Camping With The Elephants

Camping With The Elephants

During my travels I’ve been lucky to visit some incredible places that I never knew existed before I entered the country. Either I hear about them as I travel around or the people I’m with at the time want to head there. This was the case in Botswana with my friends Céline and Louise. After a final morning in Kasane spent relaxing by the pool, we drove south to a place called Elephant Sands.

This was another amazing stop on my African adventures. It’s a campsite around 50km North of Nata and, as you might guess, it’s inhabited by a herd of wild elephants.

As we approached we slowed down to witness three elephants crossing the main highway in front of us. This was an exciting experience in itself, but we were about to see much more. Turning off at the entrance (which we almost missed thanks to the useless we had to drive the final 1.5km on a sandy track. Something Céline’s rented VW Polo was definitely not equipped for. Pretty much every other rental we saw was a 4×4.

We managed to make it almost all the way to the site before getting well and truly stuck in the thick sand. We desperately tried to dig our way out but nothing worked. We even tried pushing the car while Celine drove, which might have gone better if she hadn’t left the handbrake on! We were eventually helped by two locals in a Toyota who towed us free before we could drive the final few metres.

Trapped in the sand on our approach to Elephant Sands
So near and yet so far. While Louise takes a break to observe the locals

Tired, dirty but surprisingly overjoyed we had arrived. The euphoria of seeing the huge elephants cancelling out any irritability. While we were trying hopelessly to dig the car free we were stopped by the sight of a lone elephant casually strolling past the car. Having escaped the sand trap we now followed her to where the rest of the herd were gathered.

Entering the main viewing area we were in awe as around 30 of the impressive creatures were gathered in the late afternoon light for a drink. Watching their interactions up close was such a privilege and an amazing sight to behold.

Selfie in the swimming pool with a herd of elephants in the background
How often can you relax in a pool with a herd of elephants just metres away?

Elephant Sands is a natural watering hole surrounded by lodges and a camp site. There is a small viewing area where the tourist gathered to watch the locals as they drank. This was the only closed section of the site, from where you can safely watch the elephants drink. However, the rest is open, including the camping area. This wasn’t a problem for everybody else with their Toyota Hilux and roof tents. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those.

We received a few strange looks as we set up our small ground tents. One guy asking if we really wanted to camp here with the elephants passing through at will. With no barriers to protect us, there was nothing to stop the gigantic beasts from stomping through our camp in the middle of the night.

My tent in the foreground and open space to the herd of elephants behind
My little tent and a serious lack of anything between me and the elephants in the background

After a shower to remove the sand from our earlier digging, during which time I saw elephants freely walk by mere metres away, we went back to the viewing area. The sun was setting now but the crowd had only grown – both tourists and elephants. It stayed this way for several hours as we ate and silently observed these incredible animals.

As remarkable as Elephant Sands is, we also had our worst night. The wind had picked up just as we went to bed and continued throughout the night. I slept about one hour and spent the rest of the night staring up at my tent, convinced it was going to collapse. Somehow both me and the tent made it to the morning, albeit after a serious lack of sleep. I packed up and saw that the girls were already awake. Their tent empty having suffering a similar night.

Two elephants walking into the sunset
Two elephants head off. Presumably to use the showers or cooking facilities

Things got worse as we tried to leave the site when we got stuck in the sand again. The day before had been almost comical, however, without any sleep no one was laughing.

Elephant Sands was my favourite stop in Botswana. The wildlife is everywhere in Africa, but to experience these magnificent beasts so closely was just incredible. Something I’ll never forget.

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  1. theunconventionalgrasshopper

    That’s such a cool thing to do! I am very inspired. I love elephants and wildlife in general so it seems like a trip to Botswana needs to be planned!
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Minal Patwardhan

    This is simply awesome! It is such a unique experience to see these giant animals in their natural habitat! Thanks for sharing.. definitely goes in our to do list!

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