Expert Reviews – Chobe NP

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Crowds of elephants and zebras, a short hop from Victoria Falls
Overall rating

I consider Chobe one of the very best safari destinations, not just in Botswana, but in the entire continent. Whatever the season, a game drive or a leisurely boat trip in this large and fascinatingly diverse park count among Africa’s classic safari experiences.

Chobe is fantastic for elephants. Estimates of the size of the population vary – some hedge their bets by saying it’s over 50,000, while others suggest it’s over 120,000. I’ve often seen huge herds, up to 400 strong, in the mopane woodlands and lush swamps beside the Linyanti River and Chobe River, which marks the park’s northern boundary. Inevitably, there’s also much evidence of their destructiveness in well-trampled pathways and mangled trees. Lions are also plentiful, particularly near the waterholes, some of which have pumps to keep them replenished.
Thanks to unusually high rainfall in recent years, the region around the Savuti Channel in the west has become a superb place to see birds, buffalo, leopards and streams of zebras. The marshlands of the Linyanti region in the northwest are even soggier; after the summer rains, rare antelopes such as red lechwe and sitatunga can be seen here.

Chobe: Elephant Kingdoms
Overall rating

Chobe is one of the best places in Africa to see wildlife with high concentrations year-round, but especially so from April to October when the animals gravitate towards the riverfrontit’s especially good for lion, leopard and elephant. Chobe has more elephants than anywhere else on the continent. The most accessible (and hence most crowded) area is Chobe Riverfront, with vast herds, as well as lion, leopard and buffalo. A river safari is especially good for birdwatching. The Linyanti Marshes are more remote, and one of the last redoubts of the African wild dog; elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo are all possible. Savuti is more remote but boasts a stunning combination of open plains, riverine woodland and large rock monoliths that are known leopard haunts. At Gobabis Hill, one such monolith, has San rock paintings and an ancient baobab, and here I spent a morning alone with a pride of seven lions before the other vehicles arrived. And when I was last in the Savuti Marshes, I got up close and personal with a pride of 16 lions.

Spectacular landscapes, wonderful wildlife sightings and the 'gnarliest' elephants in Africa
Overall rating

We had been almost a month on a self-drive safari in Botswana and had had stunning wildlife sightings. The country had - once again - surpassed all expectations but we had one last aim. To see wild dogs would be the icing on the cake and we hoped that Chobe would deliver. Chobe is certainly one of the best elephant territories you will ever find - in fact the area suffers fairly heavily from vegetation damage caused by the great herds. Perhaps because of dense population the elephants can be more aggressive than elsewhere. The two Defenders in our convoy were seriously charged on two occasions (nerve-wracking but painless and without damage) and had half a dozen mock-attacks. In our last hour in the park we were following guide Bart Vanderpitte in the lead vehicle when suddenly he started shouting over the radio: "Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!" We watched a pack of about 8 wild dogs close in and kill an impala buck.
Take my word for it: Chobe delivers!

Green plains covered with wildlife
Overall rating

For even the oldest safari hands, arriving at the Chobe riverfront is a 'wow' moment. Herds of elephant cross the placid waters, giraffes munch riverside trees and, stretching out towards the horizon and the Namibian border, zebras, warthogs and antelopes scatter the flood plains. Making the scene supremely photogenic, a mokoro (dugout canoe) edges along as the sun sets and the river turns to liquid gold. This sight instantly refreshed my bloodshot eyes at the end of a long, bumpy drive through the Botswanan bush.

After the Serengeti, Chobe is perhaps the best place in Africa for seeing wildlife in an open savanna setting. It also has an incredible 70,000 elephants, one of Africa's most concentrated populations; sadly, there was talk of culling when I visited. I certainly had some of my most memorable elephant sightings here, from up-close encounters to views of herds kicking up dust on the plains. The Chobe riverfront has the highest concentration of animals; there seemed to be a lion or leopard dozing under every other bush. However, its accessibility and proximity to Kasane mean it gets busy, so it's worth exploring quieter, 4WD-only areas of the park.

Elephants and even more elephants!
Overall rating

Elephantophiles take note. If you want to get up close and personal with the lumbering giants of the African veld, then there is no better place on Earth than Chobe National Park. With an estimated 120,000 elephants roaming its bounds – which is the highest concentration of elephants on the African continent – even on the briefest of game drives you’ll be guaranteed several sightings. One herd we spied stretched further than the eye could see. But there’s much more to Chobe than elephant. The third largest reserve in Botswana, it’s also home to lion, leopard, hippo, buffalo, wild dog, hyena and antelope. If you have the time, be sure to take a sunset cruise on the Chobe River. The stretch of river between Kasane and the Serondela campsite literally heaves with wildlife. And, of course, there’s no better way to end your safari than with an icy G&T in your hand watching the masses of hippos, elephants and crocodiles as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon. Pure bliss!

Land of the giants
Overall rating

Close to the Zimbabwean, Zambian and Namibian borders and an easy day trip away from the unmissable Victoria Falls, Chobe is Botswana’s flagship park and not without good cause. The wide and life-giving Chobe River draws incredible numbers of hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, waterbuck and a plethora of interesting bird species including the iconic African fish eagle and rare African skimmer.

But the biggest attraction here is undoubtedly the unparalleled elephant population. I’ve witnessed single herds at least 200 strong and these beautiful giants can often be seen swimming across the river. A sunset boat cruise is a special way to enjoy Chobe’s elephants and its natural beauty, but for great pics and less boat traffic I prefer to be out on the river in the morning. I’ve also had the pleasure of staying a couple of nights on a houseboat on the river; it was a special treat watching great herds of game come to drink as I ate a delectable brunch on board.

Game driving through the park can be a busy affair and I generally prefer to spend most of my time on the river. Though big predators like lion, leopard and wild dog are often said to be more frequently sighted further into the park, I saw my first successful lion hunt from the river on my first visit, and on my most recent visit I also saw lions trying (and ultimately failing) to take down a fully-grown elephant right by the river bank.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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