The Okavango Delta is renowned as a world-class wilderness of lagoons and waterways ...
Abu Camp: Our full report
Abu Camp is one of the most luxurious and expensive camps in Africa. For many years it was owned and sporadically run by its founder, the charismatic Randall Jay Moore. During this time it gained a reputation as the place to ride African elephants in a pristine wilderness environment and attracted the world’s glitterati. Randall Moore has now moved on to pastures new but we don’t envisage the up-market nature (or the price tag) of Abu disappearing any time soon given that the camp is now part-owned by Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) and managed by Wilderness Safaris as one of their ‘Collection’ properties.
The whole camp was rebuilt and refurbished in early 2011 and on our last visit here in October 2012 we were really impressed with this immaculately designed safari lodge, with rooms the size of small apartments, furnishings finished to the highest specifications and service of the very highest quality.
The whole camp is located on the edge of a permanent lagoon and set amongst a grove of towering hardwood trees offering shade from the heat of the day. Accommodation at Abu Camp consists of just Six tented Suites which all face out onto the lagoon. The basic design of these is relatively typical of many other safari camps in the Okavango Delta – made out of timber frames with canvas walls and with large mesh windows which keep the insects out but let the breeze in. Where the suites differ however is in their décor which is unique in each case.
On our last visit to Abu our suite stretched linearly along the bank of the lagoon so that the bedroom, the study area and the bathroom all faced out onto the water. The study area consists of a writing table and comfortable leather deck chair. This offers an excellent place from which to update your travel journal or to relax and read one of the selection of antique books provided for your perusal. Perhaps what most impressed us though were two glass cabinets either side of the desk each containing various local artifact as well as rocks and minerals found in southern Africa – it was like having your own small museum in your room. The study area is also where you’ll find a good selection of power points for both European and US plugs.
From the study area the king-sized bed is found on the other side of the suite and there are a couple of chairs here too in which to relax. There’s no air-conditioning at Abu but it’s hardly needed given the open nature of the suites. When it does get really hot there are a couple of ceiling fans, one right above the bed, which do a really good job of keeping the temperature down.
Next to the bed is a cabinet containing the mini-bar and a tea and coffee making station. Next door to the ‘bedroom’ is the en-suite bathroom which is reached through an open doorway. For privacy there is a drop down canvas curtain which when let down separates the bathroom from the rest of the suite. In our suite the bathroom consisted of twin basins set in a black marble unit underneath a large mirror. As with most camps there are some complimentary toiletries provided. There’s a large walk in shower found here too as well as a lot of hanging space and a luggage rack too. There’s a separate room for the toilet with a door. Outside of our bathroom, on the verandah, there was a clawfoot bath tub which could be reached through a sliding door leading directly from the shower.
At the front of each suite is a wooden verandah, which when we last visited (despite it being October when flood levels are at their lowest) had water from the lagoon lapping right up to its stilts. This was a great place to relax and take in the birdlife – there are some really comfortable sala beds on which to snooze during the afternoon too. We were also lucky enough to be given the honeymoon suite on our last visit to Abu which meant that we had our own private plunge pool, perfect for relaxing with a drink and watching the birdlife flitter around the water’s edge. Note that not all of the suites have this feature.
Abu Camp’s main area is very impressive indeed and has been designed (we’re told) with water and waves in mind – which seems a little odd given that the nearest coastline is about 900km away but there is of course a lot of water around at least – it’s all very contemporary.
Often, when talking about ‘libraries’ at safari camps we’re really referring to a glorified bookcase, not so at Abu however. This is certainly the most comprehensive collection of fact and fiction (of both Africana and more general literature) that we have ever seen at a safari lodge. Next to the reading room there is also the ‘communications centre’ with a laptop discretely positioned to allow those who wish to, to touch base with the outside world and for those who wish not to, to put it out of their minds and ignore it completely. As one might expect from a lodge owned by the co-founder of Microsoft, the internet connectivity is really very good and there is also Wi-Fi throughout the main area for those with their own portable device to hand.
Dining is organised in a variety of different locations over the split-levels of the main area but the main dining area is elevated at the top level. Again the open nature of the camp means that this elevated position provides great views across the flood plains. The food is good and the service attentive. Nearby, the main lounge area is comfortable with big sofas.
Down at ground level set slightly in front of the main area is the swimming pool with a wooden deck and some recliners dotted around its side. Set slightly further back, for those for whom a swim isn’t quite enough activity, there is also a simple gym with treadmill and a few free-weights. Then (rather humorously) there’s a large pizza oven found just outside the front door of the gym. It’s here that guests can request to create their own masterpiece with the guidance of the chef.
Activities on offer at Abu include game drives, night drives and mokoro trips. The main activity is of course though riding and walking with the habituated elephant herd. This is the only place in the Okavango Delta where one can actually ride the elephants and the herd is nearly as well-known as the lodge itself.
