In Search of the Big 5: Looking for Lions in Chobe National Park


Although it might seem hard to believe, I still haven’t told you about the absolute best part of my Africa trip yet. It might seem hard to top bush camping in the Okavango Delta, searching for white and black rhinos, and visiting Victoria Falls, but I’m about to. The highlight of my trip to Africa was exploring Chobe National Park both by land and by water.

Chobe National Park is located in northern Botswana near the confluence of the Chobe River and the Zambezi River. The park is famous for its abundance of wildlife, and I wanted to see as much as possible while I was there. A couple of days before I was supposed to leave for my trip, I went to the G Adventures website to try and pre-book as many excursions as possible. Although I had been to the website many times, I had only ever seen two options – the Okavango Delta flight and a Zambezi River cruise.  I had every intention of booking both, but this time, I saw a new option – a photo safari on the Chobe River. The safari included the use of a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens and an 8 gb memory card that you would get to keep, and promised instruction from a professional photographer on how to take the best wildlife shots. Um, SIGN ME UP. Well, when I arrived in Africa and met the rest of my group, I realized that I was the only person on my tour who had had the opportunity to book the photo safari. I just lucked out! I felt kind of bad, but hey, right place, right time.

A little preview of what is to come!

My guide convinced me that the sunset game cruise was the best option (the other possibility was doing a morning game drive), and I trusted that he knew what he was talking about. I got picked up from our campsite around 3:30 and we headed to the insanely beautiful hotel that our boat would leave from. (Note: if you want luxury in Africa, you can get it. The resorts there are absolutely insane. One night in that place probably cost the same as my entire trip.) Our small, 8-person boat had seats with specially fitted tripods and gigantic DSLR cameras with zoom lenses. I like to think that I have a pretty good camera, but nothing makes you question your choices faster than staring down the barrel of $5,000+ in gear.

Check out those fancy chair/tripod situations

Our guide on the boat was a professional photographer who has made his living photographing wildlife, so we were in good hands. Fortunately, there’s no possible way to take a bad picture with that type of camera, so with some simple instruction, we were off! I wasn’t sure what we could expect to see, but the first thing we found was a crocodile – our first of the trip!

My, what beautiful teeth you have (from the safety of my boat)

Our little boat enabled us to get really close to many of the animals, so although the zoom lens was insane, it also didn’t hurt that we weren’t too far away to begin with. Even though I don’t like birds (as you know), I don’t mind photographing them from a safe distance with a giant camera to protect my face.

This is objectively an attractive bird

We saw a lone bull elephant way off in the distance and headed over to see if we could get a good shot of him. Right as we pulled up, a whole herd of elephants came spilling out of the bush towards the river, including some babies! I couldn’t believe my eyes, as this was my first baby elephant sighting. I probably took a thousand pictures. Luckily for you, I will only show you two.

OMG so many sizes of elephants
Hi, little baby!

After the elephants, we headed off in search of hippos that frequented the area. We didn’t find any, but there was a group of elephants bathing in the water and reeds that were very close to the river. Although there were several large boats nearby (river cruises are popular but typically take place on larger pontoons), we were able to get super close to the elephants because our boat was so small! They continued peacefully grazing the entire time.

Hello, let’s be friends!

There was a small herd, with a baby elephant and several adults, and they were splashing and playing in the water and just having a grand old time. I couldn’t believe how close we were and the amazing detail I was able to capture in the photos. There was also a hippo mixed in among them, which is apparently quite rare – you don’t often find hippos and elephants together like that, I guess.

baby elephant in water
Wait for me, mom!

The sun started to set, but none of us were done taking pictures. The most incredible oranges and pinks were coming from the glowing sky, and the elephants in the foreground were making for some amazing pictures. It actually worked out beautifully that I had brought my own camera and my phone, because the zoom lens on the other camera actually prevented us from capturing the colors of the sunset. So, without further adieu – here’s my pride and joy, taken with my Sony a6000 right as the sun was going down (and thanks to the photographer on our boat, who taught me how best to capture the light).

sunset elephant
Probably the best photo I’ve ever taken. I’ll just quit now.

I mean, is that not insane? As the sun went down, I actually started tearing up because I just could not process the beauty of what I was seeing. Elephants are 10 feet away from me and THAT sunset is happening right now? It was almost too good to be true, and I never want to forget that moment. I stopped taking photos several times just to take it all in and absorb the moment.

Just kidding, no I won’t. I think I took this one with my iPhone, btw.

On our way back to shore, we finally spotted the elusive hippos we had been seeking! It’s pretty crazy that they are so incredibly huge, but are actually very fast on both land and in the water, making them very dangerous. You’d never think that just by seeing their eyes pop up out of the water, though!

