Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp
9 tented chalets
Children aged 6 or older
Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp (formerly known as ‘Nxabega Safari Camp’ – and often to most of us simply as “Nxabega") is set in an area of mixed woodlands and floodplains situated within a 70km2private concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, to the west of Chief's Island. The camp’s pedigree is good, and it aims for a very high standard of food, comfort and care. There’s both dry land and water around, and so it offers game drives as well as mokoro and boating activities.
The environment around the camp is a patchwork of mature mopane woodlands and seasonally flooded grassland, interspersed with islands of real-fan palms, jackalberries, sausage trees and wild-fig trees. Nxabega nestles on its own island under the shady canopy of tall jackalberry trees and overlooking a permanent floodplain. It's varied and, in parts, very pretty.
It's clear that Nxabega Safari Camp was the height of 'safari chic' for a tented camp in the Okavango when it was built, but time and the environment have taken their toll somewhat. Nxabega's teak-panelled, high-thatched main area is divided into a large dining area, where tables can be set up individually or combined into one long communal table, and a lounge area with oversized armchairs, books and board games, a well-stocked bar and a fireplace which is lit on cold nights. Burnished teak floors, locally crafted fittings (including ornate ostrich-egg chandeliers) and African artefacts characterise this part of the camp.
Since we visited and re-wrote this report, in November 2015, Nxabega closed in January 2016 for an extensive remodelling of its tents. The camp then re-opened in May 2016, and from what we’ve heard it’s looking fantastic! As soon as we visit Nxabega again we will post our own pictures. In the meantime, you can get a general idea of how the new tents look from the gallery of Owner’s images.
Meanwhile, our last inspection report noted that the large split-level wooden deck provides comfortable seating areas. The deck also acts as a dining spot for al fresco lunches and evening meals. In fact, the staff at Nxabega prides themselves on (almost) never dining in the same place on consecutive evenings. You can rest assured that wherever your evening meal is served, they go to a lot of effort and it's likely to look stunning – often it's atmospherically lit by candles and storm lanterns.
A raised walkway links Nxabega's main area to a large plunge pool and pool deck. There are plenty of sunloungers and cushioned chairs, positioned overlooking the floodplain, but it's the attention to detail which we think is a forte: you'll even find a cooler box filled with chilled drinks – which the staff will gladly arrange to include your favourites, on request. The camp also has a well-stocked curio shop.
The nine large en-suite tented chalets at Nxabega Camp are linked by a sandy path through the bush. We have yet to see updated rooms, but we understand they will be more spacious and will have a reconfigured layout with an entrance at the back of the chalet and front-facing beds to take advantage of the lovely Delta views. The open plan bedroom will be separated from the bathroom by a large headboard and dressing area to ensure privacy, and the ensuite bathrooms will have an indoor and outdoor shower. The private verandah in front of each chalet had been extended creating a comfortable sitting area, and to one side a wood and reed sala area has been added to create a peaceful, shaded retreat to while away the afternoon. For families, two of the tents will be connected by a walkway to create a new family unit.
The chalets will have fresh interiors decorated in earthy tones and finished with the really thoughtful touches that we have always associated with Nxabega - like the small coolbox provided in each room that can be filled on request with your preferred drinks.
On the practical front, a torch is supplied, as is an emergency 'hooter' in case of emergency. Each chalet also has plug points for charging batteries, plus a universal adaptor and (unusually for a camp in Botswana) a hairdryer.
The Nxabega concession offers a mixture of land- and water-based activities: guests can explore the Okavango Delta by 4WD game-drive vehicle, motorboat or mokoro (a traditional canoe offering an idyllic way to explore the reed-lined channels and lagoons of the surrounding waterways). If the camp has a walking guide available, then it's sometimes also possible to explore on foot – but this should be requested in advance wherever possible. All activities are accompanied by a fully trained and licensed guide and a tracker/assistant.
(In passing … we were a little concerned about the state of the vehicles on our last couple of visits, including most recently in November 2015 when ours had a distracting rattle…)
Boat trips at Nxabega are very flexibly organised. On a previous visit we enjoyed a short morning cruise and even tried our hand at fishing. Our guide and tracker kept us entertained and informed, even convincing us to try some of the roots that they grew up eating. We learned that fishing is not allowed in the breeding season (January and February). Full-day boat excursions are also an option. Typically these will leave the boat station in the early morning, and will stop at various points along the way before lunch is served on one of the islands found throughout the area.
