Botswana is one of Southern Africa's best safari destinations - here's our helpful guide on the best places to see the famous 'Big Five'
04 Dec 2020
28 Feb 2023
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Best places to see the big 5 in Botswana.
Often when discussing the idea of a safari or trip to Africa one of the first thoughts is where to see the ‘big 5’ and is still on the top of most safari goes tick lists, especially if it's your first safari experience. Even today, as an ex safari guide in Botswana and someone who has been lucky enough to have gone on countless safaris I still come away asking myself if I saw the ‘big 5’.
This special list of iconic African animals does not derive its name from the size, rather how dangerous they are to hunt. The term ‘Big 5’ was originally used in the 19th century by hunters who listed the Cape buffalo, African elephant, rhinoceros, leopard and lion as the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Today however, travellers to these incredible remote and pristine wildernesses use this term as a tick list of must-see species.
Best time to go
Botswana is one of the top safari destinations to tick of this prestigious list, in particular the Okavango Delta. You may have read in some of our other blogs that game viewing can often be determined by the time of year and the weather.
To recap, often the drier times from May through to November provide the best game viewing in Botswana. The dry weather does not increase the abundance of animals, but rather makes them easier to see. During these months the grasses are lower and the bush less dense, this makes finding and viewing the more illusive animals much easier. It is surprising how something as large as a rhino, elephant or buffalo can effortlessly disappear into the bush and out of site.
With rain usually falling between mid November and March, come June many of the waterholes are beginning to disappear with only a few larger permanent ones remaining. This is a great place to start and often stay if you are looking to tick off as many species as possible especially the larger ones who often come and drink in both the morning and afternoon with many of the predators using these waterholes on a regular basis to both drink and prey upon the numerous animals visiting for water.
When planning a trip to see the big 5 in Botswana it is important to remember that seeing all 5 of these animals is in no way a guarantee. As with all safaris you are looking for wild animals in their natural habitat and their behaviours and location is often difficult to predict. In a country like Botswana where there are huge expanses of wilderness with very few camps and people the wildlife tends to be more illusive but I find the overall experience much more rewarding.
Chiefs Island, Okavango Delta
Some may think that the Leopard is going to be the most difficult of these to tick off, being a night time predator with its stealthy nature and incredible camouflage it seamlessly blends into its environment. Surprisingly the most difficult to see in Botswana is the rhino which had been completely wiped out due to poaching and hunting in the late 1800’s and 1900’s, however since the year 2000 the Wilderness Safaris joined up with the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks to bring both species back. With numbers slowly increasing the chances off seeing them has increased throughout the Okavango Delta region, however a few areas and camps hold better chances of success than others. Luckily these are also home to large numbers of elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo.
Situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta in one of the most notorious game viewing concession in Africa, Mombo Camp is the top of the list for seeing the big 5. This is one of the initial areas where rhinos were introduced and a real strong hold for both the species. Its location in the northern edge of Chiefs Island surrounded by floodplains, permanent water provides the perfect habitat for a large diversity of species.
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Offering similar premium experience in a similar area, Sanctuary Retreat's Chiefs Camp is another brilliant option if you are looking to tick off the big 5 and to experience a luxury Botswana safari. Again, located in one of the initial areas where rhinos were re-introduced this area is a strong hold for all of the wildlife you would hope to see. Its remote location away from human interaction in the heart of the Okavango has allowed numbers to thrive providing incredible game viewing throughout the year.
Gomoti River, Okavango Delta
My next recommendation for ticking off the big 5 in Botswana would be down in the South Eastern parts of the Okavango along the Gomoti River. There are two camps which stick out in particular which stick out as having great chances of seeing all 5 of the species and most importantly the rare rhinoceros. Located on opposite sides of the same concession Gomoti Plains which is run by Machaba and Qorokwe which is run by Wilderness Safaris both have the potential to offer incredible year round game viewing.
Gomoti Plains Camp is a small luxury tented camp with each suite looking over a semi permanent water way which brings in a large number of elephant, so many that you can often find your self stuck in your room or down at the main area as the paths between are regularly used. On a recent visit here we were greeted by a number of elephants, as well as rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo during our 3 night stay.
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On the Western side of the concession you will find Qorokwe Camp, under the Wilderness umbrella is a relatively new camp. Its modern design fits in well, offering contrast to other camps around Botswana making it a great addition to any itinerary. In term of wildlife Qorokwe has it all. With a good chance of seeing the big 5 it also has a healthy population of cheetah, wild dog and a large number of plains game.
In conclusion if you are looking to see the big 5 then it’s definitely advisable to speak to a specialist who knows the areas and wildlife well. Although they are all in the same ecosystem wildlife can vary in density hugely and although it's free to move throughout the Okavango Delta, the chances to seeing a particular species or all of the ‘big 5’ can be much higher in certain areas at certain times of the year.
To start planning your Botswana safari, call our experts on 01768 603 715, we’d love to help.
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