You'll be able to see elephant from camp at Sable Alley. © Natural Selection

Botswana | Pans, Oasis, Delta & Skybeds | 9 Nights Makgadikgadi Pans, Kubu Island & Okavango Delta

Although the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Pans are not far apart by light aircraft, visiting both on the same luxury Botswana safari feels like touching down on two separate planets, so great is the contrast between them. Consistency is provided by the excellent accommodation at Jack’s Camp, Sable Alley and Skybeds.

  • The limitless and (at first glance) featureless expanses of the Makgadikgadi Pans juxtaposes wonderfully with the mosaic of wet and dry habitats, rich in wildlife, in the Okavango Delta.
  • Opportunities to see Makgadikgadi zebra migration (seasonal), meet the meerkats of the Kalahari, enjoy San cultural experiences, go on a quad-biking adventure, drift in a mokoro in the Okavango Delta and go on safari in the Okavango Delta.
  • Glamorous tents at Jack’s Camp with an authentic yesteryear vibe and undeniable elegance, exciting fly-camping at Kubu Island, classic safari tents on raised platforms partially ringing a productive lagoon at Sable Alley, and three-storey treehouses with open-air bedrooms and stupendous views at Skybeds. For more information, see Jack’s Camp, quad-biking at Kubu Island, Sable Alley and Skybeds respectively.

Two nights at Jack’s Camp

Departing Maun less than an hour after arriving from Johannesburg, we found ourselves suddenly in a much smaller plane, and we knew we were on safari.Jack’s Camp appeared before us like a mirage, and it truly was an oasis in an otherwise slightly daunting (and yet wildly liberating) landscape. Standing on the deck of our tent, beneath the shade of a towering palm tree, we were struck by the apparent emptiness all around us. Our guide, however, soon showed us how wrong we were on a guided walking safari that opened our eyes and our hearts to this incredible place. As the sun set, we swam lengths in the unique tented pool, in honour of the mighty lake that had once lapped against the Makgadikgadi shores.The summer rains, which briefly transform the pans into a shallow spectre of this prehistoric lagoon and prompt an annual zebra migration, had long since evaporated, so went in search of smaller quarry. As part of a research project, a colony of meerkat have been gradually habituated and proved to enjoy our antics just as much as we did theirs. We arrived at their burrows as they emerged for the day, facing the sun to warm their small bodies while anxiously scanning the cloudless skies for eagles. Batteries recharged, it was time for a crunchy breakfast of scorpion, which we politely declined.

Departing Maun less than an hour after arriving from Johannesburg, we found ourselves suddenly in a much smaller plane, and we knew we were on safari.

Jack’s Camp appeared before us like a mirage, and it truly was an oasis in an otherwise slightly daunting (and yet wildly liberating) landscape. Standing on the deck of our tent, beneath the shade of a towering palm tree, we were struck by the apparent emptiness all around us. Our guide, however, soon showed us how wrong we were on a guided walking safari that opened our eyes and our hearts to this incredible place. As the sun set, we swam lengths in the unique tented pool, in honour of the mighty lake that had once lapped against the Makgadikgadi shores.

The summer rains, which briefly transform the pans into a shallow spectre of this prehistoric lagoon and prompt an annual zebra migration, had long since evaporated, so went in search of smaller quarry. As part of a research project, a colony of meerkat have been gradually habituated and proved to enjoy our antics just as much as we did theirs. We arrived at their burrows as they emerged for the day, facing the sun to warm their small bodies while anxiously scanning the cloudless skies for eagles. Batteries recharged, it was time for a crunchy breakfast of scorpion, which we politely declined.

Two nights quad biking at Kubu Island

Before we embarked for the mystical Kubu Island on our quad-biking adventure, we wanted to learn a little more about the culture of the San who have lived in this area for millennia. We’d heard that they were superb survivalists, but we hadn’t anticipated the delight they took in singing and pranking each other – and us. After our San cultural experience, we soon mastered riding quad bikes and followed our guide around the rim of the pan with our kikois fluttering in the breeze. The sun was sinking as we arrived, so our first view of Kubu Island was of gnarled baobabs silhouetted against golden light.I’d been determined to stay awake for shooting stars but woke what seemed like mere moments later to the pale light of dawn. Lying on my surprisingly comfortable bedroll, with no tent to impede my view, I took in the odd beauty of the jumbled boulders, stonework and corpulent trees that made up this sacred place. It was one of the strangest and most soulful places we’d ever been, and there was a very mystical feel to it. The drying up of the ancient lake had left this anomalous island behind, to be discovered and held sacred by the San. I did a better job of stargazing on our second evening.

Before we embarked for the mystical Kubu Island on our quad-biking adventure, we wanted to learn a little more about the culture of the San who have lived in this area for millennia. We’d heard that they were superb survivalists, but we hadn’t anticipated the delight they took in singing and pranking each other – and us. After our San cultural experience, we soon mastered riding quad bikes and followed our guide around the rim of the pan with our kikois fluttering in the breeze. The sun was sinking as we arrived, so our first view of Kubu Island was of gnarled baobabs silhouetted against golden light.

