Images and Video by Dan and Zora Avila
A journey into the heart of the Okavango Delta with &Beyond Tented Camps will saturate your senses while satiating your soul in a curated reconnection with nature at its most primal. The tented camp experience offers a sublime experience, utterly embraced by the untamed wild.
An &Beyond safari experience is the sum of its glorious parts. Understated luxury in the purest of wild environments with a high probability of extraordinary and diverse wildlife encounters; yet, these cannot be guaranteed – after all, that would be tantamount to visiting the zoo. Part of the thrill of safari is the unpredictability and authenticity when encircled by the natural forces of predator versus prey. It feels like being a part of an unscripted nature documentary.
Safaris commence before dawn with the melodious calls of exotic birds and the anticipation of exciting encounters. Venturing from camp with our all-knowing Botswanan guides, who remain ever ready to answer the questions that pour out of me like a fresh-faced school kid. The eagerness and excitement as we roll out of camp is palpable with the cool air and the sun just cracking the horizon.
Both our guide, King, and tracker, Atti, seem to have a sixth sense about the Delta. Their understanding of animal behavior, ability to track predators, and spot perfectly camouflaged wildlife border on supernatural. This is paired with their depth of knowledge about the science behind the finely balanced forces responsible for this jewel of Africa.
Returning to camp by late morning as animal activity wanes in the heat of the day, a sumptuous meal awaits, even more impressive given the distance from civilization. Meals are served outdoors with the surrounding wildlife unfazed. Enjoying a breakfast feels like a stationary safari with all manner of creatures visiting the adjacent waterway, and elephants cruising by the camp making direct eye contact with me as I dine.
Early afternoons are spent relaxing in the suites under canvas or soaking in our private pool. The camps are thoughtfully laid out, offering complete privacy, and within a couple of days, we easily slip into the relaxed rhythm of the safari schedule.
In the afternoon it’s time to set off for the second safari adventure of the day as the energy in the air builds toward evening, and wildlife activity peaks. The Delta transforms as the sun dips, saturating the sky and landscape with the colors of Africa. After sunset canapés and the obligatory gin and tonic on the Delta, Atti mans the spotlight for the night drive back to camp providing glimpses of elusive predators on the prowl, while the nocturnal coterie comes to life.
A central theme draws through the daily entanglement of predator and prey -balance. At a granular level, there appears a visceral cruelty of a leopard striking an infant impala, only to leave its prize as it still has another kill to devour. Or the apparent Shakespearean malevolence of an invading male lion that instantly kills the young of the ruler he displaced. Zoom out, and the beauty in the harmony of it all becomes apparent. Unchecked, the herbivores will overgraze, damaging the landscape, and for the lions to thrive, the strongest genes must prevail.
Photography is a major draw for many guests, and it certainly is for me. After the first game drive, we stop feverishly photographing wildlife at every sighting, instead patiently chasing the perfect shot. King and Atti know exactly where to position the safari vehicle for us to photograph and film wildlife in ideal light. On the Delta, we were constantly afforded these opportunities for beautiful portraits at close range. It really is a photographer’s paradise.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is considered an all-year destination, and notwithstanding seasonal variation in water level and climate, the abundance of game is year-round. Our journey was in mid-November and midday temperatures would peak around 100ºF. The Delta, one of the seven natural wonders of Africa, is fed by the rains in Angola, which were late this year, so water levels were low. This did, however, increase accessibility by the safari vehicles and visibility across the landscape, both increasing the frequency and proximity of amazing wildlife encounters.
Big cats are an undeniable draw on safari. The Delta has an abundance of leopards, which just might be the ultimate wildlife photographic subject. They remain ever vigilant and on guard for lions, their nemesis and principal threat.
The expansive lion prides, with individuals ranging from senior matriarchs to cubs just days old, pay almost no attention to the vehicle as we sit just a few yards from where they relax in the shade, surveying prey in the distance.
There is something almost overwhelming when a full-grown marauding male saunters by the vehicle so close we could almost reach out and touch him just as he turns to make full eye contact while on his march. Being in an open vehicle and this close to an apex predator stirs emotion and feelings from deep within my DNA.
Ultimately, I believe it is these raw encounters with nature and the rare feeling of being so much lower on the food chain that is the power and impact of an African safari. It is a meaningful disconnect from the prosaic routine of modernity when thrust into the life-and-death saga of the wild. It is a beautiful, deeply moving, humbling experience, and thanks to the extraordinary &Beyond tented camps, a luxurious one.
Words by Zora Avila
Images and Video by Dan and Zora Avila