Chobe National Park, Botswana

Photo: Stewart Rickards & Wild Horizons, African Safaris
Photo: Stewart Rickards & Wild Horizons, African Safaris

After months of planning, your dream trip to Victoria Falls is quickly approaching. You plan to explore the largest waterfall in the world, go whitewater rafting down the Zambezi’s Class I rapids, and spot elephants, hippos, and crocodiles along a riverboat cruise. But don’t end your Southern Africa trip there. Most people only spend a few days, at most, around the falls. But there’s so much more to see in the area. Take Chobe National Park, for example.

Chobe National Park is actually in Botswana, though it’s just across the border from both Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as Namibia. In 1967, the land of the San people (nomadic hunter-gatherers) became the country’s first national park. Today, it is the third-largest park in Botswana and is known for having one of the largest game concentrations on the continent. That means you’re almost guaranteed to see everything from buffalo and antelope to giraffes and zebras only a short distance from Victoria Falls.

You arrive at Ngoma Safari Lodge to find a view of the Chobe River and the open floodplains. Massive baobab trees stand in between the main lodge and its eight suites. All of the buildings blend in with their surroundings. They have thatched roofs, natural materials, and uninterrupted views of the currently high river. It’s the wet season here in northern Botswana, so you’ll just have to look a little harder to find the animals.

Photo: Stewart Rickards & Wild Horizons, African Safaris
Photo: Stewart Rickards & Wild Horizons, African Safaris

Or not. After a bumpy transfer, you arrive at the lodge in time for afternoon tea. You eat a mini quiche and a slice of orange-chocolate cake while surveying the landscape from the sundeck. You would jump in the pool, but you decide to return to your suite, since it has a plunge pool. As you soak, you watch herds of sable antelope and zebras at the waterhole. Some drink and others frolick, though the elders are constantly aware of little noises around them. Around dusk, when your skin starts to shrivel in the water—certainly not out of boredom—you move to the outdoor shower to rinse off before dinner. That’s when a strange noise startles you.

First, you hear a loud thump. But this seems normal, since you’re out in the middle of huge floodplains. The next noise is not normal though. It sounds like sucking or slurping with definite water movement. You peek out of the shower, half hoping that a member of the staff has picked a bad time to check the plunge pool. It’s not the staff though. It’s a Kalahari elephant drinking the water in your pool. You hold your breath, try to not to move, and watch one of the largest elephants in the world. Within minutes, it drains all of the water from the pool and slowly saunters away.

The other guests at the lodge are amazed—and even a bit jealous—as you, the newcomer of the day, retell this story during dinner. They had spent the day on game walks, river cruises, and bush picnics. They had seen gnus, zebras, a South African cheetah, and other Kalahari elephants, but their experiences, which you’ll follow in the next few days, sound a bit tame compared to yours. This is an experience you never would have had if you didn’t extend your trip into Botswana.

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