Field notes from Botswana

Jessica shares her experiences from a recent safari in sub-Saharan Africa

Having recently flown home from a trip away to the glorious plains of Botswana’s Okavango delta, Jessica – one of our London-based team – shares some thoughts (and photographs) from her recent travels. In short, it was “glorious, uncrowded, unforgettable”. Not bad at all.

As ever, this was – ultimately – an opportunity for one of our team to quality assure our properties and experiences (a not terrible perk of the job). It’s how we ensure that the trips we plan always live up to our high expectations. Botswana did not disappoint.

The relief of the return

Like much of Africa post-Covid, there was an overwhelming feeling of how pleased they were to see people back travelling. Whilst Africa has been open for some time, it has taken a while for travellers to rebuild their confidence to return. Botswana by nature is a rare destination, so it never feels overly crowded. Being out in the Okavango truly felt like being a world away – a proper return to the glory of what it means to travel. It is the ultimate escape from the everyday.

From the skies to the plains

Arriving at our sundowner (a kind of safari happy hour) by helicopter remains one of the most exhilarating memories of my trip. It was a total surprise, our guide hovering above us entirely unexpectedly. What made it feel even more exciting was the lion that had been watching the pilot’s final descent, meaning we had to be quite swift in our transfer from the jeep to the helicopter. From here, we took off just as the sun was starting to set; seeing our lion stalking us for a moment longer, before continuing peacefully on.

The sun was beautiful. A deep orange which bathed the whole plains in its brilliant, warm glow. While I wasn’t there during the flood season, we flew over some of the permanent waters that interrupt the plain, gaining a real sense for how extensive the floods can be when they eventually come in. We passed solitary bull elephants and herds of giraffe, before landing in a clearing where our sundowner had been set up – simply waiting for our arrival. A full gin bar, cheese fondue, and even a spa therapist were on hand. It felt very special indeed; even more so because of the surprise.

Elephant Botswana
Jackal Botswana

A home away from home

We stayed in several Black Tomato properties during our time in the delta. The most memorable of these was beautiful Xigera – a brand-new safari lodge with a distinctive design aesthetic. The owners have worked with local artists and artisans on bespoke pieces throughout the property, where each of the rooms has its own design (and a set of watercolours, should inspiration strike). It felt glamorous, effortless.

Even better, Xigera is accessed via a bridge (to compensate for the waters of the flood season). There’s a small sandbox section in one corner of the property which gets checked every morning for animal tracks that may have been left overnight. During our stay, a lioness had just had cubs nearby. Other memorable highlights include ‘The baobab’, Xigera’s sleep-out structure styled as an iconic baobab tree. It’s a short drive from the main buildings, and offers a place where guests can spend a night sleeping beneath the stars.

The freestanding bathtubs were another source of delight. During my own bubble bath one evening, I was fortunate to have an elephant wander casually past. It’s a sight I won’t forget for some time.

More about Xigera Safari Lodge

Elephant Botswana

Final thoughts

Botswana can often be slept on a safari destination, getting less of the limelight than Kenya or Tanzania. And this has nothing to do with its quality (which is peerless). It’s why we’re so adamant to bang the drum for this glorious and unhurried destination. You won’t get crowds. You’ll feel like you have the whole plains to yourself. When we plan these kinds of safari, we take every measure to fill your trip with special moments and surprises. Not least the helicopter at sundown, but breakfasts at Duba Plains (fantastic), glasses of champagne, and exquisite evening dining. This is a destination perfectly suited to those who seek a glamorous and indulgent safari, never needing to sacrifice the creature comforts.

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