Always with the sneaky face

Luckily, we got to see one out of the water, too, which was even better. I think I love hippos the most – they always look like they are doing something sneaky.

Don’t be fooled – this thing runs faster than both of us.

Oh, and we finished the night with a full moon, because of course we did.

Not a bad way to end the evening.
Drop everything and go visit @thetrexrunner's blog right now - you will not believe the photos from her safari! Click To Tweet

The next morning was a really big morning for me – at the time, it was to be my last game drive before heading home (I later ended up adding another rhino drive on to my tour). I was feeling a little stressed because I had not yet seen a lion, and I suddenly really wanted to. It’s funny – before leaving for the trip, I would have said I didn’t care what I saw as long as I saw something…and that was true until I saw everything else I wanted to see. By the end, I was dying for a lion! Still, sometimes you don’t realize how much you have left to see until you see it. For example, it didn’t even occur to me that we hadn’t seen a hyena yet until we saw one right at sunrise!

hyena at sunrise
Sorry I’m not sorry for all the exceptional sunrise/sunset photos in this post

There’s something so thrilling about safaris, and it is hard to explain. It’s like you go out there and you know you’re supposed to see animals, but you still jump out of your seat with excitement when you actually do. Maybe it’s just me, but I always had a very pessimistic idea about what was likely to happen on game drives and that just meant I was always pleasantly surprised.

I’m kind of into hyenas, actually. They are cooler looking than I thought.

As we drove along near the river (where many animals would be coming to get their first drink of the day), we saw a large herd of cape buffalo. Cape buffalo are one of the Big Five, but to that point, we had only seen one lone male at a time. It was pretty crazy to see such a massive herd!

cape buffalo herd
Just another day at the river…until…

We were about 50 feet away from them, and suddenly, some of them started trotting towards the river. They started moving a bit faster, and I said to my friend Jon, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if a lion was chasing them or something?” AND THEN THERE WAS A FREAKING LION.


Thank goodness my camera was strapped around my neck or I would have probably thrown it out of the truck in shock and awe (PS, remember that phrase? A simpler time when our biggest problem was George W mispronouncing the word “nuclear” every day). Seriously, I lost it. I could not believe that I was actually seeing a lion. And I really could not believe it when another lion appeared and they started hunting!

Like the world’s most high stakes game of “Duck duck goose”

My heart was pounding as I vacillated between wanting to take a thousand pictures but also wanting to actually witness what was happening (the whole “look first with your eyes, then with the camera” thing). Everyone on our truck was absolutely freaking out and we were all trying not to squeal out of sheer excitement. Seriously, have you ever seen a lion hunt? Because I have.


In the end, the lionesses didn’t end up killing anything (although they gave it the old college try), which I was somehow both disappointed and relieved by. The buffalo proved to be a little too big for just the two of them, and all of the babies managed to escape. Close one!

A disappointing day for some

Our group could not believe our luck, and it really was luck – only half our group had been able to see the lions hunting, because the other half had gone on a different route and didn’t get there in time. Safaris really are just the luck of the draw! Let’s all agree that I got really lucky in Chobe National Park.

We finished off our safari by getting super up close and personal with some baboons. You’re probably thinking what I was thinking, which was “Um, aren’t baboons really mean and dangerous and intent on throwing poop on you?” The answer is…apparently not in Africa?

Plz don’t throw your poop at me, sir

All I know is that we pulled up to an area with bathrooms and it was surrounded by baboons. Our whole group just sat in the truck hesitantly, and our guide was like “Oh it’s fine, they’ll leave you alone.” So we literally walked just feet away from a whole herd (tribe? group? conglomerate?) of baboons, including moms and babies, and prayed to stay feces-free. Mission accomplished.

Hitchin’ a ride away from the lions

So yeah, you could say I saved the best for last, right? Chobe National Park not only defied my expectations, it defies explanation. I mean, sure, I just wrote 1800 words about it, but I also included about 20 pictures, and those are worth a thousand words each, as they say. I think you can see why.

LEAVE A COMMENT: What animal would you be most excited to see on safari?


26 thoughts on “In Search of the Big 5: Looking for Lions in Chobe National Park

  1. These photos look absolutely stunning and I am so jealous of your trip. I am actually terrified of monkeys and baboons. When I was a young child, we went on a safari and the monkeys ended up jumping on our car (in a traumatizing way). It scared me for the rest of my adulthood life.

    This looks incredible and I am so jealous.

