Chief's Camp

Chief's Camp: Our full report

Rooms
12
Traveller's rating
Good (85%) From 4 reviews
Children
Best for ages 12+
Open
All year

Chief's Camp lies within the Moremi Game Reserve's exclusive Mombo Concession, on the north-western side of Chief's Island – the largest land mass in the Okavango Delta. The island is renowned for some of the best game viewing in Botswana. Between January and May 2016, Chief’s Camp underwent extensive renovations, reopening on 1 June.

We were fortunate enough to stay at the posh new Chief’s Camp in October 2016, when we were greeted by a welcoming choir and managers. It was quite nice having a rolling safety ladder wheeled directly to our 4WD vehicle, helping guests to get in and out of the back rows. A large raised wooden boardwalk leads into both the camp’s main area and an orientation room with a television, couches and library. The latter room, whose walls are covered in beautiful old maps of Africa, can be used for lectures and screening wildlife films, but the large flat-screen TV is not connected to international television. There is also a laptop computer connected to the internet for guest use.

The main area itself features a very nicely stocked curio shop, with local crafts, scarves, clothes, CDs and books, and a reception desk where guests can discuss what activities they would like to do during their stay. The lounge is separated from the reception area by a unique ‘wall’, whose top section consists of numerous vertical strands of white rock – an impressive feature,creating a very open, airy atmosphere. In the lounge, white upholstered couches sit on either side of a wooden coffee table, with additional seating provided by both leather and thatched chairs. There are stools round the bar, too, which during our visit was a very lively spot for pre-dinner drinks.

Behind the bar is a large swimming pool, with a massive wooden deck set with sunloungers, chairs and tables, all shaded by big canvas umbrellas. Conveniently, there are both men’s and women’s restrooms here too.

Overlooking the floodplain is a nice seating area with large thatched cushioned chairs and tables. This is where guests typically enjoy high tea with their guides before their afternoon activity.

Steps from the seating area lead down to an outdoor boma with numerous folding canvas chairs and a small open firepit. On weekly ‘traditional’ nights, guests dine under the stars at the boma – an experience that we were treated to on our last visit.

Most meals, however, are taken in the dining room, against the backdrop of a beautiful black-and-white photograph of a leopard, and an old-fashioned clay pizza oven. Guests are served at individual wooden tables


Beyond the main area, Chief’s Camp is divided in two. To the west are the spa, six rooms, and a children’s retreat, while to the east are the fitness centre, a further four rooms, and the Geoffrey Kent Suite. Accommodation options total 10 bush pavilions and one two-bedroom suite.

The camp’s ten newly renovated luxury bush pavilions are indeed quite chic. Each is set on a raised wooden platform reached by two steps. Two wooden doors open up to a foyer where a wooden wall with a big open window features the camp’s hallmark vertical strands of white rocks. Here you’ll find a set of shelves with a coffee maker, kettle, biscuits, and several different teas and coffees, as well as a tray with an ice bucket and small bottles of gin, vodka and brandy, a bottle of red wine, a decanter of sherry, and both cocktail and wine glasses. There’s also a stocked minibar.

Inside the bedroom, the large double bed is topped with tasteful cushions and beige throw blankets. Two wooden cushioned chairs with a small table form a sitting area that faces the deck, and the adjacent writing desk, set beneath a screened window, has a charging station with multiple international plugs and a USB wire), and a lamp. A massive vanity desk with enormous mirror, and a large walk-in closet, complete the picture, the latter incorporating a large safe, bug spray, and insect repellant – and a door that leads into the outdoor shower.

Separated from the bedroom by a sliding wooden door, the bathrooms are bright and open, lit by both natural light and an oval-shaped chandelier made up of the iconic Chief’s Camp hanging white rock strands. The centrepiece of each bathroom is a big white free-standing bathtub. complete with Africology toiletries. A wooden counter with dual white washbasins separates the bathroom from a large stone-walled indoor rain shower. A glass door opens up to reveal a large wooden deck and a marble slab surrounded by white rocks, which serves as an outside shower, with privacy provided by thatched walls.

Glass doors from both the bathroom and the bedroom lead out onto a substantial outdoor deck, with three sitting areas: one where private meals can be arranged; a second with chairs overlooking the floodplain and a circular plunge pool; and a third where there’s a daybed with throw pillows where guests can relax and enjoy lovely views of the floodplains.

While we found the new rooms to be very well done, we did notice that the synthetic material used for the floors was beginning to become unglued from its cement foundation in certain places. Although this was largely due to the heat during our October visit, it was quite noticeable.

At the furthest eastern point of the camp lies the massive two-bedroom Geoffrey Kent Suite, whose interconnected rooms can be booked for up to six people or – in the case of the ‘Mini Suite’ – as a stand-alone option.

