Chobe National Park, Botswana, is a 7,000-sq-mi/18,130-sq-km swamp-and-grasslands wilderness on the floodplains of the Chobe River 400 mi/645 km north of Gaborone. We rank it as one of the finest parks in Africa: Its programs offer enough structure to put a first-timer at ease, yet its backcountry areas will get even the most jaded traveler's adrenaline pumping.
Chobe Game Lodge reigns over the northwest area. Comfortable and tasteful—it's where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were remarried—Chobe's stucco buildings offer luxury rooms (semiprivate swimming pools are attached to the suites). The lodge offers morning and evening game rides, but its specialty is guided excursions on the river.
On the evening Sundowner Cruise, guests board a double-decker riverboat to have cocktails and watch herds of elephants coming down to the river's edge for a bath and a drink (nonalcoholic). The experience is fascinating, bordering on decadent.
The lodge also offers exciting game-watching from small, highly maneuverable boats. On a calm part of the river, the engine is cut. It doesn't take passengers long to realize that they're in the midst of slithering crocodiles and pods of restless hippos.
Chobe Chilwero Lodge, a resort on a hill offering spectacular views over the river at sunset, is also deluxe but much smaller with large timber-and-thatch, air-conditioned bungalows with sunken baths and garden-view private terraces. Game drives are with a maximum of six guests, and evening sunset cruises are in small, single-decker boats. Fine food, wines and service.
This park is best known for the incredible number of elephant. By some estimates they number up to 120,000. Individual elephant herds are mind-boggling in size, sometimes in the thousands.
In addition to elephant, you'll see Cape buffalo, hippo, warthog, various antelope and a wide variety of birds (watch for the beautiful peach-colored carmine bee-eaters along the Chobe River). Spotting hyena and lion takes a bit more luck, but you're almost guaranteed a sighting in the Savuti Marsh area, on the park's wild west end.
The marsh has the highest predator density in southern Africa, and there's a good chance you'll see lion, cheetah and leopard, as well as wild dog, jackal and hyena. The relatively short grass provides excellent photo opportunities. Migrating zebra pass through the marsh in one direction October-November (depending upon the rains) and return March-April.
Winter, which spans April-October, is the best time to see wildlife in the park. Chobe is accessible by car, but there are other ways to see the game, including from the air.
Its proximity to Victoria Falls means that Chobe is a popular destination for short safaris and African honeymoons. Some local tour operators offer one-day mini-safaris that include a morning boat cruise, lunch and then a quick view of the game from a 4x4 vehicle.
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