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Botswana on a budget

In search of a more affordable option in this notoriously expensive wildlife destination, Sarah Gilbert joins a group mobile camping safari

"Look, behind you!” Still clutching my cofiee, I swung around just in time to see an impala fiash past. Swifily followed by a blur of five African wild dogs, lithe bodies outstretched in hot pursuit — and less than a couple of metres from where I was standing. We jumped into the Land Cruiser and sped off in a dramatic swirl of dust. A few minutes later, we came across the wild dog celebration, yelping as they rubbed bloodstained muzzles, a head and spine all that remained of the luckless impala.

Botswana is known for its wealth of wildlife. With a population of just over two million in an area the size of France, vast swathes of pristine wilderness have been given over to fence-free national parks and private game reserves, allowing wildlife to roam as it pleases. It’s also known for its policy of high-end, low-volume tourism and eye-wateringly expensive lodges, some of which command almost US$3000 per person per night in high season. But I was forgoing the five-star treatment — butlers to draw a bath, tasting menus to rival Michelin-star restaurants and well-stocked wine cellars — travelling on a budget and going back to basics on a mobile safari, sleeping in a tent, eating under the stars and leaving no footprint. For ten action-packed days, I travelled through some of Botswana’s most stunning landscapes, from the riverine forest of Chobe National Park, south through the arid Savuti Channel to the abundant wildlife of the Concession and Moremi Game Reserve on the edge of the Okavango Delta’s watery wilderness. Our eclectic group of seven ranged from safari addicts like me to a British family of first-time safarigoers and two intrepid pensioners from the Australian outback. There was no Internet, no TV, and we all got on famously, sharing campfire tales and convivial meals.

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