Zarafa is a very exclusive camp situated in the private Selinda Reserve in Botswana...
Zarafa Camp: Our full report
Set within the private 1,350 km² Selinda Reserve, the intimate Zarafa Camp (formerly called Zibadianja) was completely relocated and rebuilt in 2008. It now occupies a scenic island setting beside the Zibadianja Lagoon, the source of the Savuti Channel, and is one of Botswana's most exclusive camps.
The Selinda Reserve is characterised by vast tracts of savannah, dotted with stands of mokolwane palm, leadwood and mopane woodland, and interspersed with watercourses and floodplains. It's an attractive, open environment where wildlife can easily be spotted at a distance.
Zarafa shares the reserve with its sister camp, Selinda. And like its sister camp, it is co-owned by renowned wildlife filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who have combined years of safari experience to create in Zarafa their ultimate safari camp. Their thoughtful touches are evident throughout, from the distinctive décor and personalised guest stationery to the Swarovski binoculars, digital camera and memory cards provided for guests’ use.
Zarafa’s accommodation consists of just four sprawling marquee-style tented rooms, raised on old railway sleeper decks, each with a private plunge pool and outdoor needle-shower. An ornate Zanzibar door leads into a lounge area, separated by canvas partitions from a spacious open-plan bedroom and bathroom. Polished wooden floors are lined with rugs, with leather furniture and wooden chests creating an early-settler feel.
Zarafa’s environmentally friendly design incorporates recycled hardwoods and canvas. Electricity comes from a solar ‘farm’ with battery and inverter system. All the canvas is double-sided, which helps the rooms remain cool in summer and warm in winter. Each tent is roofed with three layers: an inner lining for decoration, and two outer layers for protection and insulation.
Each tent has some lovely extra touches, including a chest filled with watercolour paper and paints and a small range of wildlife books. There is even a yoga mat and weights for those who feel like a light workout! A number of well-stocked chests and leather and brass-trimmed boxes are filled with a selection of alcoholic beverages; tea and coffee; and mixers, ice and chilled fresh water. On our stay in November 2013 there were bottles of Amarula, brandy, whisky and gin, as well as decanters of sherry and port, but drinks can be stocked to suit your preferences.
The bedroom at Zarafa has a large bed with mosquito net and overhead ceiling fan, while behind is plenty of hanging and shelving space where you’ll find bathrobes, a hairdryer, an umbrella, insect repellent and spray, and a digital safe. Also hidden away here is a specially designed air-conditioning unit that is very effective at cooling the area around the bed, although it does not air condition the entire tent. The bathroom facilities include a luxuriously deep copper bath, indoor rain-head shower, twin basins and a separate flush toilet. For the winter months a copper gas heater helps to keep the tent warm – a luxurious addition even by the standard of Botswana’s safari camp!
A large marquee encompasses Zarafa’s main area, its lounge, dining room, bar and library all beautifully decorated in the same early-settler style as the rooms. This main area leads out to an extensive deck where, weather permitting, most meals are served. A neighbouring tent houses one of the nicer gift shops in Botswana’s camps, stocking locally made goods and quality African artefacts. Additional facilities include an outdoor 'jungle gym' and in-room massage treatments.
Each area of Zarafa overlooks the floodplains of the Zibadianja Lagoon, from under the shade of giant jackalberry trees. Wildlife, particularly elephant and hippo, is a common sight in front of and around camp. On our last visit in November 2013 we were lucky enough to watch from our breakfast table as a pack of wild dogs – nine adults and seven pups – played directly in front of the camp near the water’s edge. On previous visits we have been lucky enough to see lion and spotted hyena pass through the camp too.
With a maximum of eight guests, Zarafa Camp can be flexible when it comes to activities. They offer day and night game drives, usually in the mornings and afternoons/early evenings, with full-day game drives on request. All are conducted in custom-built Land Cruisers, each with individual bucket seats and a removable canvas roof. A private vehicle and guide can be pre-booked at additional cost, though groups of four or more automatically get their own private vehicle at no extra charge.
Short or full morning walks led by an armed guide can be arranged, as can catch-and-release fishing trips using spinners or bait – though note that these are not available during January and February, when fishing is banned by the Botswana authorities.
Another highlight at Zarafa is cruising the lagoon aboard the large HMS Zibadianja pontoon boat. Furnished with couches, a dining table and chairs, this is ideal for brunch and sundowner cruises whilst watching hippos, elephant and other wildlife.
Though seasonal, wildlife viewing from Zarafa is typically very good – particularly during the dry season from June to early November. The combination of wet and dry habitats attracts a wide range of species, including a variety of birdlife. On our last visit in November 2013 we were rewarded with some fantastic wildlife sightings: two different pairs of leopard mating; mating lion; wild dogs with pups and large herds of breeding elephants; African wildcat, small herds of zebra, giraffe, warthog and feeding lions! Some birding specials at Zarafa include slaty egret, black egret, coppery-tailed coucal and raptors such as African fish eagle and bateleur eagle.
