Namibia’s immense desert landscapes form a dramatic contrast to the watery wilderness of Botswana’s amazing Okavango Delta. As well as spellbinding scenic grandeur, Namibia offers exotic wildlife like the desert-adapted lion, while the Okavango teems with every kind of mammal and bird species, including the continent’s greatest concentration of big cats. Namibia is often regarded as a country suitable for a second or third safari, but if you are likely to make only a single trip to Southern Africa, there is a plausible case for the itinerary below being the one you should choose. However, if it is out-and-out luxury you seek, then South Africa — and specifically the Sabi Sand Game Reserve — should be your preferred destination.
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Arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa, and transfer to The Saxon in the suburb of Sandhurst. This superb boutique hotel is set within a tranquil walled enclave that was once the home of a leading South African businessman. It is also where Nelson Mandela wrote his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The terrace next to the huge horizon pool provides an ideal place to relax after the tiring trans-Atlantic flight.
Transfer to the airport for the two-hour flight to Maun, Botswana, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. From Maun it is 45 minutes by light aircraft to Jao Camp, a spacious and secluded property of nine tented suites, each with an indoor and outdoor shower and its own relaxation sala. The camp offers two plunge pools and a small gym. In the late afternoon, go for a game drive on one of the nearby islands, where lions, leopards and other large species are frequently sighted.
An early-morning game drive is followed by brunch. During the day, relax by the pool or spend time bird-watching. The Okavango is an ornithologist’s paradise, and Jao Camp in particular is famous for the quantity of its birdlife. In the afternoon, take an extended tour through the surrounding lagoons either by makoro (dugout canoe) or flat-bottomed metal boat. Few places in the delta offer such reliably excellent game viewing from the water.
After breakfast, take a short flight by light aircraft to Abu Camp, set on a 445,000-acre private concession and part-owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The six elegant and individually decorated accommodations are among the most comfortable and stylish in the Okavango. On an evening game drive, you might expect to see lions, elephants and buffalo; leopard sightings are also frequent. Abu Camp is known for the sophistication of its food and wine, and meals are often taken beneath the stars on a spectacular outdoor deck.
Abu is renowned for its herd of trained African elephants. (The camp also reintroduces formerly captive elephants to the wild.) Guests either ride through the bush on the backs of elephants, or walk with the herd, accompanied by handlers and armed guides. Other wildlife is reassured by the elephants’ presence, and it is possible to approach on foot much closer than would normally be the case. Those who wish may sleep outdoors on a “star bed,” located directly above the elephant enclosure.
Return to Maun by light aircraft and fly by scheduled service to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. From there, another light aircraft transfers you to Wolwedans Boulders Safari Camp in the vast NamibRand Nature Reserve, a flight of about an hour. The camp comprises four exceptionally stylish and comfortable tented suites, all of which afford spectacular desert and mountain views. On an evening game drive, you can expect to see oryxes and other desert-adapted species such as zebras and giraffes.
Before dawn, drive to a nearby launching site for a spectacular flight by hot air balloon over the immense red sand dunes. As the sun rises, the landscape glows with an unforgettable intensity. At the end of the flight, enjoy breakfast outdoors in the desert. When the heat of the day has subsided, go for a desert hike that concludes on a rocky ridge, a perfect spot for an evening sundowner.
From Boulders Camp, drive to the stables at the main administrative “village” at Wolwedans. From there, make a three- to four-hour excursion into the desert on horseback. Experienced riders can undertake longer, more demanding trips if they wish. (Horseback riding is only available during the cooler months from April to October.) Enjoy an outdoor picnic lunch amid the astonishing landscape.
Return to Windhoek by light aircraft and proceed to Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp in northern Namibia, a total journey time of about four hours. Located close to the dry bed of the Hoanib River, the camp consists of seven large tents and one two-bedroom family unit, with electricity supplied by solar panels. Despite the harsh and arid landscape, there is a surprising abundance of desert-adapted wildlife, including elephants and numerous antelope species.
After breakfast, go in search of desert-adapted lions, which have been fitted with satellite-tracking collars, making sightings highly possible. These magnificent animals are still seriously endangered, but their numbers have increased thanks to the work of South African scientist Dr. Flip Stander. In the late afternoon, take a two-hour guided safari walk from the camp. Being on foot in the silence and immensity of the desert is an utterly memorable experience.
Leave after breakfast on a full-day excursion to the Skeleton Coast, a drive by Land Cruiser of about four hours. The dirt road proceeds from the floodplain of the Hoanib River to the dune sea, a landscape of immense shifting sand dunes, at the center of which lies an extraordinary oasis. On the wild Atlantic coast, you will find hundreds of flamingos as well as large colonies of Cape fur seals. Have lunch on the beach next to the breaking surf. A flight back to the camp takes just 15 minutes.
Transfer by light aircraft from Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp to Little Ongava, situated on a private concession adjacent to the huge Etosha National Park. Set on a hilltop with panoramic views across the plains, the lodge has just three luxurious villas with private plunge pools. Both the 125-square-mile Ongava private reserve and Etosha National Park contain a full range of big-game species, including lions, leopards, cheetahs and elephants.
Ongava provides a sanctuary for chronically endangered black rhinos and white rhinos, and guests have the opportunity to track these enormous animals on foot, accompanied by an experienced safari guide. After lunch, relax beside the pool or on your private deck.
After a morning game drive to a water hole in Etosha National Park, a scene of constant activity, return to the lodge for brunch. Fly to Windhoek by light aircraft and then transfer to a scheduled service to Johannesburg (two hours), where you connect with your trans-Atlantic flight back to the United States.
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