I’d been determined to stay awake for shooting stars but woke what seemed like mere moments later to the pale light of dawn. Lying on my surprisingly comfortable bedroll, with no tent to impede my view, I took in the odd beauty of the jumbled boulders, stonework and corpulent trees that made up this sacred place. It was one of the strangest and most soulful places we’d ever been, and there was a very mystical feel to it. The drying up of the ancient lake had left this anomalous island behind, to be discovered and held sacred by the San. I did a better job of stargazing on our second evening.

One night at Jack’s Camp

The return quad-bike trip to Jack’s Camp took us on a different route. At one point we followed a long line of mokolwane palms, and our guide explained that this marked an old elephant highway, each seed having been planted with its own supply of fertiliser. We found it impossible to walk past the tea tent and claimed a cushion each as we reclined like pashas on oriental rugs to enjoy high tea. This segued into refreshing G&Ts before a wonderful dinner in the mess tent where we reminisced about all things four-wheeled and four-legged.

The return quad-bike trip to Jack’s Camp took us on a different route. At one point we followed a long line of mokolwane palms, and our guide explained that this marked an old elephant highway, each seed having been planted with its own supply of fertiliser. We found it impossible to walk past the tea tent and claimed a cushion each as we reclined like pashas on oriental rugs to enjoy high tea. This segued into refreshing G&Ts before a wonderful dinner in the mess tent where we reminisced about all things four-wheeled and four-legged.

Four nights at Sable Alley & Skybeds

Like visitors down the ages, we felt as though we’d left something of ourselves behind in the pans – all the more reason to return, we agreed, as our light aircraft’s shadow accompanied us back to Maun.The scenery changed markedly as we left Maun again, heading out over the channels, islands and floodplains of the Okavango Delta. Our first game drive started as we left the airstrip for Sable Alley – the guide had seen a leopard on a kill earlier that morning and was confident it would still be there. We peered up into the sausage tree and there, panting in the shade of the foliage, lay the leopard, one paw resting possessively on its prey. Taking our cue from this spotted cat, we spent a relaxing afternoon in camp, watching the comings and goings in the lagoon.Much like the delta itself, our next day was divided equally between water and land. We spent the morning drifting silently in a mokoro (a dugout canoe propelled smoothly by a poler standing behind us). Brushing through long stems, we admired jewel-like painted reed frogs and virginal white daylilies. The afternoon was reserved for going on safari in the Okavango Delta, and we were privileged to witness an amazing interaction between hyena and three kinds of vultures, all squabbling over the pickings from the leopard’s table.Our afternoon game drive on our third day at Sable Alley had an extra purpose – to deliver us to Skybeds. We were delayed en route by a herd of elephant, but complaining was the last thing on our minds as we watched them enjoy a mud bath. The accommodation at Skybeds consists of three three-storey towers, with phenomenal views from the unroofed bedroom on the top floor, including being able to look down on drinking animals at a busy waterhole. After dinner around the fire, we climbed our stairway to the heavens, and drifted off to sleep as though back in our mokoro.Dawn found us sitting up in bed, watching the early morning ‘rush-hour traffic’ as nocturnal animals headed home, and diurnal ones stretched, yawned and began their day. The campfire had been stirred into life, and we descended to enjoy coffee and rusks before embarking on a long, slow drive back to Sable Alley. The highlight was spotting an aardvark – our guide told us that it was most unusual to see one in daylight, and that it was a bad omen. This superstition was proved wrong, however, as our exciting afternoon safari was all about wild dog – another species we’d not seen before.Following one last blissful evening being serenaded by frogs, we packed up our safari memories and flew into Maun once more, this time headed for home.

Like visitors down the ages, we felt as though we’d left something of ourselves behind in the pans – all the more reason to return, we agreed, as our light aircraft’s shadow accompanied us back to Maun.

The scenery changed markedly as we left Maun again, heading out over the channels, islands and floodplains of the Okavango Delta. Our first game drive started as we left the airstrip for Sable Alley – the guide had seen a leopard on a kill earlier that morning and was confident it would still be there. We peered up into the sausage tree and there, panting in the shade of the foliage, lay the leopard, one paw resting possessively on its prey. Taking our cue from this spotted cat, we spent a relaxing afternoon in camp, watching the comings and goings in the lagoon.

Much like the delta itself, our next day was divided equally between water and land. We spent the morning drifting silently in a mokoro (a dugout canoe propelled smoothly by a poler standing behind us). Brushing through long stems, we admired jewel-like painted reed frogs and virginal white daylilies. The afternoon was reserved for going on safari in the Okavango Delta, and we were privileged to witness an amazing interaction between hyena and three kinds of vultures, all squabbling over the pickings from the leopard’s table.

Our afternoon game drive on our third day at Sable Alley had an extra purpose – to deliver us to Skybeds. We were delayed en route by a herd of elephant, but complaining was the last thing on our minds as we watched them enjoy a mud bath. The accommodation at Skybeds consists of three three-storey towers, with phenomenal views from the unroofed bedroom on the top floor, including being able to look down on drinking animals at a busy waterhole. After dinner around the fire, we climbed our stairway to the heavens, and drifted off to sleep as though back in our mokoro.

