Mombo: Africa’s Ultimate Destination
Known as the Place of Plenty, Mombo in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, has some of the highest densities of wildlife in what is already a wildlife rich area. Doc, our incredible local guide, announced upon arrival, “Welcome to paradise”. We couldn’t have agreed more. The reason it’s such a paradise is probably not what you expect.
Mombo sits on the northwestern tip of Chief’s Island, the largest Island in the Delta covering an area over 70 km long (43 mi) and 15 km wide (9.3 mi). This strip of land provides the core area for much of the resident wildlife to concentrate on when the waters rise in winter but there’s an even more important factor that draws the wildlife here. This factor is the fertility of the land, which rather unexpectedly is due to natural peat fires; peat being the true meaning of the word Mombo.
Layers of papyrus and other decomposing vegetation build up on top of each other and dry out. Eventually combustion (from a lightning strike or from a build up of pressure) causes this underground fuel to ignite. Due to the shape of the island these groupings of peat are then deposited on the northern tip of Chief’s Island, on the Mombo concession, and creates the extremely fertile top soil. This soil allows highly palatable grasses to grow, which in turn attracts many grazing species that the predators then hunt.
We visited in February, during the wet season, when the area experiences some of its highest rainfall. The quality of the sightings and beauty of the area far surpassed my expectations, which is really saying something.
One of our very first adventures was a helicopter flight on our first evening. We flew above vultures that had just spotted and were landing on an elephant carcass, herds of lechwe, elephants, giraffe and sun bathing hippos but by far the most incredible sighting was of two black rhino. Wilderness Safaris pioneering Rhino Reintroduction Programme began almost 20 years ago. This project saw the largest ever cross-border translocation of Critically Endangered black rhino to date, moving 1% of the total global population of this highly threatened species to a wilderness safe haven in the Okavango Delta. They work closely with the Botswana Government and the Botswana Defence Force to protect these animals and we were lucky enough to spot two of them.
Another wonderful sighting was of a large pride of lions we found the following morning. The pride had two very young cubs, a few subadults and females as well as three large males, making up a pride of 14. Their full bellies were a clear sign that they’d feasted during the night and were more intent on shaking their sodden manes than moving great distances. However large downpours of rain, like the ones we experienced while we were there, wash away the important scent markings these lions rely on to demarcate their territories. It wouldn’t have been long before the pride were up and exploring their territorial boundaries.
That same afternoon we found a pack of wild dogs and were lucky enough to watch them rest, play, shake, and start to hunt. Wild dogs are some of the most successful hunters on the continent and one of the reasons for this is the speed they can move at (about 50km/hr) and the length of time they can keep it up for (about 5km). Normally it is this that makes keeping up with them so difficult but for us it was a grassland area, too heavily saturated in water, that brought us to a halt. As soon as we began to drive through the deceptive bog we all knew we were in trouble by which point it was too late. We watched as the dogs disappeared into the tree line and we begun the exercise of digging ourselves out. Although maybe not delivering the adrenaline associated with wild dogs, the extraction process definitely led to many laughs.
On our last morning we had a magnificent sighting of a female leopard and her cub. Doc pulled off an incredible spot and to top it off, they were in one of my favourite trees, an Apple Leaf (Philenoptera violacea). This leopard is the granddaughter of the famous Legadema, whose name means Lightening. Legadema, possibly the most well-known leopard in Botswana was made famous by Derek and Beverly Joubert in the filming of their National Geographic documentary, Eye of the Leopard. In her lifetime she successfully raised just two cubs to maturity (Pula, which means Rain and Maru, which means Cloud ). This leopard photographed here is the one known as Marotodi (Raindrop) and is the only surviving female cub of her mother, Pula. We watched her play with her cub, drink from one of the many natural pools of water and lastly climb a massive acacia tortilis tree. It was wonderful to consider that we were watching the future potential of Legadema’s legendary line.
Being one of the most expensive camps in Africa, we’re often asked if Mombo is worth it. My resounding answer is, YES! Apart from all the reasons and experiences listed above, another has to be the astounding beauty of the landscape. From the air filled with the scent of wild sage, the Real Fan Palm dotted horizons, the enormous Mangosteen, Ebony and Sausage trees and the proliferation and diversity of small and large species, every little element adds to the perfection of this paradise. Another big factor is its exclusivity. Botswana, in general prides itself on its brave decision to create a more expensive experience for a low impact (limited beds and vehicles) but Mombo takes it to a whole new level. In our four game drives, we didn’t see a single other vehicle.
Added to the outstanding wildlife experience is the amazing quality of service, food and wine. Fresh produce is flown in weekly and the gourmet dining – accompanied by choice South African wines – might compete for a Michelin star were the camp not deep in the bush. What may even be better though is the pizza oven, where with a wide range of toppings, you can create your dream pizza in the middle of nowhere.
The eight spacious tents, re-built in 2018, afford sweeping views over a floodplain teeming with wildlife. The sitting room, separate bedroom and bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers and bathtub with copper and brass fittings all contribute to Wilderness Safaris’ ideal of responsible luxury. Mombo also offers a brand-new gym, spa and infinity pool, and helicopter and hot-air balloon trips. One of the wonders of this camp is the amount of animals that stream in throughout your stay. There really is no boundary here between being in the wilderness or back at camp.
Paradise is defined as an ideal or idyllic place or state. Some may refer to it as the Garden of Eden or Heaven on Earth. Others Nirvana, Moksha, Aaru and so on. For me, I’d simply call it Mombo.