Lebala is a remote and tranquil camp in the very North of Botswana.
Lebala Camp: Our full report
In the extreme north of Botswana, the stylish Lebala Camp stands in lush, open grasslands in the south of the private Kwando Reserve. This vast reserve is a largely dry wildlife area with a reputation as a top African safari destination for big game – focusing especially on the predators.
Lebala shares the Kwando Reserve with its sister camp, Lagoon Camp, which lies beside the Kwando River to the north. The reserve itself, made up of mopane forests, lush riverine forest and open floodplains covering roughly 2,300km², 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 predators has given this area a well-earned reputation as offering one of the best chances of seeing wild dogs, especially during the denning season (June–July).
Lebala Camp 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 free-standing bar, with a 'help-yourself' drinks fridge, 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 with very pleasing views over the plains. 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.
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 for solitude and to try a spot of birding – or, if the reeds are short, to see what animals pass by.
Lebala's eight enormous tented chalets – including one two-bedroom family chalet – stand on the edge of the Linyanti Marshes, with views over the waterway and grassy plains beyond. Raised up on wooden decks, the chalets are joined to the main area by sandy pathways. Each has a balcony with a couple of wooden 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 chalet's canvas walls incorporate floor-to-ceiling mesh. This allows for welcome cooling breezes in summer but can make the room quite cold in winter, as well as compromising on privacy. However, privacy – and a little extra warmth – can more or less be maintained by drawing the white curtains that are hung around almost the whole room. For extra warmth, spare blankets are kept in a trunk in the room, while for the hotter months there is a ceiling fan above the bed.
To the front of the chalet is the bedroom and lounge area, where large twin three-quarter-size beds (which can be converted to a double) face the front, overlooking seasonal floodplains. The chalets are large and comfortable, with dark wood fixtures: nicely decorated without being overly stylish.
A canvas wall divides the bedroom from the bathroom and dressing area, which features a lovely claw-footed bath, as well as twin washbasins and a separate cubicle with flushing toilet. (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.) There are large shelves and a hanging space for clothes, and a small safe to store valuables. Another set of sliding doors leads to an outside double shower. Shampoo, shower gel, hand and body lotion, and soap are supplied, as are insect repellent and insect spray. A fog horn can be used to summon help in case of emergency.
Lebala's family chalet is similar to the others, but has a second, smaller twin-bedded room accessed from the bathroom – which is shared by both bedrooms.
The main activities at Lebala Camp focus on day and night 4WD game drives, accompanied by both a qualified guide/driver and a tracker. 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 Land Cruiser vehicles at Lebala take a maximum of six guests on the three rows of seats – so everyone gets a 'window' seat. In the past, Lebala had a policy of attaching canopies to the vehicles only if requested by everyone on board. However, as a result of a particularly hot summer and overwhelming feedback from guests, they now attach canopies as standard. No decision has been reached about whether this will be a permanent feature, and whether the canopies might be removed in the cooler months. So, as a precaution, we still recommend that you take a hat, plenty of sunscreen and a waterproof bag for your camera gear during the rainy season (ponchos are provided). Of course, if you're hiring a private vehicle and prefer not to have a canopy – for better all round views – please let us know at the time of booking.
The guides at Lebala are professional, friendly and especially enthusiastic about tracking predators. On our last visit in April 2016, we were impressed by the tracking skills (and tenacity) of both our guide and tracker. The vast majority of our afternoon game drive was spent tracking lion, and our guides were successful in tracking two massive adult male lions at the very end of our game drive, as we were coming into camp after dark. However, we did not focus on anything else, whether mammals or birds. Elephant, impala, zebra, and giraffe were pointed out, but we did not linger over them as the goal was to find the lion.
On past visits, we have seen a magnificent large male cheetah that we had tracked for over an hour, making it particularly rewarding! We have also been successful tracking a male leopard, which we found devouring a baby warthog.
Historically wild dogs have tended to den closer to Lagoon Camp in this concession, where teams from Expert Africa have been lucky enough to follow them hunting on past visits. Hence for those travellers determined to see the dogs we have often recommended Lagoon over Lebala, or a combined visit to the two camps. However, surprising everyone on a 2014 visit, the dogs chose a den closer to Lebala Camp, making it hard to predict which of the camps they will head to next!
