The Zambezi Region, which the area was renamed just under a year ago, is probably one of the most enigmatic areas of Southern Africa. Even some of the most seasoned travel professionals have never been, don’t know much about it, and wouldn’t know what to expect if sending a client or heading there themselves. I fell into this category – in my 30+ visits to Africa I had never stepped foot in the Caprivi and that’s why I was so excited that I had the opportunity to visit in May. Now that I’ve been, I can’t wait to get back. In the following pages I hope to share some of the invaluable knowledge that I gained from my visit to this area, and by the time you’re done reading I hope you’re already thinking about which clients you’d like to send first…
Most people that know of Caprivi know it as:
- The part of Namibia that you can see across the Chobe River from Northern Botswana;
- That piece of land that belongs to Namibia but I have no idea why; or
- The panhandle that has been used as a strategic post in several wars & conflicts in Southern Africa.
I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as the hidden gem that offers a diverse range of activities and game viewing at a very reasonable price, but in all honesty that’s exactly what it is.
GEOGRAPHY – Let’s start off with where it is:
How about a closer look at Caprivi:
|Despite being part of Namibia, the Caprivi Strip is almost entirely surrounded by foreign countries. It shares long borders with Angola, Zambia and Botswana, and the Namibia-Zambia-Botswana tri-point lies less than 100 meters from the Zimbabwe border and as such Namibia is sometimes mistakenly thought to border Zimbabwe.|
Each of the three national parks has The Kwando River (or one of its tributaries) serving as a boundary – the Kwando also serves as a natural border between Namibia and Botswana.
CLIMATE – Given Caprivi’s proximity to Botswana it should come as no surprise that the climate and seasonality is very similar to that of its neighbor to the South:
JAN – MAR: heaviest rains
APR – JUNE: green, cool & dry
JULY – OCT: peak season; cool & dry
NOV – DEC: hottest months of the year, rains
ACCESS – The only city in the Caprivi Strip with a commercial airport is Katima Mulilo (MPA). This serves as the central hub for the Caprivi Region and there is 4x weekly service from Windhoek (Eros), approx. 1h20m flight. Saying the airport is quiet is a massive understatement.
All 3 lodges also have landing strips, so the properties can be accessed by light aircraft.
The Caprivi is also accessible by road. The roads in Caprivi are newly paved and in excellent condition so driving is easy. There are 3 border posts that can be used to enter/exit the Caprivi Strip. In order of convenience & practicality they are:
- (1) Ngoma Bridge – 1 hour drive*; crosses the Chobe River and brings you directly into Chobe National Park, Botswana
- (2) Kazungula Border Post – 5 minute drive*; this bridge crosses the Zambezi to bring you into Zambia; you can then proceed to Livingstone or Victoria Falls by highway
- (3) Mohembo – 4-5 hour drive*; crosses into Botswana at the northern part of the Okavango Delta
*Driving times are from Katima Mulilo town*
Finally, you can access our lodges by boat from lodges in Botswana via the Kwando River (advance arrangements must be made to utilize this option).
THE PROPERTIES – Now it’s time for the good stuff!
The Caprivi Collection comprises of three properties, varying in style and pricing and offering slightly different experiences. All properties are situated on a river and offer land and water based activities and each has under gone some sort of refurb or renovation in the past year. The lodge staff and guides all come from one of the 6 indigenous tribes that can be found in the Caprivi Region.
SUSUWE ISLAND LODGE
This property is the most luxurious camp or lodge in the Caprivi. The lodge was in the middle of a major refurb during my visit so I do not have any good finished product images, but it’s looking great and will be stunning once it’s completed (slated for mid-August).
Location: As the name suggests Susuwe Island Lodge is situated on a small island in the Kwando River. The lodge is one of only two within the boundaries of the serene Bwabwata National Park. Susuwe Island Lodge can be accessed a number of ways:
- Fly to the airstrip at the park gate – 30 minute drive through the park to camp.
- Fly to Katima Mulilo – approx. 90 minute drive to park gate and about a half hour through the park to camp.
