Is a Safari Worth the Money?
Our safari in Botswana was beyond special. When reading about safari’s, one wonders if the reports of their life-changing experiences are really authentic. We’re here to say yes, yes they are, they truly are! In fact, nothing compares to the awe-inspiring experience of seeing wild animals in their natural environment. You think you know how you will react, but when it does, something happens. Seeing great herds of animals, eating and drinking, babies in tow, protecting each other, trusting of strangers watching… it suddenly reminds you of our deep connection to all living things. Here you are in the wilds of nature, and you are really quite an insignificant being within the vast picture in front of you.
As always, we chose a lesser-known destination rather than the touristy safari’s in Africa. We wanted a totally real experience of the animals in their natural habitat without a line-up of other jeeps… behind, beside and ahead of us.
For years, I have been asking people about their safaris, begging for details, staring at their photos, and consistently envious of their experiences, yet each time, they seemed just slightly disappointed. It was confusing, because for us, an African Safari was the ultimate trip, a lifetime dream, always at the top of our bucket list, yet always too expensive.
I always wanted to say this one simple phrase,
“Sorry, I’m on Safari at the moment, and will reply to your message upon my return.”
But we are spoiled, spoiled beyond belief really, to be able to go on safari at all. After much research, and recognizing with a huge gulp, how expensive African Safaris are, we came across an amazingly low airfare from Canada to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Without a doubt, this was the most amazing experience of every world adventure we’ve had, and we’ve had quite a few that we thought were incredible.
We were lucky too, that all of our safaris were private, just the two of us with our guide. That meant we stopped when we wanted to watch great herds of wild animals for as long as we wanted. There was no one in the jeep saying they wanted to move on. The guide could cater soley to our wishes.
Taking photos was also an advantage with no other people in our jeep to block the line of sight or to cause us to miss a spectacular shot, or for us to block anyone else’s vision. We had a full view in all directions. This was by accident as the other guests wanted to go out at different times to different places than we did, though there were few other guests in the complex the entire time we were there.
Do I Need a Fancy Camera?
A safari tour guide and photographer that I met in the airport said he has abandoned his big heavy and expensive cameras and finds the new cell phones have excellent cameras close to the quality of his former camera, and are much simpler and lighter to use. I did bring a Go Pro Hero and although it takes fantastic videos with anti-shake features, it is hard to see the tiny screen in the bright sunlight.
Tlouwana Luxury African Safari, Botswana
The Tlouwana Luxury African Safari was an incredible luxury tent camp, but it was the actual safaris each day that won first prize – and we had three safaris every single day! We had not only jeep safaris, but also river safaris. River Safaris allow you to get much closer to the animals as they come to the water to drink, or allows you to see animals that actually spend a lot of time in the water.
Getting to Botswana
We flew to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, then after a few days in Victoria Falls, arranged a taxi to transport us over the border into Botswana to the Tlouwana Luxury African Safari Camp. We were supposed to be met at the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana by staff from the camp because the taxi was not allowed to cross the border. After waiting and waiting in the blistering sun, and not seeing anyone from the camp, the taxi drive gained permission to take us across the border to the Tlouwana camp. The last roads into the camp were rough and pot-holed, but driveable.
Tlouwana Luxury African Safari
On arrival, there were several staff outside to greet us and they said that the driver was waiting for us at the border. Many apologies were given that we did not see them.
Inside we were offered a cool glass of cucumber lemon water. The property was tastefully decorated with a reception area, gift shop, bar, lounges and dining room all open to the natural outdoors.
Our luxury tent was huge with a large deck overlooking the savannah and forest. Further out was a watering hole. There were two single beds with pulled-back mosquito netting, a desk with tea/coffee and wifi plugins, as well as a big fan and air conditioning. In the huge bathroom, there was a sitting area, a shower, a seating area, and a large wooden armoire. They didn’t forget anything including big bottles of toiletries including sunscreen, bug repellant and even Q-tips.
It goes without saying that the service was exemplary and we had everything that we needed and more.
Here’s a video tour of the property.
Three Safaris A Day
Three safaris a day was actually not too much because we had 2-3 hour breaks in between to rest. Morning Safari’s were early, like 5 or 6 am to 10 am. Afternoon safari’s were around 1 or 2 pm until 6 or 7 pm, and Night safari’s were around 8 to 10 pm.
