Botswana game drives exudes an authentic safari feeling

Anyone who goes on a classic safari tour spends hours in the car. You never know what you’ll encounter. Game drives can really increase the excitement or end in disappointment. It’s a ‘game’ for a reason. We took on the challenge in Botswana, looking for big cats. Game on! 

Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof  


The sun is gradually setting in Botswana. Thank goodness, because it’s almost forty degrees. And that before the end of the rainy season, at the beginning of March. The grass is high, already a bit yellow in many places. It has not rained much in Botswana. However, the many low shrubs and the riparian forest landscape provide shade. The ever-emerging swampy Linyanti River, the many small floodplains and water pools on the edge of the immense Chobe National Park, form the common thread in this colorful and vast landscape.

Waiting on the savannah

The Landcruiser follows the dusty, unpaved path. We are silent, peering into the bush. Cameras at the ready, binoculars in hand. In search of hidden game. “A good game drive mainly consists of waiting. Further looking for and recognizing traces and good teamwork,” whispers our guide Andy. “And luck is perhaps the most important factor,” he adds with a chuckle. 


Elephant group

It’s quiet; the predators still seem to sleep. There are no footprints or feces anywhere to point us in the right direction. We are looking for big cats: lions, leopards or cheetahs. Here and there a small group of impalas and zebras gracefully jumps past. And then suddenly a large group of elephants appears about ten meters from the car. They walk past us in dozens at a time. A number of females are protecting their calves and trumpeting menacingly. The sound vibrates through my body and the adrenaline rises. I have been on safari several times, but have never seen such a large family up close before.

Hunting in Botswana

These elephants do not receive many daily visitors. And it’s a good thing they are on their guard, because unfortunately the government in Botswana has allowed the hunting of pachyderms again since May 2019. This has to do with the enormous elephant population in the country and the complex human versus wildlife issue (Read HERE more about). Fortunately, the Linyanti Concession is a well-protected area in Botswana, overseen by Wilderness Safaris and its Wilderness Wildlife TrustWilderness Safaris is a major tour operator in Southern Africa and only has its own concessions. The organization has been around for almost 40 years and presents excellent eco-safaris in the high segment.

Linyanti, Botswana remote reserve

The famous Chobe National Park is located on the northwest side of Botswana. Adjacent to this is Linyanti, a remote reserve . Linyanti is a natural paradise of approximately 125,000 hectares. Driving around in the jeep, it becomes clear how rich this area is in diverse small game. There is always movement. I’m getting used to the many elephants, and yet they always intrigue me with their idiosyncratic behavior. They splash and spray copious amounts of water over each other with their trunks, as if they were showering together. The gray skins like to swim between a bed of white water lilies in the swamps and Linyanti River, which shimmers in the rising scorching heat.

silent leopard

Galant and agile impalas spread out in small groups in the high reeds while jumping. They too seek shelter and refreshment, unaware that a crocodile may be lurking. Or a leopard, because this sneaky cat can sneak silently around shallow water. We didn’t spot that leopard today. It is one of the shyest felines and lives solitary, therefore also difficult to find. Tomorrow we will make another attempt. 

“Hmmmm…I see all kinds of things, but no traces of cats”


It is morning in Botswana and we leave at dusk. “A new day, new opportunities,” says Andy cheerfully. He babbles something into the walkie-talkie and while we are eating our breakfast, he drives quietly towards the savannah. “In addition to our car, there are two other vehicles active,” he says. “We keep in touch with each other when someone sees something, so that we can quickly reach the location.” Andy is looking forward to it.

After half an hour of driving, he stops and looks at the ground, looking for tracks. “Hmmmm…I see all kinds of things, but no signs of cats.” Fifteen minutes later there is a sound from the walkie-talkie. Andy talks quickly in a local language. He hangs up and turns the car. “The other group found a leopard; it is near here.” I jump on the couch with excitement.


Okavango Delta Wilderness

We continue to the southeast of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, to Qorokwe. This is a camp located near the vast Moremi Game Reserve lies. From the air, the area of roughly 15,000 km2, filled with canals, lagoons, swamps, reed beds and islets, looks spectacular. There are no asphalt roads anywhere, no electricity poles, no light pollution. Nothing but wilderness, with earthy colors alternating. I feel very insignificant in this great country. But also happy: that I can enjoy this geological wonder.

Expansive plain

The end of the afternoon is approaching. With our new guide Alan, we look for lions. Everywhere we encounter elephants, giraffes, antelopes, birds and monkeys. The lions are nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, Alan tells all about the landscape, about the trees that are having a hard time because of the many elephants. They are eaten bare and pushed over.

Then we reach a vast plain. Buffaloes and impalas walk in the distance. An ideal place for a lion to go hunting. We wait a while, but nothing happens. Alan drives on. Because Wilderness has its own concessions, the guides are allowed to drive off-road here. That increases the chance of finding cats and rhinos. But no matter how many laps we drive, we don’t find any lions. Alan also follows the trail of a rhino for a while in vain. And the African wild dog has not been spotted in the park for two weeks. The endangered dogs can travel up to sixty kilometers in a day, so that is like looking for a needle in a haystack. So no luck today.

Lazy lions

The next game drive starts early again. Because it is already quite warm in Botswana, Alan drives to a clearing bordering a large pond. Once again we don’t find any lions here, but we do find dozens of birds and elephants looking to cool off among the hippos. We could watch this peaceful scene for hours, but since the lions aren’t around here, we move on.