- If driving from Botswana, the property is about a 3 hour drive from Ngoma Bridge border post.
If combining Susuwe Island Lodge with other camps you can access it via the Kwando River. It is a full day but incredibly beautiful and includes game viewing along the way.
Accommodation: The main lounge area is a huge open deck area with a large firepit in the middle. There are two other levels of elevated decks for cocktails, meals and gazing out over the park and river. Although it’s a relatively small lodge there is no shortage of space thanks to the open layout of the common areas.
The huge open main lounge offers shade & sunshine to guests between drives.
The deck is built around a large fire pit, ideal for cocktails after dinner.
The lounge is decorated with beautiful, Locally produced African art.
The 3 levels of decks ensure that guests can find privacy and relaxation anytime.
The first level is ideal for al fresco dining if you are concerned about the elements.
The top level deck affords great views of the park and is also ideal for stargazing.
Susuwe Island Lodge has 6 large luxury suites, all similarly sized and with the same amenities. Each thatched unit features a sprawling wood deck with views of the river, outdoor furniture and big plunge pools. The bathrooms have his & her basins, and separate shower and bathtub, the tub has bay windows above it. All suites have a ceiling fan, mosquito nets and a small safe. The rooms were still being painted and furnished when I visited, but here are a few pictures to give you a feel of the size of the rooms and decks:
The plunge pools are larger than most I’ve seen at other lodges.
The interiors are being painted and furnished, but were already re-thatched.
Large decks will be furnished with outdoor lounge chairs and tables.
Activities: Susuwe offers game drives in open vehicles with bucket seats (there is a canvas roof to combat the strong sun); river cruises on the Kwando; and fishing is also available at the lodge. The birding in Bwabwata is also very good. Visits to traditional cultural villages are also available for guests to enjoy. The park is quite diverse, with some areas heavily wooded and others more shrub filled savanna; the road surface is very sandy. The park is unfenced and serves as a significant migratory path for elephants that travel between Angola & Botswana. The general game viewing was good during drives in Bwabata NP.
Other Info & Amenities: The lodge was originally built in 1998; rates are fully inclusive (drinks & laundry are included); there is wifi in the main lounge area only; Camp is run on a generator so 220v AC is available (via standard 3 point Namibian/South African plugs) but only during certain specified hours throughout the day. The major refurb involved the following: touch up to all decks; re-thatching the roofs of the suites and main lounge area; new furniture for the suites and decks; all suites have been freshly painted and all soft furnishings (drapes, sheets, etc.) have been replaced; new safari vehicle and boats are on order.
Lianshulu Lodge has a long history and is pretty well known in the safari industry, but with new ownership and management this is no longer the Lianshulu that you used to know!
Location: Lianshulu is situated on a channel of the Kwando River on a private concession in Mudumu National Park. The lodge is on the banks of the river, utilizing its beautiful setting to the fullest. Getting to Lianshulu is even easier than making your way to Susuwe Island:
- There is an airstrip 4km from the lodge. We have an agreement with the Namibian government that allows us to have guests clear immigration & customs at our airstrip if coming from Botswana, Zimbabwe, etc. An immigration official will meet the guests on arrival at our airstrip to go through all border formalities!
- Fly to Katima Mulilo – the drive to camp is just over an hour.*
- The drive from Ngoma Bridge border post is just over 2 hours.*
- Boat transfer from Botswana lodges on the Kwando River (i.e. Kwando Lagoon).
*The drive is on new paved road through villages for about 95% of the time; the last bit is through game areas.
Accommodation: The main lounge area is incredibly large, featuring a bar, deck area right on the river, large spread out dining room, and boma like extension with an outdoor fireplace. There is also an upstairs viewing deck looking out into the bush. All of the furnishings in the main lounge are incredibly comfortable and the vibe of the lounge is definitely very ‘chilled’.
The large dining area easily accommodates all guests.
The boma-like area is a great spot to enjoy cocktails.
Any good safari lodge has to have a great bar!