Our First Safari
After arrival the first morning, we had a lovely buffet lunch in the open-air dining room, and then our 1st Safari from 2:30 to 7 pm – four and a half hours.
The days were hot, but driving down the sandy roads, the open safari jeep created a nice cooling breeze.
We had only been driving a few minutes, when we saw our first elephant. He was in the bushes along side the road and was very close to us. With his broken tusk, he was obviously a male who had been in a fight.
Then driving across the savanah, there was suddenly an elephant in front of us in the middle of the narrow sandy road. He began moving straight towards us until his hugeness was right in front of us. I almost dropped the camera! Just as I was about to jump out of the jeep, he veered to the side to join the herd of elephants to our right. Turning my camera to video the herd, the elephant gave an enormous trumpet that made us jump clear out of our seats. The blast was intensely loud, echoing through across the grasslands. It was scary! Even we knew that the trumpet is a huge warning that the elephant feels threatened. The guide explained that the elephants don’t really see us as a big threat because what they see is just a big box outline of the safari jeep. They have an amazing sense of smell but poor eyesight. Yah, sure.
How Do Elephants Sleep?
This is how elephants sleep. They find a ridge or a high bank on a deep road. Then they stand on the ground and lay down snuggling against the bank. The bushes are their pillows. In the morning, you can see the imprint of their huge bodies or heads or ears on the red sand of the banks.
Do Elephants Grieve?
Elephants grieve the loss of family members and friends. You know the saying – an elephant never forgets. There was a spot on the savanah where an elephant had died of dehydration, leaving only her scattered bones. One particular elephant, likely a loved like a sister, brother, partner or friend has visited the spot every single day since the death over a year ago. He just stands on the spot where she died for 30 minutes.
Close Call With Elephant
The guide went on to tell us about another event with an elephant. One night a staff member was driving down one of these little sand roads through the forest when an elephant fell on his car! The elephant picked himself up, shook himself, and continued on his way as though he had stumbled on a stone. Apparently the driver was not hurt, but the entire front of the car was flattened to a pancake.
Not Just One Elephant, But Hundreds of Elephants
We saw herds of elephants, often 40 to 100 elephants in one herd. Can you see them spread all over this valley?
In fact, hardly a minute would go by before we saw another group of wild animals.
There were graceful little impalas dashing across the road and lots of warthogs.
Hiding behind trees, where you could barely see them, were giraffes. You would see one, then notice another, and another and another. How many can you see?
Halfway through are safari we stopped for snacks. No corner stores here, but the guide pulled out nuts, raisins, chips and jerky, plus juices and beer. Water was always available.
The Mongoose Family
The cutest little mongoose family crossed the road in front of us.
These huge termite nests were everywhere, dotted acrosss the Botswana landscape.
Zebras were gathered in groups of 5-10 together, though there were a few times we saw hundreds together.
Dung beetles are exactly what you think they are. They gather elephant dung, often bigger than they are, and up to 10x their own weight, then they roll it along home for supper.
Surprisingly, there were very few mosquitos or flies.
Elephant and Hippo Kill
The guide told us this story of an elephant kill and a hippo kill that he described as amazing to see. Personally, we’re glad we didn’t witness a kill, but it is afterall a natural part of the wild animal world.
Wild Boar Family
The Botswana Landscape
*This was only the first two hours (2:30-4:30) of our first safari!
Sunset Safari below is the second two and a half hours (4:30-7 pm) of this same afternoon safari that continued into sunset with gorgeous lighting for photos of the animals.
Our Botswana sunset safari was beautiful! The angle of the sun as it shimmers on the backs of herds of wild animals against the Botswana savanah is impossibly mesmerizing.
We had a wonderful driver and guide. At every sighting of wild animals, he told us about their particular habits and unique behaviors.
Just driving along the sandy road, and all of a sudden there is an elephant in the bushes along side us.
Seconds later, he turned to glare at us, and perhaps a warning that we were too close.
When he stepped even closer, our driver decided that we had best move along out of his way.
If you are curious about elephant body language, this site has a great summary. Your photos will also be better on a sunset safari because the angle of the light is perfect.
