Safari showdown PART ONE: Aquila vs Okavango Delta

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A unique opportunity presented itself just before Easter 2016: to experience two vastly different safari game drives in two countries within 48 hours.

At 10:45am on 19 March, we were finishing up three days of heaven with a last glorious game drive at the Rest Camp in the Eastern Okavango Delta, Botswana. Then we hopped on a small plane charter back to Maun, and thereafter Cape Town. Wondering who we refers to? My leading lady Caroline Bayly, her parents and I.

By 10:45am on 21 March, we were sitting on a safari vehicle again. This time it was a day trip safari, just two hours out of Cape Town with Aquila Safari. And the “we” in this case was my three Venezuelan clients (one of my guides cancelled last minute and I stepped in to take their trip).

There were only three similarities: both game drives featured hippo sightings, lasted about two – three hours, and were done with a highly competent guides in safe and comfortable vehicles. I said to myself: “Self. This is a great opportunity to draw some comparisons and highlight the differences between the two experiences for your clients! And… go!”

The fight between Cape Town and the Delta, Botswana and SA, rhino against Dragonfly, will take place over 10 rounds and categories. In the quest for an unambiguous victor, let me state the ground rules:

  1. Comparing a four-day/ three-night fly-in safari from Cape Town to the Okavango Delta and a private day trip to Aquila from Cape Town is comparing apples with oranges; that is if the oranges were giant mutant football field size fruit. So we will attempt to zero down on the things we CAN compare.
  2. The assumption is all trips start and end at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
  3. There will be ten rounds of criteria, each round a point. Total points wins.

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ROUND 1: Travel time to reserve

To get to the Khwai area of the Eastern Okavango in Botswana, this is how you do it:

  • 8am transfer to Cape Town International Airport (30min).
  • 10.30am flight via Airlink to Maun in Botswana. Arrive 1pm, ±1 hour layover.
  • 45 min small plane shuttle to private airstrip.
  • 30 min transfer to camp! Arrival 15h45 in the afternoon, in time for your afternoon game drive.

To get to Aquila Safari?

  • 7am pickup
  • 2h 15min private road transfer with a stop for coffee and you’re there.
  • You’re on your game drive after check in and breakfast by 10h15.

Aquila 1 Delta 0

ROUND 2: Overall service & exclusivity

Once you get there, how special do they make you feel? The lodge in the Delta was kind of like the bar in that movie Cheers? You know, the place where everybody knows your name? Rock star service from start to finish, and you’ll have the same safari guide for the duration of your stay here. We had the safari truck (seats 10 normally) to ourselves, and the lodge had about 20 other guests for meals. There is a very friendly atmosphere where everyone mingles round the campfire and at dinner.

Aquila checks you in off their list, then puts you on a big truck with 20 other people. There are about a 100 people doing the morning drive, with a slightly smaller number rumbling in for the afternoon session. You enjoy your meals (a pretty decent breakfast and lunch buffet) in their sizable restaurant area, either outside or inside seating.

Aquila 0 Delta 1

ROUND 3: Quality of guide

The quality of your game viewing tour guide can make or break your experience. This one was difficult to compare, simply because we had six game drives with Morere in the Delta, and only one with Romeo in Aquila.

Morere: Knowledgeable, friendly, accommodating, presentable.

Romeo: Knowledgeable, friendly, presentable. He was unable to be accommodating because he was dealing with a large group in a limited timeframe.

Aquila 0 Delta 1

ROUND 4: Quantity of animal sightings

We had a total of 18 hours of possible game viewing time (and could have asked for more if we wanted it) during our stay in the Delta. During this time we saw elephant, giraffe, various forms of antelope, some amazing leopard sightings with cubs, a serval, zebras, and a multitude of spectacular birds. And hippos. But of course… it’s the Delta!

During our three-hour game drive at Aquila, we saw giraffes, zebras, lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos and blue wildebeest. And some hippos.

Aquila 1 Delta 0

Look out for PART TWO next week to find out who we chose as the winner…

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