Welcome to the “Louvre of the Desert”, without queues, but full of elephants
Human-wildlife conflict is a hot topic in Botswana and it would be wrong of me and you to visit the area on holiday without considering the realities of life with elephants on your doorstep. How would you feel if a herd wandered through your garden one evening, devoured your vegetable patch, then knocked down a few fences on the way out? For subsistence farmers, an entire year’s worth of work could be sucked up in minutes.
With funding from Chobe Game Lodge and public donations from around the world, the NGO Elephants Without Borders has helped more than 80 local farmers mitigate the risks posed by the species. Heavily subsidized fences, solar-powered strobe lights and 9,000-volt electric cords deter elephants from a property while giving businesses the confidence to invest and thrive.
“Since we secured the perimeter of my farm in 2020, I’ve gone from 2,000 to 20,000 plants a year,” said Ben Mogotsi, owner of Ben’s Farm, a smallholding and agritourism business nearby. “I also offer accommodation at the other end of the spectrum. My cabins are $35 (£28) per night and game drives are $12 (£9.50).”
A simple electric fence allowed Ben to diversify his traditional crops like maize and sorghum into cabbage, plantain, tomatoes and eggplant. He now employs eight people and sells his produce to supermarkets and safari camps across Botswana. His farm also has a rooftop bar overlooking a wildlife corridor frequently used by elephants.
“Most guests who come here say it’s an authentic, natural place,” Ben said. “Nothing is staged and people can walk around the village, to the clinic, to see how people really live. They see something different than in high-end lodges.
Traveling off the beaten path has been much more difficult in recent years, but now that the world is opening up again, I can’t wait to get back to remote and isolated places. Places that shock and surprise. Destinations that may go unnoticed by the masses.
And that’s why I braved three bumpy flights, in planes not much bigger than family sedans, to visit Botswana’s remote northwest. Most safari holidays focus on the Okavango Delta overlooking the river and the ‘beggar’ that feeds it. Intrepid travelers will, however, discover a land of 12-foot crocodiles and hippo-infested waters.
“If you fancy a swim, be our guest,” joked Kehutsitswe Gabaikanye, camp manager of Desert and Delta Safaris’ newest acquisition, Nxamaseri Island Lodge. “As long as you know it will be your last.”
Regulars return to the secluded thatched-roof asshole, with a plunge pool and hearty meals, for exceptional birdwatching and world-class tiger fishing. At least, I am told. This writer caught lots of papyrus reeds, but few fish.
Nearby is Tsodilo Hills, a Unesco World Heritage Site that rises out of the bush with the startling grandeur of an African Uluru. Described by some as “the Louvre of the desert”, more than 4,500 cave paintings are spread over an area of just 3.8 square miles.