Chiefs Camp lies beneath mixed woodland on Chiefs Island within the Moremi Game Reserve.
Chief's Camp: Our full report
Chief's Camp lies within the Moremi Game Reserve's exclusive Mombo Concession, on the north-western side of Chief's Island – the largest land mass in the Okavango Delta. The island is renowned for some of the best game viewing in Botswana.
The 12 guest rooms at Chief's Camp form a horseshoe beneath mixed woodland, facing south over Piajio floodplain. In the centre of this horseshoe, the main area creates a welcoming entrance to the camp. Neat sandy pathways direct you either side to the rooms or straight ahead between the curio shop and office to an open-plan bar and lounge area, and spacious dining room, all overlooking the expansive floodplain where a variety of species can often be seen grazing. A high thatched roof with ceiling fans shelters leather, hide, wicker, sisal and wooden furnishings, which offset the pale colours of the smart, contemporary décor. Ornate light fittings, a pumice wall divider and an eye-catching photographic mural over the bar add unique touches, and a small library features fiction, reference books and games.
Polished wooden floors lead out to the split-level decking built around existing trees, creating a shady spot to relax on comfy outdoor seating, or soak in the sun on loungers around the swimming pool. More decking in front of the dining room allows for alfresco meals, and a further drop leads down to a sandy terrace jutting over the floodplain where an open firepit is encircled by camp chairs.
Chief's Camp's 12 tented rooms are elevated on individual platforms under thatch, their wooden frames supported by padded canvas walls – creating a tented feel to these otherwise solid structures. Each is approached from the back, ensuring a private outlook over the floodplain in front. Steps lead up to the deck where two cushioned chairs are shaded by a lattice covering. Wood-and-mesh doors open into the large room which is warmly coloured in cream, white and a touch of green, combined with mahogany and honey-toned wood. To one side is a minibar with soft drinks; to the other a desk with information pack; and between the two is a lounge area with two suede armchairs, a coffee table and a bookcase containing magazines and African artefacts.
Taking centre stage is a four-poster bed, with overhead mosquito net and ceiling fan, framed by a slatted headboard with reading lights, and flanked by bedside tables. A wicker chest containing extra blankets and towels sits by the outer wall. The inner wall has two open-sided wardrobes with internal lighting, ensuring that you can see inside your luggage – something that is lacking in most other safari camps in Botswana. There is ample hanging space, plus shelving, a digital safe, umbrella, insect spray, air-horn, bathrobes, slippers and a shoe-polish kit.
A doorway leads into the en-suite bathroom with separate toilet. Twin ceramic handbasins and overhanging mirrors sit atop a wooden washstand. There's a tiled shower cubicle, laundry basket and a well-lit vanity table with tissues, hairdryer and extra mirror. Soap, shower gel, shower cap, vanity and sewing kits, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are provided. Through an outer door you'll find the outside shower, partly walled for privacy whilst still allowing views over the floodplain.
A number of thoughtful touches are worth a mention: electric blankets and hot-water bottles in winter, feather and hollow-fibre pillows, universal plug points, and a thorough turndown service when drinking water and a short bedtime story are set out with the bathrobe and slippers. There's no tea and coffee station, but a small minibar/fridge contains drinks.
However, on our last visit in May 2014, the rooms felt quite dated in both style and décor, and we think no longer live up to the high price tag you pay for a stay at Chief’s Camp. There has been talk of structural changes in the near future. We were also a little disappointed about standards of staffing, which were not as high as on previous visits, there seemed to be a lack of efficiency in the running of the camp.
Activities at Chief's Camp focus on 4WD game drives and, subject to water levels, mokoro excursions. Game drives allow guests to experience the island's varied terrain and generally prolific wildlife – including an array of bird species. A maximum of six guests on the open-sided vehicles affords everyone an outside seat, though groups of up to nine travelling together and wanting to be in one vehicle can be accommodated. The vehicles have good legroom and comfortable armrests, and the guiding is good.
The peak season for mokoro trips at Chief’s Camp is between approximately May and December. Mokoros are not available in January and February, while at other times, water levels are dependent on the rains and the timing of the annual flood. During our last stay, in mid May, low water levels prevented us taking out a mokoro. When the water is high, mokoro trips start from in front of the lodge and offer a slightly later start than game drives, ideal for those wanting a bit of a lie-in.
Chief’s Camp’s location within the Moremi Game Reserve means that game drives are restricted by national-park regulations, which prohibit off-roading, night drives and walking.
Regular sightings include elephant, lion, giraffe, vervet monkey, leopard, spotted hyena, a variety of antelope, zebra, baboon and buffalo, and occasionally wild dog. Indeed, on our most recent visit in May 2014 we enjoyed a morning watching wild dog at play before they settled down to a siesta! Chief's Island was the location for the release of most of the rhino that have been reintroduced into Botswana in the last decade or so. Although a fair number have stayed around this area (with the rest having spread out over central and northern Botswana), and the island still offers one of Botswana's best chances of spotting rhino, however they do remain elusive and rarely seen.
At extra cost are helicopter flights, as well spa treatments, either in the small new wellness centre or outside on a deck overlooking the floodplain. Options include massages, facials, manicures, body scrubs and wraps.