Historically we've noted that the dry-season game viewing at Nxabega can be unreliable. Some travellers have great game experiences here; others have been disappointed. We've arrived at the view that during the 'green' or wet season, from about December to April, Nxabega (and the other concessions on the west side of Chief's island) can actually be better for game than Okavango reserves which are further east or north. However, during the more classic dry season months from about May to October, the drier reserves to the north and east of Chief's Island, and the Kwando-Linyanti Reserves, tend to have better game viewing than the Nxabega Concession does.
On our last visit (November 2015) this rang true – although we did see a number of zebra, some elephants, a few buffalo bulls, kudu and two adorable leopard cubs literally hanging out on the branches of a bush! Having said that, however, on at least two previous visits in 2010 our team found the game viewing from Nxabega Camp to be very good. And judging by Nxabega's guestbook, leopard sightings seem to be seen fairly regularly. On a past visit we spotted African wildcat on an evening drive – followed by a couple of lionesses on a zebra kill, and a large male nearby relaxing on a termite mound the following morning.
That said, the water levels in the Delta are in a constant state of flux, and we have been seeing some shifts in patterns over the last couple of years. So we will keep an eye on the patterns of game movements in this area with great interest!
Looking back at our previous reports, the quality of guiding that our team have experienced at Nxabega in recent years has always been good, if a little formal at times. On our last couple of visits, Expert Africa team members have consistently returned from activities having learned and seen more than they'd expected – and have felt more engaged by the guides here than in other reserves where the density of game is usually thought to be higher.
The lodge is run by &Beyond who are very strong on training their staff, and particularly their guides – and this is a feature at both Nxabega, and its sister camp in the Okavango, Sandibe Safari Lodge. So we would expect good standard of guiding here.
We think that Nxabega is a lovely safari camp – with high standards of friendly service, good guiding and imaginative food. During the dry season, Nxabega isn’t usually top of our list for guaranteed high game densities; then we think of this camp more for its water-based activities. But during Botswana’s green season, the story is different: then game is generally less easily seen everywhere across the Delta, but Nxabega comes into its own as then being a relatively good choice for game-viewing.
Ideal length of stay: 3 nights - note that there are often some great special deals to be had when Nxabega is booked in combination with one of its sister camps: Sandibe Safari Lodge; Chobe Under Canvas; or the seasonalSavute Under Canvas.
Directions: The new Nxabega airstrip opened in March 2013, and is just 15 minutes drive from the camp.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Great care is taken with the menu and the presentation of meals at Nxabega, and the food is generally excellent.
An early breakfast is served before the morning activity. This usually includes the option of cereals, fresh fruit, juice, bread and muffins with tea and coffee. On our most recent stay in November 2015 we also had sticky toffee buns – perhaps a little decadent for breakfast, but delicious nonetheless!
Brunch is usually eaten at individual tables on your return from the morning activity. You can usually expect an assortment of salads, a hot dish (on one occasion our team had fresh bream and bacon with a beetroot salad which they commented was really tasty), eggs if you wish, freshly baked bread and various cheeses – all presented on your own table, amounting to your own individual buffet! On our last visit we had to leave before brunch to catch our plane, so Nxabega packed us a simple but adequate packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit and nuts.
Afternoon tea, is served between 3.30–4.00pm depending on the season, and usually consists of a light savoury snack and some form of cake. We enjoyed a delicate feast of pork sliders with an assortment of salad ingredients (marinated feta, olives, artichokes and tomatoes) and a banana cake - all with an option of iced coffee or tea.
The dinner menu is usually announced by the chef as everyone gathers for pre-dinner drinks – just in case there are any last-minute changes or requests to be noted. We had dinner on the swimming pool deck, which was lit with lanterns creating a magical atmosphere. There is usually a choice of two main dishes – that evening it was between kudu steak and oven-roasted chicken leg, both served with garlic and rosemary baby potatoes, a vegetable kebab and corn on the cob. We started with a halloumi and roast tomato salad and ended the meal with a Malva pudding. An interesting menu, carried off perfectly.
