Lebala is a remote and tranquil camp in the very North of Botswana.
Lebala Camp: Our full report
In the extreme north of Botswana, Lebala Camp stands in the immense private Kwando Reserve, a vast and largely dry wildlife area with a deserved reputation as a top African safari camp for superb big game – and especially good predator sightings. There are just two camps in this area: Lagoon Camp is beside the Kwando River to the north; its sister camp, Lebala, stands to the south in open lush grasslands. Lebala is a stylish camp, but lacks any airs or graces in its fairly single-minded pursuit of game sightings.
North of Selinda, the Kwando Reserve is a huge immense private reserve of mopane forests, lush riverine forest and open floodplains covering roughly 2,300km². This reserve attracts superb big game – including elephant and buffalo – with numbers swelling significantly (especially in its riverine areas) during the dry season, between June and October. Wild dogs have also regularly denned in the Kwando concession since 1997. The combination of excellent wildlife densities and a strong policy of actively tracking the big game has given this area a well-earned reputation as offering one of the best chances of seeing these predators, particularly during the denning season (June–July).
Lebala Camp itself is reached by a small footbridge over a lily-filled waterway, opening into a large lounge and bar area scattered with chairs and sofas. The freestanding bar is well stocked and is usually where afternoon tea is served. The firepit is central to morning and evening life in this camp; it’s where morning tea and coffee are taken before the activities start and it’s usually where travellers gather to discuss the events of the day before dinner.
For those hot days, there is a small plunge pool to cool off in – with very pleasing views overlooking the plains to the front of camp. There is also a small but well-stocked souvenir shop, where we were pleased to see that a good number of locally made items were for sale.
Lebala's nine enormous tented chalets – including one 2-bedroom family room – stand on the edge of the Linyanti Marshes, with views over the waterway and grassy plains beyond. The chalets are raised up on wooden decks, joined to the main area by sandy pathways. Each chalet also has a balcony with a couple of deckchairs, as well as a small sitting area inside.
You enter the room from the balcony, through sliding meshed doors; in fact most of the canvas walls of the tents are floor to ceiling mesh. This allows for welcome cooling breezes in summer but we found that it can make the room quite cold in winter, as well as allowing those walking past some of the rooms to look in. However, privacy – and a little extra warmth – can more-or-less be maintained by drawing the white curtains that hang around almost the whole circumference of these rooms.
To the front of the chalet is the bedroom and lounge area. Large twin three-quarter-size beds face to the front, overlooking the seasonal floodplains. They can be converted to a double on request.
A canvas wall divides the bedroom from the bathroom and dressing area. There is a lovely claw-footed bath, quite an unusual feature in a safari camp in Botswana, as well as twin washbasins and a separate cubicle with flushing loo. There are shelves and a hanging space for clothes, and a small safe to store valuables. Another set of sliding doors at the back of the chalet leads to an outside double shower.
The camp has one family unit which is similar to the others, but has an additional, smaller twin-bedded room leading off (from the interior) to the side of the tent. Note, however, that both rooms share one bathroom.
Lebala supplies shampoo, shower gel, hand and body lotion, as well as soap. There is also insect repellent and insect spray, as well as a fog horn which can be used to summon help in case of emergency.
(A tip from our team: we found that because of the solar hot-water heaters, the water is usually hottest during the day – although we still enjoyed a good, reasonably hot bath after dinner one evening.)
Behind both the communal buildings and tented chalets is a separate raised viewing deck. Tall and shady, with views over the wetlands, this is an ideal spot to retreat to for solitude and to try a spot of birding – or, if the reeds are short, to see what animals pass by.
But the main activities at Lebala focus on day and night 4WD game drives. On these, you’ll be accompanied by both an able tracker and a qualified guide (who drives). This not only enhances the guide’s ability to track predators and more elusive game, but also affords an extra pair of experienced eyes for spotting wildlife – especially in thicker bush. The vehicles at Lebala are (currently in May 2012 – ask us for the latest!) hardy open-topped Uris, which have two rows of three seats and take up to six passengers. They’re well suited for the terrain and for going off-road, and they also allow unobstructed views of wildlife because they don’t have canopies. But don’t forget a good hat, high SPF sunscreen and something waterproof for the rainy season.
On our last visit in May 2011, we were thoroughly impressed by the tracking skills (and tenacity) of both our guide and tracker. For several hours, we followed a lioness, often losing her in the thicker bush for long periods, but persistence eventually paid off when she brought us to her pride of 17 lions of varying ages. (And ours was a relieved vehicle of guests to find that her cubs were safely with the rest of the pride!)
Wild dogs tend to den nearer to Lagoon Camp, but depending on the location of the den they may still be visited from Lebala – where on one previous visits members of the Expert Africa team have followed packs of wild dogs hunting.
The camp’s guides are professional, friendly and usually especially enthusiastic about tracking the predators. This single-minded focus is often very positive, especially given that many visitors know this reputation, and so come here specifically for predator sightings. However, the other side of this coin is that more relaxed safari goers – who perhaps have a wider interest in wildlife both great and small, or may be keen on birds – may find the relentless ‘gung-ho’ approach to finding predators a bit too narrow, and even be annoyed by the apparent exclusion of other interesting sightings which may be simply ignored along the way.
