Simon Leysen takes to genuine wilderness with more than a dash of luxury in Botswana.
Safari, in Kiswahili it simply means travel. Yet, for most of us, it means something completely different. One always imagines open plains, wildlife galore, big cats stalking their prey and driving in an open Land Rover. Unfortunately, this romantic idea of safari no longer holds true in many parts of Africa because of poaching and mass tourism.
However, one country bucks the trend. With 40% of its territory made up of national parks and a complete hunting ban, Botswana is one of the world’s leading wildlife destinations. About the size of France and with just two million inhabitants, you can still be in touch with nature.
Beyond abundant wildlife, Botswana offers breathtaking vistas and amazing diversity, ranging from the Kalahari Desert to the Mopani forest of Chobe and the water world of the Okavango Delta.
Botswana has also chosen the path of low volume, high value tourism, which makes it the ideal destination for the demanding traveller, and one company has embraced this concept like no other: Wilderness Safaris.
Set up 30 years ago by two guys driving beaten-up Land Rover travellers around the bush, Wilderness now operates luxury tented camps in some of the most stunning locations one can imagine. Each one is unique and has ten or so super luxurious tents nestled in nature, away from it all.
Wilderness Safaris is a unique tourism ecosystem. It offers a range of gorgeous boutique camps and operates its own fleet of Cessna aircraft to get you there. Despite the challenges of running logistics in a place like the Delta, everything runs like clockwork.
Most lodges are only accessible by light aircraft. You will only see untouched nature until a few minutes before landing on a gravel airstrip with nothing but your private 4X4 to pick you up (having ensured the runway is clear so the plane does not crash into an oryx or elephant).
After a short drive from the airstrip a warm welcome by the staff awaits, before getting settled and ready for game drives, walking safaris or boat tours, depending on the location. These activities are what most people come to Botswana for: the country offers some of the best, if not the best, game viewing in Africa. It is still safari like it used to be. No stocked game farms, no fences, no enclosures. Nature the way it was meant to be seen. Yes, this means you might drive a while before you find the ever-elusive leopard, but that’s part of the excitement. The guides are extremely knowledgeable and can track a lion or a pack of wild dogs using even the fuzziest of footprints. Not knowing what is around the corner is what safari is all about.