Just Back: A Luxury Safari in Botswana

Jeannine Pascal, an advisor with the Gifted Travel Network, visited Botswana last November and is sharing all the details of her trip with us here.

As I walked up the steps to Xigera Safari Lodge, I knew it was going to be extra special and couldn’t help but break out into a smile. That smile soon turned into a deep breath of amazement because nothing had prepared me for this stunning, mind-blowing safari experience.

Xigera is by far the best luxury resort in Botswana, perhaps even Africa. Botswana has long been known for offering more exclusive and high-end safari experiences than other neighboring countries because of the country’s strong conservation ethos (about 30 percent of land is under full protection) and emphasis on low-volume (read: lack of budget accommodations), high-impact tourism.

Xigera Safari Lodge, Botswana
Lions are a regular sight around the lodge. (Photo Courtesy Jeannine Pascal)

So what does the word Xigera mean, and where is it located? In local language, Xigera (pronounced kee-jera) is a Pied Kingfisher, a black and white bird found in the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland river delta in northwestern Botswana whose marshlands and seasonally flooded plains provide a bountiful life to all kinds of wildlife, making this UNESCO World Heritage Site a prime safari destination. Xigera is located in the Moremi Game Reserve, a protected area in the eastern part of the Okavango covering about 492,000 hectares.

Xigera Safari Lodge opened in 2020 after a complete rebuild by the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, a family-owned and managed hospitality enterprise that owns such prestigious properties as Ashford Castle in Ireland. The Tollmans’ vision for Xigera encompasses preservation of land and wildlife, support and improvement of local communities, showcasing of African design and artists, and unparalleled luxury delivered in a sustainable way. And they have succeeded.

Xigera Safari Lodge
Xigera Safari Lodge, which opened in 2020, offers 12 individually-designed suites. (Xigera Safari Lodge)

My luxury adventure began in Botswana’s Maun airport, where I received a black Xigera thermos with a handwritten tag displaying my name before I had even boarded the small aircraft. That personal touch made me feel welcome already. The flight from Maun to Xigera’s private airstrip was a scenic 25 minutes, during which I had a bird’s-eye view of the delta’s wetlands below. I was met by Ike, who would be my guide for the next 48 hours, and we drove until we came to a field where dozens of solar panels stood. Ike explained that Xigera’s state-of-the-art Energy Centre, one of Botswana’s largest photovoltaic farms, comprises a hybrid solar energy (powered by Tesla) and diesel system. The full impact of how powerful this renewable source was did not dawn on me until much later as I reveled in my air-conditioned suite while the temperature easily exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I exited the jeep and was immediately greeted by friendly staff offering a refreshing drink and cool towel. Then Ike showed me the path up to the lodge, which consists of 12 suites and nine main areas in aesthetically pleasing tent structures built on stilts and connected by wooden walkways, all of which can be disassembled to minimize environmental impact. There’s even an air-conditioned spa and outdoor pool. Everywhere I saw beautiful art pieces and furniture in an array of colors and fabricated from natural materials—over 90 percent hand-produced in Africa by artists and designers. My eyes were drawn to a circular seating area where an enormous sculpture of a water lily, a symbol you’ll see frequently at Xigera, soared upward, petals unfolding. Adjacent is the chic Leopard Lounge, the hallmark bar of many Red Carnation hotels. The exotic setting is perfected by leopard lamps and woven fan palms swaying overhead.

Xigera Safari Lodge
Xigera Safari Lodge’s friendly and deeply committed staff and their service impressed Pascal. (Xigera Safari Lodge)

My first “activity” was lunch, and dining at Xigera is a gourmet experience. Executive Chef Ziyaad Brown stopped by my table and before I knew it, we were heading back to his kitchen to see where the gourmet magic happens. He described how organic leftovers are traded with locals for fresh ingredients as just one step in the recycling/renewable efforts. Chef Ziyaad described how much care goes into selecting locally grown food, even in selecting a cow for the beef they serve: Not only do they inspect the cow’s teeth but then feed it special, nutritious grain for at least three months before slaughtering it and aging the meat on premise. I had some of the juiciest, most tender flavorful steak of my life at Xigera. Savoring sophisticated, sustainably-sourced cuisine while looking over a wild landscape—you just can’t believe it’s all happening.

