Chobe Chilwero is set back from the river on a hill near Chobe National Park.
Chobe Chilwero: Our full report
Chobe Chilwero is a sophisticated lodge perched on a hill bordering the Chobe National Park. The views from here stretch over the Chobe River to Namibia and the floodplains that emerge when the water levels drop.
The main area at Chobe Chilwero is a rather rambling complex with a well-stocked curio shop and a discreet 'communications centre' – although there is WiFi throughout the main building. From the entrance, a long corridor opens into a large and exceptionally elegant lounge area, while to one side is a small library. Here, along with a selection of books and board games, you’ll find a big-screen television hidden discreetly behind cupboard doors.
But in pride of place, with views onto the gardens and beyond to the river, is the dining room, where guests have the option to eat indoors or out on the covered veranda. On our most recent visit in September 2012, we were not the only guests to linger over lunch, which was delicious, and perhaps made more so by the setting.
Even during the dry season, the grounds at Chobe Chilwero feel like an oasis of green, thanks to an electric fence that prevents errant elephants from trampling the manicured lawns. Thankfully, it's low enough at the front of the lodge to be effective yet not detract from the views.
A short walk from the main area, and behind the split-level pool, is a well-equipped spa featuring a wide selection of products and treatments from both the Thalgo and Africology ranges. While not for everybody, we must admit we found a half-hour massage at the end of our safari a very welcome treat.
Chobe Chilwero’s 15 brick and thatch suites are cavernous and light. Large glass doors look out onto the gardens to the front, and to a private walled-in garden to the rear – complete with an outdoor shower and hammock. The suites are stylish and luxuriously appointed with air conditioning, double or twin beds, writing desk, dressing table, minibar fridge, plenty of storage space and a seating area at the rear. The en-suite bathroom is no less spacious, with a free-standing bathtub big enough for two, a shower, his and hers basins and a separate toilet.
Activities centre on twice-daily 4WD game drives, as well as motorboat trips on the Chobe River, usually in the afternoon. On our last visit to Chobe Chilwero, the riverbanks were teeming with life. We lost count of the elephants, and buffalo were seen lounging on the lush grass plains that are usually part of the riverbed when the water levels are higher. The birdlife is phenomenal, too – and some even seem quite relaxed; we got within a metre of several African jacanas and a white-fronted bee-eater perched on a branch overhanging the water. Or perhaps we were lucky! Nonetheless, we were entranced by the carmine bee-eaters that had recently arrived to nest, colouring otherwise brown trees with their vibrant red.
There is the potential for some exceptional big-game and predator sightings in the Chobe riverfront area, particularly during the dry months between around July and October, when water sources in the interior of the park dwindle and wildlife is drawn to the permanent waters of the Chobe. However, don’t expect to have sightings to yourself; this is a busy area, even more so than parks such as Moremi, possibly because of its reasonably good infrastructure and vicinity to the Victoria Falls and Kasane. In addition, do note that strict park rules mean that no night drives, walks or off-road driving are allowed.
Because of this, we would normally suggest starting your Botswana safari in the Chobe area, before moving to the less busy parks and reserves. However, after a week or two in the more remote areas, Chobe Chilwero could also be a good place to end a safari.
Our viewChobe National Park may not be exclusive, but Chobe Chilwero is. This luxurious lodge offers high levels of service, excellent food and an array of facilities we’d expect in a good hotel. It may not suit the traveller looking for a more traditional safari experience, but we think it will appeal to those looking to avoid the larger hotels around Kasane, but still wanting to indulge themselves for a few days.
Ideal length of stay: 2–3 nights, either at the start or end of your safari in Botswana, especially between July and October when game densities tend to be higher in this area.
Directions: It's roughly a 10-minute drive from Kasane International Airport to Chobe Chilwero.
Owner: Sanctuary Retreats
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food during our most recent visit was excellent and difficult to fault. We were particularly impressed by a visit from the chef to talk over our dietary requirements.
Guests are woken up with a tray of tea or coffee. Breakfast is served in the dining area before heading out on the first activity of the day. There is a buffet with a wide variety of choice, including cereals, fresh fruit, pastries, cold meats, cheeses, bread, yoghurt and dried fruit. There is also the option of a cooked breakfast, made to order.
Lunch – usually a choice of two or three plated dishes – is served between midday and 2pm, so there is a degree of flexibility for those who prefer to dine a little earlier or later. We selected the chicken stir fry served with pitta bread and a fresh side salad – which was excellent! There is usually a dessert to follow – if you have room!
Afternoon tea, served just before heading out on the afternoon activity, was a treat of fresh scones with cream and jam, homemade walnut and chocolate-chip cookies, chocolate cake, creamy mushrooms in puff pastry cups and moreish little savoury pumpkin fritters. This was accompanied by the choice of hot tea or coffee, iced tea and iced coffee.
After pre-dinner drinks with canapes in the lounge, we sat down to dinner. Guests will usually have a choice of two or three dishes for each of the three courses. We chose the mushroom soup, which was rich and creamy but not heavy. To follow was salmon, elegantly presented with new potatoes and julienne vegetables. Some of our fellow diners couldn’t choose between the steak and the fish, but it was no problem for the chef to prepare a bit of both for them. Dessert was a rich chocolate mousse, which by all accounts was melt-in-the-mouth. However, we’d requested something a little lighter and were very satisfied to end the meal with a fresh fruit salad. A cheeseboard with tea and coffee is also on offer to round off dinner.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits will cost extra and should be requested in advance to check availablity.
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcomed. However, families with children of five years and younger will need to book and pay for private activities, which will be at the discretion of management. Children aged 15 years and younger must share a suite with an adult.
Special activities & services: Childminding is offered, but note that the minders are members of the housekeeping staff and are not qualified babysitters. Child-friendly menus are available and evening meals can be served earlier than normal mealtimes. The lodge offers guided walks within the grounds of the lodge to collect pods, leaves and seeds, and to learn about animal identification. Children can also make their own pizza with the chef, play a game of kiddies’ croquet on the lawn and participate in a 'safari hunt' with clues hidden in the grounds of the lodge.
Equipment: Children receive a back pack with a colouring book of animals, colouring pencils, water bottle, torch and children's binoculars. The suites are large enough for children to share comfortably without being cramped , and cots can be provided on request.
Generally recommended for children: We think that Chobe Chilwero would be very suitable for children with a keen interest in the natural world.
Notes: Dangerous wildlife wanders through the grounds and the pool is unfenced; children must be under the constant supervision of their parents.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: Telephone, fax and email are all available at Chobe Chilwero, which also has cellphone coverage as well as WiFi in the main area. Guests are asked to respect the enjoyment of other guests and only to use cellphones in the privacy of their room.
TV & radio: There is a television in the library.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The managers are first-aid trained. The nearest doctor is in Kasane, about 10 minutes drive from Chobe Chilwero.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There is a low electrified fence to keep out elephants and a security guard at the main entrance to the grounds. Guests are escorted to and from their rooms in the evening, with a telephone in the suites to call reception in case of need. There is also an air horn provided to raise the alarm in an emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire detectors and fire extinguishers at the suites and in the main areas, as well as fire hoses.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included.
Money: There are safes in all the suites. No exchange facilities are offered.
Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. Cash payments may be made in the form of South African rand, GB sterling, US dollars, euros and Botswana pula.