Pelo Camp: Our full report
Situated on a small island deep inside the Okavango Delta, Pelo Camp is Jao Concession's newest lodge, opened ...... in mid-2013. It is surrounded by permanent, open floodplains, so focuses on water-based activities – and primarily excursions by mokoro (traditional dug-out canoe).
Pelo's remote location, fine white sandy soil, shady palm trees and lush riverine vegetation combine to lend the camp a paradise island feel that one more often associates with a beach getaway. This impression is picked up by the cream and blue décor throughout the camp that is simple, bright and fresh. Little heart shaped decorations add a sweet touch too and are a reflection of the island's Setswana name, which means heart-shaped island.
The raised main area of Pelo consists of two separate tents, just a short distance apart. In the dining tent you'll find a tea and coffee station, and a long table where brunch and dinner are eaten communally. The lounge tent has a couple of leather sofas and some comfortable chairs arranged around an old chest that doubles as a coffee table. A small bookcase houses a few books on the flora and fauna of the Delta. Next to the lounge is a small semi-circular bar built around some trees, where there's a water cooler for guests to fill up their complimentary water bottles before heading out on activities.
Connecting the dining room and lounge tents is a large wooden deck that has uninterrupted views of the surrounding waterways and conveniently faces west to enjoy the sunet. In the other corner is a beautiful breakfast bar that faces the opposite direction and the sunrise, and in the middle of the deck a huge sycamore fig tree provides much-needed shade in the heat of the day. There's a spotting scope here to help you home in on the many water birds in this area, or even hippos and the occasional elephant crossing between the islands.
A short sandy path brings you to a raised platform built around an old anthill, where a central firepit is lit every evening for pre-dinner drinks. A few steps down from here towards the water's edge is a small pool with fantastic views across the adjacent floodplain. This is a beautiful spot to relax, and to cool off in the hotter months.
More sandy paths lead to Pelo's five reasonably spacious tents – four twins and one double – which are simple but comfortable in design. All are well spread out, and sheltered from each other by the thick palm foliage of the island. Each tent is raised on a low wooden deck and entered through a covered veranda at the front.
In the centre of the room, the bed faces out over the water, with small bedside lights attached to the freestanding wooden headboard. At the foot of the bed, a selection of reading material sits on a large wooden chest, which can also double as a handy space for storing luggage. Lamps made out of shells, or in the shape of water lilies, and towels folded into heart-shapes, add a sweet touch, while big mesh windows and a ceiling fan help to give a lovely light and airy feel.
Each tent also has a couple of cosy tub chairs and a writing table with a charging station for batteries and other equipment. A tea and coffee station includes a flask of hot water that is usually brought twice a day.
At the rear of each tent, the bathroom area has an en-suite flushing toilet to one side and a shower with plumbed hot and cold water to the other. Wood baton screens partially enclose both, but since the shower has no curtain it doesn't afford much privacy. Directly behind the bed, set into a wooden table, is a single copper basin with cold running water. A selection of toiletries is provided including shower gel, shampoo, and body lotion. There's also a free-standing wardrobe here which contains a small safe, insect repellent for both the room and the body, a kikoi (wrap), dressing gowns, a yoga mat, resistance bands and some light weights.
At the front of each tent is a deck overlooking the lagoon, to one side there is an outdoor shower overlooking the water and to the other is a table and chairs providing a peaceful spot to enjoy the views and birdlife. On our most recent visit in October 2017 we did not stay overnight but when we last did in July 2016, we happily whiled away the afternoon watching the comings and goings of white-browed robin-chats, arrow-marked babblers, swamp boubous, and dark-capped bulbuls in the bushes surrounding the veranda. At the same time, we kept a beady eye trained on the Pel's fishing owl nest in the fork of a tree directly in front of our tent, and were rewarded with a fabulous sighting when it took a break from parent duties to stretch its wings and flew obligingly to a tree close to the outdoor shower!
In keeping with its island location Pelo does not have access to game-drive areas. Instead, the camp's main attractions are mokoro activities. Your guide will pole the mokoro expertly through the reeds, giving you the opportunity to appreciate the smaller creatures and birds, as well as to learn about the formation of the Delta, and the role played by key species like elephant and hippo in creating islands and maintaining waterways. On our most recent visit the birding was notable, with sightings of endangered species such as lesser jacana, slaty egret and wattled crane, as well as many other water birds including malachite kingfisher, rufous-bellied heron, green-back heron, pygmy geese, glossy ibis, black crake, black-winged stilt, and osprey.
Mammal species around Pelo include elephant, hippo, otters, lechwe and reedbuck, and on a previous visit in October 2013 we had a particularly good sighting of the elusive sitatunga.
Boat trips are also offered here and because of specially adapted ‘mud-buddy’ engines that are fitted to the boats they are able to do these throughout the year. Focusing on deeper sections when the water levels are lower. From around September, the water levels recede and the surrounding floodplains start to dry out, meaning many animals can move more freely. So, if you visit between September and November, you are more likely to see much larger herds of lechwe than earlier in the year, as well as occasional leopard and wild dog. Guided walks are also possible here, although it is advisable to request this in advance to ensure that a qualified walking guide is available.
The pace of activities at Pelo is a little slower than at many lodges that focus on bigger game. Typically, the day here starts with a relatively leisurely wake up call at around 06:00-6.30am, and in the evenings you are always back in camp by sunset.
