There are plenty of spots for sitting and admiring the views...
Duba Plains Camp: Our full report
Duba Plains Camp is a traditional tented safari camp situated in a pretty part of the northern Okavango Delta, which is dominated by open plains of rich grasslands. Over the years Duba has come to be known almost exclusively for the interactions of lion and buffalo. Contrary to usual behaviour, Duba's lions have the reputation of being active during the day and for providing travellers with some exciting sightings of hunts.
Duba Plains is also renowned as the location where wildlife photographers and filmmakers Derek and Beverley Joubert made their now famous documentary, Relentless Enemies – chronicling the battle for survival between the lions and buffalo on the plains, and how each species has adapted to this unusual way of life.
On one previous visit, members of the Expert Africa team watched with bated breath as a herd of some 700-strong buffalo surrounded the date-palm islands where a pride of 14 lions were hiding. They described the scene as nothing less than dramatic, as angry buffalo tried to flush out the lions only to be repelled with much snarling and growling.
There will be times, however, when the buffalo herds move away to inaccessible areas – sometimes for weeks at a time. Even when the buffalo are around, sightings of interactions between the two certainly cannot be guaranteed. We have visited Duba Plains many times and on a couple of occasions we didn't see any lion or buffalo interaction at all. Fortunately, however, the area has much more to offer. We have enjoyed extended sightings of a breeding herd of elephants, surprisingly large herds of red lechwe and good numbers of tsessebe. On one visit we even saw a large African python swimming at pace through the water. Oh, and let's not forget the warthogs who lived another day when they outwitted the adolescent lions of the Tsaro pride; that was a fascinating morning!
Having asked Duba Camp for clarification on the buffalo situation, we understand that although some months they're always seen, other months they may move away for between one and 12 days. Although it's not possible to predict when they'll move, or for precisely how long, this effectively equates to around 48 days out of 365 in the last year – or roughly 13% of the time – that the buffalo have not been seen.
Indeed, during on one recent visits we arrived into camp to find dead buffalo which had all been taken by lions the night before we landed. We had a fascinating time photographing the pride feeding and generally gorging themselves but never saw a living buffalo (although it should be made clear that we only spent one night in camp – most guests will spend at least three). On our most recent visit in March 2013 we did see both lion and buffalo, but no interaction.
Birdwatching at Duba is also pretty good, with many egrets, herons and cormorants to be seen, along with bee-eaters, kingfishers and eagles. On our last visit in March 2013 we were also lucky enough to see a couple of rarer species – the pink- or rosy-throated longclaw and Stanley’s bustard.
Duba Plains Camp is small, with just six comfortable Meru-style tented rooms, raised on wooden decks with private balconies for good views over the floodplains. The interiors are stylish but not fussy and are well lit at night; we loved the wide mesh windows, which during the day lend a bright and airy feel to the rooms. A large bed takes centre stage with its walk-in mosquito net; there is also a writing desk to one side. Behind the bedroom space every room has an en-suite bathroom with a flushing toilet, a large mirror above double basins and both indoor and outdoor showers. There is a small curtained wardrobe in this area, too, with dressing gowns and a selection of toiletries provided. A selection of international adaptors is available too.
Sandy paths link the rooms to the main area of Duba Plains which is raised on split-level decks underneath enormous fig, ebony and garcinia (African wild mangosteen) trees, which provide plenty of shade. The lounge is cosy and inviting, with a small library and a bar off to the side. The main dining area and tea and coffee station are just up some stairs next to the bar area, overlooking the firepit out front, and the floodplains beyond. There is also a well-stocked curio shop and a public loo.
If the weather is fine, most meals are served on a shady outdoor deck, just beyond the plunge pool, which is surrounded by sunloungers.
We particularly enjoy the low-key style of the camp and the friendliness of the staff – and chatting to them we noted that many have worked here for years. So it came as no surprise to us that Duba Plains attracts more repeat visitors than is normal for most Okavango Delta camps, including a number who come for extended stays of up to a week at a time.
Activities at Duba Plains centre around day and night safari drives. They also offer boat cruises, depending on water levels. Note that at some times of the year (usually May–September), the water levels can be very high and require a short boat transfer from camp to the game-drive vehicles. This in turn can limit the possibility of night game drives, and the higher water levels can also increase the chances of getting stuck in some areas of the reserve. That said, the vehicles at Duba Plains are closer to monster-trucks than they are Land Cruisers and we understand the likelihood of getting stuck in these is now quite low (but certainly not impossible)!
