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Best of Africa 2005
Adventure Travel
Botswana + Zambia
South Africa
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Botswana + Zambia: The Greatest Show on Earth
By David Case   Photograph by Jenning Steger
Photo: Carrying kayaks at Victoria Falls, Zambia
SUPER SOAKER: Carrying kayaks at Victoria Falls

 Showtime in Botswana's Okavango Delta begins in austral winter, at the height of southern Africa's dry season, when runoff from the Angolan highlands turns the drought-weary delta into a 10,000-square-mile (16,093-square-kilometer) water park. "Elephants bathing in the afternoon sun, lions stalking red lechwe, eagles snatching fish out of the water," says Olivier Langrand, head of Conservation International's Africa and Madagascar divisions, "you won't find such an explosion of life anywhere else on Earth."

Parks à la Carte
Nearly 40 percent of Botswana's land has been set aside for wildlife. Its best safari terrain lies in the Okavango Delta and has been divided into private concessions, some about twice the size of New York City, which are open to only a few dozen people at a time. In most reserves, you can view wildlife at night, drive in open-sided jeeps, and even take a leisurely bushwalk—all restricted activities in safari meccas like Kenya and Tanzania. Still, the logistics of booking bush flights and finding good camps in Botswana can be complex. To simplify the process, hire an à la carte safari consultant like Issaquah, Washington– based Ultimate Africa Safaris to custom build your trip.

Canoe With a View
Ultimate Africa Safaris' nine-day tour of Botswana and neighboring Zambia starts with two days in the wetlands of the Okavango Delta (to get there, fly via Johannesburg, South Africa, to Maun, Botswana). There, accompanied by your local Tswana guide, you'll travel by mokoro, a dugout canoe navigated by a long pole, through dense thickets of papyrus and past radiant malachite kingfishers, crocodiles, and hippos. Make Jao Camp, a marvel of contemporary African design that hovers on stilts above the floodplain, your base of operations.

While the wetlands are undeniably stunning, nothing beats the adrenaline rush you'll get from seeing big cats and bigger elephants at your next stops: the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. In Moremi, an expanse of savanna and forest in the heart of the delta, watch from your jeep as lion prides feast on buffalo kill or as cheetah cubs learn to stalk prey. In Chobe, witness vast elephant herds—some nearly 2,000 strong—gathering to bathe in Kings Pool. Two days at each stop will satisfy even the most avid wildlife connoisseur.

Zambezi Finale
From Chobe, hop a plane to Victoria Falls, where the mile-wide Zambezi River tumbles 343 feet (104 meters) over a black basalt ridge. At the falls' base begin some 24 miles of Class IV and V white water, with vivid names like Devil's Toilet Bowl and Overland Truck Eater. Hook up with Shearwater Adventures ( and run the narrow, 1,300-foot-deep (396-meter-deep) (Bakota Gorge. This is as remote as it gets in Africa, and on calm stretches you may hear nothing but hippos grunting, fish eagles crying, and baboons barking.

Okavango, Baby!
Set in the Okavango Delta's Moremi Game Reserve, Mombo Camp
( is legendary for its game viewing. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, white rhinos, and elephants all wander the floodplane beneath the camp's elevated bungalows. Just remember: Watching wildlife from an outdoor shower does not qualify as a safari. For the real deal, you'll have to join the guides at the lodge for an open-air jeep tour through the delta.

 When to Go: From May through September the Okavango Delta's water levels are at their highest and rainfall is at its lowest. Lodging prices during peak season, July through September, can be as much as 20 percent higher. 
Air Travel:
British Airways flies from New York City to Johannesburg ($1,099, Buying domestic airline tickets can be difficult; Ultimate Africa Safaris (see "Outfitter," below) can help you arrange travel to Maun and camps in Okavanga Delta and Victoria Falls.

Outfitter: Ultimate Africa Safaris' nine-day tour includes guides, lodging, and bush-flight transfers ($5,875;

Find more great adventure travel options in Africa in the September 2005 issue of Adventure magazine.

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