Our viewChief's is a very comfortable camp with a great camp layout and outlook, and its higher-than-average price tag reflects the area's reputation for prime game viewing. In the past we have been impressed by friendly service and numerous thoughtful touches, but on our most recent trip the atmosphere was much more formal and the team of staff lacked cohesion. Although the guiding remained good, the running of the camp fell short of the standards we would expect from one of Botswana’s top-end camps.
Ideal length of stay: Most guests stay for two or three nights, though given the game-viewing opportunities on Chief's Island we'd ideally recommend three nights – particularly during the annual flood (June–October), when both game drives and mokoro trips are available.
Directions: Chief's Camp is reached by light aircraft into Piajio airstrip – a 25-minute flight from Maun or 1½ hours from Kasane. The airstrip is about 25 minutes' drive from camp, depending on what you see along the way.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Sanctuary Retreats
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food has been very good on our past visits to Chiefs Camp, and our last visit, in May 2014, was no exception. We thoroughly enjoyed the meals, which were fresh, tasty, well presented and of a very high standard. With advance notice, the camp can cater for vegetarians and other dietary requirements.
Unlike most camps in Botswana, lunch and dinner are served at individual tables rather then at a communal dining table.
Breakfast is served before the morning activity. We helped ourselves from a continental buffet of cereals, yoghurt, fresh fruit, cold meats, cheeses and croissants. A cooked breakfast was made to order, with a variety of options; our omelette was excellent.
Once back in camp after our activity we were offered a plated three-course lunch menu, along with a wide selection of salads from the buffet, and homemade bread –a delicious chilli and cheese twist that we could have happily filled up on! We particularly liked the way that the salad ingredients – lettuce, feta, chickpeas, cucumber, olives, tomatoes and so on – were served in separate bowls so you could mix to your taste.
Our starter was a tomato and mozzarella stack (which was lovely); for main we had the chicken breast with bacon on dauphinoise potatoes. For pudding we enjoyed a French apple tart, but there was also a good cheese platter.
Afternoon tea before our game drive was particularly tempting.
Corn muffins with mango salsa, tuna balls, chocolate muffins, scones with jam and cream and milk tart were served alongside hot or iced tea and coffee, delicious smoothies and lemonade.
Dinner was again a plated meal. For starters we opted for a blue-cheese tart (although a chilled soup was also on offer). Our main course was a lovely chicken curry, creatively served in a filo pastry nest, along with rice and vegetables; you could also choose to have lamb if preferred. For pudding we had vanilla ice cream.
Muffins or cookies with tea and coffee, and a selection of canapés with sundowner drinks, were served during the game drives.
Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers, spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Premier champagne and premium imported brands will cost extra and must be requested well in advance.
Further dining info: Private meals can be arranged by the pool or on your room deck.
Birdwatching: The diverse habitats around Chief's Camp attract over 450 bird species, from waterbirds to woodland varieties. Mokoro excursions offer a tranquil way to approach the likes of African jacana, slaty egret and pied kingfisher, whilst arboreal and grassland dwellers are seen on 4WD activities.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Botswana
Wildlife safaris: Renowned as one of Botswana's premier game-viewing destinations, Chief's Island boasts a wide variety of wildlife – including the country's few rhino (although these are not seen regularly).See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children aged nine years and over are welcome at Chief's Camp, but note that children aged 9–11 years are permitted on activities only at the discretion of the camp managers. A private vehicle can be arranged for families (at extra cost and subject to availability).
Equipment: There is no family room at Chief's Camp, although a rollaway bed can be added to create a triple room (though note that the camp can accommodate only one triple room at a time). Families with two children could take two rooms with an adult and a child in each. No special equipment is provided for children.
Generally recommended for children: We would recommend Chief's Camp for children aged 12 and over who have a genuine interest in wildlife.
Notes: Chief's Camp is unfenced within a big-game area, so children must be under their parents' supervision at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: Chief's Camp has a back-up generator. There are 220-volt power points in the rooms, with universal plug sockets.
Communications: Complimentary WiFi access is available in each tented room (though don’t expect high speeds). There is no direct telephone line or cellphone reception. A satellite phone is used in emergencies.
TV & radio: No
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All the chalets have plumbed hot and cold running water for showers and flushing toilets. Each room is also provided with glasses and a flask of filtered drinking water, which is replenished daily. We don’t recommend that travellers drink from the tap.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The camp managers and guides are trained in first aid and a comprehensive first-aid kit is kept in camp. Sanctuary Retreats has an on-call nurse who can be flown in to provide medical treatment, or medical evacuation can be arranged in an emergency.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There is no fencing around Chief's Camp to prevent potentially dangerous wildlife passing through, so guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. An air-horn and two-way radio are provided in each room to summon attention in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in all the rooms and the common areas at Chief's Camp.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included at Chief's Camp and usually takes less than 24 hours.
Money: There is a digital safe in each of the rooms.
Accepted payment on location: All extras can be paid for with Visa and MasterCard, travellers' cheques or by cash (South African rand, British pounds, US dollars, euros and Botswana pula). Diners Card and American Express are not accepted.