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Chobe National Park Safari, Botswana – Swimming Elephants and More!

Do you want to experience elephants and hippos in the wild? Do you want to see the famed African sunset for yourself? Chobe National Park is one of the best places to really enjoy a safari, and here’s why!

Chobe National Park, one of the most visited in Botswana, is a great place to start getting the feel of what a trip to Africa and safari game drives are. Africa is such a large continent, and there are still many places to see the Big 5 as well as a plethora of safari animals from endangered gorillas to herds of gazelles, but there is no doubt that Chobe is a great place to start.

We have two accounts of visits to Chobe to share with you. Jim and I went on a self-drive and then Ginny visited on a luxury safari. What we hope this shows you is that Chobe can be done in a number of ways, but all are well worth the visit. 

In this article we’ll tell you…

  • All about Chobe National Park
  • About the animals you can see and how to see them
Giraffes were plentiful in Chobe National Park.
Giraffes were plentiful in Chobe National Park. We saw this guy up close while on our self drive.

Two Types of Chobe Safari  (by Corinne)

Chobe was our second stop on our trip through Southern Africa, so we were still freshly learning what we could about the area, how to do a self game drive, and just getting our bearings. We had flown in to Livingstone and spent a few days visiting Victoria Falls and other small parks in that area and then took a ferry across to Botswana where we shuttled to our lodge in Kasane outside of Chobe.

From our cruise boat, A Yellow billed stork on the Chobe River.
This gorgeous yellow billed stork was just glowing in the afternoon sunlight.

The first day in Chobe we were eager to get into the park but, so we opted for a sunset river cruise, offered through our lodge, with low expectations. We had focused on the words river-cruise and were envisioning long, crowded river cruise boats with 50 or 60 fellow “adventurers” all jockeying for position along the rail trying to spot wildlife that had likely spotted us coming down the river and already fled to quieter locales.

The truth, thankfully, far exceeded our expectations, and the animals we saw made it on our Top Ten List of Animal Encounters around the world. We did see some of those larger boats plying the lower river, but only the smaller, pontoon boats could travel any distance up the river and into the park. 

Chober river cruise boat on the other side of the elephant that was swimming across the river.
Chobe river cruise boat on the other side of the elephant that was swimming across the river.

Chobe River Cruise

This river cruise was actually more of a water safari. The pontoon boats were small,  and there were only twelve of us on the boat including the driver and guide. Everyone had a prime seat for viewing the spectacular wildlife. The boats slowly went up the river finding great spots to see as many animals as they could find. And that’s when…

Our boat driver had swung us close to the grassy wetlands bank of the river to look for puku antelope as this is the one place they can be seen in Botswana. We were all poised with Canons and Nikons at the ready and Jim was in a great seat at the edge of the boat (in fact he had been able to keep cool in the spray coming up from the prow and had even considered going against the guide’s orders and splashing his hands or even feet in the water).

Hippo with mouth open to show he's boss.
No just imagine this guy pops out of the water, his mouth open and ready to chomp down on an arm that was there only seconds ago.

We were soon to find out why you want to keep yourself out of the water. The boat slowed even more as someone spotted an antelope further in the deep grass. Our guide spotted it in his scope and was telling us it was just a common antelope while throttling up the engine and getting us moving again.

At that exact moment a giant gap-toothed, gaping head full of teeth and tongue came shooting up out of the water aimed directly at where his arm would have been if the boat hadn’t miraculously started moving up river. 

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Other drivers came up and saw us there, asked us what we had seen, waited for a few minutes, then left without waiting around to see what would come in next to drink.

The timing was just off for the male hippo but perfect for preserving his life! We didn’t find out till much later that most deaths on the river are from hippo attacks just like that. At the time, he  recalls, “Wow, that’s one National Geographic moment I’ll always remember.”

Shortly afterwards, we had to slow again, this time for the majestic elephants swimming across the river, trunks snorkeling and blowing water the whole way. The photos from that encounter were amazing and the guide was very careful to give the herd a wide berth while keeping us positioned for perfect viewing.

Jim and the rental truck for driving in Chobe.
Some of the roads are no more than tracks. Driving was a little challenging, but fun.

