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Have you been reading Intrepid Travel reviews but aren’t sure if you should book with them or not?
I had the chance to do an Intrepid Travel Africa tour in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. This Intrepid review is written based on my experiences to help you decide what’s best for your safari trip to Africa!
Intrepid Travel Review:
Africa Safari on the Okavango Experience Tour
The Okavango Experience tour was my first Intrepid tour, as well as, really my first group tour.
But, I admit, there are some destinations I always knew I’d visit with a tour group, whether that was for safety reasons, difficult logistics, or because an expert guide could provide history and knowledge to enhance the experience.
And, if I’m confessing everything, I have long-admired Intrepid’s tour options from afar, more than occasionally lurking on pages detailing tours to Africa, India, and the Middle East.
Combine this with a longstanding travel wish to visit the Okavango Delta and before I knew it I was signed up for my very own Intrepid Botswana adventure and looking for award flights to South Africa with my miles and points!
Is Intrepid Travel Right for You?
I’m convinced if you spend a little time on the Intrepid website browsing their 1k+ tour options across 120 countries and all 7 continents, reading Intrepid travel reviews from actual travelers, and learning more about what the company stands for, you’ll be able to imagine yourself on one of their tours, just like I did!
Here are some things that stood out for me as I did my research and while I was actually in Africa with them.
Intrepid tours are for anyone looking for an adventure that’s mixed with must-see sights and off-the-beaten-path gems, all while cultivating an authentic, local feel.
Not a fan of traveling with big groups? Neither am I. Intrepid prides themselves on small group size, as well as allowing for free time and optional activities.
Do you care about traveling responsibly? Intrepid is the world’s largest carbon-neutral travel company. They employ local guides, which boosts local economies, and have made it part of their mission to double the number of female leaders by 2020.
Intrepid’s local guides are passionate about where they’re from and, with the company’s help, encourage sustainable travel practices like avoiding plastic whether it’s in the form of a water bottle or a plastic bag.
What about the Intrepid Tour Leader?
My tour guide was the epitome of a cool, laid-back, knowledgeable local who loved to crack a joke and make all of us laugh with his dry sense of humor.
He was a total pro who took the time every day, as many times as necessary, to brief us on what was next and what we needed to do/have/bring to make it successful. He answered questions and kept everything running smoothly. He’d led Okavango Experience tours before and it clearly showed.
When you think of one of the main reasons WHY you’d do a tour over traveling independently, it’s the advantage of having an experienced leader who knows how to make sure the group is having the best adventure possible. Intrepid provided this and more!
Who Travels with Intrepid?
Typical Intrepid tour groups have travel-loving people from all over the world between the ages of 20-70. My Okavango Experience tour fit this exactly.
The others in the group were from Canada, Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Italy, and Ireland. Some were on their first solo trip. Others had been traveling throughout different parts of Africa. But we were all united through our love for adventure travel.
As I mentioned, this was my first Intrepid trip and, for an introvert like me, the idea of traveling with a group of people I’d never met was daunting. But, quite honestly, the group’s chemistry was amazing and we talked and laughed it seemed from sun up, right on past Botswana’s unbelievable sundowners.
What’s the Transportation Like?
My Okavango Experience tour used an overland vehicle that was more a super-charged truck than a bus. There were 2 seats on each side separated by an aisle. The lead guide always sat with us in the passenger area, while the driver and the tour cook were upfront.
There was storage above our seats, in the seatbacks in front of us, and individual lockers in the back. This didn’t include the larger compartments accessible from the outside of the truck where we stowed our bigger pieces of luggage.
For the Intrepid safari excursions, we used open vehicles and always split into 2 game drive vehicles.
What are the Accommodations Like?
Intrepid has 3 different styles of tours, Comfort, Original, and Basix. The Okavango Experience tour is categorized as Basix. We slept in tents in established campgrounds, except for the first night in Johannesburg where we stayed at a hotel and the 2 nights in the remote wilderness of the Okavango Delta.
The tents are a thick, durable quality that sleeps 2 people. Intrepid also provides everyone with a sleeping pad for added comfort. I brought a compact sleeping pad, as well, and stacked it on top for a little extra lift.
Most nights the campsites we stayed at were on hotel grounds. Many of the hotels had upgrade space. If you’re interested in upgrading, ask to see the available room first. On the last night, a few of us considered upgrading and sharing a cabin with 2 bedrooms. However, after seeing it, the tents with our own sleeping bags won out.
