Zarafa is a very exclusive camp situated in the private Selinda Reserve in Botswana...
Zarafa Camp: Our full report
Set within Botswana's private 1,350 km 2 Selinda Reserve, the intimate Zarafa Camp (formerly called Zibadianja) was completely relocated and rebuilt in 2008. It now occupies a scenic setting atop an ancient, slightly raised earth bank, beside the lagoons and floodplains, which stem from the Zibadianja Lagoon. It is one of Botswana's most exclusive, most beautiful and most costly camps.
The eastern side of the Selinda Reserve is dominated by the wide, spreading depression of the Magwegqana Spillway (often known as the Selinda Spillway). This consists largely of open tracts of savannah, dotted with raised, island-like stands of mokolwane palm, leadwood and other riverine vegetation. Since 2009, the Spillway has been filled with water during the seasonal floods, connecting the river systems of the Okavango and Linyanti deltas.
Zarafa stands in a line of lush, riverine vegetation that runs roughly north-west/south-east. In front of the camp, to the north and west, are the reedbeds and waterways beside the permanent Zibalianja Lagoon – and beyond them are these tracts of savannah areas, where most activities are conducted. This is an attractive, open environment where wildlife can easily be spotted at a distance. Behind the camp, to the south and east, is a fairly solid belt of mopane woodlands, where the wildlife is usually of much less interest during the dry season.
Even a casual glance at a satellite map of Zarafa will show that Zarafa is positioned on a clear and ancient line dividing two regions of different vegetation. In fact, it's on the high side of a geological fault line, which is the southern extreme of Africa's Great Rift Valley – even if it is only a few meters higher than the water in front of it.
Zarafa is co-owned by renowned wildlife filmmaker Dereck Joubert and his wife, photographer Beverly Joubert, who have tried to create their ultimate safari camp in Zarafa. Thoughtful touches are evident throughout, from the distinctive décor and personalised guest stationery to the Swarovski binoculars, digital camera and memory cards provided for guests' use.
Zarafa's accommodation consists of just four sprawling marquee-style tented suites, raised on old railway sleeper decks, and each with a private plunge pool and outdoor needle-shower. An ornate Zanzibar door leads into a lounge area, separated by canvas partitions from a spacious open-plan bedroom and bathroom. Polished wooden floors are lined with rugs, with leather furniture and wooden chests creating an early-settler feel. All the canvas is double-sided, to help the suites remain cool in summer and warm in winter, while the roof of each suite has three layers: an inner lining for decoration and two outer layers for protection and insulation.
In each suite there are lovely extra touches, including a chest filled with watercolour paper and paints and a small range of wildlife books. There is even a yoga mat and weights for those who feel like a light workout! A number of well-stocked chests and leather and brass-trimmed boxes are filled with a selection of alcoholic beverages, mixers, tea and coffee, ice and chilled fresh water. We noticed during our visit in November 2015 that there were bottles of Amarula, brandy, whisky and gin, as well as decanters of sherry and port, but drinks can be stocked to suit your preferences.
The bedroom in each of Zarafa's suites has a large bed with mosquito net and overhead ceiling fan, while behind is plenty of hanging and shelving space where you'll find bathrobes, a hairdryer, an umbrella, insect repellent and spray, and a digital safe. Also hidden away here is a cooling unit designed to silently and effective cool the sleeping area within the mosquito net.
The bathroom facilities include a luxuriously deep copper bath, indoor rain-head shower, twin basins and a separate flush toilet. For the winter months a copper gas heater helps to keep the tent warm – an almost unheard-of luxury, even by the high standards of Botswana's other safari camps!
In 2014 Zarafa opened the Zarafa Dhow Suite, effectively a private villa, situated at the far end of the main camp. Operating completely separately from the main camp, the Dhow Suite can be booked only for exclusive use by a family or group of friends, and guests here are catered for entirely separately from the main camp. The suite is very similar in style to the main camp, down to the exploration-style décor. The Dhow Suite can cater for up to four adults or a family group of five in two individual bedrooms, each with an en-suite bathroom. With its own private pool, along with a private chef, staff and guide, the Dhow Suite provides the ultimate exclusive experience.