In the past there have been questions asked about how appropriate the activity really is, even of the conditions the elephants were kept under. We therefore went to Abu with a very critical eye and with a particular interest in how the elephants are handled and looked after. The elephants are kept in a large enclosure next to camp and this is where they sleep at night and are fed in the mornings and evenings. During the day the whole herd is free to roam the surrounding wilderness and each of the elephants has its own handler who looks after that particular pachyderm and the bond between man and beast is evident and seemingly quite genuine. Indeed, it appeared to us that the elephants of Abu probably received the same levels of care and attention that many of the camp’s human visitors do.
In the mornings the elephant rides normally begin with a light breakfast at the enclosure where guests are introduced to the herd. At this point the elephants are often chained by one leg while they themselves are fed, this is partly to help the handlers ready the animals for the day’s activities and partly to help get the elephants habituated to being chained by one leg, as this is the method that’s adopted when the vet comes to visit and gives them their check-ups.
The activity itself takes about 2 hours or so either riding on the back of the elephants or walking alongside them, either from camp out to a waiting vehicle which will then transport you home or vice versa. The walking pace is slow and very relaxed and it’s a unique way of experiencing the wilderness. An armed guide accompanies all of the walks.
In summary, we were very impressed with the conditions the elephants were kept under and the levels of care they receive. As for the activity itself, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the elephants and it’s impossible not to appreciate how unique an experience it actually is. One point we would make however is that although this was a fantastic activity we didn’t see an awful lot of other game while at Abu. One could argue that this was down to us only spending one night here but equally the wetter region in which Abu is situated no doubt also plays a part. We did feel that once the elephant activity had been done a couple of times then we had probably seen a large chunk of what Abu has to offer.
For those wanting to spend even more time with the elephants, The Star Bed is a wooden platform, set up to overlook the elephant’s enclosure and equipped with a very comfortable king sized bed, a mosquito net and a bathroom on a lower level. Guests can sleep under the stars for one evening of their stay while the elephants take their slumber below.
Abu is one of Africa’s most expensive and luxurious safari camps, containing just six tented suites - it’s very exclusive. Apart from the opulence of the accommodation and the high levels of service on offer, the camp’s major attraction is the resident herd of habituated elephant which guests are able to ride and walk with. This is a very unique experience indeed and, if budget allows, one well worth considering.
Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a stay of two nights at Abu, taking advantage of the elephant activity and perhaps getting out on the water to appreciate the spectacular landscape.
Directions: Abu is accessible only by light aircraft; the airstrip is roughly 20 minutes away from camp by 4WD vehicle.
Owner: Wilderness Safaris
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our last visit to Abu Camp the food was excellent, not only did it taste fantastic but it was also presented immaculately and always by someone with a smile.
A light breakfast is served at the elephant’s enclosure – eggs to order, cereals, fruit and a variety of muffins, pancakes and scones with jams and various spreads are all on offer.
Lunch began with a green pea soup with freshly baked bread rolls. The main course was beef lasagna which was very tasty indeed. All accompanied by green salad and plenty of dressing.
Dinner began with a starter of Carpaccio with a lemon and herb dressing which was very nice indeed. The main course was then a very well cooked roast lamp dish with lots of mashed potatoes, vegetables and mint sauce.
The selection of wine at Abu is very varied and all of the meals were accompanied by a very well suited vintage.
Dessert was a rather straightforward crème brûlée, which was by comparison a little disappointing but still very nice.
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 will cost extra and may need to be requested in advance.
Wildlife safaris: The main activity at Abu is riding and walking with the habituated elephant herd. This is the only place in the Okavango Delta where one can actually ride the elephants and the herd is nearly as well-known as the lodge itself. The activity a walk of about 2 hours or so either on the back of the elephants or alongside them, either from camp out to a waiting vehicle which will then transport you home or vice versa. The walking pace is slow and very relaxed and it’s a unique way of experiencing the wilderness. An armed guide accompanies all of the walks.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children of 12 years of age and over are accepted. Mombo may accept ages 8–12 if a private vehicle is booked but this must be requested in advance. Children under 8 years of age are generally not accepted but this can be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Generally recommended for children: No children under 8 years of age.
Notes: No children under 8 years of age.
Communications: There is Wi-Fi in the main area and a ‘communications centre’ with a laptop linked to the internet available for guests use. The internet connectivity is very good here.
TV & radio: There is a TV kept discretely in the main area of the camp which receives a number of satellite channels and can be used to show DVDs from the library.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: There are trained first-aiders on site and for serious incidents there’s a medical air-evacuation system in place.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are escorted to and from their rooms after dark as dangerous wildlife is known to wander through the camp. A thorough safety briefing is given on arrival. A fog-horn in each tent is available to summon help in case of a medical emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers around camp and fire assembly points are identified to guests on induction to the camp when they first arrive.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Included
Money: No exchange facilities are offered at Abu. There are small safes in all the rooms, as well as a larger one in the office if required.