It was only about 7 miles or so from Kasane Airport (BBK) to the Chobe Game Lodge (CGL) which is of course inside Chobe National Park. Superficially CGL was the same as when I last visited it in 2008. The interior part of the lodge including the reception, bar/lounge, verandah and restaurant also remained very much the same as in previous years.
There have been some significant changes though and all of the rooms – some had already been completed – are slated for far-reaching modifications including remodeling and enlargement of the bathrooms.
Something which I noticed on arrival – for a late lunch – was the addition of an 800-meter long raised walkway which hugs the edge of the Chobe River and which makes the most of the fantastic views over the water and grassy plains beyond.
The walkway has several nooks where private dinners or other activities can be conducted and it is large enough – at the eastern-most point – to host an outdoor dinner for the entire camp.
There are plans to extend the western portion of the boardwalk as well, all the way to the current boat jetty. Great idea!
Another relatively new addition is a large outdoor dining/boma venue, with oversize umbrella stands capable of providing shade for 30+ people if required.
The pool at CGL is still in an ideal semi-shaded spot, blending into the natural scenery. Once again I did not have time to use it…
From a previous visit to CGL, I recalled the wide choice and nice presentation of food dishes. If anything the food selection and choice was even better this time around. Invariably there were multiple choices of starters, main course and desserts for dinner and lunch, and an array of hot and cold items for breakfast. Coffee lovers take note: CGL has an espresso machine which produces some fantastic coffee!
In summer, morning game drives at CGL start early – at 0530A – which requires a wake-up call as early as 0430A to 0500A – depending on how quickly you can get ready. Most guests show up at the restaurant at just after 0500A for a cup of coffee or tea and a rusk or freshly baked muffin.
Then it is off on a game drive of about 3 hours duration under the capable stewardship of one of CGL’s all-female guides. The very early departure has two main benefits: you get to enjoy the cool morning temperatures before it starts to get really hot around 1000A, and you mostly beat the crowd by being able to enjoy game viewing west of CGL for a good amount of time – as much as 2 hours – before other vehicles & day trippers from Kasane start to show up.
My first two outings at CGL – a boat trip on the day of arrival and a game drive the following morning – were quite slow. No elephants were seen and other than some hippo in the Chobe River, the only large mammals we saw were a good group of about 50 buffaloes. Plus hundreds of impala and all of their babies.
By the time a family of three Americans including their Peace Corps volunteer daughter joined us on the afternoon game drive on December 15 we were starting to get a bit anxious. Would they see something on their first ever game drive in Africa? Where were the elephants? There was no reason to be worried.
We were hardly out of camp when we started to see the first of what ended up bring dozens if not quite hundreds of elephants.
Some were coming back from the Chobe River and other were on their way there – at one stage we saw two large breeding herds cross paths while a third – smaller – group was observing from nearby.
It didn’t stop with elephants. We also saw giraffe (many!), kudu, buffalo, and enjoyed a long-awaited sighting of a handsome pride of Chobe lions. There were about 7 or 8 individuals altogether, one young male on one side of the road and a group of about 6 females all lying more or less on top of one another.
We watched them for quite a while, with two sisters entertaining us with some playful jostling and display of affection.
Back in camp I had a rare chance to get some exercise, spending 30 minutes on the treadmill. A lot of ‘damage’ to repair once I get back to the USA…
My stay at Chobe Game Lodge was concluded with a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the property’s green iniatives which are significant and laudable. They are very serious about recycling everything from plastic and paper right down to glass bottles which gets crushed and mixed into bricks – in fact as much as 95% of all of the lodge’s trash is sorted and recycled. CGL has a very effective grey water recycling program and it also generates a substantial amount of bio-gas on the property.
CGL is moving forward on other fronts as well: the lodge is now operating the first all-electric game drive vehicle in Botswana as well as an electric pontoon boat. Additional game drive vehicles are slated to be converted to all-electric configuration soon. As I can attest from personal experience, it is a novel and exciting experience to approach the wildlife on the electrically operated car as there is no noise to scare them off or make them apprehensive. Even the tiny impala babies, normally very skittish around regular game drive vehicles, let us approach very close on the quiet car. Cleary it will improve the game-viewing experience as the guide is able to hear ‘clues’ like alarm calls which might otherwise be drowned out by the noise of the engine. There is nothing wrong with the vehicle’s ability to get into and out of ‘real’ 4-wheel terrain either!
In conclusion – I’ve always been a Chobe Game Lodge ‘fan’ and my most recent experience there just underscored the many positives of staying there. It is the only lodge inside the Chobe National Park and it has an ideal location right on the Chobe River. Yes there are some restrictions being inside the reserve (no off-roading and no night drives) and at times there can be too many vehicles in one area or at one sighting. But these issues can be managed (for example with an early game drive start) and there is a very good road network so it is really not critical to be able to drive off-road. In a park environment like this it will cause chaos and ruin the place in no time.
The main reason to visit Chobe Game Lodge is to enjoy its proximity to the water and to take advantage of the much greater degree of exclusivity which you can get on a boat cruise on the river, as opposed to a game drive. Being on the river is a fantastic safari experience and lends itself to some of the best wildlife photographs of all, with animals inside or on the edge of the water, and a nice green backdrop to boot. A couple of nights at Chobe Game Lodge will improve almost any Botswana itinerary. Just don’t go there thinking it will be like spending time in a small tented safari camp. Quite the opposite: CGL is a hotel in the bush but a very special one with superb atmosphere, game galore, a very long list of things to do, great for kids and just flat-out fun and entertaining.
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