Our viewWe have always really liked Duba Plains – it's a small camp with friendly staff that focuses clearly on its safari experience. Most people come here expecting to witness thrilling lion and buffalo interactions. Many depart very happy having done so, but it's worth noting that these sightings are by no means guaranteed. So choose Duba for the lion and buffalo by all means, but we think you'll get far more out of your stay if you are open to making the most of this remote part of the Okavango – even when neither of the above can be seen.
Ideal length of stay: Three or four nights is ideal here; staying two nights is really too short if you want the best chance of seeing lion–buffalo interaction when buffalo are in the area.
Directions: Access is by light-aircraft transfer. It is about a five-minute game drive transfer by 4WD vehicle from the airstrip to camp.
Owner: Community owned – Great Plains Conservation lease the land from the local community.
Staff: We don't often mention staff members or guides by name, as they can change frequently. However, on our last visit in March 2013, we were delighted to see that James (Bond 007!) is still guiding at Duba – where he's been for around 17 years!
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: A light breakfast is served before heading out on the morning game drive. This is usually quite a straightforward buffet of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, freshly made muffins, tea and coffee.
The afternoon tea at Duba was absolutely delicious on our last visit, from the cashew-nut and ginger shortbread, to the mini bobotie tartlets and the potato rosti with egg mayonnaise. There was also fresh lemonade and iced tea on offer. It is during tea time that the evening's dinner menu will be announced by the chef, usually incorporating a choice of two or three main courses.
Dinner is usually a communal affair around one long table. During our stay we started with a coconut and cauliflower soup accompanied by a freshly made bread roll. For our main course we opted for a combination of two of the main dishes – marinated then grilled turkey strips and a roasted vegetable stack (the other option was a perfectly cooked fillet of beef served with gravy), all accompanied by sweet peppers, courgettes and sautéed new potatoes. Chocolate fondant with honeycomb rounded off the meal, together with a good selection of cheeses.
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 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. There is usually always a member of staff on hand to help with pouring a drink, but guests are welcome to help themselves from the bar.
Birdwatching: There is a wide variety of land and water-bird species to be found when birdwatching in this area of the Delta. On our visit in March 2013 notable sightings included the pink-throated longclaw and the Stanley’s Bustard.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Botswana
Wildlife safaris: Duba Plains in famed for its lion and buffalo interaction, which can be very exciting to say the least! Staying a few nights here will give you the best chance of seeing this spectacle, but note that it can never be guaranteed. Aside from this speciality, general game viewing here is also good.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 12 years are welcome at Duba Plains. The camp may accept children between the ages of six and 12 years old, but a private vehicle must be booked and this will be at an extra cost. Children younger than six may be accepted by special arrangement, but then only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use.
Special activities & services: There are no special activities or services
Equipment: There is no special equipment for children and no family rooms at the camp. The rooms are not big enough for an extra bed; so one child will normally need to share with one parent.
Generally recommended for children: We would not recommend Duba Plains Camp for children below the age of 16 years. The game viewing can be intense, and so can some of the guests. And although it doesn't happen on every game drive, this is a camp known for lions killing buffalo (and other wildlife) during daylight, which children may find particularly upsetting if seen first hand. If staying at Duba with children younger than 16 years, we would recommend booking a private vehicle for greater flexibility and enjoyment.
Notes: Duba Plains is not an ideal camp for children – the paths to the rooms are not raised, and dangerous game is known to move through camp on a regular basis. The rooms are raised on decks, with a steep drop from the balconies. The camp is open to the water in front of camp for much of the year, and the pool is not fenced. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: There is no cellphone reception, no direct phone or fax and no email at Duba Plains. Communication is maintained with the head office in Maun via radio.
TV & radio: There is no TV or radio.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Maun. All management and guides are first aid trained and medical evacuation is available in case of emergencies. There is a nurse on call (via radio) 24 hours a day.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are escorted to their rooms after dark, as dangerous wildlife is known to wander through the camp. A safety briefing is given on arrival. 'Fog horns' are provided in the rooms to sound the alarm in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There are extinguishers outside all the rooms and in the main area.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included at Duba Plains Camp. Laundry is collected in the morning and usually returned the same day, weather permitting. For cultural reasons, the staff do not wash underwear. Detergent is provided in each room for guests who wish to do a little hand washing.
Money: No exchange facilities offered. There are safes in all the rooms.
Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. Cash in the form of South African rand, GB sterling, US dollars, euros and Botswana pula is accepted.