Botswana Safari

Kyle Jones

I wrote a post on my website ( with some thoughts on getting to Botswana, equipment, camping, etc. I'm reproducing it here, but I'd love it if you visited my site and subscribed too!

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Heading for Botswana
I originally made plans to go on my first African safari in the summer of 2020 with two friends. They had both been to Africa before and had decided that Botswana was the place we should go. I was fine with that and we made our reservations for a 12 day safari starting at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and ending up at Maun in Botswana. Doing some research, I learned that Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, healthy populations of lions and leopards, and is home to the Okavango Delta – one of the world’s largest inland deltas and a very biodiverse habitat. Even better, the country is safe, sparsely populated, and doesn’t draw the safari crowds commonly seen in other African nations.

We decided on a camping safari (more on that below) to stay close to the wildlife while also keeping costs down. We booked with Savanna Safaris and Tours who are based in Botswana. Our itinerary included stops at Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park, the Savuti, the Khwai Community area, and the Moremi Game Reserve. Of course 2020 ended up being an interesting year, resulting in several reschedules and a few changes in plans. Our tour company was completely supportive and flexible throughout and we made our trip starting at the end of June in 2022.

We flew from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia (a last minute cancellation from British Airways forced us to the other side of the Zambezi River to start our trip). The return trip would be from Maun, Botswana to Johannesburg and then back the way we came. The long-distance flights were on Lufthansa and the shorter flights within Africa were on Airlink and Air Botswana. I’ll cover gear below, but except for the checked bags nobody weighed our luggage. This was good, because my camera bag probably weighed twice the posted limit. My photo gear is in a backpack and during check-in and boarding I keep it on my back and it has always been ignored.

Contents of my Camera Bag

Camera Gear
Look into any photography forum and you will find people asking for gear recommendations. This is especially true for African Safaris where you have the opportunity for once-in-a-lifetime shots and are limited in how much you can bring. I was happy with how things worked out, so I would likely bring the same equipment if I were to go again. My backpack is an F-Stop Tilopa which is a 50L bag and allows for different size inserts depending on the gear you need to carry. For this trip I used an XL insert which provided just enough room for my largest lens. My camera gear included:

  • (2) Canon EOS R5 Camera Bodies
  • Canon EF-RF Control Ring Adapter
  • Canon EF 500 f/4L Mk1 Lens
  • Canon RF 100-500 f/4.5-7.1L Lens
  • Canon RF 24-105 f/4L Lens
  • Canon RF 16 f/2.8 Lens
  • Canon EF 1.4x MkIII Extender
  • Don Zeck C8 Lens Cap for the Canon 500mm
  • LensCoat thsmdc TravelHood
  • LensCoat LensSack
  • Leofoto LS-284C-LH-30 Tripod
  • FEISOL CM-1471 Carbon Fiber Rapid Monopod
  • ProMediaGear Tomahawk Gimbal Attachment for Ball Heads
For most of the trip, I had the 500mm lens with the extender mounted on one camera body (giving me an effective 700mm f/5.6 setup) and the 100-500mm zoom on the other body. This allowed me the ability to quickly switch between far away or small subjects with the long lens and closer subjects with the zoom without having to mess with equipment. The Canon 500mm lens is quite large and heavy. I reduced some of the bulk by leaving the hard lens hood and leather cover at home, opting instead for a Don Zeck lens cap and soft LensCoat hood. You will see them in some of the pictures below. I brought a small tripod for landscape and night shots and a monopod for supporting the big lens. I filled the LensSack with beans from a local market as a soft support for my lens while in the safari vehicle.

Buying Beans in Livingstone


Path to Victoria Falls Waterfront Rooms

While primarily a camping safari, we spent single nights indoors in Livingstone, Chobe, Khwai and Maun during our trip. Our lodging in Zambia was at the Victoria Falls Waterfront in Livingstone. It is right on the Zambezi River a few miles upstream of the falls. The rooms were fine, although one needed a more thorough cleaning, the food was good and the staff was friendly. I particularly enjoyed eating breakfast on the deck and watching the river in the morning. Most rooms we stayed in are at least partially open to the outside – creating opportunities for insects and spiders to become roommates for the night. Mosquito netting over the beds keeps them from getting too close.

