To follow the great waterways of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana’s Okavango Delta (shown here) is to immerse oneself in the lifeblood of Africa: the water holes where the wildlife congregates most dramatically from June to October. Here’s our one perfect itinerary for travelers who want a carefully calibrated mix of authentic mobile and high-luxe safari with hops by chopper, puddle jumper or boat. For transfers between—or at the very least a helicopter flyby over the delta—use Helicopter Horizons ($ from $125 a person; 26-7/680-1186; helicopterhorizons.com). To piece together the logistics, contact Elizabeth Rand at Explore (from $10,240 a person for the ten-night itinerary below; 888-596-6377; exploreafrica.net).
Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp
Set in a private 61,800-acre wilderness concession in Botswana, Xaranna delivers one of the most cinematic arrivals in Africa, via a slow mekoro dugout canoe through the delta’s reeds and waterways. The camp itself is perfect: smartly decorated canvas tents within the riverine forest. $ From $650 a person; 888-882-3742; andbeyondafrica.com.
From the Okavango, it’s a 90-minute flight to Victoria Falls by single-engine Cessna. Here there are two ways to go: On the Zimbabwean side, Victoria Falls River Lodge ($ from $435 a person; 27-41/453-0650; zambezicrescent.com), which opened last year, has nine tents on a particularly beautiful stretch of the Zambezi. The classic 161-room Victoria Falls Hotel (from $380; 263-13/44751; africansunhotels.com), the so-called Grand Old Lady of the Falls, also in Zimbabwe, has ravishing gardens, afternoon teas and spit-polished service. It’s a tad colonial for some, but you’re so close, you can feel the mist of the falls and hear its thunder.
Follow the Zambezi up from Victoria Falls by plane or helicopter and you get to Ana Tree, on the Zambian side of the river. This old camp is being completely recast by hunter-turned-conservationist Charles Davy for a spring 2014 opening. We saw it too early to say for certain, but considering the investment and commitment by Davy, we wager it will become one of the great camps on the Zambezi. From $750; 888-596-6377; exploreafrica.net.
Located north of the Okavango on the Liyanti River, the property has plunge pools in each of its nine enormous suites, over-the-top double drench showers and a sense of total privacy, along with an overabundance of wildlife, making this high-style camp one of the stars of the Wilderness Safaris portfolio. From $1,510 a person; 27-21/702-7500; wilderness-safaris.com.
Our Man in the Bush
A mobile safari in this game-rich area is 100 percent about the skill, experience and personality of your guide. And one of the great unsung heroes is Brian Gibson of the Botswana-based Capture Africa. He is as comfortable in a bush kitchen as he is walking with elephants and lions. $ Gibson’s safaris start at $590 a person per night for a minimum of four people and three nights; 26-7/686-1200; captureafrica.com.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.