Zarafa shares the Selinda Reserve with its more modest sister camps,Selinda Camp, and the more basic Selinda Explorers Camp. The eastern side of the reserve is dominated by the wide, spreading depression of the Magwegqana Spillway (often known as the Selinda Spillway). This consists largely of open tracts of savannah, dotted with raised, island-like stands of mokolwane palm, leadwood and other riverine vegetation. Since the particularly good rains of 2006, the Spillway has filled with water during the floods, forming a link between the waters of the Okavango and Linyanti deltas. During 2016, however, the Spillway was experiencing a drought, although several other permanent channels were full.Zarafa stands in a line of lush, riverine vegetation, which runs roughly north-west/south-east. In front of the camp, to the north and west, are the reedbeds and waterways beside the permanent Zibalianja Lagoon, and beyond these are tracts of savannah, where most activities are conducted. This is an attractive, open environment where wildlife can easily be spotted at a distance. Behind the camp, to the south and east, is a fairly solid belt of mopane woodlands, where the wildlife is usually of much less interest during the dry season.Even a casual glance at a satellite map of Zarafa will show that Zarafa is positioned on a clear and ancient line dividing two regions of different vegetation. In fact, it's on the high side of a geological faultline, which is the southern extreme of Africa's Great Rift Valley – even if it is only a few metres higher than the water in front of it.
Zarafa is co-owned by renowned wildlife filmmaker Dereck Joubert and his wife, photographer Beverly Joubert, who have tried to create their ultimate safari camp in Zarafa. Thoughtful touches are evident throughout, from the distinctive décor and personalised guest stationery to the Swarovski binoculars, digital camera and memory cards provided for guests' use.
Zarafa's accommodation consists of just four sprawling marquee-style tented suites, raised on old railway sleeper decks, and each with a private plunge pool and outdoor needle-shower. An ornate Zanzibari door leads into a lounge area, separated by canvas partitions from a spacious open-plan bedroom and bathroom. Polished wooden floors are lined with rugs, topped with leather furniture and wooden chests to create an early-settler feel. All the canvas is double-sided, helping the suites remain cool in summer and warm in winter, while the roof of each suite has three layers: an inner lining for decoration and two outer layers for protection and insulation.
In each suite there are lovely extra touches, including a chest of watercolour paper and paints and a small range of wildlife books. There is even a yoga mat and weights for those who feel like a light workout! A number of chests and leather and brass-trimmed boxes are stocked with a selection of alcoholic beverages, mixers, tea and coffee, ice and chilled fresh water. We noticed during our visit in April 2016 that there were bottles of Amarula, brandy, whisky and gin, as well as decanters of sherry and port, but drinks can be supplied to suit your preferences.
The bedroom in each of Zarafa's suites has a large bed with mosquito net and overhead ceiling fan, while behind is plenty of hanging and shelving space where you'll find bathrobes, a hairdryer, an umbrella, insect repellent and spray, and a digital safe. Also hidden away here is an air-conditioning unit designed to silently and effective cool the sleeping area within the mosquito net.
The bathroom facilities include a luxuriously deep copper bath, indoor rain-head shower, twin basins and a separate flush toilet. For the winter months a copper gas heater helps to keep the tent warm – an almost unheard-of luxury, even by the high standards of Botswana's other safari camps!
In 2014 Zarafa opened the Zarafa Dhow Suites, effectively two private villas situated at the far end of the main camp. Operating completely separately from the main camp, the Dhow Suites can be booked only for exclusive use by a family or group of friends, and guests here are catered for entirely separately from the main camp. The suites are very similar in style to the main camp, down to the exploration-style décor. Each can cater for up to four adults or a family group of five in two individual en-suite bedrooms. With their own private pool, along with a private chef, camp manager, staff and guide, the Dhow Suites provide the ultimate exclusive experience.
A large marquee encompasses Zarafa's main area, its lounge, dining room, bar and library all beautifully decorated in the same early-settler style as the suites. This main area leads out to an extensive deck where, weather permitting, most meals are served. Meals are a social event with guests seated around one table, though private dining can be arranged on request.
A neighbouring tent houses one of the nicer gift shops in Botswana's camps, stocking locally made goods and quality African artefacts as well as some very stylish clothing suitable for a safari, and both wildlife films and stunning hardback photography books by Dereck and Beverly Joubert. Additional facilities include an outdoor 'jungle gym' and in-room massage treatments.
