Selinda Canoe Trail
Over the last few years the general trend for a Botswana safari has been to offer more. More luxury, more comfort, more silver flatware and crystal stemware, more private plunge pools, more butlers (you can never have too many!), more…well, everything.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not always a bad thing—let’s face it, everyone likes a little bit of luxury when they travel. When it’s done right, at a place like Zarafa for example, it adds to the experience rather than overpowering it. But when this ‘upgrading’ happens and the camp or lodge ends up eclipsing its own environment, the wildlife and the landscape are sadly relegated to the status of a rather expensive side show.
Sometimes less really is more, and on the Selinda Canoe Trail this is most definitely the case. Everything has been stripped back and in many ways I consider it to be one of the most perfect safari experiences available. This is what safari should feel like: low impact, just you and the wilderness, along with a great guide, phenomenal food (some of the best I’ve ever had on safari), a campfire to drink and tell tales beside, and a comfortable place to lay your head at night, with the sounds of the bush lulling you to sleep. For the better part of three days, you won’t hear a vehicle, a generator, or even any people other than the staff and your fellow explorers (to a maximum of 8). The quiet is glorious and when it is inevitably shattered at the end of the trip, you’ll find yourself quite resentful of the intrusion.
The area you paddle through is thoroughly wild; there’s no real vehicle access for the three days that you’re on the spillway and almost nothing in the way of settlements, so the animals are not habituated to humans in the way they famously are in other parts of Bostwana. As a result, you don’t get as close to the game as you do in a vehicle, but because you have to be careful not to spook a breeding herd of thirty elephants having a drink at the water’s edge, the experience becomes more rewarding. You’ll feel like you really earned each sighting.
There’s one important exception to what I’ve said above, and it comes late in the afternoon on day three, when you start getting to the deeper pools that hold huge pods of hippo. Running this particular gauntlet is exciting and terrifying all at the same time, kind of like being aroused at gunpoint. Have a look at the video below, which records our guide Josh’s safety briefing, to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
The trend toward the ever more luxurious lodges that insulate you from what you’ve come to see means that the experience of exploring the Selinda Spillway by canoe will never have mass appeal. And that’s a shame because experiences like this one are the best way to connect with and really understand what you’re seeing. In a way, however, I’m kind of glad everyone won’t come here. The canoe trail feels personal and authentic and reminded me that no matter how jaded we become, there is a reason we keep coming back to Africa.
Dan Achber may tame lions and run with elephants, but he maintains a healthy fear of the mighty hippo.