    1. Honestly, monkeys are a totally valid fear. They can be super aggressive. I’d be scared too if that happened to me!

  2. Couldn’t help but think when I saw the picture of the bird and your description ‘hey cute bird, you can buzz me anytime :)’ Though, not really. Glad the two week season of ‘attack the runner’ has ended until next year 🙂

    Love the silhouette of the hyena with the sunset and reflection on the water … seriously, between that and the grass-elephant-sunset picture, you are defying the ‘no way to capture the beauty’ mantra 🙂

    I think the thing with the baboons is that they are highly intelligent and therefore bristle in captivity and … well, lock me up long enough and I’ll start throwing feces as well! 🙂 Here is a quote I found from researchers on it:

    “This behavior is seen in captive primates and not, to my knowledge, reported from wild primates. Primates, especially chimpanzees, have a natural tendency to experiment with manual manipulation of objects in their environment, primarily for foraging purposes but also for social display.  Captive primates are often deprived of the full diversity of objects that they would encounter in the wild, but feces are always present. Bored primates soon learn that flinging feces elicits a dramatic response from the humans outside the cage and that response is a strong reinforcement for a socially starved animal.”

    Loved all the pictures … thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    1. Are you kidding?! With that beak? Noooo thank you. Love the info you included about baboons – that totally makes sense and also explains why the guide looked at us like we had three heads when we didn’t want to get out of the truck 🙂

      1. Sees 80lb dog on run “oh hi sweetie”

        Sees 3 oz bird fly too close “OMG MURDER SAVE ME”

        Haha …

  3. Awesome pictures! The baboons by Victoria Falls were mean; one even tried to grab my backpack. But because the rules in Chobe include respecting animals, they haven’t had to be aggressive. They seemed totally uninterested in us, running right by the truck, etc.

    1. Interesting! I didn’t have any bad experiences with the baboons in Victoria Falls, but I did try and stay far away from them. I guess they are more used to people giving them food and stuff!

  4. WOW, these pictures are AMAZING! These posts have really made me want to travel to Africa. Thanks for sharing your trip.

    1. Thank you so much, Patty! I hope you go one day – it is truly the experience of a lifetime.

  5. The bird you photographed looks like a Pied Kingfisher. Not the most attractive of the kingfishers but still a cool bird. Looks like you had a lot of fun and got some good photos.

    1. Yes, it is a Kingfisher – I remember them saying that! I bet you would have gotten some really amazing pictures there – you and Drew should go one day!

      1. Drew really wants to go to Africa but I think we need more practice with our new camera before we do something that awesome. Maybe next year.

  6. What an amazing adventure you had! Makes me want to go now. Glad you took the time and opportunity to do it!!

  7. I completely understand the excitement of seeing new animals in their natural habitat! When we were in Alaska, we wanted to see a moose so badly! We were driving along on our way out of Denali and we saw a couple of cars on the side of the road. People were pointing and taking pictures of something. We pulled over and I got out and someone said there was a moose in the water. I got so excited when I saw it, I screamed to everyone in the car, “IT’S A MOOSE!”. The other people told me to shush, but that moose was so far away, he didn’t hear me, and definitely didn’t care!
    The next day we saw whales off the side of our boat, and that was even more exciting than the moose! I tried not to scream when I saw my first whale! Lol! The whales were amazing!

    1. HAHAHA I can perfectly envision this entire scene and even hear your voice screaming “IT’S A MOOSE!” I love it 🙂 Alaska is so exciting – there are animals around every turn there and the landscape is just amazing! I bet the whales were incredible!

  8. I *have *seen a lion hunt, so there! 😛 It was incredible and definitely one of the highlights of my safari trips. Baboons are cool, but I hate monkeys as much as you hate birds. They are evil incarnate!

    Your pictures are beautiful. I’ve seen a few ‘photo safaris’ before but they’ve usually been multi-day deals with your own equipment. Your venture sounds perfect.

    1. Ugh. Both the asterisks were supposed to be around ‘have’ to stress it, not on two separate words to look like I’m correcting spelling. Hmm, going to try a little experiment for next time I want to stress something.

    2. Of course you have, haha! I definitely would love to go back to Africa and see east Africa next time. I’ll let you know when I go 🙂

  9. The picture of the elephant with the sunset is…. there just aren’t words. Just. Wow.
    Your trip just keeps getting better and better, and more and more incredible. How do you top this?

    1. Thank you! I’m pretty proud of it. Not sure how I will top this trip but the nice thing is they are all different and all have something else to offer!

  10. Thank you for sharing this trip! I now want to go to Africa so badly! Please tell me you’ll have the elephant/sunset picture printed on a large canvas and hung in the center of your home! Absolutely stunning!

    1. Thank you so much!! I am definitely planning on printing that picture and hanging it up before the summer is over 🙂

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