Chobe National Park Self Drive Safari

The next day, we couldn’ t wait to jump in our truck and start driving around the national park. The night before on the river cruise had shown us that there was more African animals and birds than we ever expected, but taking photos from a moving boat is a little bit more difficult than being able to stop a truck and take a photo. We were hoping to see lots of animals.

After living in Alaska for eight years where everyday is sort of like going on safari and you can easily see moose, bear, and eagles if you know where and when to look, we figured we had a little of a leg up. I do think that you have to condition yourself for looking for movement in the bush.

Botswana road near Chobe National Park.
The main roads and highways in Botswana are paved and well-painted. It’s when you get off the main road that it gets a bit more difficult.

Just like in Alaska, other people who were driving themselves through the park were more than willing to share what they’d seen and where we could see different species as well. It was fun chatting with people from all over the world, all on a similar quest. 

The driving was a bit tricky, as the dirt roads were sometimes wet and muddy, and also sometimes so dry that the sand was a few inches thick. Luckily, regardless of actual speed limits, you aren’t going to drive fast anyway. We trundled along, probably averaging a whopping 15 miles per hour or so. 

Lioness covered with flies and with a big, full belly after a good feed.
Lioness covered with flies and with a big, full belly after a good feed.

Of course we were constantly on the lookout for lions, and at one point we stopped to talk to an Italian family who had just come from a sighting. A pride had taken a young elephant and had spent the last couple of hours feeding on it. 

We rushed over there and found we’d missed much of the feeding. The lions were all covered with flies and had huge, distended bellies just lying in the sun and smiling. We did get some photos, but they aren’t very pretty. So we did see lions, and we also learned that no animal is too large for them to hunt. A good warning, would you say?

Two elephants snorkeling across the Chobe River.
Two elephants snorkeling across the Chobe River, the older elephants help the younger ones cross.
Elder and baby elephant climb out of the Chobe River.
Elder and baby elephant climb out of the Chobe River.

Some of our Chobe National Park Highlights 

  • The river cruise was just amazing for both the wildlife sightings and the sunset.
  • We loved the camaraderie of the other self drivers and their companions.
  • We were amazed at how many animals we had seen, including crocodiles and hippos.
  • Watching the family groups of elephants swimming across the river was touching as the older animals helped the babies across.
  • The game lodge we stayed in was so comfortable and the food was great.

Chobe National Park via a Luxury Safari in Africa (by Ginny)

My visit to Chobe National Park was part of a 16-day Southern Africa tour with my Cal Alumni Travel group. Following an amazing 7-days in South Africa, we traveled on Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

We had great weather and a beautiful view of the falls, but we arrived late and only had a couple of hours. It was much too short. After the falls, we traveled by bus to the Botswana border, cleared customs, and traveled in Land Cruisers to the Chobe Game Lodge in Chobe National Park.

Chobe National Park is a really special place for two reasons: it borders the Chobe River where there is an abundance of wildlife, and the wildlife can be seen up close both by boat and by driving around the park. During our two-day-stay, we went on 3-game drives in land cruisers and 2-Chobe River safaris on pontoon boats.

A gorgeous flame-red sunrise in Chobe National Park.
Sunrise in Chobe National Park.

Early Morning Chobe Game Drive

On our first morning, we left the lodge at 5:30 in the morning to watch the sunrise, which turned out to be quite stunning. After sunrise and a coffee break, with coffee, tea, and biscuits served on the hood of the land cruiser, we drove around looking for animals. There are so many, they’re not hard to find.

On a Chobe safari, we spotted this content looking pride of lions lying about in the sand.
Don’t mind us. We’re just lion here.

We came upon a pride of lions, and it was the most amazing encounter we had on the Chobe game drives. There were four adults and two cubs, lazing about on the sandy road.

We stopped not more than about 15-meters from them in our open land cruiser, with no windows or doors and just a canvas top. It was great to see this lion family so close and so casual. They saw us, but didn’t seem interested in us at all. 

The lions appeared to be well fed and in great shape. They were playful and calm and content. If you watched the video, you saw the cub playing with a stick and mama lioness taking the stick away. It’s really a sweet scene.

Three carmine bee-eaters in a tree in Chobe National Park, Botswana.
A trio of carmine bee-eaters line up for a photo op.

