Delta Diaries, Part 1 - Kujwana Camp

Delta Diaries, Part 1 - Kujwana Camp

Africa / Practical info / Ride reports 0
In March 2024, Iris visited all of our safari camps in Botswana. Her trip included camps in the Okavango Delta, a seasonal floodplain in the north of the country, and the Makgadikgadi plans in the Kalahari desert. Two very different ecosystems in one fabulous Equus journey! 

----

March 15th, 2024 – I am sitting at Cork airport, waiting for the first morning flight to Amsterdam, where I am due to catch my connecting flight to Johannesburg. It suddenly dawns on me that we’re almost exactly 4 years on from the day our collective worlds collapsed, and the first lockdowns were announced. This day, four years ago, we were scrambling to repatriate the last of our guests in Jordan, trying to get them home safely before the world came to a halt. How surreal to be waiting for a plane to Maun and realising that after all, we did manage to weather that storm. Back to our regular programming, doing what we love most and exploring the world on horseback. What a feeling!

It all started with an email from Barney, camp owner and manager: “Alright then, I have you booked to arrive on March 16 – helicopter flight in!”. My mind went racing – as a nervous flyer, a helicopter is pretty much my idea of a flying tin box from hell. But it was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the chance to try something new. My flights were already booked, anyways…
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I landed in Maun, to find that a heat bomb had descended into Botswana. After a long, cold, rainy and generally miserable Irish winter, it was a bit of a shock to the system. The blazing sunshine and blue skies were a welcome sight… Until I spotted the neat row of helis on the other side of the tarmac, waiting to take a small horde of tourists to their respective Delta camps! 

I was met on arrival by a representative from Kujwana camp. Together with another guest we were whisked across the very small airport to the helicopter wing. We met our pilot and before I had enough time for an internal prayer, I found myself strapped to a seat with a headset on. And just like that, we were up in the air… my worries completely forgotten as I glued my face to the window to get a better look at the Okavango Delta from above.

After a short 20-minute flight and our first elephant and buffalo sightings from the air, we landed safely in camp. The flight was incredibly smooth, and a fantastic experience despite my initial worries – our pilot made me feel comfortable and safe for the whole duration of the flight.

Having worked for Equus for almost 7 years I have been lucky enough to go on many “recce trips” to some fabulous destinations – Albania, Morocco, the Azores, Jordan, Croatia, Montana, Wyoming… I have been on safari on the Tuli trail (also in Botswana) and Ant’s Lodges (South Africa), so this trip wasn’t completely unchartered territory. The Okavango Delta, however, is a bit of a myth amongst us equestrian travellers and safari lovers: the Holy Grail of riding safaris.
Sunrise ride at Kujwana camp in the Okavango Delta
Sunrise ride at Kujwana camp in the Okavango Delta
Kujwana was the first on my list of Delta camps – the name means baby hippo in Setswana. We were welcomed by camp manager Tanya and her team, with warm smiles and a delicious glass of home made ice tea. The definite upside of getting the heli transfer in, is that you get to go on an introduction ride that very same day. If you decide to do the fixed wing transfer then it is unlikely you will reach camp on time for the ride.

Tanya had read our booking forms and had horses ready for us. I was matched with Drongo, a very versatile horse – according to Tanya, he’s “part safari horse, part show pony”! We set out just as the temperatures started to cool down a little, in search of our first sightings. Our guide Mmushi very quickly found us elephants – there is an abundance of eles around camp. I thought sightings were already excellent, especially for such a dry time of year - Tanya then explained that they had somewhat recently dug waterhole around camp.  The 2023-2024 winter was incredibly dry, and any waterholes are extremely attractive to the wildlife. After an hour or so, punctuated by more wildlife encounters and some lovely sunset canters, we got back to camp where I could finally really take in my surroundings.
Elephants on our first afternoon ride
Elephants on our first afternoon ride
Kujwana is a beautiful, compact camp complete with a gorgeous plunge pool. The tents also point out to the waterhole – a great opportunity for some quality “Bush TV” right from my porch! I was given one of the suites, a large but cosy tent with all the creature comforts, including WiFi (a bit patchy, but honestly, who cares on safari?). I did peek into the Meru tents as well, that were lovely and perfectly suitable for a good night’s sleep.

After a welcome G&T and watching eles roll in the mud from the safety of our raised platform, it was time for dinner before we were escorted back to our tents. Ready for tomorrow’s adventures!

