9 March 2020|Namibia, Top Tips, Travel Inspirations
When I decided in 2019 that I was going to return to Namibia, I knew that there were two things that were absolutely key. The first was that I wanted to do this trip as a self-drive, as I absolutely love the freedom that comes from travelling your own route on your own time. The second criteria was that I wanted to visit the Caprivi Strip.
I have visited Namibia a couple of time previously, but I have never made it to this part of the country because it doesn’t feature on many small group itineraries, which is how I often travel. However, this time I realised that an organised self-drive also means that your budget goes significantly further. We travelled as a group of four and were able to stay in some beautiful accommodations, that would not have been possible on our budget on a private-guided trip. It was incredibly easy to self-drive, we had a robust and comfortable vehicle and the directions really are incredibly straightforward. Theres usually only one road to take! What attracted me to the Caprivi Strip is its complete contrast to the rest of Namibia. It is beautiful and lush green throughout, and water is a key feature. The strip runs through adjacent to Botswana, Angola and Zambia and in a number of lodges you can be staying in Namibia whilst your room overlooks land in another country – which is awesome!
We only had 4 nights along the Caprivi Strip as we went there after completing the more usual Namibia self-drive route into the south and then up to Etosha. The first thing I will say is that this was simply not enough time. My advice is to spend at least a week in the Caprivi region, as you will want to spend 2-3 nights each in a couple of different lodges on route to really get a chance to enjoy the relaxed surroundings.
After we left our lodge in Etosha (the exquisite (Onguma The Fort) we opted to drive straight to our accommodation in Divindu. I still laugh at the memory of typing the instructions into the Sat Nav and after an hour or so of driving being greeted with a cheery tech voice declaring ‘Keep Driving Straight for 284 miles, then turn left’. Needless to say this really is quite a monotonous day, and we did it purely so that we could stay 2 nights at our Divindu accommodation instead of having to do a series of one night lodge stays. I do recommend just getting your head down and doing a long day of driving in order to spend more time at the destination, because the route is clearly incredibly straight forward! However, if you would prefer not to do long journeys there are a number of accommodation options in Rundu, about 3.5 hours from Etosha. The Kavango River Lodge is a clean, basic lodge with a pool offering great value rooms. It provides spectacular views over the Okavango River and the floodplains of Southern Angola.
We opted to stay at Ngepi Camp for our stop in and around Divundu. The lodge is situated in a picture perfect location on the upper reaches of the Okavango Delta panhandle. There are a number of accommodation options including rustic treehouses built right on the rivers edge, family bush huts tucked away with their own private garden, and an award winning campsite renowned for its funky ablutions! We stayed in the treehouses, and the sight of sunrise from the comfort of our beds is something we will never forget. Beautiful pinks, reds and oranges adorned the sky offering the most spectacular sight to wake-up to, all accompanied by the recognisable grunts from the local hippos.
The front of the treehouses are a retractable heavy duty canvas with bamboo canes, so we actually slept with the front completely open, offering full views of the river at sunrise. Yes – there are a lot of tiny flies and mosquitos around. However, we slept completely enclosed under the included circular mosquito net, and didn’t have any issues at all, and I am someone who attracts mosquitos A LOT! The one thing to note in these treehouses, is that whilst there is an en-suite attached you have to walk outside the bedroom and along what I guess could be described as a narrow balcony to get to it. Not a problem at all in the day. However, at night there is no power so you will need a torch, not least because there is a drop straight down from the narrow ‘balcony’ into the river, and there is no barrier on the balcony to stop you just accidently walking off the edge! I would stay at this lovely lodge again in a heartbeat – but you do need to be aware of this, particularly if you are someone who gets up frequently in the night.
Ngepi is an incredibly friendly camp with an energetic bar and a fabulous riverside dining space, where everyone with dinner included eats the same meal each night. There is also an extensive breakfast menu, that can be enjoyed ‘anytime’. We were not brave enough to try out the ‘pool’, which is basically a cordoned off area of the river, but it is good to know there is somewhere to cool off – if needed.
