Catering to a couple of clients in search of their next big African adventure? Home to thriving wildlife (one-fifth of the country is protected as national park systems), luxury lodges, the Kalahari Desert and the lush Okavango Delta, Botswana is a sure-fire safari destination. Add to Botswana’s natural splendor the presence of Orient-Express’ (www.orient-express.com) five-star tented bush camps and visitors here can experience the Africa they’ve only dreamed of. Each fly-in safari camp features en suite facilities—bathroom with flush toilets, hot showers, running water and air-conditioning—making the stay one of ultimate comfort while still affording guests the opportunity to view and experience Africa’s wildlife up close (a hippo paid a surprise visit to our camp one afternoon).
For your clients’ flight from the U.S. to South Africa, recommend South African Airways (www.flysaa.com), whose business-class accommodations feature luxury flat-bed service; we found them large and comfortable enough to allow for a peaceful night’s sleep. Tip: Private charter flights from South Africa to Botswana can be arranged through Orient-Express.
When sending clients to Botswana, suggest one or two nights pre-safari in Johannesburg. We found The Westcliff hotel (www.westcliff.co.za) ideal; it’s located just 20 minutes from the airport, and its hilltop setting affords panoramic views of South Africa’s capital city. Book the Presidential Penthouse Suite; it offers private butler service, and the mammoth terrace is the perfect place for a romantic dinner or sunrise breakfast. All rooms are bookable via GDS.
At the concierge desk, Guest Services Manager Alwyn Hoffman ([email protected]) executes VIP requests, including Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce and helicopter transfers from the airport; travel advisors can also contact General Manager Mark Holden ([email protected]) with VIP needs.
After the long flight from the States, your clients will be in serious need of unwinding. At the spa, request the African Signature treatment with spa therapist Jane Moyo; ingredients like Rooibos tea (native to Cape Town) are used in the massage-scrub-wrap experience. Spa owner Debbie Merdjan (27 11 880 3850) takes care of VIP guests and can put together a rejuvenating spa package for those suffering from jet lag.
The next day, suggest your clients spend some time getting to know South Africa. Insider tip: For a cultural view of this country, book a Soweto tour through The Westcliff, and request guide Peter Mashaba ([email protected]); his excellent guiding skills and knowledge of apartheid will make this tour one of the highlights of the trip.
After spending a few days in South Africa, send clients to Eagle Island Camp and Khwai River Lodge, Orient-Express’ Botswana properties. Since there’s no landing pad at The Westcliff, travelers fly from Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg directly to the camp. Luxury car service to the airport can be arranged through Orient-Express.
What makes Eagle Island Camp (www.orient-express.com) a don’t-miss is its location right on the Okavango Delta. While all 12 rooms are the same size, book room numbers 1 or 12 for the most privacy; they’re located on the end and afford the best views of the bush. Insider tip: Book a private mokoro (dug-out canoe), in which your clients can traverse the many tributaries of the Delta. For those who prefer a more heart-pounding method, book a private motorboat safari; the speed and scenery will thrill the most seasoned travelers to Africa. Note: The best time to travel to this Delta is from June through September; the water levels in the Delta are at their highest (yielding lush green vegetation) and game viewing is at its best. Boats are taken out of the water when levels get too low, usually December through March.
The water safaris are the best way to experience the Delta, one of the world’s largest inland water systems, and the only one found in the center of a desert (the Kalahari). Water safaris are also the best way to see animals like hippos and crocodiles first-hand, and are an absolute must for birders; with more than 400 species, Eagle Island is a bird watcher’s mecca.
Be sure to request guide Leopard Gabanne for both water and land game drives; he’s well-versed in bird and animal behavior as well as the culture of the region.
Another amazing way to experience the Delta—and get a sense of its vast size—is to book a helicopter safari. Spotting elephants, lions, cheetahs and Cape buffalo from the air, we found this to be a true highlight of the trip. Heli-safaris can be booked through Reservations Manager Sandy Fowler ([email protected]; 27 011 274 1800). The enthusiasm showed by pilot Andrew Baker ([email protected]
nabyte.bw) is unmatched. Tip: Alert your more cautious clients that the helicopter doors are taken off for better photo ops (which makes for an exhilarating ride).
After spending a day viewing animals, your clients will appreciate some R&R. For the ultimate pampering in the bush, book a massage with Louise Varkevisser (massages can be booked upon arrival in the camp or by e-mailing Sandy Fowler); she’s the massage therapist for all three Orient-Express camps. Try the Soul of the Earth signature treatment; it’s 60 minutes of pure bliss combining massage and hot-stone therapy. Ask Louise to perform the treatment on your client's porch; relaxing in the shade amidst the cool African wind and the sounds of the bush is the epitome of pampering. We loved Louise’s Serente Vine therapy products, which incorporate grape seeds and other ingredients indigenous to Africa.
Following your clients’ stay in the Delta at Eagle Island, send them on to Khwai River Lodge (www.orient-express.com), located near Moremi Wildlife Reserve. Here, request room number 1; the exclusive views of the hippo pond can’t be beat (the hippos spend most of the day frolicking in the water). Insider tip: Make sure to book a night safari. Most safari lodges don’t offer this activity because of rules imposed by national parks; Khwai, however, is located on a private concession and thus can run game drives at any time. The bush comes alive at night, so it’s not uncommon to come within feet of lions hunting, hippos grazing and leopards dragging a big kill up an acacia tree.
Another must is a Khwai walking safari, also a rarity for most game parks. Request guide Johnson Chendo; he’s been working at the Orient-Express properties for more than a decade and his kind and gentle demeanor combined with his eagle eyesight ensures an exhilarating afternoon. If your clients are staying at Khwai for more than two nights, book the private Xaxanaka tour; it includes a visit to a Khwai local village, Moremi Mopani Forest and a picnic on a remote island in the heart of the Delta.
The food at both camps may surprise visitors. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, eggs, sandwiches and pastries. Dinnertime, however, is when Executive Chef James Van Biljon showcases his true talent. He prepares gourmet-style fish, chicken and beef dishes (the wild boar was a huge success with our party) to order. Both Eagle Island and Khwai offer private dining (on the porch or the animal viewing area) upon request, as well as private game tours and private excursions.
Booking heli-safaris, walking tours, night drives and boat drives with a private guide, versus a group tour, affords maximum exposure to animal life and is a must for avid photographers (these guests can stay as long as they want at each animal sighting). All can be booked directly through Orient-Express on site or by contacting Sandy Fowler.
Malcolm Robinson ([email protected]) is the general manager for both Eagle Island and Khwai River Lodge; agents can e-mail him for VIP client needs. Reservations can be booked through the Orient-Express Reservation System (www.orient-express.com; 800-237-1236) or through GDS.