The floodplains of northern Botswana’s Okavango Delta spread across the bush in a vast network of natural watering holes, inviting hippos to soak, zebras to wade, and immense herds of buffalo to stop for a drink. Edging the shores of the delta’s Zibadianja Lagoon are the tents of the Zarafa Camp, five camouflaged dwellings that could easily be overlooked by a roaming animal eye. Here, elephants congregate in front of verandas, and guests can hear the lions roar through their canvas walls after dark. These are the experiences upon which the lodge was built—incredible opportunities to get intimate with Africa.
Lodge cofounders Dereck and Beverly Joubert—filmmakers, renowned conservationists, and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence—first discovered the Zibadianja Lagoon while gathering footage for one of the many wildlife films they’ve produced with the National Geographic Society. After a long day of shooting, they settled under a magnificent African ebony tree and fell asleep while gazing out at the lagoon. The enchantment of the moment never left them; when they returned to lay the plans for Zarafa, they made that tree the centerpiece of the lodge. Today, guests relax under that same canopy of branches, sharing safari stories over a candlelit dinner before retiring to the comfort of their tents, where they too fall asleep to the calls of the wild.
The Jouberts have produced more than a dozen films with National Geographic, and many have focused on the wildlife of the Okavango Delta and northern Botswana. Anyone who has followed their work has a deep understanding of the primordial drama that plays out every day in this wilderness—between predator and prey, lion and leopard, even within the lion pride. Their incredible footage and thoughtful narration has offered us an intimate view of the delta and its creatures, from a rare breed of lion adapted to wetlands to a leopardess the Jouberts monitored since she was a few days old. The Okavango Delta region has a special place in our hearts thanks to the Jouberts, and it was only natural to include a standout property like Zarafa Camp—established to help preserve the delta—in our collection.
Zarafa’s owner, Great Plains Conservation, has embarked on an ambitious project to save rhinos that are critically endangered due to the dramatic increase in poaching for rhino horn over the last decade. Managed in partnership with fellow safari company andBeyond, the Rhinos Without Borders project seeks to relocate more than 100 rhinos from neighboring countries to safe havens in Botswana—a country with a strong conservation record and commitment to protecting wildlife. Further supported by a robust anti-poaching monitoring and enforcement program, the Rhinos Without Borders project will help secure genetic diversity for rhinos by drawing together animals from different populations. To date, the project has successfully relocated 40 white rhinos to Botswana, and the first births of baby rhinos from that group have already been documented.
When you reserve your space at Zarafa through National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, you’ll have the exclusive opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the lodge to learn about its cutting-edge sustainability practices. National Geographic guests will also be treated to dinner and a movie, safari style. Savor a multicourse gourmet meal complete with wine pairings, followed by a special bush viewing of a wildlife conservation film created by lodge founders, Dereck and Beverly Joubert.
When a dedicated ecotourism company like Great Plains Conservation refers to a property as their “most environmentally innovative camp,” you take notice. Zarafa was built and operates on sustainable green technology models, and their ecological footprint is almost nonexistent—an impressive feat for a lodge that partners with just one other property to conserve more than 320,000 acres of land.
Zarafa adheres to the area’s “leave no trace” policy, meaning that the entire camp could be removed from the site in a matter of weeks without leaving any indication of its prior existence. Not an ounce of cement was used in construction—architects opted for recycled hardwood and canvas instead. A 170-panel solar farm produces all of the camp’s electricity, while bio-gas plants and special filters recycle waste into cooking gas and irrigation water. Game vehicles primarily run on vegetable oil, and drinking water is treated through a UV-filtration system, eliminating the need for disposable plastic water bottles. The result of these coordinated initiatives is a property that leaves an extremely limited carbon footprint on an already pristine, yet sensitive, environment.
The T&C Travel 100: Best Remote Hotels, 2015
The Safari Awards: Winner, Best Safari Property, 2014
The Safari Awards: Winner, Best Safari Property in Africa, 2013
Good Safari Guide Awards Best Safari Property in Africa, 2013 and 2014
Good Safari Guide Awards Best Ecological Safari Property in Africa, Runner up, 2013 and 2014
Robb Report Top 100 Resorts, 2012
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