By Kelli- October 2016

Everyone says that a trip to Africa is a trip of a lifetime. What they don’t tell you is that, while indeed it is the trip of a lifetime, after experiencing it, you will want to go back over and over again. I was fortunate to be able to experience my first trip to Africa this October, exploring Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe with Wilderness Safaris.

Flying from the West Coast to Southern Africa is quite the haul. My flight arrived in Joburg at 5:30am. I was met at the airport by a Wilderness Safaris representative and driven the quick 20 minute drive to the Fairlawans, a lovely boutique hotel in the Sandton neighborhood of Johannesburg. The hotel has recently been renovated, has a lovely spa, and was a great choice to spend 24 hours before starting my safari. The next morning, after a buffet breakfast, I was taken back to the airport for my flight to Maun. Upon arrival in Maun, I was greeted and transferred to my first bush flight to Mombo Camp.

Mombo Camp is located in the Mombo Concession, on the northern tip of Chief’s Island within the Moremi Game Reserve. It is a Premier Camp and the flagship camp of Wilderness Safaris, with 9 beautifully appointed tents. The camp will soon move to a temporary location, while the “new” Mombo Camp is built. I can only imagine that the result will be absolutely amazing. The camp is just supurb. Upon arrival, we were met with cold towels, cold drinks, and a lovely welcome serenade by several of the fabulous Mombo women. Mombo truly is the “land of plenty.” The game viewing was just exceptional. Highlights were a bush lunch, a boma dinner with singing and dancing, a pack of wild dogs that came to visit the camp one morning, and an elephant named Stompy that took out the boardwalk (and electricity) to my room, making it impossible to access. This hiccup was handled seamlessly by the staff, although I was a bit startled when Stompy decided to make a late night visit to my new room!

Our final morning at Mombo, the only animals left on our wish list to see were a leopard and rhinos.  Even with a late start to our final game drive, thanks to our stellar guide Sefo, 3 hours later we had seen both! I cannot say enough about this camp, from the location, to the food (and drinks), to the guides, to the staff… everything was just exceptional. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye and headed off to the next camp, Vumbura Plains.

Our flight was a very short 10-minutes from Mombo to Vumbura Plains, where we were met by our guide Zee. Vumbura Plains is also located in the Okavango Delta and is comprised of 14 rooms, divided into 2 separate camps, Vumbura North and Vumbura South. The hard product at Vumbura is really stunning. Rooms are modern and huge, with private plunge pools and a large shower in the middle of the room. If this isn’t to your liking, no worries, there is also an outdoor shower.

Vumbura Plains offers both land and water activities, and with the prolific game sightings at Mombo, we were thrilled to be able to spend some time on the water. We truly enjoyed the relaxing boat rides and mokoro excursion while at the camp. Our guide Zee was incredibly knowledgeable and it felt like a moving classroom. He was also a photography whiz and possibly the reason that people wonder why my photo skills got so good mid-trip! Our final night at camp, we were the only group at camp and were treated to a wonderful braai hosted by Chef Colleen and several camp staff.  We had such a fun night filled with delicious food & drink, music, dancing, and wonderful company. Our morning mokoro canoe trip was another highlight of the trip.

As Zee drove us to the airstrip, we were lucky to stumble across one of the best sightings of our trip, a beautiful male lion, looking like he had just had his mane brushed, lounging alongside a bush in full view. We stared awestruck for some time, before heading off to catch our flight to King’s Pool.

Our pilot Trent gave us 2 choices for our flight up to King’s Pool Camp. Choice #1: take he most direct route, which would be about a 50-min flight but was “hella-boring” or choice #2: fly up the Selinda Spillway at about 3,000 feet and look for game. We chose #2 and were rewarded with a spectacular impromptu aerial safari.

King’s Pool Camp is a very special place. It overlooks Kings Pool Lagoon in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve bordering Chobe National Park. The camp has nine tents, with luxurious living spaces, along with private plunge pools and outdoor salas where you can watch elephants, hippos, and a variety of other animals and birds wandering by. The food at King’s pool was a real standout, with some of the best meals of the trip. We enjoyed all of our game drives with our guide ND and learner guide Archie. They were both knowledgeable and a pleasure to spend time with. Highlights were the quintessential leopard in the tree sighting and following a pack of wild dogs halfheartedly trying to make a kill followed by a lavish bush sundowner surprise that lasted well after sundown.

On our final morning game drive, several guides had spotted a pride of lions. We saw a brief glimpse of them before they vanished into the thick bush. We were running out of time and our guide could have very easily called it a day and headed back to camp, but ND didn’t and we ended up finding the pride and following then for a good 30-minutes. That extra effort provided us with a magical memory and that is how I felt about the whole staff at King’s Pool. We rushed back to pack up our things and, after a tearful goodbye to the staff and to Botswana, hopped on our flight to Zambia.

Toka Leya is located on the banks of the Zambezi, in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. There are many activities available, from game drives and river cruises to Victoria Falls tours and local village visits. We were only at the property one night, but our guides were extremely accommodating in helping us pack in several activities in a very short amount of time. We had planned on doing the sunset river cruise in the evening, but upon hearing that there was a baby rhino nearby, we were able to hike in with the rhino guards to see the rhinos and then join the boat mid-cruise and enjoy sunset on the Zambezi.

The following morning, after planting a tree in the camp, we visited a nearby village that Wilderness Safaris supports through their Children in the Wilderness program. It is quite an impressive program run by great people. We really enjoyed our brief stay at Toka Leya. Our guides went above and beyond and the camp has a great staff. Toka Leya was our first classic camp of the trip and I thought the accommodations were lovely. The only downsides for me were the mosquitos and the fact that there was wifi, as I had come to enjoy being completely disconnected. Who knew???

We were picked up and transferred by van to the Zimbabwe border. Our driver handled all the immigration logistics and then we were handed off to a new driver across the border and driven to the Victoria Falls airport for our flight to Linkwasha. This was our smallest plane and one of our longest flights, at about an hour.

We were met at the Mokololo airstrip with drinks and snacks by our knowledgeable guide Buli and transferred to Linkwasha Camp in Hwange National Park. Linkwasha is one of Wilderness’ newest camps and is beautiful, with a modern yet comfortable aesthetic. The interiors of the tents were just as lovely as the main areas, though did lack a bit of privacy when compared to the other camps. There is an abundance (perhaps overabundance) of elephants in the area. We were traveling at the very end of the dry season, with water at it’s most scarce, providing phenomenal elephant viewing, but somewhat stressful times for the elephants. If I remember correctly, there are 17 pumps providing water to the animals in the area, and herds of elephants cycle through in quite a democratic way, taking their turn at the watering holes. I enjoyed my stay in Zimbabwe and Linkwasha. We were treated to one of the first rains of the season and I am hoping the rains will continue, as the area needs it desperately.

Once again, leaving meant saying goodbye to new friends and that is one of my takeaways from the trip. The landscape of Africa is stunning, seeing animals in their natural setting in awe-inspiring, but it is the people that made this trip so incredibly special.

My trip consisted of 5 camps, 13 flights, and 14 of the best days of my life. It really was the trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to do it again.