I did upgrade 1 night in Maun, the day we left the Okavango, and the hotel was comfortable and clean.
What’s the Food Like?
I was blown away by the delicious meals our Intrepid cook prepared over the campfire. I seriously ate better than I do when I’m at home! We had everything from curried vegetables, beet salads, eggs and bacon, nachos, vegetable lasagna(!), and even a chocolate birthday cake for someone in the group.
I’m a vegetarian, as were others in the group. The cook was, as well, so there were always plenty of options for the carnivores and herbivores.
Intrepid Okavango Experience, Day-by-Day
Day 1: Johannesburg
The first official day of the Okavango Experience actually begins at 6 p.m. with a group welcome meeting. The Intrepid guide, cook, and driver introduced themselves and gave us an overview of the trip, as well as important information about Intrepid and our early departure the next morning.
Intrepid is all about responsible travel and it showed right away when the guide reminded us to have a water bottle and refill it from the water dispenser on the truck instead of buying individual bottles of water each day.
There are no set activities around Johannesburg so technically you could arrive that day. However, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll need to adjust to the time difference and be ready for the next day’s 5 a.m. departure for Botswana. Not to mention, there are notable things to do in Johannesburg like visit Soweto and learn about the history of Apartheid or just take a hop-on-hop-off bus to see the sights and learn more about the city.
Since the Okavango Experience tour didn’t include time at Kruger National Park, I arrived a few days in advance and had an amazing time on the Intrepid 3-day Kruger Experience. Logistically, it made sense, too. The drop-off point was the same hotel as the start of the Okavango tour.
Dinner isn’t included on this first night, but you’re certainly not on your own. It’s a great opportunity to meet and chat with others in your group.
Day 2: Khama Rhino Sanctuary
Did I mention the super early departure? All kidding aside, animals are up early and so for much of the tour you are, too. On the upside, we had several hours of driving (a.k.a time to catch a snooze and enjoy our packed breakfast) and wildlife to see later that afternoon.
One of the many great things about doing an overland Intrepid Africa tour is not having to worry about any of the travel logistics. Africa is H-U-G-E and the distances from one place to another are often separated by long, scenic roads. Not only did our capable Intrepid driver safely get us where we needed to be, our tour guide knew exactly where to stop and told us everything we needed to know for a seamless border crossing from South Africa to Botswana.
Arriving at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, we headed to our campsite and learned how to set up our tents. In the meanwhile, our awesome Intrepid cook prepared lunch. And afterward, we had a short time to settle in, find the showers and bathrooms, and get ready before our late -afternoon game drive.
The Khama Rhino Sanctuary was changed from hunting grounds to a protected area of land to preserve Botswana’s remaining black and white rhino population. The area is also home to zebra, giraffe, impala, wildebeest, and more.
Our game drive guides arrived and our group split up into 2 open game drive vehicles. For the next few hours, we drove along the sanctuary’s sandy roads and spotted several rhinos, even one with a baby and another that came out right in front of our vehicle. There were giraffe groups, impala grazing, and eventually a gorgeous sunset that silhouetted the wildlife and led into one of the largest full moons I’ve ever seen.
Day 3: Maun
Another day, another drive…but all the while, we inched closer to the Okavango Delta. After an early rise, packing up camp, and having breakfast, our Intrepid group set off for Maun. Along the way, only rest stops interrupted the group’s friendly chatter.
Maun is the gateway to the Okavango. It’s where anyone venturing into the Delta positions themselves and stocks up on any necessary supplies. While our tour cook shopped for groceries, we had time in the shopping center to buy snacks, drinks, a required 5L bottle of water for the 2 days in the Okavango, and get Pula, the local currency in Botswana.
Our campsite was on the grounds of a popular hotel just outside of town. So after setting up camp, our group had the chance to enjoy the pool, grab a drink by the bar, and even connect to some decent WiFi.
During a delicious campsite dinner, our Intrepid guide gave us the full Okavango briefing. Needless to say, our group excitement was running high for the days to come.
Days 4: Okavango Delta
With the campsite down and breakfast eaten, we loaded our gear into the game drive trucks and were ready for our Okavango Experience. Our larger Intrepid truck was too big for the dirt roads we would be on and stayed back at the Maun campsite along with our bigger bags. For the Delta, we packed just what we needed for 2 days into a smaller backpack.
Because it’s beautiful Botswana, you just never know what you’ll see. On the way to the Okavango jetty station, we spotted wildlife from lilac-breasted rollers to elephants. But nothing prepares you for that first glimpse of the tall reeds and blue water of the Okavango.