Dawn found us sitting up in bed, watching the early morning ‘rush-hour traffic’ as nocturnal animals headed home, and diurnal ones stretched, yawned and began their day. The campfire had been stirred into life, and we descended to enjoy coffee and rusks before embarking on a long, slow drive back to Sable Alley. The highlight was spotting an aardvark – our guide told us that it was most unusual to see one in daylight, and that it was a bad omen. This superstition was proved wrong, however, as our exciting afternoon safari was all about wild dog – another species we’d not seen before.

Following one last blissful evening being serenaded by frogs, we packed up our safari memories and flew into Maun once more, this time headed for home.

What sets it apart

Our luxury Botswana safari may not have had four seasons in one day (instead, we enjoyed balmy days and refreshingly cool nights throughout) but did allow us to explore two worlds in a week or so.Without the pre-flight geography lessons from the excellent light-aircraft pilots, and the human warmth of the welcomes at each of the three luxury safari lodges we stayed at, we might’ve suspected that we’d completed an interplanetary voyage.While the soft beauty of the Okavango Delta could have been the Garden of Eden, the Makgadikgadi Pans had an otherworldly appearance that would have served them well had they been called upon to stand in as a science fiction film set.The unfamiliarity of this flat, glittering landscape only heightened our sense of amazement, and the excitement we felt at exploring somewhere completely new to us. While even our untrained senses could hardly fail to spot animals in the lagoons and on the islands at Sable Alley or drinking at the waterfall overlooked by Skybeds, on the pans we had to work that little bit harder.However, we were soon able to discern a stone arrowhead here, or a trail of scorpion footprints there as we adjusted to a location that was incomparably larger, and simultaneously richer in tiny details, than any we’d visited before. From the natural history masterclass that was the Okavango to the lessons in the history of our own species on the pans, this safari was a study in contrasts, and a delight.

Our luxury Botswana safari may not have had four seasons in one day (instead, we enjoyed balmy days and refreshingly cool nights throughout) but did allow us to explore two worlds in a week or so.

Without the pre-flight geography lessons from the excellent light-aircraft pilots, and the human warmth of the welcomes at each of the three luxury safari lodges we stayed at, we might’ve suspected that we’d completed an interplanetary voyage.

While the soft beauty of the Okavango Delta could have been the Garden of Eden, the Makgadikgadi Pans had an otherworldly appearance that would have served them well had they been called upon to stand in as a science fiction film set.

The unfamiliarity of this flat, glittering landscape only heightened our sense of amazement, and the excitement we felt at exploring somewhere completely new to us. While even our untrained senses could hardly fail to spot animals in the lagoons and on the islands at Sable Alley or drinking at the waterfall overlooked by Skybeds, on the pans we had to work that little bit harder.

However, we were soon able to discern a stone arrowhead here, or a trail of scorpion footprints there as we adjusted to a location that was incomparably larger, and simultaneously richer in tiny details, than any we’d visited before. From the natural history masterclass that was the Okavango to the lessons in the history of our own species on the pans, this safari was a study in contrasts, and a delight.

DAY 1–2

Recline on luxurious cushions and enjoy high tea at Jack's Camp. © Natural Selection

You’ll be met as you disembark from your international flight at Maun Airport in Maun, and assisted through customs and immigration. After a scheduled light-aircraft flight to the Makgadikgadi, you’ll take a transfer to Jack’s Camp, where you’ll spend two nights.

DAY 3–4

Sleep under the stars on quad-biking adventures to Kubu Island. © Natural Selection

You’ll take a quad-bike safari from Jack’s Camp to Kubu Island, where you’ll camp for two nights.

DAY 5

You can go quad biking from both Jack's Camp and San Camp. © Uncharted Africa

You’ll take a quad-bike safari from Kubu Island to Jack’s Camp, where you’ll spend the night.

DAY 6–7

Don't miss the mokoro rides from Sable Alley. © Natural Selection

After a transfer from Jack’s Camp to the airstrip, you’ll take a light-aircraft flight to Maun, and another to the Okavango Delta. A transfer will take you to Sable Alley, where you’ll spend two nights.

DAY 8

Watch wildlife from your platform at Skybeds. © Natural Selection

A transfer will take you from Sable Alley to Skybeds, where you’ll spend the night.

DAY 9

Sable Alley has an inviting swimming pool. © Natural Selection

A transfer will take you from Skybeds to Sable Alley, where you’ll spend the night.

DAY 10

You'll have exciting game drives from Sable Alley. © Natural Selection

After a transfer from Sable Alley to the airstrip, you’ll take a light-aircraft flight to Maun, to connect with your international flight.

  • Our safaris are tailor-made to match your personal safari dream, taking into account when you’d like to travel, how long you’d like to be away for, who you’d be travelling with, what safari lodge style you’d prefer, and more.
  • This luxury safari trip idea is simply to show you what’s possible. To see what this type of safari costs, and what’s generally included, click hereFor a general overview of African safari prices, you can click through to our blog.
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