Awakening to the Wilderness

Unfortunately, sleep was a fleeting companion for my first night at Kujwana. Whether it was the excitement of being back in the bush, or the troop of screaming baboons behind my tent, I wouldn’t know.... With just a few hours’ rest, the 5:15 wake-up call wasn’t easy, but a much needed cupa set me right for the day. I sipped it on my private patio, looking at the still twinkling stars, with Venus and the Milky Way painting a familiar picture of home.

As the sun began to rise, we geared up for a morning in the saddle. Tanya introduced us to our horses for the day after a quick breakfast. I found myself paired with Skimmer, a lovely, comfy and very responsive grey Arab.
Sunrise at Kujawana camp, Botswana
Sunrise at Kujawana camp, Botswana
Setting off from camp, we were greeted by the sight of zebras and elephants gathering around the waterhole, a lifeline in the parched landscape. The morning ride gave us some wonderful sightings — from elephant to kudu, wildebeest, and warthog. After a few hours in the saddle, we paused for a snack, sharing our apples with the horses.
Skimmer proved to be a perfect match. Guided by Mmushi and Latina, we enjoyed long canters and steady trots, setting a rather active pace for our small group of riders. We quickly fell into the routine, with lunch and a shower or some time by the pool before an afternoon of further exploration.

One day, we went on a game drive, in search of big cats. Luck was on our side as Rogers and Mmushi quickly found us some lionesses and cubs. The timing was phenomenal as we got to see them stalk and take down a small warthog. I will admit that the scene tugged at my heartstrings a little bit, but it served as a reminder of nature's delicate balance – those cubs were hungry too. That same afternoon we also encountered a pack of wild dogs… luck of the Irish on St Patrick’s day! With sundowners in hand, we toasted to the wonders of the delta before returning to camp for an evening by the fire.

Into the Heart of the Delta

Every day is different and brought its lot of adventure – one morning, a commotion outside camp warned us of a pack of wild dogs nearby. We were launched from the breakfast table and onto the horses, and Mmushi managed to track them shortly afterwards. As the day unfolded, we encountered a myriad of wildlife, from elephants to antelopes, and even managed to spot buffalo.
A lucky wild dogs sighting on a horseback safari in Botswana
A lucky wild dogs sighting on a horseback safari in Botswana
Returning to camp, we were always treated to delicious food and drinks, prepared by a great  team of people. We shared many interesting conversations with Tanya and the volunteers, or members of staff, who joined us for dinners or sundowners. I loved getting a glimpse of what life in the Delta is like for those who live there almost all year round. I’m guessing they can tune out the noisy baboons at night… 

One day I asked Rogers if he could try to find us a leopard on a game drive, as I had never seen one on safari. Swapping the horses for a jeep, we combed the wilderness, eyes peeled for any sign of the elusive cat. I was told to look up the trees and very carefully looked up and down what must have been every single tree in the Delta. Of course, when we finally found her, she was quietly lying in the tall grass… Nowhere near a tree. There went my chance to impress everyone with my spotting skills!
After just a few days at Kujwana, I already managed to tick most species off my list: eles, buffalo, lion, leopard, wild dog, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, kudu, eland, tssessebe… Only missing was hippo (which I did see later on) and cheetah (which sadly I did not see on this trip – another reason to come back soon!).

What really stood out for me, however, was the quality of the horses. Every horse I rode – Drongo, Skimmer, Toteng, Mahale - were top safari horses: sensible, responsive, smooth and a pleasure to ride. Tanya ran me through their training regime and I was thoroughly impressed. The Kujwana horses are treated like royalty… and it shows.

Good to know...

  • I would recommend the helicopter transfer in, and road transfer out (or heli both ways!). It means more time in the saddle and a much more comfortable, exciting journey into camp.
  • There is WiFi in the rooms but not in the main areas. It’s a little patchy, but the Kujwana Bush TV is good enough that you’ll want to ditch Netflix anyway!
  • The riding isn’t as intensive as some other camps, but you still need to come riding fit to make the most of your holiday. Make sure to get plenty of time in the saddle!
  • The dry and the wet season make for a very different experience. Do some research on the Delta (you can read our comprehensive guide to the Delta here!) and please feel free to ask an Equus consultant if you are unsure.

To find out more about the holidays in the Delta, please visit our website. You can also contact us directly at info@equus-journeys.com or give us a call on +44 (0)1905 388 977