The traditional African safari is a whirlwind of back-to-back stays at different camps, but often it pays to ease your pace.
When you’re on safari in Africa—with its unpredictable, untouched landscapes—it’s only natural to want to take full advantage of every minute. That’s why over-packed schedules are the norm, especially for first timers, who tend to hop from camp to camp every two or three nights. But travelers looking for a deeper experience should consider making fewer stops, staying longer at each place.
“If a traveler moves camp every two nights, they are spending up to 50 percent of their time driving and often flying long distances to the next destination,” says Nick Bay, the Seattle-based founder of Your Private Africa, which creates custom-designed safari itineraries. “Long stays at certain safari camps are fantastic, especially for the experienced Africa traveler who isn’t rushing to see the big five, but is able to sit back and let the safari transpire as it’s meant to.”
Botswana is an ideal destination for four-, five-, or even seven-night camp stays, adds Bay. The country’s diverse terrain, which ranges from sandy deserts to delta waterways, affords visitors a wide variety of activities: game drives, bush walks with local tribes, boat and mokoro canoe excursions, helicopter and hot-air balloon flights, and horseback rides. Some places might even cut you a deal during the off-peak “green season,” (November through April), when it’s common to see incentives such as seven nights for the price of five.
On my recent trip to Botswana, slower travel offered me an intimate look at the country’s people and landscapes. At the recently rebuilt Duba Plains Camp, one of the remotest retreats in the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta, I followed the majestic Tsaro lion pride at an unhurried pace as it stalked and killed a warthog. In between wildlife sightings, I got to know my Botswana-born guide, KB, who shared insights with me on everything from the country’s political landscape to the symbiotic relationship between the nation’s San bush people and their land. One afternoon, I even skipped a game drive so I could relax in my lavish tent, outfitted with a copper-lined soaking tub and rough-hewn doors from Zanzibar. The safari’s generous time frame erased any fear that I was missing out.
A few days later, at Jack’s Camp in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi salt pans, I allowed myself extra time to explore the otherworldly desertscape from multiple vantage points. I rode on horseback, passing wildebeests who stopped in their tracks to stare back at me quizzically; saw herds of game from a doorless helicopter; interacted with the resident meerkats (one of which crawled onto my shoulder to scan for predators); and took a foraging walk with a group of San bushmen.
I had plenty of time left over to enjoy my magical tent, which felt like a time warp back to 1940’s-era safaris, with its Persian rugs, hand-carved mahogany furnishings, and sienna-hued muslin walls. A nocturnal desert breeze, the flickering light of kerosene lanterns, and the roar of lions nearby made me feel like I was caught up in a vivid dream long before I fell asleep—a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth savoring. —Duba Plains Camp from $1,650 per person per night; Jack’s Camp from $1,290.