The bedrooms and bathrooms here are more or less identical to those in the luxury bush suites, each with a plunge pool , a daybed, seating area, and a table for private dining. The big difference is that the ‘Mini Suite’ has a private prep kitchen, a large bar with four bar stools, and an indoor lounge that opens up to a covered deck and on to a sand boma and firepit. It’s this that makes the Geoffrey Kent Suite special, especially for entertaining a small group of people, whether it be a family or two couples.

Photos of safari pioneer Geoffrey Kent posing with various celebrities feature on one side of each room, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlook a large deck on the other. This deck is used only when both rooms are booked as access is from a canvas screen wall.

The suite is reached from the main area via the same dirt path as the fitness centre and four of the rooms, but towards the end the path turns into a raised wooden boardwalk, giving a feeling of exclusivity. It has its own private entrance and its own staff – guide, chef, butler and housekeeper –,as well as a private guide and vehicle, and can be considered a separate entity from the camp itself. That said, guests here are welcome to use the main area of Chief’s Camp as well as its various amenities.

In the fitness centre, we were impressed by the layout and equipment: two treadmills, a spin bike, an extensive rack of dumbbells and an adjustable exercise bench. There are good storage and shower facilities here, too.

At the far end of the path from the main area in the opposite direction is the spa. Treatments, which use Africology amenities and products, can be arranged either in one of the spa’s treatment rooms or pool side, subject to availability.

An enormous hit with youngsters is the children’s retreat, kitted out with table football table, colouring books, shelves of puzzles, games and books and a small teepee. In keeping with the location, there are also several microscopes with samples of bugs and leaves to observe. Arguably top of the attractions for children are a black light room where they can draw on the walls with glow-in-the-dark markers, and a TV connected to a PlayStation 4 surrounded by five comfortable bean bags!

Activities at Chief's Camp focus on 4WD game drives and, subject to water levels, mokoro excursions. Game drives allow guests to experience the island's varied terrain and generally prolific wildlife – including an array of bird species – although Chief's Camp's location within the Moremi Game Reserve means that game drives are restricted by national-park regulations, which prohibit off-roading, night drives and walking.

A maximum of six guests on the open-sided vehicles affords everyone an outside seat, though groups of up to nine travelling together and wanting to be in one vehicle can be accommodated. The vehicles have good legroom and comfortable armrests, and the guiding is good. On our last visit we noticed that the seat covers were brand new with smart Chief’s Camp logos embroidered on each one.

Regular sightings on game drives include elephant, lion, giraffe, vervet monkey, leopard, spotted hyena, a variety of antelope, zebra, baboon and buffalo, and occasionally wild dog. We enjoyed very good game viewing on our last visit, including two cheetah, a pack of wild dogs preparing to go out on a hunt, and a stunning, yet shy, male leopard in a tree coming down for his night’s hunt. Of particular note was that this very same leopard had dragged an impala carcass up a tree, and we witnessed several spotted hyenas approaching, waiting in hope for the carcass to fall.

Chief's Island was the location for the release of most of the rhino that have been reintroduced into Botswana in the last decade or so. Although a fair number have stayed around this area (with the rest having spread out over central and northern Botswana), and the island still offers one of Botswana's best chances of spotting rhino, they remain elusive and rarely seen. This was borne out on our last visit, when we did spot black rhino tracks but none of the resident rhino population.

The peak season for mokoro trips at Chief's Camp is between approximately May and December. Mokoros are not available in January and February, while at other times, water levels are dependent on the rains and the timing of the annual flood. On past visits, water levels prevented us taking out a mokoro, and although on our last stay in October mokoro activities were available, we chose to focus on game drives due to the superb quality of big game in the area! When the water is high, mokoro trips start from in front of the lodge and offer a slightly later start than game drives, ideal for those wanting a bit of a lie-in.

At extra cost are helicopter flights soaring above the heart of the Delta and Chief’s Island.

Our view

The newly renovated Chief’s Camp has a great new design and a fresh, luxurious look. The wildlife in the area definitely lives up to its reputation, and we find the guiding to be quite good. Chief’s does come at a high price tag, but it is well worth it for guests looking for luxury and excellent wildlife.

Geographics

Location: Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

Ideal length of stay: Most guests stay for two or three nights, though given the game-viewing opportunities on Chief's Island we'd ideally recommend three nights – particularly during the annual flood (June–October), when both game drives and mokoro trips are available.

Directions: Chief's Camp is reached by light aircraft into Piajio airstrip – a 25-minute flight from Maun or 1½ hours from Kasane. The airstrip is about 25 minutes' drive from camp, depending on what you see along the way.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Sanctuary Retreats

Staff: October 2016: Evelyn (manager), Lianna & Trevor (co-managers)

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: The food has been very good on our many visits to Chief’s Camp, and our last visit, in October 2016, was no exception. Meals were fresh, tasty, well presented and of a very high standard. With advance notice, the camp can cater for vegetarians and other dietary requirements.