While Alan drives quietly, I hear him talking on the walkie-talkie. “Have the lions been spotted?” I ask hopefully. “And as I ask, the guide says, laughing: “Look straight in front of you, under that bush.” I immediately start beaming. There are two young lions puffing in the shade. They’re brothers. Hidden behind their backs, their dear sister is snoring. It soon turns out that the entire family (nine cats in total) is scattered under the bushes.

A little further on, two mothers and their one and a half year old sons are dozing in the grass. One of the lionesses appears to be a sleeping beauty, with her head resting gracefully on her forelimb. Cats sleep an average of 18 to 20 hours a day, so it is not surprising that there is little action. 

More big cats

At the end of the day we see even more lions! This time it is two adult males who have beautiful dark and long manes. These boys are also lazy and suffer from the heat. Yet there is a lion that walks right past our jeep. We can almost touch him. The male seems barely aware of our presence; all he sees and hears is the car and the clicking of the cameras. 


Vumbura plains in Okavango delta

It’s time to leave Qorokwete and fly to the crazy area of Vumbura Plains, north of the Okavango Delta. The Vumbura concession covers an area of 60,000 hectares, and I find it even more varied than the previous parks. Marshes, small islands with palm trees, vast savannas, acacia forests and seasonal flood plains alternate. No wonder there is so much wildlife here.

Scan for wild

We set our sights on finding cheetahs and looking for wild dogs. However, the dogs have not been spotted in the area for a few days and have moved south. Lettie is our new friendly guide. Here too, the Wilderness guides work well together during game drives. They scan the area with three cars. During the first afternoon trip, Lettie spots lions. Because the cheetahs are nowhere to be seen, we change our plan. That’s also part of a good game drive.


Kubo lion group

Lettie hangs his nose above the unpaved path every few minutes. He recognizes by the size of the legs whether we are following a male or female. It is the Kubo group, the guide tells us. This is a group with only lionesses and their young. “I see here that they crossed the road, probably to go drinking.”

We zigzag through the bush. It is difficult to search in the dense and high bushes. The car approaches a clearing. Now it gets confusing. “Look at the prints. Do you see that all the tracks are mixed up, as if they were unsure where to go,” Lettie says thoughtfully. But there is no sign of the lions, so Lettie drives back to the road. Unfortunately. Just then a message is received: the others have spotted the group a little further away. However, the lionesses and their offspring are well hidden under the dense undergrowth. We wait a while, but there is little movement.

Het schichtige cheeta jong volgt zijn moeder op de voet.

Cheetah female

A voice echoes through the walkie-talkie again. Lettie answers excitedly and turns to us with a big smile: “By chance, a female cheetah was seen with a number of cubs! Lettie tells us along the way that his colleague in the other car wanted to drive to the buffalos that we had spotted earlier that morning. When they were close, they saw a cheetah in a hesitant hunting stance. And rightly so, because you don’t just attack a buffalo. She probably had her heart set on a calf, but it was too well protected by the herd.

Three boys

She has now retreated into the bushes. Ten minutes later Lettie drives off road through the bush. I still find it inconceivable how the man always manages to find his way without getting lost. In the distance we see the other jeep. Lettie looks pleasantly surprised when we find the cheetah mother. “Wow! I know this woman. She hadn’t been spotted in a while. She has apparently been busy, because we are now seeing her three cubs for the first time. So that’s a boost for me too,” he says, laughing. Her cubs are only a few months old.

Keep your distance

The mother keeps a close eye on us, but is relaxed. The boy does not know the car yet. They look around a bit nervously and when their mother starts moving, they nervously trot behind her. Lettie reacts immediately whenever the animals move into high gear. He turns the car at an appropriate distance so that we can see them clearly. We stay with the cheetahs for more than half an hour and say goodbye when the four fall asleep under a tree.

Buffet lunch in wilderness

After this crazy morning, another fairytale surprise awaits us: in the middle of nature, Wilderness has set a table where a delicious lunch buffet full of salads, soups, meat and fruit awaits us and other guests.

These brothers are inseparable. Only during the bronze age do they not come near each other.

Close lion brothers

The end of our trip through Botswana is approaching. The last game drive arrives. And it will be memorable too. Even now we encounter lions. This time it is four brothers. In consultation with Lettie we decide to take our time and stay with the lions. One male keeps an eye on things. The other three lie unashamedly lazily next to each other. They crossed their legs cutely. “These guys are very close. They hunt and eat together,” Lettie whispers. He continues: “They are three years old now. Only when they mate do they withdraw and possibly become dominant towards each other.”

Crying song

Meanwhile, the sun starts to burn and the lions start moving. Together they stroll to a pool to drink water. Three of the four then flopped into the shady tall grass. But one male continues walking. He marks his territory by spraying near a tree and calls with a kind of howling song to the females we saw earlier. “The lionesses don’t let him come near, because with the cubs there is a chance that he will want to kill them. Maybe that’s why he sounds so pathetic, he probably already knows it’s pointless,” Lettie jokes.

While we watch the lions for a while, I take stock. What a diversity of animals and landscapes we have seen in Botswana! And in less than six days we haven’t achieved a crazy score with this classic safari. Mission accomplished! 

Read also 7 Game Drive tips


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