Deck at the Victoria Falls Waterfront

Our next night was at the Mwandi View along the Chobe river. These were essentially elevated tents within a wooden structure. They had a main lodge where meals were served and another nice deck to enjoy the morning view. Electric fences helped to keep hippos at bay…

Elevated Tents at the Mwandi View

In Khwai we stayed at the African Excursions Guest House. At this point we had just camped three days in the Savuti so it was nice to have some running water, electricity, and internet access. The rooms were clean, the food was good and the staff friendly. We enjoyed spending an evening with them around a camp fire.

African Excursions Guest House Entrance

Rooms at the Guest House

Of course, on a camping safari our primary lodging was tents. These were set up and maintained by our safari company, who traveled with a camp manager, a chef, and others to take care of our needs. There was no electricity or running water, but we really didn’t miss them. They set up two tents for the three of us in each campsite. The tents had enough space for two beds, a table with supplies (flashlights, water, bug spray, etc.), and a separate enclosed (but open to the sky) bathroom area.

I really had little idea what to expect from camping in Africa. Would there be fences and guards to make sure we stayed safe? It turns out the answer is “no”. For the most part, wildlife doesn’t want anything to do with humans. We did have a couple of animals come through the camp: two jackals one night that I easily scared off and a honey badger stole some of our food another night. On several occasions elephants wandered by, but they completely ignored us. Through this I never felt unsafe, although I did make a point not to wander around in the dark.

Tent in Moremi

These are the tents that were provided for us on this trip. The main section has room for two beds, luggage and a table. An extra, open at the top, section in the back had our bathroom area with shower and toilet. The container in the front was filled with warm water by the staff a couple of times each day for washing.

Inside the Tent

Back of Tent with Shower Ready

When we wanted a shower, the staff would fill the canvas shower bucket with warm water and raise it with a rope. It actually worked very well, although it took a while to get used to showering outdoors. For the toilet, the staff dug a hole and then installed the toilet over it as shown below. A bucket of dirt was provided to cover your business. It actually all worked very well, and I felt as clean and safe as I did in the lodges.

Bathroom Area

The staff had a separate tent for cooking and also provided a large tent for us to eat our lunch and dinner. We started each morning with a light breakfast before our first game drive, with fresh baked bread, coffee, tea, cereals, yogurt and juices. When we returned, a lunch was served with a main course, salads, cheese and meat plate, eggs to order, and of course more fresh bread. Dinner was a three course meal with an appetizer, main course with meat, potatoes and vegetables, and a dessert. Drinks (water, soda, beer, wine, liquor) were available throughout the day and they went out of their way to make sure they covered any special preferences or dietary needs we had.

Dining Tent and Staff

Ready for Dinner

One of the best parts of each day was relaxing by the campfire and chatting while waiting for dinner. I was impressed how our group, with people raised on four different continents, had so much in common in our life experiences. It was a great chance both to learn about each other as well as about Botswana and Southern Africa in general.

Relaxing by the campfire

Brunch Plate with Goat Stew and Macaroni and Cheese

Main Course with Kudu Steaks in Pepper Sauce, Potatoes and Vegetable

Our primary safari vehicle was a Toyota Land Cruiser driven by our guide Prince Wright. Prince was tremendous. He is a Botswana native (grew up in the Kalahari) and has a lot of experience guiding photographers, most of which have been French. He had a tremendous ability to get us in the right place at the right time for excellent pictures. His tracking and wildlife experience combined with his knowledge of the culture and history of the area and his wry sense of humor helped make this trip truly special.

The Safari Land Cruiser in Moremi

The vehicle is completely open, providing clear views in all directions. All of the safari vehicles we saw on this trip had a similar layout. At times this left us feeling very exposed, as several animals including lions and elephants came very close to us. We took turns in the various seats, with the back seat being the bumpiest. The vehicle had a refrigerator stocked with drinks for the day and an inverter that we made good use of to charge our camera batteries and phones. As the camp itself had no electricity, this was extremely helpful.

We took two river cruises during this trip, one on the Chobe River and one in the Okavango. These allowed us closer views of birds and crocodiles along with different perspectives of other wildlife. Having just three of us, we had plenty of space for our camera gear and were able to move around depending on where we saw something interesting.

