As the sun began descending on to the horizon, the impalas and the baboons began streaming onto the riverbanks from the forests over the hill. There were tens of each, big and small. The baboons frolicked playfully while the impalas behaved more gracefully. Then the kudus arrived. They were joined by warthogs and banded mongoose scurrying down the hill. In the water, a couple of hippos popped up over the surface every now and then. A young crocodile watching the scene decided to go underwater and attempt an ambush on a solitary young impala. The entire scene was bathed in the golden light of the setting sun and we were enjoying it from a boat on the Chobe River, on our daily sunset safari with Ichingo Chobe River Lodge. It was wild and wonderful.
Ichingo Chobe River Lodge is a tented lodge on the edge of the secluded Impalila Island, at the eastern end of Namibia’s Zambezi Region, previously known as the Caprivi Strip. It is part of the Zambezi Queen Collection, which includes the luxurious Zambezi Queen and Chobe Princess Houseboats, and falls under the umbrella of the prestigious Mantis Collection of Hotels, Eco-Escapes and Lifestyle Resorts.
Flanked by the gushing rapids of the Chobe River on the one side and surrounded by riverine forest on the other sides, this region is pristine and unspoiled. It is a wildlife, birding and fishing paradise – a serene place that will make you feel at one with nature. The lodge itself is so well camouflaged by the forest canopy that you wouldn’t even know it was there, were it not for the motor boats tethered on the banks below.
To get there, we travelled to Kasane in Botswana from the Victoria Falls in Zambia, which is less than two hours away. Four countries meet in this area: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. You can also fly directly to Kasane International Airport, which is 10 minutes away from the embarkation point.
The unique experience begins from the transfer upon arrival. Evans, our friendly guide, met us at the Kasane Immigration Office, and took us by motor boat on the Chobe River to the Namibian Immigration Office, then to our lodge. We were welcomed by Kennedy, the affable Front House Manager, who was always there to welcome us when we returned from excursions and to bid us farewell when we left. After we had cooled down with chilled drinks and refreshing towels, we were served a hearty lunch on the deck overlooking the river.
The service here is personalised, and activities are not cast in stone. The focus is more on what you want to do and when you want to do it. Your options include river safaris, tiger fishing, bird-watching expeditions, and touring Impalila Island. On your final morning, you are treated to a game drive in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, one of Africa’s leading safari destinations.
Because of the lodge’s unique location at the confluence of the mighty Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, you can experience some of the best fishing in Africa here, including the elusive tiger fish and bream. However, we’re not crazy about fishing, so we chose to do the river safaris and explore the island instead.
There is something truly special about drifting on a river within close range of herds of elephants and buffaloes, while surrounded by pods of hippos and solitary crocodiles. It is an amazing way to see wildlife from a different angle, and enjoy the breath-taking scenery and sunsets. We would go on 3-hour water safaris through the Chobe River on a specially equipped photographic boat, and enjoy the sightings from our vantage point, returning only once the sun had set. My kids loved it too.
One morning, Evans took us on a tour of Impalila Island. Most of the island consists of forests and fields. We saw baobab trees that were over 2000 years old. One had steps embedded in it. It was previously used by South African soldiers as a lookout point because they could see the point where the four countries met from there. Evans climbed up. My kids tried too, but they weren’t as skilled at it as he was. We also saw the village settlements, the school, the clinic and the military base. A traditional court was in progress at one building. It was interesting to see the village and good to know that the lodge has a strong focus on training and employing local residents.
There are eight spacious, air-conditioned Meru Safari tents built on stilts. We had a family section which consisted of two adjacent tents, each with its own modern bathroom and private balcony. Our tent had a king sized bed, a desk and chairs. My children were delighted to have their own tent. Theirs had two double bunk beds and could easily accommodate four children. Both of them chose to sleep on the upper bunks. The tents were comfortable, and we felt as though we were glamping in the jungle. At nights, the sound of the gushing river would lull me off to sleep. One morning we woke up early to the sound of two hippos having a loud brawl in the river below us.
The public areas consist of the open-air dining area where we had all our meals, the comfortable lounge/library/bar area and a small swimming pool with sunbeds, all with views of the rapids. Wi-fi is available in these areas. On the river banks below, we often saw monkeys frolicking and a young crocodile basking in the sun on an old tree trunk.
The food here is hearty and wholesome – old-fashioned comfort food that will leave you feeling satiated. We enjoyed vegetarian pies and casseroles, grilled hake, and decadent desserts. The rates include accommodation, all meals, soft drinks, hot beverages, laundry, fishing equipment and specified activities.
Ichingo Chobe River Lodge won the award for Namibia’s Leading Tented Safari Camp at the World Travel Awards in 2017 and 2018, testament to the unique experience it offers. It also attracts many repeat visitors, further indication of its appeal. I’ve been to many lodges in Southern Africa, but this felt the most authentic to me. In the heart of nature, and far from the madding crowd, it is an experience that will allow you to completely unwind and enjoy the sights and sounds of a true African river safari.
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