After 9 weeks away, we made our triumphant return to Botswana! I can’t express the relief I felt when passing over the border. We had made it through the majority of the remote spots and were now back in our comfort zone and within range of help/supplies if needed. And we still had a lot of amazing wildlife to look forward to!
Our first stop in Botswana was Elephant Sands Lodge. We have been hearing people rave about this lodge forever so we couldn’t wait to get there. I had been conjuring up images of rustic tents scattered among sandy dunes and shrubs where elephants roamed freely against a fiery sunset – quite romanticized. The reality was much different. It looked like any typical lodge with a large thatched roof central boma, a pool, and a deck that overlooked a waterhole. There were raised chalets that made a circle around the waterhole. Then campsites flanked the edges of the camp.
As we drove into camp, we saw a family of 12 elephants, including a baby, drinking from a pool of water along the road. We didn’t spend much time watching them because we assumed there would be plenty of elephants in the camp. From what we were told there could be up to 100 elephants in the camp in a single day. But the season makes a huge difference. We visited in May, when there was still plenty of water so the elephants didn’t need to come to the waterhole in camp to drink.
We actually only saw one elephant that come into camp! Right at dusk he approached the edge of the campsite ablution block where a large overland group had their bus parked. These “overlanders” were not used to seeing elephants – so they were terrified! We thought it was hilarious and downright hysteric when they all got down on their hands and knees and started crawling. They must have been taught to do this around elephants by their tour guide – I’ve never seen anything like it! Two members of the group that were approaching from the main lodge (like 100 feet away) started crawling to get back to the camp. It was quite a sight – even more interesting to us than the elephant! It made no sense to me because if an animal is angry and going to attack you the best thing you can do it stand up tall and act large.
I approached the elephant at a safe distance and they all thought I was crazy walking towards it. But I knew the elephants in this area are all incredibly habituated because they have been coming through the camp and seeing people for years. I would not be so stupid as to walk up to the elephant in a threatening way, but I was not afraid to approach at a safe distance especially because I had the concrete wall of the ablution block in between us. The elephant seemed a bit skittish but slowly he approached and walked all the way through camp. He walked right past our tent and car….which made us incredibly nervous because Garrett had left his laptop sitting out on a table. The elephant could easily have walked through and knocked it over!
I was shocked that this was the only elephant we saw at Elephant Sands! A few came through at night but we couldn’t really see them. We are really curious to see what it is like in camp during the summer when hundreds of elephants come through. It would be a beautiful sight but also really nerve racking, especially when camping. You have to be really careful what food you leave out, where you walk, and what you are doing at all times with that many elephants around. Although docile appearing, elephants can be really unpredictable and cause a lot of damage.
Even with no elephants, I would probably still recommend staying here for a night. For one, there really isn’t any other place to camp in this area to unless you drive onward to Nata. Also it is an interesting experience, they have decent wifi (you have to buy vouchers) and a fun atmosphere. If you want to drive further before stopping for the night, I would recommend the Nata Lodge and checking out the bird sanctuary in that area.