Chobe Marina Lodge, situated right on the Chobe River bank by the little town of Kasane, lies just a few kilometres from the gate of Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. Here, you can expect to see elephant, buffalo, hippo and birds, even lions and leopards if you’re lucky.
Chobe Marina Lodge is a big lodge, part of the aha Hotels & Lodges group, it’s a well-oiled machine catering for everyone from solo travellers to large groups. The main area has décor touches like intricate carved front doors, an ostrich egg chandelier and a mokoro cut in half to be used as a shelf to display pots and wooden masks.
Wooden decks on different levels overlook the river where you can watch boats come and go, from speedy ones to chugging larger barges, all enjoying the wildlife of Chobe and sunset over the river. There’s a rim-flow pool and the rooms are scattered through lush gardens of candlepod, leadwood and mopane trees where you might see wildlife like warthog, squirrel and mongoose.
Our room had a patio overlooking the river, a four-poster bed and sliding louvres between bedroom and bathroom – a nice touch that allowed us to choose the desired level of intimacy.
The activity centre in the reception lobby hummed as guests signed up for everything from game drives into the park to sundowner boat cruises, tiger fishing and excursions to Victoria Falls just 70km away over the Zimbabwe border.
Sunset boat cruise
No matter what activity you miss during your visit to Chobe, don’t let it be a boat cruise on the river. It’s a wonderful chance to see elephant, buffalo, hippo and water birds from a fresh perspective.
Don’t freak out at the logjam at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ jetty, where every boat must report before travelling into the park. Soon enough the boats will all go their own way at their own pace and you won’t be aware of just how many boats are patrolling the river in search of sightings.
It didn’t take our guide Muguna Makala long to spot a water monitor sitting on a low branch of a jackalberry tree jutting out over the water. Although it was still a youngster, these giant lizards can grow to 2m long as adults. They eat small snakes, crocodile eggs and fish.
Buffaloes, baboons and birds
Two buffaloes drank from the river while a white-crowned lapwing and African pied wagtail patrolled the water’s edge. A pied kingfisher sat on a branch with a fish in its mouth, feeding a youngster, and white-fronted bee-eaters hunted for insects in flight. Guna said they can see a beetle or dragonfly from as much as 30-40m away.
It was peaceful drifting in and out of little coves along the river, watching baboons stuff their faces with jackalberry fruits, a malachite kingfisher hunt for supper in the golden light of late afternoon, and elephants swim across to an island to feed on a patch of grass.
A houseboat passed by. Some whistling ducks flew overhead in a neat line. A slaty egret stomped around, stirring up prey with its feet then stabbing with a long pointed bill. We cruised past three-banded plovers, sacred ibis and African skimmers with their bright red bills.
We found a pod of hippo, a dominant bull with about 12 females and young ones. Our companions on the boat enjoyed watching him open his mouth and ‘yawn’. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a sign of sleepiness or boredom. It’s a threat display that shows off the hippo’s long, thick, razor-sharp tusks, which can easily bite a small boat in half. Despite their bulk – a male can weigh 1.5 tons – they can run at an impressive 40km/h on land so they’re definitely not creatures to mess with.
Song and dance
Back at the Chobe Marina Lodge jetty the community-based Matsosa Ngwao song and dance group welcomed the boats back after sunset. First-timers to Africa lapped up their energetic movements, strong rhythms and harmonies as something foreign and strange. We loved it too, a chance to connect with the local culture through song and dance.
Read more about Roxanne’s travels on her African travel blog.
By Safari Tart Expert Roxanne Reid