Then it was time to go to my suite. Two lovely women accompanied me to the Fan Palm Suite and ushered me in. As they showed me the stunning living room with colorful, original African art and furniture—straight out of a home décor magazine, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and luxury. The wooden recliner was a knock-out piece and comfortable, too. A four-poster bed awaited me in the next area along with a spacious dressing room. At the press of a button, a TV screen emerged from a cabinet at the foot of the bed, but believe me, you won’t need it at Xigera. And then there’s the huge bathroom with floor-to-ceiling windows through which you can gaze at animals grazing afar from the comfort of your big copper tub. I chose to sit in the nearby chair covered with a lovely leopard motif and ponder my new surroundings. To give you an idea of space, my video of the interior took three minutes alone. And it was 100 percent air-conditioned. Outside was a rain shower and three separate sitting areas to unwind as well as admire the animals and scenery. With such privacy and seclusion, the Fan Palm Suite is ideal for honeymooners.

Xigera Safari Lodge spa
The Spa at Xigera Safari Lodge offers custom-created body and facial treatments to focus on restoring, calming and purifying. (Xigera Safari Lodge )

There are 12 suites in total, one of which is a Family Suite with two bedrooms and two baths that can accommodate a family of four. With a capacity of 26 guests, you can easily understand the exclusivity of the lodge’s offering and high staff-to-guest ratio. Couples, multi-generational families, and solo travelers will feel at home at Xigera. Due to the surrounding wilderness, children between six and 16 are required to share a suite with an adult.

For the adventurous yearning to sleep under the stars, there’s the Baobab Treehouse, a marvelous multi-level, secure structure resembling a tree that has a full bathroom and bedroom, plus a king-sized bed on the roof. You can even get sundowners and meals delivered to you.

Speaking of the wild, I saw elephants, lions, leopards, water buffalo, zebra, impala, red lechwe (a type of antelope), hippo, sea eagles plus a host of other bird species. Because of the delta’s ever-changing landscape, you will have the opportunity to watch animals and birds, predators and prey, exist and interact on land and in the water. Ike, my expert guide, explained all the flora and fauna, all the while trying to get me close to the action. We spent 45 minutes mesmerized as three lionesses protectively watched over six juvenile lions that took turns cavorting and napping in the middle of a field. We laughed as one young lion started playing with a long stick, causing three others to join in a tug of war. I felt sympathy observing Sophie, a mother leopard, licking the wound of her year-old daughter. Another morning, joy surged as I glimpsed a different leopard mother tend to her newborn cubs, hidden under dense bush.

The Boma is a gathering place for eating and socializing. It is where the author had a barbeque feast on her last evening at the lodge. (Xigera Safari Lodge)

As I visited in early November, right when water levels were at their lowest and prior to the rainy season, our safari took place in a jeep. However, when there’s an abundance of water in May through October, you’ll also want to go on a “water safari” in a mokoro, a flat-bottomed canoe, which your skilled guide hand-propels with a pole. The opportunity to watch wildlife in action on land and in the water really is a very special aspect of going on safari in the Okavango delta.

Even though I sat in a jeep for a good part of the day, my appetite was not diminished. In fact, I looked forward to the glorious sunrise and breakfast break in the fields. Later, it was a sundowner to be sipped while appreciating the fiery, setting sun. On my last evening, we had a barbeque feast in the boma, which in Swahili language means an enclosure or corral used for livestock or else as a community gathering place for decision making. On safari, a boma is a gathering place for eating and socializing, and you shouldn’t miss this at Xigera. Surrounded by torchlight, we listened in rapture as around 25 to 30 of the staff, many in traditional African garb, serenaded us with local songs and recited ancient stories in local tongue.

And this is what I want to emphasize—the genuinely friendly and deeply committed staff, with their A-plus service, make your stay at Xigera unforgettable. Along with super luxurious accommodations and a thrilling safari experience, it’s the people at Xigera that make this a compelling destination.

Getting There: The nearest major international airport is Johannesburg in South Africa. From there, take a direct scheduled flight to Maun airport in northwest Botswana (flight time approximately one and a half hours). From Maun, the flight by light aircraft takes 25 minutes to Xigera’s private airstrip. For example, I flew on United’s non-stop flight from Newark to Johannesburg, then took Airlink to get to Maun. The Red Carnation team helped me to arrange round-trip flights to and from Xigera.

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