Chobe National Park and Kisane Forest Reserve
As we drove through Chobe National Park and the Kisane Forest Reserve, the sun was getting lower. Every few minutes we would see another wild animal or herd of wild animals.
This boy, sitting near another of the common termite mounds, was guarding his cattle, his ready to scare off any predators like tigers or lions. No gun though. The guides were not allowed to have weapons in Botswana. Our guide said, “We are a peaceful country”, and even the police did not carry guns, only the military were permitted to carry guns.
“We don’t want to hurt the animals”, he said, “and we are against anyone who does, or anyone who poaches animals”. There was a notable pride in his voice.
$11,000 Dollar Fine
Some roads had warning signs about the thick sand and recommending that only 4×4 vehicles should attempt it. It seems they got tired of rescuing people in cars, trucks and motorhomes. As you can see on the smaller sign, they are now charging 100000 Botswana Pula per rescue. That is equivalent to 11,321.5465 Canadian Dollars.
Impressive impala herd at sunset
Giraffes at Sunset
These giraffes seemed especially elegant as the setting sun glinted off of their backsides.
A Favourite Photo of our Sunset Safari
But these two giraffes set in the background of the umbrellas trees with the shafts of lowering sunlight was just lovely. Don’t hesitate to take a sunset safari.
A Favourite Video
One of our favourite videos is this one with the zebras at sunset. They are hesitant to cross the road with our vehicle watching, and sun is at just the right angle to fade out their stripes so they look like little wild horses.
The trees in silouhette as the sun was setting was impressive too.
Botswana Sunset Safari Landscape
The Botswana landcape is the most stunning in the early morning or at sunset so if you have a choice, take either a sunrise safari or a sunset safari. In the heat of the day, the animals are not as active, so they come out early in the morning or as the sun is setting.
A Few More Videos of Wild Animals at Sunset
Impalas, Baboons & Giraffes
Hige herds of leland and zebra in this video.
Even the giraffes were slowing down as the sun dropped near the horizon.
5 Hour Sunset Safari in the Hot Sun
We had been out on this afternoon safari from 2:30 pm until 7 pm. 5 hours! The roof of the jeep did provide some shade, and the motion of created a nice breeze. Still temperatures were high, and it was time to return to our beautiful Tlouana Luxury Tent Camp.
A Formal Dinner
We returned home at 7 pm, hot, sweaty and exhausted. After a quick shower and dressing for dinner, we walked down to the dining room. Bright white tablecloths and flickering candles glowed under the night sky and in the lounge. It was a formal service for dinner, such an enchanting contrast to a dusty day prowling the woodlands and plains of Botswana.
It was a sumptuous dinner, and perfect to put our feet up and unwind in the candlelit lounge.
After dinner and a rest, it was time for the night safari. The Tlouwana camp never leaves you waiting and bored. The safaris are precisely timed to give you just enough time to catch your breath and a decent rest, and it’s out into the wilds again! Yahoo! Unfortunately night safaris sound exciting, but there really is not much to see. After seeing hundreds of wild animals all afternoon, a few exotic birds and the odd giraffe wasn’t quite as exciting.
The Magic of a Botswana Sunset Safari
Nothing beats seeing a truly wild elephant moving across the African savannah or hundreds of zebras running into the Botswana sunset. There are a lot of elephants in Botswana. They are huge, intelligent and utterly untamed, and the slight sense of danger only adds to the breathtaking experience. The sheer numbers in the great herds of elephants we saw was shocking. Sometimes there were a hundred spread across a field or valley and maybe more because you couldn’t always see all of them at once. You learn far more in just a few minutes with a wild herd of any wild animal than you would from days watching the same animal in a zoo. Here they are truly free; free of chains, walls and humans. The way the entire herd protects a tiny baby, the way they care of the vegetation, or the heart-stopping feeling when elephants are so close to you that you can see the color of their eyes, are all simply magical.
5:30 Wake Up Call for Morning Safari
It had been an exhilarating breath-taking day, yet exhausting enough in the heat to be ready to absolutely fall into bed.
When we returned to our tent, the sheets were turned down with the mosquito netting was put in place around the bed. The tent was closed up for night sleeping.
We were in bed at 9 pm with a 5:30 wake-up call for tomorrow’s morning safari!