Depending on the season, Lebala will sometimes also offer short walks. This activity is always at the guides' discretion, and never guaranteed to be available; for example, there are sometimes simply too many elephant in this area to make such walking safaris safe.
It is worth noting that although game sightings here are more prolific during Botswana's dry season, between about June and October, rewarding sightings do occur year round. Indeed, the rainy season often reveals more unusual sights (particularly predators hunting) as well as a greater variety of birdlife.
Our viewWe have visited Lebala very regularly over the years and its laid-back style hasn’t changed, even though the camp’s fabric has been upgraded. The accommodation is good, and the Kwando Reserve has excellent wildlife, especially during the dry season.
Lebala’s focus remains firmly on game-viewing, and specifically on providing great predator sightings. For most visitors the style of its activities is great: delivering exceedingly good sightings of wild dogs, cheetah and lion. However, a few find that this single-minded focus detracts from a more gentle appreciation of the wider ecosystem, and regret that it doesn’t allow time for observing the area’s less iconic species.
Ideal length of stay: About three nights is usual here, and Lebala is popularly combined with one of its sister camps: in the Okavango, Kwara and Little Kwara; and in the drier reaches of the Kalahari, Nxai Pan Camp and Tau Pan Camp. Sometimes Lebala also works well in combination with its nearby sister camp, Lagoon. Currently, if you spend a total of six or more nights at Lebala in combination with one, or more, of its sister camps, there is a special offer and a saving to be made. We’ll automatically include this for our travellers, but feel free to ask us for the details.
Directions: Road transfers are possible between Lagoon and Lebala camps when combining a stay at both. Otherwise it is a light aircraft flight into the airstrip and around a 20-minute transfer by 4WD vehicle to camp.
Owner: Kwando Safaris
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The quality of the food served at Lebala wasn’t consistently good when we last visited in May 2011, although our team has found it to be good on previous trips.
An early breakfast of porridge or cereal, muffins, tea and coffee is taken around the campfire before the morning game drive.
Brunch is served on return from the morning activity and may include fruit, toast, various cheeses, a hot savoury dish (we had beef and vegetables) as well as various breakfast items such as mushrooms, sausages and beans, with eggs usually cooked to order. The freshly baked bread and just-cooked eggs were wonderful. When we were very late back from our morning activity having successfully tracked a pride of lions quite a distance from camp, the rest of the breakfast was not quite as appealing, but we all appreciated that we weren’t rushed back to camp and that Kwando lived up to their promise that game viewing is the priority and food can wait!
Afternoon tea is served just before heading out on the late afternoon activity, usually in the lounge. The selection could put many patisseries to shame and on different visits we’ve enjoyed sausage rolls, spinach and goat's cheese quiche, orange cake and melt-in-your-mouth custard biscuits, along with homemade lemonade and iced tea.
A three-course dinner is served when you get back from your afternoon game drive; the time really depends on what you see on the drive. We started our three-course dinner with onion soup, which we thought was over-seasoned and a bit too salty. But the roast chicken and fresh vegetables were delicious, nicely rounded off by a traditional apple crumble served with custard.
Dining style: Group Meals
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 cost extra and may need to be requested in advance. There is a ’help-yourself‘ drinks fridge at the bar.
Attitude towards children: Lebala Camp has a positive approach to children on safari and, generally, children are welcome. However, please take into account the restrictions below.
Property’s age restrictions: Children of 6–12 years old are accepted, but the family is required to take a private vehicle on game drives. Depending on the size of the family group, there may be an additional charge for this vehicle. Children younger than six are accepted only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use.
Special activities & services: Lebala Camp does not generally provide any special activities or services for children. However, they will try to be as flexible as possible with children’s meal times, as well as cooking favourites such as spaghetti bolognese. However, guests travelling with children have the option of booking a ‘family safari’ (at extra cost). The family will be allocated a specialist guide who is trained and passionate, inspiring children to learn and love the wilderness. They will also benefit from a private vehicle with their own tracker who, with their guide, will also look after them in camp.
Equipment: There is no special equipment available but there is a family room which has as an extra room with twin beds leading off the main bedroom area. There is one shared bathroom in the family room.
Generally recommended for children: Recommended for more mature children, who are genuinely interested in wildlife. For families with younger children, we suggest a specialist family safari.
Notes: Lebala is unfenced, and dangerous wildlife, including lion and leopard, can wander through the camp at any time. There is no fence around the pool.
Communications: There is no cellphone reception, direct phone or fax, or email. Communication is maintained with head office in Maun via radio.
TV & radio: There is no TV or radio.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Camp managers are first-aid trained and a first-aid kit is kept at camp. In an emergency, the camp can arrange for clients to be flown out.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: The camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife is known to move through camp, so guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. A safety talk is given on arrival. ‘Fog horns’ are provided in the rooms, and can be used to sound for help in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There are extinguishers in the common areas of the camp and in each room.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included (excluding underwear). Laundry is collected in the morning and usually returned the same day, weather permitting. Washing powder is provided in the room for guests to wash their smalls.
Money: There is a safe in each room. Please note that no exchange facilities are offered.
Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. No commission is charged on credit-card transactions, but there is a 3% surcharge on curios if a card is used in payment. Cash in the form of South African rand, GB sterling, US dollars, euros and Botswana pula is accepted.