Five birds of Botswana here: Long-toed lapwing, pennant-winged nightjar, the African finfoot, rosy-throated longclaw and white-backed night heron.
The Chobe National Park does not permit visitors to drive off- road or go on night drives. There are very few lodges within the Chobe National Park, and only two public campsites, which results in most visitors to the Park staying in lodges and hotels just outside the Park. This is especially the case in the Chobe Riverfront (Kasane) area of the park.
The Chobe Riverfront (Kasane) Area
The prominent features of this area of Chobe are the majestic Chobe River that flows through it, which attracts abundant game, and its very close proximity to Kasane village - the Park entrance gate is only 5 minutes drive from Kasane centre! Kasane also has an international airport with daily, scheduled flights from Johannesburg and is just across the border from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The Kasane area contains a large number of lodges with prices that are much cheaper than other safari areas in Botswana like the Okavango Delta or Linyanti - especially in the July – October peak season. This easy accessibility, as well as more reasonable prices, means the Kasane area of Chobe is very popular. However, the major disadvantage is that it gets very crowded, especially in peak season. Nonetheless it is still an area we recommend including at least for a few nights as the game viewing is superb and the boat safaris and houseboat options offer some very unique experiences.
The game viewing in the Kasane area of Chobe can be good all year round. But during the dry winter months from about May to October it is spectacular. Vast herds of elephant and buffalo, as well as many other plains game animals descend to the Chobe River banks (Riverfront) to drink. Elephants also often swim across the Chobe River from the Botswana to the Namibian side where they forage during the day, returning during the late afternoon.
Game drives are a popular activity in the park. But one of the best ways to explore the Chobe Riverfront area, and escape the high numbers of visitors inside the park, is on a boat safari or by staying on a Chobe Houseboat for two or three nights.
The boat safaris are a real highlight of the Kasane area of Chobe and this is one of the few areas in Africa where you will get fantastic game viewing as well as stunning scenery from a boat!
Staying on a houseboat on the Chobe River is another unique experience. There is no better way to start or end a Botswana safari than by gently cruising down the Chobe River with a drink in hand while watching pods of hippos lazing around the shallow pools, or crocodiles sunbathing on the river banks. Most of the Chobe Houseboats only have four or five double cabins (there are a few exceptions) and due to their exclusivity, they are quite pricey in comparison to some of the lodges located in or near Kasane. Nonetheless we feel that exclusivity is worth paying for in the Chobe! The houseboats sail under Namibian flags and therefore usually require one or two quick and easy border crossings into Namibia. Activities on the houseboats revolve around game viewing in small speed boats, village visits, fishing, and possibly guided walks. Game drives into the Chobe National Park may be possible from houseboats but are an extra cost and most clients opt to focus on the boat safaris only.
As well as big game, the permanent water source of the Chobe River is a paradise for birders all year round and attracts bird lovers from all around the world. The boat activities in the small speed boats in particular offer fantastic birding opportunities for keen birders, as that way you can get very close to the twitters along the shorelines of the river.
The Savuti (also spelt Savute) area in the Chobe National Park is just to the north of the Okavango Delta and is one of Africa's best known big game areas. The Savuti is a place of enchantment, of beauty, and boasts one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Southern Africa! This area of Chobe feels more remote and wild than the Kasane area. It can be very dry and more desert-like compared to the Chobe riverfront area. It is about a 5-6 hour drive from Kasane over very rough terrain and deep sand so most clients will fly into lodges here by light aircraft unless they are on a self drive safari. There are only a limited number of small lodges in the Savuti area. There are a few more reasonably priced options but even they are more expensive than lodges in the Kasane area. And many of the lodges are similar in price to camps in the Okavango Delta.
As the Savuti is in the National Park, it is open to the public, including self-drivers and mobile safari operators. This means that it can still get very busy at certain times of the year. Also off road driving, walking safaris, and night driving is not allowed in the Savuti. Although the Savuti is spectacular, the higher prices and lack of exclusivity means that we tend not to recommend it so much for fly-in safaris compared to camps in the more exclusive private concessions in the Okavango Delta or Linyanti. But it is a fantastic area to include for self-drive or mobile camping safaris.
One little known feature of the Savuti is the astonishing collection of San Bushman rock art to be found at Gubatsaa Hills. The latest of the paintings is thought to have been done in around 1810. Although the paintings are all of a similar style and outlined in red ochre, they seem to have been done by different groups of people. Some of the animals depicted in the paintings are eland, giraffe, elephant, gemsbok, and hyena, with the more recent ones superimposed on older fading areas.
The Savuti is also famous for its mysterious and fascinating Savuti Channel. This channel runs a distance of approximately 100 kilometers from the Chobe River, through a gap in the river sand ridge, to the Mababe Depression. Falling only approximately 18 meters, the Savuti Channel brings water from the Chobe to Mababe, creating a small marsh where it enters the Mababe Depression. Flowing in Livingstone's time, the Savuti Channel dried up in 1880, and remained dry for about 70 years thereafter. Only in 1957 did the Savuti Channel flood again, but…subsequently it dried up and then, 25 years later, flooded again!
The Savuti is particularly famous for its predators and its unique wildlife phenomenon such as its elephant hunting lions and fish eating leopards - although this may not be something you will see during your visit!
All in all, guests visiting the Chobe National Park have ample opportunity for spectacular game viewing, unique safari activities, exquisite birding, and sensational African sunsets. As the Park does not offer the same exclusivity and privacy as other regions in Botswana, we always carefully consider and discuss with our guests how a visit to the Chobe would best suit them.