The Big 5 normally conjures up images of manes, trunks and spots. But Africa is also home to a very different type of Big 5. The skyline above East Africa offers some of the best views of the Big 5 of the African skies. The beauty of the African sky has also created a new industry – the stargazing safari. One of the best places to view this beauty is in the wilderness of Botswana. This week, we decided to profile some of our favourite lodges in Botswana that offer stargazing safaris.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
There really is no better place for a stargazing safari than the open plains of the desert. The endless expanse of space perfectly contrasts dry, barren plains. In no place is this truer than the Kalahari Desert. Fortunately, its dry barren plains are not without its creature comforts. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is home to a number of luxury lodges, many of which offer stargazing. Kalahari Plains Camp prides itself on the level of service and luxury it offers its guests. Its eight luxury tents have recently been refurbished and now each boast their own observation deck. After dinner, guests can curl up with a blanket and a nightcap and look up at the night’s sky. Guests can spot the Southern Cross while the sounds of the wild echo through the air. The rangers at the camp also dabble in astronomy and will gladly point out constellations to you with a high-powered laser pointer.
Alternatively, guests can trade the desert for the delta with an Okavango stargazing safari. Game drives, bush walks and a world-famous mokoro ride can also be enjoyed. But Abu Camp offers two very different experiences. By day, guests can enjoy all that the Okavango has to offer or opt for the camp’s elephant experience. The experience gives guest the chance to walk and interact with the camp’s rehabilitated herd of elephants. Guests can even lend a hand in the veterinary care of these gentle giants. At night, the stars come out and can be enjoyed from Abu Camp’s star bed. Perched high above the wilderness on a raised deck, the star bed overlooks the elephant boma and guests can enjoy the soft snores of these animals as they look up at the stars. Constellations such as the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt can easily be spotted from the deck. For convenience, the star bed is also furnished with an en-suite bathroom and private dinners can also be enjoyed atop the deck.
Chobe National Park
In the north of Botswana lies the Chobe National Park. The park is famed for being Botswana’s most biologically diverse and has the country’s largest concentration of game. A game drive through the park is one of the best in Africa. The skies above Chobe are also some of the clearest and many safari lodges throughout the region have realised the wonder that they offer. Belmond Savute Lodge offers not only wonderful game drives and comfortable lodging but also a (literally) star-studded astronomy experience, too. The camp’s rangers will use powerful telescopes to find famous star constellations but also to point out the Big 5 of the African Sky. While they may not roar or even stampede, the Big 5 of the sky are just as majestic. They are the Southern Pleiades, eta Carinae Nebula, Coal Sack, omega Centauri, and the Milky Way.
If you’re planning on trying to find them, all five of these objects can be viewed during Botswana’s Dry season that lasts from April to October. The Dry season may not be seen as the most favourable for viewing game but a premier safari is still possible during this time, especially when there is some top-notch star gazing involved.
The best part about a star safari is that it does not require any special equipment or clothing. Most lodges that offer star gazing as an activity will provide the necessary equipment, including telescopes, blankets and most importantly, the knowledge of your ranger. A warm jacket is always a good idea though. Because it is normally offered as an after-dinner activity, there is no additional cost involved. A safari experience in Botswana can change greatly depending on what time of year you travel. However, the stars will always be out whether it’s the dry or wet season and a stargazing safari is the perfect addition to any wildlife experience.