“When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent, you are leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence.”
– Francesca Marciano: Rules of the Wild.
The Caprivi Strip is a typical panhandle, separating the countries of Angola and Botswana, that runs over 400km from west to east, from Namibia to the mighty Zambezi River. It is the epitome of untamed Africa and is most famous for pristine wilderness, free-roaming animals, and unfenced safari camps and lodges. At the very eastern end of the strip, the Chobe River flows, forming the border between Botswana and Namibia.
On the banks of Botswana, the famous Chobe National Park stretches an incredible 154,000 hectares, making it the third largest national park in Botswana. Made up of channels, islands, and riverine forests, the river is home to massive herds of elephant, buffalo, and hippo, as well as other concentrations of wildlife such as crocodile, giraffe, wild dog, the rare puku antelope, sable, and other buck, lions, leopards – all of whom come down to the edge of the river to drink, graze, and, of course, hunt. It is also a birders paradise, with over 450 species of birds found in the region, including giant kingfishers, bee-eaters, and the iconic African fish eagle.
Unlike its more active counterpart, the Namibian side of the Chobe River has fewer lodges and safari camps, with no real roads, making it a far more tranquil retreat. Basing yourself on this side of the river offers a greater sense of solitude and connectedness with the surrounding untamed wilderness. It also means that most activities involve crossing the border by boat, so make sure you have plenty of space in your passport for game drives, boat safaris, and nature walks, most of which take place on the Botswana side of the river.
Opting for the more rugged Namibian experience, I stayed at Chobe Water Villas – an exclusive boutique lodge located in the Kasika Conservancy of the country. Access to the villas is via the Kasane Immigration Office in Botswana where I received my first stamp (of many!) and was transferred by boat across the river to the villas.
Though only a short 15-minute boat ride away, the journey was enough to get my safari blood pumping with abundant sightings of crocodiles, hippos, and more en route to the lodge. As the boat cruised around the edge of Sedudu – a fluvial island in the Chobe River – I caught the first glimpse of Chobe Water Villas.
The breath-taking bungalows sit erect on stilts, protruding over the edge of the river, offering unobstructed views of the islands, and Botswana on the other side. Each bungalow offers utmost privacy and absolute luxury that one may not necessarily be accustomed to finding so deep in the African wilderness.
A warm, traditional Namibian welcome of singing and dancing awaited us as we arrived at the main lodge, situated under a mass of beautiful, indigenous acacia trees. Entering the space, I was amazed at the transition from what I had seen from the boat. From the water, the lodge and bungalows, with their thatched roofs and wooden exterior, gave the impression of a typical African lodge – donned with safari-style browns and ochres. It is anything but that.
Whilst still maintaining a sense of safari chic, architect and interior designer, Jan Lewis, has utilised natural materials in flowing spaces with dashes of décor genius, all of which reference the natural elements in Namibia, such as the desert, the rain, tribal patterns, and the animals. Everything is a symbol of an element, and carries a special meaning.
The main lodge is where most of the action happens. The infinity pool and deck offer magnificent views across the river, and viewing areas on either side of the pool are equipped with fire pits – perfect for balmy evenings regaling tales of the day around the fire. The lounge, with a well-stocked library, is a great place to relax and unwind, while the cocktail bar is ready and waiting to supply pre- or post-dinner drinks.
The restaurant is where the real culinary magic happens – from the cold and hot buffet-style breakfasts and lunches to the à la carte fine dining dinners, or even a braai on beautiful evenings, the food at Chobe Water Villas is fresh, thoughtfully and deliciously prepared and presented, and a real reflection of the commitment of the lodge to providing guests with a luxury experience smack bang in the middle of the African bush.
A raised, wooden boardwalk leads you to your exclusive riverside retreat with each villa offering unobstructed 180-degree views of the river, the islands, and the animals and birds that call it home. I fell asleep to soft (and sometimes not so soft) grunts and grumblings of a pair of hippos mingling in the dark just under my balcony, and woke to the call of the African fish eagle hunting at the break of dawn.
The spacious open-plan bedroom and lounge have magnificent river views through floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and offered an array of top-notch amenities – all part of the package to ensure utmost comfort and safety.
Chobe Water Villas is truly unique and epitomizes world-class luxury, with a safari chic twist. However, the real draw-card in this region is the uninterrupted wildlife right on your doorstep. It is a real sensory experience that one has to immerse oneself into to really understand. Home to one of the biggest elephant populations in the world, an abundance of wildlife and activities that exists nowhere else, one of the biggest zebra migrations after the Masai Mara or Serengeti, and sunsets that will leave you breathless, Caprivi is unmatched in its wildlife offerings.
Chobe Water Villas offers boat cruises, game drives, as well as nature and village walks on top of a host of other activities, all designed to get guests as immersed in the bush and water wilderness as possible. The indescribable sensation one feels when immersed in this region can only really be communicated by walking on the land and breathing in the air. It is Africa at its most untamed. And it is spectacular.