We set off in mokoros, the traditional dugout canoes used to navigate the narrow channels of water. Swallowed up by the Delta, we almost immediately came upon elephants eating and hippos soaking.
The mokoro safari eventually landed on a remote area of dry land with the delta waters on one side and African grasslands on the other. We began our Okavango Delta camping experience by setting up our tents followed by some free time for lunch, relaxing, or even learning how to pole around in a mokoro.
Later in the afternoon, we separated into groups of 4-5 people plus a guide for a walking safari into the grasslands beyond the campsite. Buffalo, elephants, and giraffe were just the start, as we learned what it meant to be on equal footing with the wildlife that was all around.
We made it back the campsite just as the sun was setting and had lots of laughs during dinner around the campfire. Before bed, we marveled at the pitch-black night of the Delta with its dazzling star-lit sky.
Day 5: Okavango Delta
Rise and shine for a full morning walking safari going the other direction into the grasslands. Out of the entire Okavango Experience tour, this walk is the most physical exercise you’ll have to manage. The grasslands are mostly flat so it’s more about duration stamina, as the walk is 4-ish hours. Even in the Botswana winter, or dry season, by the end of the walk temperatures were around 80°F.
The Okavango is home to the Big Five and we were sure one of the non-plant-eating ones was somewhere nearby. The zebra and kudu were very skittish and vultures circled overhead. However, it never revealed itself, nor did we find the remnants of a meal.
The midday was for brunch, mokoro poling lessons, napping, and even a dip in the Delta. Later on, we set off again in the mokoros for a sunset trip through different water channels, spotting hippos and elephants along the way. Eventually, we made our way to a wider pool of water to watch one of the most amazing sunsets of all time.
Around the campfire that night, the local Batswana who had helped with our campsite, guided us through the grasslands, and poled the mokoros, sang and danced to and with us before the sounds of wildlife just beyond our tents lulled us to sleep.
Day 6: Maun
Today is all about taking down the camp and loading up the mokoros to (sadly) depart from the peace of the Okavango. But what perhaps would be just transiting between places on a different tour becomes another opportunity to get back on the water (for an hour plus!) and see more of the Delta’s beauty and wildlife.
Once back at the jetty station, the game vehicles were there to return us to our campsite from Day 3, on the outskirts of Maun…but not before stopping to let a large herd of elephants cross the dirt roads leading away from the Okavango. 😉
Back at the campsite, upgrades were available for a hotel room. Those who were camping set up their tents. Once settled, everyone went on the optional activity to fly over the Okavango Delta in a small plane. After that, it was time for dinner at the hotel restaurant and to reconnect with the world via the hotel WiFi.
And, noticeably, everyone is joyful because that’s what an authentic experience into one of the most amazing places on the planet does to you. And, it’s even better when the logistics are left to the locals who know the area and you can truly soak up every last minute.
Day 7: Nata
Back on the road again, this time towards the town of Nata and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans a few hours away. Once again, we camped on the grounds of a lodge in Nata and had access to the hotel pool. If you’re looking for the nicest place along the Okavango Experience itinerary to upgrade, this is it. Although, I’ll also add the campsite bathrooms and showers are also by far the best in Nata, too.
After setting up camp, hop into open vehicles to the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, one of the largest areas of its kind in the world. Huge herds of wildebeest live here along with migratory birds. There’s a mysterious feel to the place especially as the animals move and kick up dust.
Stay at the salt pans to watch the spectacular sunset before heading back to camp after dark.
Day 8: Chobe National Park
Head to Kasane, Botswana and Chobe National Park today, a several-hour drive and on the doorstep of the Zimbabwe border crossing. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the road. You never know what you might see on this drive!
Kasane is a tiny slice of human life surrounded by national park and wildlife everywhere. Before setting up camp, we had a chance to shop for anything we needed and buy lunch since it’s not included in the day’s itinerary.
Arriving at the campsite, also on hotel grounds, we set up and prepared for our afternoon sunset river cruise on the Chobe River. I’ll be completely honest and say I had no idea what to expect other than being on the water with a beautiful afternoon/evening sky.
Our Intrepid group had our own boat and guide for the excursion and the action started the minute we left the dock with a hippo floating nearby. What followed was the highest concentration of wildlife in a 2-hour span of time you might ever see. Remember, your Intrepid guide can’t make the animals appear but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
And, of course, the day ended with a brilliant orange sky over the water…just another jaw-dropping day in Botswana and on the Okavango Experience tour.