We did two trips during our stay at Ngepi, which I recommend. The first was the river cruise – which was just an incredibly relaxing couple of hours looking for wildlife along the picturesque banks, whilst chilling out on the basic but incredibly smooth tender boat. The second trip was a morning game drive into Bwabwata National Park. This was one of the most unique safari drives I have done. The park was occupied by the South African Defence Force during Namibia War of Independence and therefore there are lots of abandoned military building scattered around, where the animals now freely roam. Also, the park is known as the ‘People’s Park’ because not only is it home to many big game animals, there are also around 5500 people living within the park. As Bwabwata is the key migration route for African elephants travelling from Southern Angola into Chobe there is a good chance of seeing a family herd during your visit, and we saw plenty! As well as it’s unique features the reason that I particularly enjoyed Bwabwata is that it is just incredibly quiet. We only saw one other vehicle during our game drive and this is because we both stopped at the same ‘coffee spot’ overlooking hundreds of different birds near to a big water pool. My favourite spot on our drive though had to be the trio of Sable. Despite doing hundreds of game drives I have only seen this stunning species of antelope on rare occasions, so this was a real treat.
If you are looking for a more luxurious property in Divundu then you should definitely consider Divava Okavango Lodge and Spa. This property also has an enviable position on the banks of the Okavango river, but the chalets are bigger and more luxurious, with air-conditioning, a bath and an outdoor (and indoor) shower. You can also spend some time rejuvenating at their on-site spa and generally just chilling out in beautiful surroundings, with the sounds and smells of nature all around.
From Divundu we travelled on through Bwabwata National Park on the main (tarmac) road through to Kongola where we stayed at Camp Kwando. This camp again offers a wide range of accommodation options from basic camping through to Luxury Chalets. The site is fairly big, but it doesn’t feel crowded at all, and each accommodation type is well separated out. We stayed in one of the luxury chalets in a riverfront location, and we looked straight into Botswana from our balcony. The chalets are huge with a large en-suite bathroom, but it is their location that is most impressive. We sat watching elephants coming for a drink in the river, and a buffalo actually taking a swim up the okavango – all from our balcony. The chalets are positioned so that you get a clear view of sunset from your room, or if you prefer you can head to the well stocked bar and firepit area to enjoy the colourful close of day with other guests.
Camp Kwando employs a high percentage of people from the local village, and the service was absolutely exceptional. The meals were of a high quality, and they are great at catering to a variety of diets……even if you are just ‘No Salad’! I particularly enjoyed the short show put on by the team, with African singing and dancing just before dessert, as it was a friendly and non-imposing end to another great day.
From Camp Kwando we drove a couple of hours to Katima Muilo to drop off our rented vehicle, as this is the main hub to do this in this area of Namibia. We then arranged for a private transfer to take us into Victoria Falls, where we spent 3 nights. This was incredible straightforward, and not as expensive as expected. We did have to do 2 border crossings as the route into Zimbabwe is via Botswana. However, we were quite fortunate, as we got through both borders incredibly quickly – even our driver was surprised at the efficiency that day. Unfortunately, please be advised this is not the norm!
Katimo Muilo is only a short distance from Kazungula, affectionately known as four country point, because it is the border area where Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia all come together. This means that there are plenty of options available in terms of continuing your tour. A lot of people choose to spend a few days in Chobe, before heading into Victoria Falls. Other people go to Chobe and then continue their travels deeper into Botswana, perhaps circling back to Windhoek. You can also head over into Zambia. If you are heading to Botswana you can keep your vehicle and continue self-driving. This unfortunately isn’t an (easy) option for Zimbabwe or Zambia.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time along the Caprivi Strip and I am so glad that we included it into our self-drive itinerary, and didn’t just head back to Windhoek. As I said at the start my only regret is that we didn’t spend enough time here – as it is really is just lovely. However, this just means I am already planning my next trip…..which also includes Epupa Falls, Skeleton Coast and possibly Hoanib!