When we last visited Zarafa, there were plans to build a family unit at the far end of the camp. This is intended for exclusive use by a family or group of friends, and will be catered for entirely separately from the main camp. Building is yet to begin, but we are told that the aim is to have this ready for the end of 2014.
Our viewZarafa has succeeded in combining luxury and adventure in an exclusive yet informal setting. The camp is beautifully designed and well run, and goes the extra mile to cater for its guests’ wishes. If you're looking for indulgence, great game viewing, polished guiding and service, this is the place – albeit with a price tag to match. Though there's a good variety of wildlife here year round, the best time to visit is without doubt during the dry season, from June to October/November.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend at least three nights or more at Zarafa Camp. For a little more adventure, it combines very well with Selinda Canoe Trail and also the Selinda Explorers Camp, which are both in the same reserve, but offer totally different experiences.
Directions: Zarafa is accessible only by light aircraft; it’s roughly a 45-minute flight from either Maun or Kasane. The camp is about an hour’s drive from Selinda airstrip, depending on wildlife sightings on the way.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Great Plains Conservation
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The quality and selection of the food at Zarafa is extraordinary considering the remoteness of the camp, matching the standard you’d expect of a very high-end safari camp in Botswana. Vegetarians and any particular dietary requirements can be catered for on request, and menus are extremely flexible to suit guests’ food preferences.
Meals are a social event with guests seated around one table, though private meals can be arranged on request.
On our last visit we began our day with a light breakfast of bacon and egg quiche, croissants, yoghurt pots with stewed fruit, sliced fruit, fresh muffins, a selection of jam, honey and mixed nuts and a variety of cereal.
On return from the morning activity we were met with a very impressive buffet brunch incorporating a cool broccoli soup with fresh homemade bread; marinated chicken or lamb freshly prepared on the hot plate; a range of salads including spinach and egg salad, avocado and papaya salad, and a tossed salad made in front of you from a selection of ingredients; a cheese platter with dried and fresh fruit; and eggs prepared to order.
Afternoon tea of sweet or savoury snacks is served before the afternoon activity, accompanied by a selection of hot or cold drinks.
Dinner was a three-course plated meal with a choice of Botswana beef, turkey accompanied by roast vegetables, or a vegetarian 'basket' with rice and mixed vegetables for the main. For a starter we had bruschetta with a balsamic glaze, and for dessert a very yummy fruit salad encased in a homemade orange-flavoured brandy snap.
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, spirits and a selection of (generally) South African wines are included. Imported wines, spirits and champagne cost extra – and may even need to be requested in advance.
Further dining info: On request, i.e. private meals for special occasions.
Honeymoons: With its large and luxurious rooms in an intimate setting overlooking the Zibadianja Lagoon, Zarafa is an ideal place for a honeymoon retreat. The staff will happily set up a private dinner on your veranda or a romantic cruise on the pontoon boat.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Botswana
Photography holidays: Zarafa is co-owned by wildlife photographers Dereck & Beverly Joubert, and caters particularly well for photographers. A number of Canon 5D cameras with 100–400mm lenses are available for guest use, while private activities can be arranged for serious photographers.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children aged eight and over are welcome at Zarafa, but those aged 12 and under must be booked onto a private vehicle for their activities (families of four or more will be provided with a private vehicle free of charge). Children under the age of eight are permitted if their family has booked exclusive use of the whole camp.
Equipment: No special equipment for children is provided, although an additional bed can be added to the tents to create a triple. However, children enjoy their own activities with professional guides, learning basic survival skills such as where to find water or what plants are good to eat. They are encouraged to collect and identify anything that is of interest to them – leaves, grasses, even dung!
Generally recommended for children: As Zarafa is unfenced, and animals roam freely through the camp, we'd recommend it for children aged 12 and over.
Notes: There is no professional babysitting service, though camp staff can mind children on request. At all other times children must be kept under constant, close parental supervision.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: The system is capable of accommodating the low-wattage hairdryers that are provided in the bathrooms.
Communications: There is no internet or cellphone reception at Zarafa Camp; guests should consider themselves out of contact whilst here. There is a satellite phone and radio to contact Maun in an emergency.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All the tents have plumbed hot and cold running water for showers as well as flush toilets. Guests are encouraged to use the filtered water supply in the camp’s main area to top up the stainless-steel flasks that are placed in each room; these are also replenished daily by the staff. We don’t recommend that travellers drink from the tap.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: A comprehensive first-aid kit is kept in camp and guides carry field kits on activities. Both managers and guides are first-aid trained. In an emergency, medical evacuation to Maun can be arranged.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Due to the presence of big-game, and the fact that Zarafa Camp is unfenced, guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. Alarms are provided in the rooms for use in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the common areas and in each tent.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included at Zarafa Camp.
Money: The camp does not offer any money-exchange facilities. Each tent has a digital safe. MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. No commission is charged on credit-card transactions. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswana pula. MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. No commission is charged on credit-card transactions. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswanan pula.
Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. No commission is charged on credit-card transactions. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswana pula.