Pelo Camp offers a charming, rustic experience with an emphasis on water-based activities. While it will probably disappoint travellers hoping to spot lion and leopard around every corner, its greatest appeal lies in its varied birdlife and picturesque scenery. It is well suited to adventurous travellers looking to explore the waterways of the Okavango Delta, and would also suit those looking to unwind for a couple of days and connect with the idyllic surroundings. This special little camp is great value and would be a lovely compliment to a camp with a focus on bigger game.
- Okavango Delta Safari Reserves, Botswana
- Ideal length of stay
- We’d recommend a stay of two nights at Pelo to enjoy the mokoro excursions both in the morning and in the evening.
- Most guests fly by light aircraft from Maun or other safari camps to Jao airstrip, then are transferred to Pelo by boat. The boat transfer into camp takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
Boat transfers are also possible from other camps in the Jao Concession.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- The food at Pelo is unpretentious and – although we did not get a chance to try any on our most recent visit in October 2017, from previous visits in 2013 and 2016– very tasty indeed. With advance notice the camp can cater for vegetarian and many other dietary requirements.
The day usually starts with a light breakfast of toast, cereal, fruit, yoghurt, cold meats and cheeses, and fresh muffins (we had delicious chocolate chips ones), along with tea and coffee, which is served prior to your early morning activity.
Brunch is served after the morning activity. In October 2013 this included a plated meal of pork ribs and sausage with a selection of vegetables, along with a range of cold salad dishes and bread.
For Afternoon tea, served at around 3.30pm, we had chocolate brownies drenched in chocolate sauce and mini puff-pastry tarts filled with caramelised onion and brie. This was accompanied by iced tea, and tea and coffee.
Dinner is usually a plated starter and dessert with a buffet-style main course. On our last visit we had a creamy mushroom soup to start. This was followed by a main course of beef steak, potato wedges, pattypan and roast butternut squash, and green beans, with a lemon pudding to finish.
- Located in the Jao Concesion, birding is exceptional at Pelo Camp. Birds typical of wetlands such as wattled crane and lesser jacana are found on the eastern side, with the western drier areas hosting woodland species such as Dickinson Kestrel.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Attitude towards children
- Children over the age of 13 years are welcome at Pelo.
Children younger than six may be accepted by special arrangement, but only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use. Note, however, that children must be 13 years and over to take part in all of the activities.
Children under 17 must share a room with an adult.
- Property’s age restrictions
- No under 13s
- Special activities & services
- There are no special activities or services.
- Generally recommended for children
- We think that Pelo is unsuitable for children under the age of 16 years; there are other camps in the Okavango more suited to younger children.
However, Pelo is such a small camp that a party of ten people, including children, could have exclusive use of it without any extra charges – making it a great choice for one large family or group. Since you would be using the whole camp, you would have ultimate flexibility and private activities at no extra cost – although children under 13 would still not be permitted to take part in activities.
- Pelo is unfenced, and dangerous wildlife, including leopard, are known to regularly move through camp. The tents are at ground level. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Pelo Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Pelo 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
- There is no cellphone reception, no direct phone or fax and no email. Communication is maintained with the head office in Maun via radio.
- TV & radio
- There is no TV or radio.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The water comes out of the Delta and is then purified through reverse osmosis for guests. There is also bottled water available for guests.
Re-inventing the ‘mokoro’ rides
Pelo or “heart” in Setswana is one of the many camps situated in the Okavango Delta. The camp is named after the shape of the island it is located on, but what is truly standing out is its passion for sharing some of the local culture with guests. Tourists staying at Pelo Camp are offered an abundance of aquatic experiences to choose from. One of the most popular activities is however the Mokoro boat trip.
A Mokoro (mekoro, plural) is a dugout canoe-like vessel traditionally used by Botswana’s water bushmen as a means of transport which was now ‘reinvented’ for game viewing safari trips.
The journey on Mokoro takes guests through the small channels on the river and brings them closer to wildlife. The water channels are surrounded by papyrus reed with bee-eaters and bright coloured kingfishers manoeuvring around.
Originally, mekoro were constructed using tree trunks and hand-tools – a tedious and not at all sustainable practice – since timber rots in time, resulting in more trees having to be cut down.
However, the modern mekoro is crafted out using eco-friendly fibreglass which is lighter and easier to control on the waterway, but also more durable and long-lasting. This popular activity creates employment opportunities for local boat-men. The mokoro usually carries no more than one or two passengers, but each boat requires an additional boat-man to stand at the stern and push the mokoro forward using a long pole called a "ngashi".
Manually manoeuvred, the mokoro trip makes for a great photo expedition, benefiting from a reduced risk of scarring off the animals. Local guides are also highly knowledgeable and enjoy sharing stories about the amazing variety of birdlife and other animals roaming the surrounding valleys.
See more great sustainability projects in Botswana
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- All management and guides are first-aid trained and there is a nurse on call (via radio) 24 hours a day. The nearest doctor is in Maun. Medical evacuation is available in case of 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
- Guests are escorted to their tents after dark as dangerous wildlife is known to wander through the camp. A thorough safety briefing is given on arrival. ‘Fog horns’ are provided in the rooms to summon help in case of emergency.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers throughout camp.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- A laundry service is included. Laundry is collected in the morning and usually returned the same day, weather permitting. Detergent is provided in each tent for guests who wish to do a little hand washing.
- No exchange facilities are offered at Pelo. There are small safes in all the rooms, as well as a larger one in the office.
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash in the form of South African rand, GB sterling, US dollars, euros and Botswana pula is accepted, but note that any change will be given in pula.
Other lodges in Okavango Delta Safari Reserves
Alternative places to stay in this same area.