Day 9: Victoria Falls
The day starts off with an optional activity, an early morning game drive inside Chobe National Park. All but a couple of people chose to go. And, I highly recommend doing it.
Chobe National Park is so impressive. After having been to Kruger in South Africa with its wider roads, Chobe feels like you’re actually part of the bush. Not to mention, there’s just so much wildlife in the park itself.
Afterward, head back to camp to pack up and cross the border into Zimbabwe. Briefed on what to expect at the crossing, we all get our visas to enter the country. Kasane and Victoria Falls are about an hour away from each other so it’s really all about getting across the border.
Upon arrival in Victoria Falls, our guide gave us a brief tour of the town to situate us. There’s also an opportunity to sign up for activities, like a helicopter flight over or whitewater rafting near the falls, for later that day or the next. You’re also free to wander around the town, visit Victoria Falls or shop in the markets as you want.
Since it’s the group’s last night together, there’s often a special dinner. We were lucky enough to have some local dancers and singers perform, as well.
Day 10: Victoria Falls
There’s nothing official planned for the last day. If you need to fly out at a specific time, you’re free to do so. The Okavango Experience ends but there’s the option to continue on and do the full loop back to Johannesburg. Because of this, the Intrepid truck and guide stays at the campsite another night. This flexibility works out if you plan to do an activity or shop without worrying about your bags.
Would I recommend the Intrepid Okavango Experience?
Absolutely, without a single ounce of hesitation, I’d recommend Intrepid’s Okavango Experience. It was one of my best trips ever and has only made me want to book more Intrepid Africa trips! The other Intrepid reviews of the tour confirm my experience, too.
The mix of experiences each day, the amount of wildlife, the expert Intrepid guides, and the friends made in the group are just the start of what made this tour exceptional.
I L-O-V-E-D the opportunity to get off-the-grid in the Okavango Delta for an unforgettable adventure! It’s also something that’s impossible to do on your own.
One thing that really stood out about this tour is it included safari excursions in a vehicle, by boat and mokoro, as well as on foot. When you see wildlife from all these vantage points, you can’t help but gain a fuller understanding of and appreciation for the natural world around you.
Not to mention safaris can be expensive! Obviously, the costs are related to the type of experience you want. However, for everything the Okavango Experience includes, you won’t find a better value.
Want to Extend your Trip?
About half of the people on my tour weren’t actually on the Okavango Experience but rather one of the other Intrepid safaris, the 18-day Explore Southern Africa tour. This tour is the Okavango Experience for the first half and the Vic Falls to Kruger tour for the second half.
The Okavango Experience and the Vic Falls to Kruger tours can be booked separately. But, if you want to do the full loop back to Johannesburg, take a look at the Explore Southern Africa tour. If I had the time, I would’ve absolutely extended my trip to do the longer tour.
Not Sure About All the Camping?
In all honesty, I wasn’t either. I’ve camped out for a couple of nights, but never for this long. But, I’m so glad I did and I’d 100% go back and do it all over again for the unforgettable experiences and memories.
But, there are Intrepid tours in Africa and Botswana in the Original and Comfort styles, if camping isn’t something you want to do. These tours don’t have the exact itinerary as the Okavango Experience but include several of the same stops and activities.
For example, the 10-day Botswana Adventure tour is Intrepid’s Comfort style, with accommodations in hotels, lodges, and houseboats. There are also included activities like an airport arrival transfer, the game drive in Chobe National Park, and the visit to Victoria Falls.
Intrepid’s 9-day Botswana Highlights is an Original style tour, which starts and ends in Victoria Falls. Travelers stay in hotels, lodges, and permanent tents on this itinerary to Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, a local village, and Elephant Sands.
Things to Know Before You Go
Depending on when you want to travel, the Okavango Experience starts at $1,420.
The 10-day tour includes 9 nights of accommodations (8 camping, 1 hotel), 9 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 7 dinners, and all the activities mentioned in the day-by-day breakdown EXCEPT for the airplane ride over the Okavango, the early morning Chobe National Park game drive, and any activities you choose in Victoria Falls.
You should check the requirements for South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe depending on your citizenship. However, as a U.S. citizen, I only needed to get a visa for Zimbabwe, which was purchased and processed at the overland border crossing. In fact, everyone in the group did the same, except the cost was different depending on everyone’s nationality.
