We moved on from Khwai to Chobe National Park which is a vast protected area that covers most of northeast Botswana. Chobe is subdivided into several reserves which can make it confusing to figure out where you should visit. Savuti is one of the more popular subsections that is very well known for predators.
The road from Khwai was decent until we entered the Madabe section of Chobe and were faced with what seemed like an endless deep sand track. The sand had been blown to form a continuous pattern of undulating hills on the road for the whole 100km to the Savuti gate. This would have been only mildly irritating in a normal 4WD….however at this point, we had blown through a second set of shocks so this uneven terrain was a nightmare for Boomie. It felt like we were on a 4 hour mechanical bull ride! The one good thing about the drive was that two roan antelope jumped out in front of us along the way. This was our first sighting of a live roan (we’ve seen lion feeding on them in Hwange National Park!).
Camp Savuti is run by the SKL company which has a reputation for being one of the best operators in northern Botswana. We stayed in campsite 6 which is a little more secluded and has good options for shade. Campsite 1-4 and Paradise sit along what used to be the Savuti channel. However, this area has been totally dry for the last couple years. If the channel starts flowing again these would be the best sites.
Camp Savuti has a nice ablution block with hot water and powerful showers that is surrounded by a large fortress-like brick wall. The original Savuti camp got destroyed by thirsty elephants during a drought a few years ago so everything has been made totally elephant proof in the new camp.
Adjacent to the campsites, SKL also offers an upscale tented camp. However, from the looks of it, I didn’t think it seemed worth the 400pp/night cost. Desert and Delta also has a lodge nearby. I would also have a hard time paying their 800+pp/night rates. As self drivers, we were getting to see the same wildlife for a fraction of the cost.
Because we had such a nice time in Khwai, I wasn’t sure Savuti would be able to impress us. But we were still blown away and so pleased that it lived up to its reputation for cats. On our first drive, a leopard magically appear in front of our car. He paused and just stared at us for a few moments. It was incredible. We were so dumbfounded, we could hardly get our act together to take a picture! There was also a nice African wild cat on that drive – always a favorite of mine.
The next morning we got up pre-dawn and headed out to check on a waterhole. As is often the case on safari….the urge to go to the bathroom comes at the worst times. I begged Garrett to stop and jumped out to go to the bathroom as quick as I could (yes we live like savages!). It hadn’t even been 30 seconds when Garrett yelled “GET IN”….I ignored him at first. Then he added – “LEOPARD!!!!”
AHHHH! I jumped back in with my pants down and couldn’t believe what I saw. A gorgeous leopard was casually strolling by in front of our car. There were a group of impala nearby so we thought for sure he would make a lunge at them. But of course a flock of annoying birds swooped down out of nowhere and start shouting alarm calls. They warned all the animals in the area so the impalas were now on guard. One of the impala even walked 3 feet from where the leopard was hiding but, still the leopard didn’t make a move! For how vicious leopards can be…they are really wimpy whenever their cover gets blown. When the impala started snorting, the leopard skulked away. Bummer. Thankfully, he did chose to walk along a track which allowed us to follow him for another 10 minutes. Score!
We had fun watching this lilac breasted roller catch a rather large beetle. He struggled for about 10 minutes trying to figure out the best way to gulp it down. He stuffed himself to the max and could hardly fly after!
For an evening drive, we headed out to Quarry Hill and then over to Cave Hill. The road we took was so overgrown it seemed no one had driven it in months. Thick bushes on both sides made it difficult to see. We noticed a large herd of elephants crossing the road ahead so we slowed down and inched toward them. One of the younger males seemed to be quite annoyed with us. He put his trunk in the air and started walking our way. Typically elephants back down if you stay still and keep your distance. But this guy was pissed, he continued to flap his ear and move faster our way. Crap. We could only move at about 10 km/hour due to the heavy bush and deep sand road. If he chose to really charge us there wouldn’t be much we could do to get away. Thank goodness he finally stopped! We had to wait about 20 minutes until we could move on because there was a continuous stream of elephants crossing the path and we didn’t want to risk pissing anyone else off!
The landscape of Savuti is stunning and wild. Open grasslands are studded with rocky cliffs (called kopjes) and a mix of mopane thickets, marshland, pans, and a river that periodically runs through the area. It is a rather small area that is pretty densely packed with wildlife which makes it an amazing place to safari. You don’t have to work that hard to see predators. There are at least 30 lions in the area and tons of leopards. Savuti is most famous for being home to a pride of lions that hunts down elephants. We weren’t lucky enough to see this, but we did find the carcass of an elephant that had been taken down by lions. There were also dazzling herds of zebra in the area that are part of the large zebra migration in northern Botswana which follows the rains each year.
On our last morning drive we were treated to a great viewing of two honey badgers and another african wild cat. We also met a lovely couple with a defender who were doing an overland trip but in the opposite direction. This was great because we could trade stories and they had some great tips for Namibia which we had yet to plan for! It was also fun to share stories of the trials and tribulations of our defenders. They had bought their defender about a week before their trip and had no prior experience with them. They basically had no idea what they were doing. It made us feel better that they had also busted a a pair of shocks and run into quite a bit of car trouble.
Thankfully the sand ridge road up from Savuti to Kasane was in better shape than the portion that brought us in from Khwai. However it was still just a really long drive and we were sad to leave Savuti. It sits at the top of my list for safari locations we have visited. On our next visit to Botswana, we will most certainly be spending more time here!