When the SWM team excitedly made plans to start working with Ker & Downey Botswana way back in March 2020 we hadn’t quite realised what was in store…
So began 16 months of working with Fran and her incredible team via Zoom. Working with a client prior to seeing the product was a new challenge for us and with a camp rebuild underway we got to work understanding the ins and outs of this heritage and widely beloved brand.
Needless to say when in November 2021 the SWM team had the opportunity to head to Botswana for a whirlwind tour of the camps we jumped at the chance!
Following our flight from London viaJohannesburg we landed in Maun and found ourselves being funnelled into a testing centre for Botswana’s mandatory Rapid Covid Test on arrival which is provided free of charge and provides your result within around 20 minutes (this is as well as as PCR tests within 72 hours required for entry). Once 3 relieved women received a negative result, we met Fran for the first time since our contract started!
A 30-minute hop with Safari Air was the perfect scenic introduction to Botswana flying over the flat open plains and the winding waterways.
A warm welcome at Kanana was exactly what us weary travellers needed and the views from camp made all the tests and forms totally worth it. The rooms at Kanana were upgraded in 2019 and the whole camp has a warm contemporary feel with lots of classic touches. A stay at Kanana involves water-based activities year-round, including taking a boat (or mokoro)to the breath-taking heronry. One of the largest and most active in southern Africa, the Kanana heronry plays host to a huge number of species and would be complete heaven to any birder, with the bonus of being situated in Kanana’s private concession so the experience is totally exclusive.
We chose to remain firmly in our luxurious beds at camp for our first night in Botswana, though had we had another night at Kanana we would have absolutely chosen to make use of the camp’s sleep-out experience. The deck is elevated looking out across an open plain, a view which at sunrise would be exceptional.
Following another 30-minute flight we arrived at Xakanaxa airstrip in the Moremi Game Reserve. The reserve clearly contrasts the private concessions, with more camps around you are likely to see a few more vehicles, however this does nothing to distract from the huge amount of game here - the area has been protected since 1960’s and therefore has been a haven for wildlife since this time. Proving this was the pack of wild dog we saw a mere 5 minutes from the airstrip… quite the welcome!
Okuti is the epitome of what to expect in the Okavango Delta year-round, with a permanent channel directly in front of the main area. It was a the Okuti jetty where we had one of the closest hippo encounters we will hopefully ever have. He was a very relaxed male napping under one of the boats and one which our guide Baams assured us is about as friendly as hippos get – even still we kept our distance and used to Zoom on our cameras to get closer!
Okuti has high water throughout the year due to being situated on the permanent Mauna chira channel, making for some incredible boating experiences… sunset over the Xakanaxalagoon is truly one to behold.
This rustic adventure camp, is situated in the Shinde reserve around an hour drive from the airstrip. On arrival we began our drive only to come across a beautifully set up bush lunch along the way…
Footsteps is a small camp of just 3 tents (x1 family) and has a real back to nature feel to it and is right by the water all year round. The focus here is on walking, so we were excited to get out on foot with our specialist walking guide Noah in the afternoon. Noah was a fountain of knowledge and we learned so much about animal tracks and spoor as well as the smaller yet all important aspects of the bush. Our walk ended at one of our favourite spots on the trip… the Footsteps bush bar!
On our one-hour drive from Footsteps to Shinde we stopped at the Shinde airstrip for one of the most memorable experiences we may ever have... a scenic helicopter flip over the concession with Helicopter Horizons. We flew over elephants and huge herds of buffalo then dipped low along the waterways and with the doors off, the views were uninhibited and spectacular.
All completely blown away by our experience we made our way to Shinde for lunch. Completely rebuilt in 2020, Shinde is surely Ker & Downey Botswana’s most iconic camp and has been in this location for over 20 years. The new camp perfectly draws on its surrounds with the main area across multiple levels amongst the trees and overlooking the water in front of camp.
Our first activity at Shinde was happily curtailed by the arrival of one young bull elephant in camp, instead of leaving we followed him as he made his way around looking for seed pods. In the end we were sat on the main deck silently watching him in complete awe and disbelief at being so close.
With high water levels at Shinde guests can enjoy water-based activities including Mokoros year-round, so we took the opportunity to experience this traditional way of travelling while here. The cool morning air and the quiet calm of the water made for an almost meditative experience.
Following PCR tests at the Shinde airstrip(a sad realisation that our trip was almost over), we boarded our flight to our final stop, Dinaka.
Throughout the 50-minute flight from Shinde, we watched the scenery change as we headed south towards the CentralKalahari. Dinaka is situated in a private conservancy bordering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the desert landscape provides a beautiful contrast to the rich wetlands of the Delta.
A haven for photographers, Dinaka has both a hide as well as an underground photographer bunker, there is also a permanent water hole overlooked by the camp where after dinner we watched a giraffe comedown to drink.
Dinaka’s sleep out deck provides incredible360 views of the landscape, so far you can almost see the curvature of the earth and sunset from this vantage was breath-taking.
Finally, we embarked on an interesting cultural exchange with Dinaka’s San Bushmen guides. Almost like a walking safari we were shown the bush from yet another completely unique perspective…our guide Voter showed us the many ways the San people live off the land and survive in the harsh desert climate here. The walk was so interactive and Voter had us hanging onto every word as he gave insights passed down from generations.
An all too short week, into which we packed so many wonderful experiences, had to come to an end at some point and we had the privilege of meeting the incredible teams behind KDB along the way. Between the helicopter flips, sundowner spots and wildlife encounters were the smiling faces and contagious passion of all the staff who are what truly make for an unforgettable experience.
We came away from our “fast-forward safari”with even more passion for the Ker & Downey Botswana brand and look forward to continuing to spread the message far and wide…