Each area of Zarafa overlooks the floodplains around the Zibadianja Lagoon, from under the shade of giant jackalberry trees. Wildlife, particularly elephant and hippo, is a common sight in front of and around camp. On a previous visit we were lucky enough to watch from our breakfast table as a pack of wild dogs – nine adults and seven pups – played directly in front of the camp near the water's edge.
With a maximum of eight guests, Zarafa Camp can be very flexible when it comes to activities. They offer day and night game drives, usually in the mornings and afternoons/early evenings, with full-day game drives on request. All are conducted in custom-built Land Cruisers, each with individual bucket seats and a removable canvas roof. A private vehicle and guide can be pre-booked at additional cost, though groups of four or more automatically get their own private vehicle at no extra charge. Short or full-morning walks led by an armed guide can be arranged, as can catch-and-release fishing trips using spinners or bait – though note that these are not available during January and February, when fishing is banned by the Botswana authorities.
Though seasonal, wildlife viewing on the Selinda Reserve is particularly good during the dry period from June to around late October/early November. The combination of wet and dry habitats attracts a wide range of species, including a variety of birdlife. However, we have had phenomenal game viewing in the offseason on previous visits, including a pride of 14 lions with cubs, plenty of elephants and a pack of nine wild dogs on the hunt.
At the time of our most recent visit, the wildlife here was impressive. Two prides of lion – the Wapuka Pride (consisting of four females, two with cubs) and the Selinda Pride (six females with 10 cubs among them), both dominated by two adult males – wander between the unfenced border of the Selinda Reserve and the Kwara Concession. There are two packs of wild dogs in the area, too. The Selinda Pack, consisting of 14 dogs, was denning in the Selinda Reserve, and there are hopes that the Explorers Pack, with five dogs, and two pregnant females, would den in the reserve. The reserve also boasts ten resident leopards. From the end of April through December, Cape buffalo migrate into the area, leading to epic predator–prey encounters with lion. The June–July zebra migration from the Savute and Chobe area can bring up to a thousand zebra into the reserve, and guests can expect huge herds of elephant in the winter season (between about November and April).
We had an extremely exciting and productive game drive, the highlight of which was spotting a female leopard hiding in tall grass while a hundred or so helmeted guineafowl flew from the Zibadianja Lagoon into a jackalberry tree to roost. As soon as the sun set, the leopard slowly approached the tree to await his upcoming meal! We also had a superb moment when our vehicle was surrounded on all sides by a large herd of elephant, including many newborn calves – it was like an IMAX film come to life!
Birdwatching provided us with plenty of sightings, too, from waterbirds such as black-winged stilt and grey heron to double-banded sandgrouse and Kittlitz’s plover. Specials in the reserve include slaty and black egret, and coppery-tailed coucal, all watched over by predators such as the African fish eagle and bateleur eagle.
Another highlight at Zarafa is cruising the lagoon aboard the large pontoon boat, humorously titled HMS Zibadianja. Furnished with couches, a dining table and chairs, this is ideal for brunch and sundowner cruises whilst watching hippos, elephant and other wildlife.
Zarafa has succeeded in combining luxury and adventure in an exclusive yet informal setting. The camp is beautifully designed and well run, and goes the extra mile to cater for its guests' wishes. The new and even more exclusive Zarafa Dhow Suites are good options for families or friends travelling together. If you're looking for indulgence, great game viewing, polished guiding and service, this is the place – albeit with a price tag to match. Though there's a good variety of wildlife here year round, the best time to visit is without doubt during the dry season, from June to October.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend three nights or more at Zarafa Camp, or possibly a night or two here at the start and/or end for those joining the Selinda Adventure Trail.
Directions: Zarafa is accessible only by light aircraft; it's roughly a 45-minute flight from either Maun or Kasane. The camp is about an hour's drive from Selinda airstrip, depending on wildlife sightings on the way.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Great Plains Conservation
Staff: Antoinette (main camp manager), Pierre (head chef), Frank (Dhow Suites manager)
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Zarafa is the only Relais & Châteaux property in Botswana. The quality and selection of food is extraordinary considering the remoteness of the camp. Meals are light and plenty of thought and care has been put into the menus, which are designed to make you feel light and full of energy. Vegetarians and any particular dietary requirements can be catered for on request, and menus are extremely flexible to suit guests' food preferences.
One of the advantages of staying at Great Plains’ camps is that the chefs have complete freedom to create their own menus. As a result, you can stay at different Great Plains’ camps for over a week, sampling creative, delicious dishes, yet not repeat a meal.