Lianshulu Lodge has 10 rooms (7 standard & 3 luxury); there are also 2 pilot rooms (very nice by guide/pilot room standards). The rooms have thatched roofs and each one features a private veranda on the Kwando River. All rooms have a sitting area with a table and chair(s) in addition to the bedroom and bathroom and each has mosquito nets, and coffee/tea station (French press) – hot water is brought to you for at early morning wake up.
The luxury rooms are noticeably larger and have larger verandas and sitting areas. The other big difference is the presence of an outdoor shower in addition to shower & bathtub inside (standard do not have a bath or outdoor shower). There is also a nice pool area at the lodge.
Each of the 7 standard rooms have his & her basins, mosquito nets, a desk & chair, coffee/tea station and a veranda.
The 3 luxury rooms are much larger and have bathtubs and an outdoor shower in addition to the standard indoor shower.
Activities: Lianshulu offers the same activities as Susuwe Island – game drives, game cruises on the Kwando, fishing, and village visits –since it is located in a different park the terrain and overall experience is quite different. Walks are also offered when the grass isn’t too high. The game viewing on the river at Lianshulu was excellent and we were the only boat on the river!
There are 4 very comfortable vehicles and a few different types of boats available to guests for game activities.
Other Info & Amenities: The lodge was originally built in 1989; rates are fully inclusive (drinks & laundry are included); there is very good wifi in the main lounge (not in rooms); the rooms have 24 hour electricity (generator), but no plug points; there is a main charging room in the main lounge. The refurb involved the following: touch up to the decks and thatch where necessary; all soft furnishings/linens have been replaced; the main overhaul was to the staff, service and dining experience. A new GM is in place and has raised overall standards at the lodge.
The final property is the one that surprised me the most, Bush Lodge. Also located in Mudumu National Park, just 10 minutes down river or 25 minutes by road from Lianshulu, Bush Lodge is the most basic of the three and positioned as a 3* property but it was very comfortable and a great value for travelers on a budget.
The location and activities are the same as Lianshulu, but the accommodations are not as large or nice. There is no wifi (although I was told it is being added). There was a very minor refurbishment here just doing touch up and replacing some of the furniture (specifically outdoor furniture).
Accommodation: The common areas are spacious and spread out giving guests an opportunity for privacy, but plenty or areas to sit with a group if they’d prefer. There is a large bar area upstairs with views, a basic dining room, several nice outside sitting areas, a very nice lounge with fireplace, as well an outdoor firepit, and a pool area. This lodge is perfect for groups.
Bush Lodge has 8 en suite guest rooms, ideal for a group of 16 to take the entire lodge. The rooms are smaller than the other properties and have more basic furnishings but are very comfortable. All rooms have mosquito nets, ceiling fans and a small balcony with 2 chairs and a table. There are 2 larger rooms that feature separate bathtub & shower (6 are shower only).
The main objections that I’ve heard to selling the Caprivi Strip are (1) it’s very difficult to get to, and (2) the game viewing is subpar. Following my visit to the region I am pleased to say that neither is true – there are a number of ways to access the lodges in the Caprivi Strip and this area can & should be included in itineraries to Namibia, Botswana, or Zimbabwe. Additionally the game viewing experience exceeded my expectations! Although I would not guarantee that you will see a cat the elephants, hippos, antelopes, monkeys/babboons and birding were all excellent from both the land and the river.
The ecosystem and bush is almost identical to that of Northern Botswana, the properties offer land and water based activities, and the lodges in the Caprivi Collection are all-inclusive so the value for a visitor to this region is incredible!
The other thing that surprised me is that the camps (Lianshulu & Susuwe Island) are combinable. Going into my trip I figured that the experience would be similar at the two properties due to their proximity but they’re not. Despite their nearness the terrain of the two parks are quite different and even the water experience differed – Bwabwata NP had superior land based game viewing, while Mudumu offered better water based viewing. Combining the two properties over 4 nights would be ideal and it’s a lovely transfer between the two.
Whether you want to call it the Caprivi Strip or the Zambezi Region doesn’t matter; but I call it one of the last hidden gems of Southern Africa.
Categorized in: Trip Reports