Occasionally, when the weather permits, dinner will be served in the 'big' boma. On the menu is usually a mix of traditional African and barbecue dishes.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits cost extra and may need to be requested in advance.
Further dining info: Generally there is no room service at Nxabega, although sometimes meals can be taken in the chalets at standard meal times, by special arrangement. Drinks can be brought to the chalets on request and placed in the small coolbox there. Note, however, that the rooms do not have telephones.
Family holidays: Children are welcome at Nxabega, where the staff is flexible and very willing to go out of their way to make your Botswana family safari holidays enjoyable. Children 6 years and above are accommodated on game drives at the lodge manager’s discretion, and without having to hire a private vehicle.
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Solo Travel: Although there is more of an individual focus at the &Beyond camps, they also usually have a friendly and relaxed approach to activities – including 4WD safaris, bush walks and motorboat or mokoro trips – so are great for sharing the amazing wildlife with like-minded visitors.
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Honeymoons: Set in a lush part of the Delta, Nxabega is a luxurious camp and a great choice for a Botswana honeymoon. The staff often go out of their way to include special touch for your safari honeymoon - they're particularly good at setting up meals in unique and inventive places.
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Wellbeing: Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp offers a range of massage options including aromatherapy massages, Swedish massages, Indian head massages and feet massages. These can be requested and paid for whilst at the camp, and will usually be done in the privacy of your room.
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Attitude towards children: Children are welcome at Nxabega.
Property’s age restrictions: Children under five years of age are not allowed to join the usual activities. Children aged 6–11 years are accommodated on game drives at the lodge manager’s discretion. Children aged 12-15 years are accommodated on game drives, but mokoro excursions are at the discretion of the camp manager. Children 16 years and older can participate in game drives, guided walks and mokoro activities.
Special activities & services: AndBeyond’s WILDChild programme is filled with fun and interactive activities for young children that may involve tracking, fishing, making traditional bows and arrows, beading, crafting and painting and more.
Equipment: An extra bed can be arranged for a child sharing with his or her parents, although this would usually make the chalet feel a little cramped. Note that no more than one triple can be accommodated in camp at any one time. A child minding service is available at extra cost. This money is given directly to the babysitter, who is an ordinary member of the camp's staff and not a trained child-minder. Meals catered for children are available on request.
Generally recommended for children: We think that the flexible attitude of the camp and their willingness to go the extra mile makes this a reasonably suitable camp for children over the age of six years. Parents must, however, consider that the camp is unfenced, wildlife regularly wanders through camp and there is no fence around the pool.
Notes: The tents are all raised off the ground on decks, with only simple railings. Children need to be closely supervised by their parents at all times.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: The generator usually runs approximately 04.30 to around midnight. Inverters then in turn charge individual batteries for each room (for power when the generator is off). It’s suggested that charging is best done when the generator is on and there is a plug point with a universal adaptor in each chalet. A hairdryer is provided, but can be used only when the generator is running.
Communications: The camp has WiFi in the main area but there is no cellphone reception. The camp office has radio communications with Maun, and between guides on the activities.
TV & radio: There is no TV or radio at Nxabega.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: All the guides and managers are first-aid trained and a first-aid kit is kept at the camp. A light aircraft flight to Maun hospital is possible during daylight hours. In the event of an emergency, there is the Medivac helicopter. 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: Security guards escort guests to and from their chalets after dark. Each chalet contains an air horn which guests can activate in the event of an emergency – and the guards should respond swiftly to this.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the communal areas and outside every chalet, which also has notes on what to do in case of fire.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included. The camp will be flexible where possible, although collections are usually at 8.00am and returned the same day, weather permitting.
Money: No exchange facilities are offered at Nxabega. There is a small safe in every room. Payment can be made in cash (euro, US dollars, South African rand, Botswana pula and UK sterling), or with Visa or MasterCard. Envelopes are provided in the chalets for tips (at your discretion) for both guides and trackers, and for the rest of the staff. These can be given direct or through the management. Tips may also be made by credit card and distributed as requested by the guest.