I was thrilled with the sunrise and the lions, but there was more to come. On the game drives, we saw a huge herd of Cape buffalo, giraffes, zebras, lots of baboons and monkeys, several varieties of antelope (kudu, nyala, impala), hyenas running through tall grass, mongooses, warthogs, and several kinds of birds including a flock of stunning carmine bee-eaters.

A few of the hundreds of elephants on the Chobe River.
Hundreds of elephants come to the river to drink, bathe, and play.

Chobe River Safari by Boat

On the boat safari, we saw hippos, crocodiles, and lots more birds, but the prize was the huge herd of elephants. Chobe National Park has the largest concentration of elephants in Africa. 

We saw many dozens, if not hundreds of them. They were everywhere: along the river banks and in the water. So many, I didn’t come close to capturing the scene in my photos and videos.

On our first evening at the lodge, we went up river and saw huge numbers of elephants. On land, elephants mostly plod along looking for food, but in water they splash around like kids and seem more playful.

The next day, we went back at noon and had lunch with the elephants. Our pontoon boat stopped near the herd and we were soon surrounded by elephants. 

Elephants Swimming across the Chobe River, Botswana.
Elephants crossing the Chobe River.

The Chobe River is the border between Botswana and Namibia, and while we enjoyed our lunch and a glass of wine, several dozen elephants crossed the river from Botswana to the Namibia side. It was quite a sight. They swam in single file, mostly underwater, with their trunks up like snorkels. 

The little elephants had trouble climbing up the bank on the Namibia side, and it looked like they’d be trampled or drowned. But the big elephants would reach underwater with their trunks and help lift and push the babies to safety. Elephants are so cool.

Photo collage of scenes in and around the Chobe Game Lodge, the perfect place to see the Chobe swimming elephants.
Scenes around Chobe Game Lodge.

Is the Chobe Game Lodge a Good Place to Stay?

I’m normally an independent, 3-star kind of traveler. I care more about location than I do about plush rooms and fancy food. But this was a tour and our stay at Chobe Game Lodge came with the deal. 

As it turned out, everything about the 5-star lodge was wonderful. It’s right on the bank of the Chobe River and has a fleet of electric pontoon boats for the river cruises and a fleet of land cruisers for game drives. It was a truly great experience.

A guest room at the Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana.
Room at Chobe Game Lodge.

The lodge is huge and beautifully decorated. The rooms are lovely and comfortable; the bathrooms have both tubs and walk-in showers.

The food and drinks were excellent and abundant with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and included both familiar and local dishes. One evening, we were treated to a Bar-B-Que in the outdoor dining area, as the Kasane Horizon Marimba Band entertained us.

The lodge, rooms, pool, outdoor dining area, and boat dock were all interconnected with walkways raised above the garden jungle. They kept us above whatever animals wandered below.

An Impala in Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Say cheese!
A large Kudu with huge twisted antlers and bright pink ears watches us watch him on a Chobe game drive.
A kudu watching us watch him.

Was it Worth the Price of the Tour?

Eco-Lodges, like the Chobe Game Lodge, provide a safe and easy way to experience Africa. The lodge is all inclusive, so the price includes all food, drinks, lodging, amenities like laundry, and, most of all, the safari river cruises and game drives. You really do get a lot for your money.

An elephant and four impalas share a drink from the Chobe River in Botswana.
It’s nice to have friends to drink with.

Are Eco-Lodges Good for Africa?

The money we visitors bring to the park helps provide good jobs for local people and a market for local farmers and other producers of goods and services. The money also helps the national park protect the habitat for the animals and other wildlife here, keeping them safe from hunters and poachers. The animals are not caged or fenced in; they are free to roam as they please.

Photo collage of birds seen on a Chobe game drive, including a hornbill, African fish eagle, and malachite kingfisher.
Clockwise from top left: African fish eagle, red-billed hornbill, wire-tailed swallow, guinea fowl, and malachite kingfisher.

My Favorite Things about Chobe National Park:

  • The huge elephant herds and especially the way they seemed so happy in the water
  • The best, most close and personal lion pride experience ever
  • So many species of bird
  • That eco-tourism contributes to the local economy and protects the wildlif

Best time to go to Chobe National Park

The best time is when you can go, because there is no bad time to go to Chobe. During the wet season there is an abundance of green that attracts tons of wildlife, and in the dry season the animals are much easier to spot, especially as they congregate near water sources.