On our last stay, in April 2016, the day began with a full breakfast of bacon and egg quiche, croissants, yoghurt pots with stewed fruit, sliced fruit, fresh muffins, a selection of jam, honey and mixed nuts, and a variety of cereals. If preferred, you can have a packed breakfast to enjoy during a break on your morning activity.
We arrived from another camp just in time for a very impressive brunch that started with a cool gazpacho soup, which was properly puréed in the Spanish tradition. The main course was an extraordinary grilled chicken salad with walnuts, berries and diced tomato. The chicken was grilled to perfection and had a very light spicy seasoning to it, but nothing overpowering or bold.
Afternoon tea of sweet or savoury snacks is served before the afternoon activity, accompanied by a selection of hot or cold drinks.
Dinner was a three-course plated meal with a choice of two meat dishes and one vegetarian dish. We opted for the roast leg of lamb, which was unbelievable! On previous visits we have enjoyed options of Botswana-style beef, turkey with roast vegetables, and delicious vegetarian options. Starters have included bruschetta with a balsamic glaze, and we have fishished with a yummy fruit salad encased in a home-made orange-flavored brandy snap.
Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers, spirits and a selection of (generally) South African wines are included. Imported wines, spirits and champagne cost extra – and may even need to be requested in advance. Guests are encouraged to use the filtered water supply in the camp's main area to top up the stainless-steel flasks that are placed in each room; these are also replenished daily by the staff. We don't recommend that travellers drink from the tap
Further dining info: On request, i.e. private meals for special occasions.
Honeymoons: With its large and luxurious rooms overlooking the Zibadianja Lagoon, Zarafa is an ideal place for a Botswana honeymoon retreat. The staff will happily set up a private dinner on your veranda or a romantic cruise on the pontoon boat.
Birdwatching: Zarafa provides Swarovski binoculars for keen birders and is developing a sunken bird hide, which should make it even more attractive for birdwatching in Botswana. The camp bestows honorary membership of the ‘111 Club’ on guests who spot 111 or more birds during their stay.
Photography holidays: Co-owned by wildlife filmmakers and photographers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Zarafa is one of the best camps for photographers in Botswana. A number of Canon 5D cameras with 100–400mm lenses are available for guests’ use, and the guides are all very aware of positioning for pictures.
Attitude towards children: Children aged eight and over are welcome at Zarafa, but those aged 12 and under must be booked onto a private vehicle for their activities. That said, families of four or more will be provided with a private vehicle free of charge. Children between the ages of six and eight years old are permitted only if their family has booked either the Zarafa Dhow Suites, or exclusive use of the whole camp.
Property’s age restrictions: Minimum age eight years for main camp, six for Dhow Suites
Special activities & services: Selinda Explorers Camp has guides who are great with children, and can offer alternative and slightly tailored activities such as fishing or short canoe trips. The camp also offers the ‘Young Explorers’ program, which includes child-friendly activities, such as animal tracking, plaster casting tracks, and making traditional bows and arrows just to name a few. They can offer childminding from one of their housekeeping team, but not someone specially trained in childcare.
Equipment: No special equipment for children is provided, although an additional bed can be added to the suites to create a triple.
Generally recommended for children: As Zarafa is unfenced, and wild animals roam freely through the camp, we'd recommend it only for children aged 12 and over.
Notes: There is no professional babysitting service, though camp staff can mind children on request. At all other times children must be kept under constant, close parental supervision.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: Solar power is backed up by a generator. The system is capable of accommodating the low-wattage hairdryers that are provided in the bathrooms.
Communications: WiFi access is in the suites only, but not in the main areas. There is no cellphone reception. There is a satellite phone and radio to contact Maun in an emergency.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All the suites have plumbed hot and cold running water for showers, and flushing toilets. Guests are encouraged to use the filtered water supply in the camp's main area to top up the stainless-steel flasks that are placed in each room; these are also replenished daily by the staff. We don't recommend that travellers drink from the tap.
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: A comprehensive first-aid kit is kept in camp and guides carry field kits on activities. Both managers and guides are first-aid trained. In an emergency, medical evacuation to Maun can be arranged. 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: Due to the presence of big game, and the fact that Zarafa Camp is unfenced, guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. Alarms are provided in the rooms to attract attention in case of emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the common areas and in each suite.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included at Zarafa Camp