A large marquee encompasses Zarafa's main area, its lounge, dining room, bar and library all beautifully decorated in the same early-settler style as the rooms. This main area leads out to an extensive deck where, weather permitting, most meals are served. Meals are a social event with guests seated around one table, though private dining can be arranged on request.
A neighbouring tent houses one of the nicer gift shops in Botswana's camps, stocking locally made goods and quality African artefacts as well as some very stylish clothing suitable for a safari. Additional facilities include an outdoor 'jungle gym' and in-room massage treatments.
Each area of Zarafa overlooks the floodplains around the Zibadianja Lagoon, from under the shade of giant jackalberry trees. Wildlife, particularly elephant and hippo, is a common sight in front of and around camp. On a previous visit we were lucky enough to watch from our breakfast table as a pack of wild dogs – nine adults and seven pups – played directly in front of the camp near the water's edge.
With a maximum of eight guests, Zarafa Camp can be very flexible when it comes to activities. They offer day and night game drives, usually in the mornings and afternoons/early evenings, with full-day game drives on request. All are conducted in custom-built Land Cruisers, each with individual bucket seats, camera rests, and a removable canvas roof. A private vehicle and guide can be pre-booked at additional cost, though groups of four or more automatically get their own private vehicle at no extra charge. Short or full morning walks led by an armed guide can be arranged, as can catch-and-release fishing trips using spinners or bait – though note that these are not available during January and February, when fishing is banned by the Botswana authorities.
A thoughtful and practical touch, is Zarafa’s ‘Breakfast to Go’ - a packed breakfast that enables keen photographers to get an early start and take advantage of the best morning light; it’s equally food for birders to catch the dawn chorus...
Another highlight at Zarafa is cruising the lagoon aboard the large pontoon boat, humorously titled HMS Zibadianja. Furnished with couches, a dining table and chairs, this is ideal for brunch and sundowner cruises whilst watching hippos, elephant and other wildlife. Cruises are dependent on water levels, but we would typically expect boat trips to operate between May and September.
Though seasonal, wildlife viewing on the Selinda Reserve is particularly good during the dry period from June to around late October/early November. The combination of wet and dry habitats attracts a wide range of species, including a variety of birdlife. On our most recent visit in November 2015 we had some phenomenal game viewing. On our first evening, we spotted a pack of five wild dogs, half a dozen hyena that were squabbling over the leg of an elephant carcass, and towards dusk came across a very relaxed young male leopard lounging in a clearing who made the perfect ‘companion’ for our sundowners. The following morning, after some serious tracking and bush bashing, our efforts were rewarded when we spotted a pride of 15 lions, whom we watched half-heartedly stalked a near-by impala. There were plenty of enchanting smaller sightings too, including African wild cat, dwarf mongoose, and an enormous tree monitor lizard.
The mix of wet and dry habitat around Zarafa offers some good birding too. Towards the end of October/ November, as water levels in the lagoons shrink and the edges turn muddy, it is a particularly good time for spotting waders. Its also possible to see large ‘fishing parties’ of aquatic birds at this time of year, as the birds congregate in large numbers to scoop up stranded fish. Among the species we spotted were black, purple, squacco and goliath herons, pelicans, glossy ibis, saddle-billed and woolly-necked storks.
Our viewZarafa has succeeded in combining luxury and adventure in an exclusive yet informal setting. The camp is beautifully designed and well run, and goes the extra mile to cater for its guests' wishes. The new and even more exclusive Zarafa Dhow Suite is a good option for families or friends travelling together. If you're looking for indulgence, great game viewing, polished guiding and service, this is the place – albeit with a price tag to match. Though there's a good variety of wildlife here year round, the best time to visit is without doubt during the dry season, from June to October.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend three nights or more at Zarafa Camp, or possibly a night or two here at the start and/or end for those joining the Selinda Adventure Trail.