If you also plan to visit the Zambia side of Victoria Falls, combined visas for both Zimbabwe and Zambia are available at the border crossing, as well.
Intrepid requires all travelers to have travel insurance on their tours. Allianz Travel has a variety of plans depending on your needs. They’re who I use for all of my travels. And, you’ll need insurance information to complete your required information once you book with Intrepid.
What to Pack for Botswana
This isn’t a comprehensive packing list but the absolute musts for daily comfort.
3-4 Season Sleeping Bag – Don’t underestimate how chilly it can get at night. If you visit when the Okavango is flooded, particularly between June – August, temperatures can drop into the 30°s-40°s overnight.
Pillow – I was so glad to have a travel pillow that opened up into a regular size pillow, but could also be squished down into my compression bag along with my sleeping bag.
Headlamp – I used mine every day, whether it was inside the tent, around the campfire at dinner, or on my way to the bathroom after dark. Remember, during the winter months (June-August), the sun goes down in Botswana around 6 p.m.
Towel – No towels are provided at the campsites, so you’ll need your own for showers.
Closed-toe Shoes – Protect your feet! While you’re focused on that giraffe in the distance or eating with friends around the campfire at night, what’s eyeing your toes for its next snack?!?
Hiking Pants – The perfect type of pants for warmth, sun and insect protection, and coverage from the scratchy, prickly plants in the African bush, while being lightweight and fast-drying.
Warm Fleece – I wore my Columbia fleece every single day while I was in Botswana along with a long sleeve layer underneath. The nights get chilly but don’t forget the early morning game drives in an open-air vehicle! If you don’t have any tolerance for colder temperatures, you may even want to bring a lightweight winter jacket.
Knit Hat – Important for early morning warmth, especially!
Gloves – To keep your fingers warm, but more importantly, to keep your fingers safe as you set up and take down your tent.
Sunscreen and Mosquito Repellent
Best Time to Go to Botswana and the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta floods between June and October. Botswana, overall, is best to visit during the dry season, which runs from May to September. The day time temperatures are more comfortable and the evenings are cool to chilly. Even camping out at night, the cooler temperatures were comfortable with the right sleeping bag.
The dry season also comes with fewer mosquitos and as a result, a lower risk of malaria. Travelers should talk with their doctor about prevention methods and medications. I was in Botswana in the middle of June for the Okavango Experience and barely saw a single mosquito until we got closer to Victoria Falls.
Is Botswana Safe?
I can only speak from my experience but not one single time did I feel unsafe. On this tour, you’re with your group a lot, perhaps more compared to city-based Intrepid tours that have free time to explore.
Regardless, in rest areas where we stopped, towns where we shopped for supplies, or even at the campsites after dark, I was comfortable and not worried, at all. If anything, there were spots you had to be more mindful of wildlife than any human.
English was spoken everywhere we traveled throughout South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and by all activity guides.
Botswana uses Pula, which you’ll need especially for tipping guides. South Africa uses Rand but tipping in U.S. Dollars was fine. Zimbabwe uses the U.S. Dollar and ATMs in the country frequently have no cash due to the country’s ongoing political and financial turmoil.
In Botswana and South Africa, credit cards were accepted in nearly all supermarkets and shopping centers. Cash is preferred in Zimbabwe.
At the start of this review, I said I always knew there were places I’d visit with a guided group.
And, logistically, an overland Africa safari is not something I’d ever want to do with no knowledge of roads, driving conditions, and border crossings. There are large stretches of open land when you drive in Africa. You have to know where you’re going, where to find gas, and what to do if you have car trouble.
Why would anyone want to worry about this while planning that bucket list, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime, African safari??
When you’re unsure of the driving logistics, it also makes it really challenging to plan an itinerary. Not only do you have to do all the research about where to go and what to see, but you’ll also need to make guesses about how much to plan in a day based on the practicalities of traveling in Africa.
Plus, you want guides for an African safari trip. An expert Intrepid guide leading the group means you don’t have to worry about any of the day-to-day details from transportation to meals to activities. Intrepid works with local guides and activity operators all the time so they’ve already been vetted.
Not to mention, guides talk, especially on game drives! They tell each other where they’re seeing animals so others have a chance to see them as well.
Planning a safari trip to Botswana or anywhere in Africa takes a lot of work. Going with a group led by Intrepid’s expert guides on the Okavango Experience is one of the best travel decisions I’ve made so far.
Are you interested in an Intrepid Travel Botswana tour?
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