Written by Melanie van Zyl
Doctors can now prescribe nature as medicine. I think deep down, we all know nature heals, but CNN made it official. “Long walks, bird-watching and making daisy chains are being prescribed by doctors to patients in Scotland’s Shetland Islands as part of treatments for chronic illnesses”, the news agency reported last year. These ‘nature prescriptions’ are said to treat a range of afflictions, including high blood pressure and depression.
Forbes also named wellness travel as one of four megatrends that will define travel this year. “I don’t think wellness is a fad, but rather it’s a change in society, and what society now expects,” said Andrew Gibson, co-founder of the Wellness Tourism Association.
Whether you want health and wellness in the way of total nature immersion, active adventures or utter relaxation, Botswana’s plethora of wilderness retreats are bound to soothe.
Usually undertaken by vehicle in many parts of Africa, a typical safari simply gets better the closer to nature you can get. The Okavango Delta is well-known for its iconic canoe, the traditional mokoro, which is silently steered through the exceptional waters of this hydrous heaven offering the chance to get intimate with elephants. However, the lack of confines afforded by walking makes walking in Botswana an ideal wilderness retreat.
“Lion tracks”, my guide, Amos, whispered, pointing out their pad marks in Botswana’s characteristically soft Kalahari sand. “Do you mind if we follow them?”, he asked tentatively. Totally islanded by the waters of the Okavango Delta, driving is not possible here at Hot Air Ballooning in Botswana. Instead, we got to walk these extraordinary wilds. Moremi Game Reserve and Chiefs Island are world-famous for their abundance of animals, and that’s where Amos spotted those feline footmarks after poling us across the Boro River.
Not only is walking this wilderness an incredible adventure, but the act of ambling is also wellness in action. Sure, we got close to zebra and buffalo, red lechwe and giraffe, hippos and elephants, even a python too (from a safe distance). However, the rhythm of walking made me more mindful and helped to get in tune with the natural world. Step by step, one is forced to listen out for the harrumphs, coughs and maybe even growls of the creatures that abound out here. Meditation, but with laces tied. A totally off-the-grid lodge, with no cellular signal or Wi-Fi to distract from the natural bounties of the Okavango Delta, walking also reinforced the many benefits of digital detox – reset, reconnect and re-acquaint yourself.
Want an even more active wilderness retreat? What about a Botswana horseback safari adventure? Or get close to the waters of the Okavango on a canoe safari through Selinda Reserve’s Selinda Spillway. Otherwise, Okavango Delta also offers the unusual opportunity to walk with elephants if you’re after a more guaranteed wildlife opportunity.
The Okavango Delta is so sprawling a mass it can be seen from outer space. The Makgadikgadi Pans network is equally enormous, but it could not be more opposite in disposition. Characterised by cracked and parched earth, these dramatically dry plains play host to some more unusual delights. The zebra migration, scraggly-haired brown hyenas, marvelous meerkats and so much space.
San Camp is perched on the edge of a wide, white salt pan and embraces the wide-open space of this curious countryside. Marvel at the serenity of silence with a yoga practice in the dedicated yoga tent and pool pavilion. There’s no better landscape in which to empty your mind and focus your centre than in the infinite nothingness of the Makgadikgadi.
For something a little more conventional, the &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge has a gym for keeping up healthy habits while out in the wilderness.