Directions: Zarafa is accessible only by light aircraft; it's roughly a 45-minute flight from either Maun or Kasane. The camp is about an hour's drive from Selinda airstrip, depending on wildlife sightings on the way. When the floodwaters are high, this transfer is a combination of a short drive followed by a boat transfer into camp.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Great Plains Conservation
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The quality and selection of food at Zarafa is extraordinary considering the remoteness of the camp. Meals are light and plenty of thought and care has been put into the menus, which are designed to make your feel light and full of energy. Vegetarians and any particular dietary requirements can be catered for on request, and menus are extremely flexible to suit guests' food preferences.
On our last stay, in November 2015, we had an early start and took Breakfast to Go with us on our morning drive. After a couple of hours of game-viewing we tucked into a delightful and filling selection of fresh muffins, fresh fruits, yoghurt and granola, and egg and bacon boiled eggs. Breakfast is also served at the camp for those who are not setting off quite so early, and typically consists of quiche, croissants, yoghurt pots with stewed fruit, sliced fruit, fresh muffins, a selection of jam, honey and mixed nuts, and a variety of cereals.
Brunch is served on your return from the morning activity. On a previous trip we were met with a very impressive buffet incorporating a cool broccoli soup with fresh homemade bread; marinated chicken or lamb freshly prepared on the hotplate; a range of salads including spinach and egg salad, avocado and papaya salad, and a tossed salad made in front of you from a selection of ingredients; a cheese platter with dried and fresh fruit; and eggs prepared to order.
Afternoon tea of sweet or savoury snacks is served before the afternoon activity. We were tempted with mini pizzas, chocolate brownies and fresh fruits, accompanied by a selection of hot or cold drinks.
Dinner was a three-course plated meal with a choice of chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese and spinach, or fresh bream accompanied by baby carrots, corn and mangetout, and mashed potato for the main. For a starter we had carrot and ginger soup, and for dessert a very yummy fruit salad encased in a homemade orange-flavoured brandy snap.
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 selection of (generally) South African wines are included. Imported wines, spirits and champagne cost extra – and may even need to be requested in advance.
Further dining info: On request, i.e. private meals for special occasions.
Honeymoons: With its large and luxurious rooms overlooking the Zibadianja Lagoon, Zarafa is an ideal place for a Botswana honeymoon retreat. The staff will happily set up a private dinner on your veranda or a romantic cruise on the pontoon boat.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Botswana
Photography holidays: Co-owned by wildlife filmmakers and photographers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Zarafa is one of the best camps for photographers in Botswana. A number of Canon 5D cameras with 100–400mm lenses are available for guests’ use, and the guides are all very aware of positioning for pictures.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children aged eight and over are welcome at Zarafa, but those aged 12 and under must be booked onto a private vehicle for their activities. That said, families of four or more will be provided with a private vehicle free of charge.
Special activities & services: There is no professional babysitting service, though camp staff can mind children on request.
Equipment: No special equipment for children is provided, although an additional bed can be added to the tents to create a triple. However, children enjoy their own activities with professional guides, learning basic survival skills such as where to find water or what plants are good to eat. They are encouraged to collect and identify anything that is of interest to them – leaves, grasses, even dung!
Generally recommended for children: As Zarafa is unfenced, and wild animals roam freely through the camp, we'd recommend it only for children aged 12 and over.
Notes: There is no professional babysitting service, though camp staff can mind children on request. At all other times children must be kept under constant, close parental supervision.
Communications: The rooms have WiFi, but there is no cellphone reception. Swift radio contact can be made with Maun if there is an emergency.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All the suites have plumbed hot and cold running water for showers, and flushing toilets. Guests are encouraged to use the filtered water supply in the camp's main area to top up the stainless-steel flasks that are placed in each room; these are also replenished daily by the staff. We don't recommend that travellers drink from the tap.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: A comprehensive first-aid kit is kept in camp and guides carry field kits on activities. Both managers and guides are first-aid trained. In an emergency, medical evacuation to Maun can be arranged. 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: Due to the presence of big game, and the fact that Zarafa Camp is unfenced, guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. Alarms are provided in the rooms to attract attention in case of emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the common areas and in each suite.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included at Zarafa Camp.
Money: The camp does not offer any money-exchange facilities. Each suite has a digital safe.
Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. No commission is charged on credit-card transactions. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswana pula.