Lebala Camp: Our full report
In the extreme north of Botswana, Lebala Camp stands in the lush, open grasslands of the vast Kwando Reserve.This private 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). Of course, like every wild place, nothing is guaranteed though!
Lebala Camp, in the south of the reserve, 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 gift shop, too, where we’re pleased to see a good number of locally made items on sale.
Behind both the communal buildings and tented chalets is a separate, shady viewing deck, raised up high and 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. Set 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 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. A range of toiletries is supplied, as are insect repellent and insect spray.
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.
The guides at Lebala are professional, friendly and especially enthusiastic about tracking predators. On our last visit, in November 2019, we spent most of our morning drive tracking a pair of male cheetahs. After two hours following their spoor, and being interrupted by a pack of wild dogs, we finally found the cheetah resting under a small tree. We were also incredibly lucky to spot some of the smaller, less common predators, including a pair of honey badgers, and enjoyed a wonderful sighting of a mother aardwolf and her pups. On previous visits we have also encountered leopard and lion on a fairly regular basis.
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. However in recent years they have been more unpredictable and for the last decade have denned either between Lebala and Lagoon or near to one or the other.
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. That said, on one of our visits 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 is always at the guides' discretion, and is never guaranteed to be available; for example, there are sometimes simply too many elephant in this area to make walking safaris safe, or the grass may be too long, making it difficult to spot dangerous wildlife.
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.
We 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.
- Kwando-Linyanti area, Botswana
- 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 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.
- 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
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- In the past the quality of food at Lebala has been inconsistent, but on our last two trips, in September 2018 and November 2019, our meals were good: 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. Most recently our choices included spanakopita (Greek spinach and feta pie), bacon and green bean pasta salad, a green salad, freshly baked bread, toast, and eggs cooked to order. A cheeseboard and biscuits and fresh fruit and yoghurt were also offered to round off the meal.
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, carrot cake and melt-in-your-mouth custard biscuits, along with tea, coffee, homemade lemonade and iced tea.
A three-course dinner is served when you get back from your afternoon game drive. Our starter was deep-fried halloumi drenched in a delicious lime and caper sauce. This was followed by melt-in-your-mouth beef bourgignon served with baby potatoes, carrots, and courgettes fried with garlic. The vegetarian option was a tasty stuffed butternut squash. Dessert, though, was fairly underwhelming: a deep-fried banana dressed with coconut cream.
Occasionally there may be a traditional bush dinner, with singing by the staff.
- Dining style
- Group Meals
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- There is no room service at Lebala.
- 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.
- Situated in the huge, remote Kwando Concession of the Linyanti, Lebala Camp has access to mopane forests, lush riverine forest and open floodplains attracting an incredible range of bird species. Raptors such as eagles and vultures thrive here.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- 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
- 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), with the family then 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.
- 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.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Lebala Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Lebala Camp have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- Solar power is backed up by a generator. 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).
- There is no cellphone reception, direct phone or email. Communication is maintained with head office in Maun via radio.
- TV & radio
- There is no TV or radio.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- All the chalets have plumbed hot and cold running water for showers, and flushing toilets.
Lebala: Engaging locals in educating tourists
Comprising of eight custom designed tents located in the Kwando Reserve’s 232,000 hectares of private unfenced wilderness, one of Lebala Camp’s biggest strengths is supporting people’s education, including both staff and guests.
For staff, the camp hires exclusively local people in all guest-facing roles, with citizens making up 98% of the staff. Moreover, the camp offers, apart from top-of-the-industry pay scales, merit and long service awards, many opportunities for advancement. By empowering its employees to achieve their potential, waiters advanced to become receptionists, and people who started out as trackers are now guides.
To educate tourists, Lebala operates each game drive using a local guide and a tracker. This adds to the experience on two levels. With the tracker concentrating solely on guiding, the guide is fully focused on imparting interesting information and bush folklore to tourists, keeping them informed and answering all their questions, thus leading to a more relaxed and authentic game drive atmosphere. Additionally, if travelling with kids, guests are given a personalised itinerary in order to not only entertain the children, but also educate them. Depending on their ages and interests, children can get involved in tasks such as preparing snacks for game drives with the chefs, make greeting cards out of natural materials and identify wildlife sounds at night with the guides.
The education initiatives have been acknowledged by guests, and have brought the camp TripAdvisor’s certificate of excellence in 2013 and 2016.
See more great sustainability projects in Botswana
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- 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.
- 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.
Other lodges in Kwando-Linyanti area
Alternative places to stay in this same area.