Wet Season — December through April

During the rainy season, the pans (large, flat, clay covered areas) in Botswana, turn into shallow lakes where birds and animals gather. You can park by a pan and watch the animals come and go. 

If you’re also visiting Victoria Falls and want to see the full mile-long curtain of water, the wet season is best. But more water over the falls also means more mist making it difficult to see or take photos.

Baboon Family behind a log.
These are some of the many baboons we saw all over Chobe National Park.

Dry Season — May through November

During the dry season the pans dry up and the animals and birds are more concentrated along the river. I (Ginny) went in October, near the end of the dry season, and there were definitely lots of animals near the river.

Victoria Falls to Chobe National Park 

Chobe is very close to Victoria Falls whether you want to visit the Zambian or Zimbabwean sides of the falls. It’s a little over an hour drive, depending on the wait at customs and there are plenty of day trip tours on offer for you to go from one to the other if that makes it easier for you.

We rode in a private van with a driver who knew the ropes, and it only took us about one hour and 20 minutes total to get from our lodge in Livingstone to our lodge in Kasane. 

How to Get to Kasane

There are a couple of ways you can access Chobe National Park, located in Kasane. There is an airport, so you can fly in, or you can drive, and if you find yourself in some of the major cities, you can take the bus.

What Animals Can Be Found in Chobe National Park? (Pictures)

  • Elephants
  • Lions
  • Crocodiles
  • Antelope
  • Giraffe
  • Warthogs
Right on the edge of the Chobe River, a menacing crocodile.
Right on the edge of the Chobe River, a menacing crocodile.
Cape buffalo with lots of flies buzzing around its head.
This big guy is definitely telling us not to come any closer. I wasn’t going to mess with him.
A vulture stands guard not too far from his feed.
A vulture stands guard not too far from his feed.
Sunset over the Chobe River from our cruise boat.
Sunset over the Chobe River from our cruise boat.

More Chobe Accommodations

If you are traveling on a tour, or have set up a self-drive itinerary, chances are you will not need to find your own accommodations on your trip. This makes it very easy for planning, but it’s also good because only a fraction of the lodges are on hotel booking sites. You can still find some good deals, however if you are booking on your own.

Typical Chobe National Park accommodation, thatched cottages.
Chobe accommodations vary from budget to luxury, but this lodge had individual thatched cottages that we slept in. Quite comfortable.
There was lots of comfort in our Kubu lodge accommodations in Kasane.
There was lots of comfort in our Kubu lodge accommodations in Kasane.

Stay Tuned! If you are enjoying reading all about our road trip through Southern Africa, we’ve got more. You can read all about our next stop, the Caprivi Strip (Zambezi Region) in Namibia here.

Have you been to Chobe National Park?  Did you do the amazing river cruise?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Chobe National Park River Cruise Safari - Boat and Elephant!

Jamie Hilly

Monday 5th of July 2021

Incredible. I keep seeing posts about Africa, I just need to go already! Amazing photography too


Tuesday 24th of June 2014

I did that same Chobe river cruise and imaged the same thing - boat loads of tourists everywhere, but it was quite the opposite. Such an awesome experience and we got so close to the elephants!

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

Lynda, It was a wonderful experience. Watching the baby elephants swimming across the river is forever etched into my memory.


Wednesday 18th of June 2014

Holy hippo attack!!! That's crazy, Corinne! Where is the picture of it??! That is fascinating on so many attacks occuring that way too. I've watched wildlife shows all of my life but seeing a tourist getting snatched out of a boat would been a first. Thank goodness you weren't harmed. That is very cool that the boat wasn't crowded. That would be a huge turn off for me. Great story and post, our friend! :-)

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 18th of June 2014

Mike, It was pretty scary! But it happened rather early in our boat trip and didn't ruin just meant we were all really in the wild!


Tuesday 17th of June 2014

Wow - it all sounds amazing (apart from that bit about near death and all)! I am kinda obsessed with elephants - aren't their trumpets and sounds so amazing! Lovely shot of their faces half wet. I can't wait to get to almost anywhere in Africa one day!

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 17th of June 2014

Katie, It was an amazing experience. I'd read mixed reviews, but we loved it.


Tuesday 17th of June 2014

So cute :)