Unlike most camps in Botswana, lunch and dinner are served at individual tables rather then at a communal dining table.

Breakfast is served before the morning activity. We helped ourselves from a continental buffet of cereals, yoghurt, fresh fruit, cold meats, cheeses and croissants. A cooked breakfast was made to order, with a variety of options; our omelette was excellent.

We did not have the chance to enjoy the lunch menu on our last visit, but in the past we have had plated three-course menus, along with a wide selection of salads from the buffet, and homemade bread –a delicious chilli and cheese twist that we could have happily filled up on! We have particularly liked the way that the salad ingredients – lettuce, feta, chickpeas, cucumber, olives, tomatoes and so on – were served in separate bowls so you could mix to your taste.

On a previous stay we enjoyed a tomato and mozzarella stack (which was lovely), then chicken breast with bacon on dauphinoise potatoes, and a pudding of French apple tart, but there was also a good cheese platter.

Afternoon tea before our game drive was particularly tempting. This last visit, we thoroughly enjoyed pierogis stuffed with cooked vegetables and minced beef, in addition to a very tasty pecan and chocolate cake, and a bowl of green apples was also available. Drinks included hot or iced tea, coffee and lemonade.

Dinner was a traditional local meal served buffet style to guests seated around one, large table on the sand boma. Following a creamy corn-based soup we were offered pounded beef (seswaa) and grilled chicken with pap (a local version of polenta), stewed vegetables, rice, and creamed spinach. Dessert was a very rich chocolate cake.

During past visits to Chief’s Camp, we had dinner at individual tables in the main dining room. In May 2014, we opted for a blue-cheese tart to start (although a chilled soup was also on offer). Our main course was a lovely chicken curry, creatively served in a filo pastry nest, along with rice and vegetables; you could also choose to have lamb if preferred. For pudding we had vanilla ice cream.

Muffins or cookies with tea and coffee, and a selection of canapés with sundowner drinks, are served during the game drives.

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 limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Premier champagne and premium imported brands will cost extra and must be requested well in advance. Each room is provided with glasses and a flask of filtered drinking water, which is replenished daily. We don't recommend that travellers drink from the tap.

Further dining info: Private meals can be arranged by the pool or on your room deck.

Special interests

Birdwatching: The diverse habitats around Chief's Camp attract over 450 bird species, from waterbirds to woodland varieties. Mokoro excursions offer a tranquil way to approach the likes of African jacana and pied kingfisher, whilst arboreal and grassland dwellers are seen on 4WD activities.

See more ideas for Birdwatching in Botswana

Wildlife safaris: Renowned as one of Botswana's premier game-viewing destinations, Chief's Island boasts a wide variety of wildlife – including the country's few rhino (although these are rarely seen).

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana

Luxury: Located in an area renowned for superb game viewing, Chief’s Camp was completely renovated in 2016. The enormous suites are opulent, with private plunge pool, air conditioning, and large bathtub. There is also a spa, for a little extra spoiling during your luxury safari holiday.

See more ideas for Luxury in Botswana

Children

Attitude towards children: Children aged nine years and over are welcome at Chief's Camp, but note that children aged 9–11 years are permitted on activities only at the discretion of the camp managers. A private vehicle can be arranged for families (at extra cost and subject to availability).

Property’s age restrictions: Minimum age 9 years

Special activities & services: The children’s retreat will be a huge hit with families with small children.

Equipment: The Geoffrey Kent Suite can easily accommodate small children, especially if both rooms are booked. The main Chief’s Camp has no family room, although a rollaway bed can be added to create a triple room (though note that the camp can accommodate only one triple room at a time). Families with two children could alternatively take two rooms with one adult and one child in each. No special equipment is provided for children.

Notes: Chief's Camp is unfenced within a big-game area, so children must be under their parents' supervision at all times.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: Chief's Camp has a back-up generator. There are 220-volt power points in the rooms, with universal plug sockets and USB charging ports.

Communications: Complimentary WiFi access is available in each tented room and the main area (though don't expect high speeds). There is no direct telephone line or cellphone reception. A satellite phone is used in emergencies.

TV & radio: No

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: The camp managers and guides are trained in first aid and a comprehensive first-aid kit is kept in camp. Sanctuary Retreats has an on-call nurse who can be flown in to provide medical treatment, or medical evacuation can be arranged in an emergency. 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: There is no fencing around Chief's Camp to prevent potentially dangerous wildlife passing through, so guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. An air-horn and two-way radio are provided in each room to summon attention in case of an emergency.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in all the rooms and the common areas at Chief's Camp.

Extras

Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included at Chief's Camp and usually takes less than 24 hours.

Money: There is a digital safe in each of the suites.

Accepted payment on location: All extras can be paid for with Visa and MasterCard, travellers' cheques or by cash (South African rand, British pounds, US dollars, euros and Botswana pula). Diners Card and American Express are not accepted.

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