This single-minded focus on predators is often very positive, especially given that many visitors come specifically for predator sightings. However, more relaxed safari goers – who perhaps have a wider interest in wildlife both great and small, or may be keen on birds – have sometimes found the relentless 'gung-ho' approach a bit too narrow, and may even be annoyed by the apparent exclusion of other interesting sightings. However, on a previous visit our guide was also very enthusiastic about birds and was more than willing to stop on request – even while tracking predators – to answer questions regarding the birds or smaller wildlife we saw 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. On our most recent visit, the grass was very high, and the guides did not recommended walking, both for safety reasons and because of the poor quality of game viewing on foot. However, we were informed that if a guest insisted on walks, the guides could make a plan.
It is worth noting that although game sightings in the Kwando Reserve 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 Camp 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. Most visitors come wanting the single-minded focus behind its activities, and the great sightings of wild dogs, cheetah and lion that it often delivers. However, a few find that this blinkered approach detracts from a wider appreciation, and regret that there's no time for observing the area's less iconic species.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend a stay of three nights at Lebala. The camp 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 or Tau Pan Camp. Sometimes Lebala also works well in combination with its nearby sister camp, Lagoon, also on the Kwando Reserve. 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 please do ask us for the details.
Directions: Visitors arrive by light aircraft, followed by a 20-minute 4WD transfer from the airstrip to camp. When combining a stay at Lagoon and Lebala, transfers are usually by road as part of a morning game drive.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Kwando Safaris
Staff: Action & OP (co-managers)
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: In the past the quality of food at Lebala hasn't been consistently good, but on our last couple of trips, including the latest in April 2016, we enjoyed very good food: not haute cuisine, but definitely hearty!
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, and a hot savoury dish (we had yummy chicken kebabs), as well as various breakfast items such as mushrooms, sausages and beans, with eggs usually cooked to order. We enjoyed scrambled eggs with tomato and onion as well as very tasty crispy bacon. On a previous trip we were very late back from our morning activity having successfully tracked a pride of lions quite a distance from camp, and while what was left of breakfast was not quite as appealing, we all appreciated that Kwando lived up to their promise that game viewing is the priority and food can wait!
Afternoon tea is served just before the late afternoon activity, usually in the lounge. On different visits we've enjoyed roast vegetable wraps, sausage rolls, spinach and goat's cheese quiche, orange cake and melt-in-your-mouth custard biscuits, along with homemade lemonade and iced tea. On our last visit this was also accompanied by jars of marinated feta and mushrooms and a very popular chilli jam. The marinated feta can quickly become an addiction!
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. On our recent visit we enjoyed a surprise bush dinner, with traditional singing by the.staff. The food was traditional, and included a very tender beef seswaa with pap (like polenta), a lovely tomato-based sauce, sautéed spinach, various other vegetables, and a cheesy cauliflower casserole.
On a previous occasion we started with a cheese and tomato filo pastry (which we thought was a little bland), followed by chicken tarragon with rice, peas and carrots (delicious!). For dessert, the chocolate and pear flan was good, if possibly a little rich for some.
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. On arrival, guests are usually given a bottle of filtered water, which they are encouraged to top up from the filtered supply in the main area. Each room is provided with glasses and a flask of drinking water, which is replenished daily. We don't recommend that travellers drink from the tap.
Further dining info: There is no room service at Lebala.
Attitude towards children: Lebala Camp has a positive approach to children on safari and welcomes children aged six and over. However, families with children aged 6–12 years are required to book 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 may be accepted, but only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use.
Property’s age restrictions: Minimum age six years
Equipment: Lebala has a family chalet, but no special equipment is available. The camp will be flexible as possible with children's mealtimes, and will prepare favourites such as spaghetti bolognese for children. Guests travelling with children may book a 'family safari' (at extra cost). The family will be allocated a private guide and tracker. Activities for children, both on game drives and back at camp will be geared towards learning about the wilderness with activities such as spoor identification and tracking.
Generally recommended for children: We recommend Lebala for older 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. Thus all children will need to be constantly supervised by their parents.
Power supply notes: The generator is run in the morning and afternoon while guests are out on activities. There is a charging station in the main area where guests can charge cameras and phones. The camp can provide an inverter for a CPAP machine (and rooms 2 & 5 have in-room access for the inverter).
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.
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All the chalets have plumbed hot and cold running water for showers, and flushing toilets.
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. Please note that it is only possible to fly out of camp during daylight hours as the bush airstrips do not have any lighting at night.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: The camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife is known to roam through, so guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. A safety talk is given on arrival. 'Fog horns' are provided in the chalets, 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 chalet.
Disabled access: Not Possible
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 chalets 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.