Chobe River Boat

Our final mode of transportation was the traditional mokoro – or at least partially traditional as they are now made out of fiberglass rather than being carved from a tree. I was surprised how peaceful it was. We were on calm water and the propulsion is provided by a person standing in the stern and pushing with a pole. We didn’t see much wildlife, but it was a relaxing experience.

Photographing from the Mokoro
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Very cool experience - thanks for sharing the story. Was the vehicle inverter sufficient to keep your camera batteries charged? Not sure how far I would be willing to hike with the lenses your guys were carrying - they do look a bit on the heavy side.

Kyle Jones

Very cool experience - thanks for sharing the story. Was the vehicle inverter sufficient to keep your camera batteries charged? Not sure how far I would be willing to hike with the lenses your guys were carrying - they do look a bit on the heavy side.
The inverter worked great. I plugged in a bulk USB hub and we were able to keep everything charged. Not knowing what the charging situation would be I brought a pretty heavy charging brick just in case. I used it some at night but it wasn't really needed.

There was no hiking involved, so the only time I had to really carry all that glass was in the airports.


Well-Known Member
Great write-up, Kyle. You've posted some really great shots from your trip. Sounds like a great trip.
When I was in Kenya (Masai Mara), we were out looking for lions one day, finding only 3, while there were 6 in our camp for several hours! We had Masai warriors as our escorts going from tents to dining tent & back. Hippos were at the river some 40' below. African buffalo also came through our camp.

Kyle Jones

Part 2 with a lot more pictures is now available here:

Here is an excerpt (I can't include the whole thing due to the number of pictures)

Botswana Safari Part 2: Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park, Botswana

I started my safari at Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia. In addition to being one of the world’s natural wonders, Victoria Falls is located near the conjunction of four African countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana making it a logical place to start or end visits to these nations. We were met at the airport in Zambia by our local guide, who brought us to our hotel in Livingstone to drop off our things ands get ready to visit the falls. The hotel is on the shore of the Zambezi River with a view of Zimbabwe on the other bank. Looking downstream, we could see the mist rising from Victoria Falls a few miles away.

Zambezi River Looking Toward Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls can be visited from either Zambia or Zimbabwe, and there are visas available that allow visitors to cover both sides. We decided to just visit from the Zambia side, in part driven by being tired from the three flights that were necessary to get there. Our guide brought us to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (“The Smoke Which Thunders”), we paid our entrance fee, and we started just upstream of the waterfall.

Brink of Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls pours into a gorge that runs perpendicular to the flow of the river, providing a viewing area just across that gorge from the waterfall. Depending on the wind, though, that viewing area can be completely soaked by the mist from the falls.

Soaking the Viewing Area, Zambia

My best luck photographing the falls was from the Eastern edge of the waterfall, which was clear of mist that day. I spent some time photographing both the wider scene as well as details showing the power of the waterfall.

Victoria Falls Portrait, Zambia

Victoria Falls Landscape, Zambia

Victoria Falls Flow, Zambia

Victoria Falls Details, Zambia

The mist provided a great source of droplets for creating rainbows too. The challenge was keeping the camera and lens dry enough to actually capture them. I have a plastic cover for my camera and I composed and focused with it in place. I would then pull it back and quickly snap the shutter. Then I could cover my camera again, clean the lens, and repeat.

Victoria Falls Rainbows, Zambia

Looking downstream we could see the bridge across the gorge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. This provides a good indication of the depth of the waterfall. Bungee jumping and other activities are available on the bridge.

Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia

The next morning our Zambia guide picked us up from our hotel and took us to the Botswana border crossing. The crossing was empty when we arrived and they did a brief health screening, stamped our passports, and we met a Botswana driver to take us on the next stage of our journey. We were taken to a lodge on the Chobe River in the town of Kasane for a river cruise in Chobe National Park. As we started down the river, we passed several lodges but didn’t see any animals. It didn’t take long, though, once the lodges were behind us to find herds of elephants and hippos, many birds, crocodiles, and buffalo. Seeing them from the low vantage point of the water was a very different experience than we would have in our safari vehicle later.

The following photos were captured during the river cruise and shown in the order taken.

White-Fronted Bee-Eater, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Cormorant, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Monitor Lizard, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Kudu, Chobe National Park, Botswana


Great write up and some wonderful images from your trip. The link to your website is worth the click to see the additional images from your river cruise. Outstanding imagery.
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