The Beating Heart of Botswana

The vast wildernesses of Botswana are almost unimaginable to those who have yet to venture to the African continent. Sure you’ve seen it on the Discovery Channel, you’ve read the books, and probably even scoured the Backcountry Journeys blog for images & photographs of what this experience could possibly be like.

But to go from the depths of your imagination and preconceived notions to the reality of an Africa Safari Experience is something profound. What is it like to be immersed in the wilds of Mashatu or Chobe National Park? The smells, the sounds – the animals.

If you are reading this blog then you are probably a photographer. So clearly the goal of traveling across the world would be to photograph Africa’s wild inhabitants. Yes, Lions, Zebras, Elephants, Hippos & Leopards haunt the plains and woodlands of Southern Africa – and yes, if you know where to look they are literally everywhere. And, yes the photography IS as good as they say it is.

However, from wildlife photographer to wildlife photographer – it’s also about the experience. Photography is paramount but to immerse yourself in Africa, well there is nothing quite like it. Waking up before dawn on the frigid Botswana plains (yes it does get a little chilly in the mornings) to a blood-red sunrise before heading out is – exhilarating. Drinking coffee out on the plains with your companions after shooting all morning. The smiles that come from scoring those epic photos of that Leopard leaping out of a tree or a Cheetah speeding down an Impala at first light – incredible.

The whole experience is unforgettable. The majority of the photography happens early and late when the light is best. When the sun finally burns below the endless horizon we usually drive in after dark and depending on how far it is back to camp that is one of my favorite parts of being “on-safari”. The cool wind on your face and the rumble of the land-cruiser as it bumps along through the grasslands. Above you, nothing but a sea of bright stars winking from a time forgotten. Incredible.

Back at the camp dinners are served each evening outdoors under the stars usually with a roaring campfire not far away. If you are at the Mashatu Lodge it’s a bit more elegant but either way, you go it’s a beautiful experience sitting around and swapping stories of the day with your fellow travelers.

The food is good – there is almost always some sort of salad and a variety of meats cooked over the fire. The drinks flow and you never know what kind of critter might happen near to camp that evening. We’ve had Leopards, Hyena, and Elephants come to say hi!

Backcountry Journeys currently offers two itineraries to explore Botswana. Botswana: Land of Giants & our Ultimate Botswana Wildlife Safari. We also visit the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda on a simply splendid trip that can extend your stay in Africa. Heck, it’s a long way to go for most, why not make the most of it?

On both Botswana itineraries, we visit Mashatu – known as “the Land of Giants” referring to its exceptional population of African Elephants but possibly more importantly it is one of the best locations in Africa for big cat photography – Lion, Leopard & Cheetah are regularly spotted on the dusty expanses of the Mashatu Game Reserve. The lodging & food here is superb as well and this location works well for photographs in both the dry & green seasons.

Our Ultimate Botswana Wildlife Safari visits the mighty Chobe River, a unique eco-system where the majority of the safaris happen by boat. Our trip utilizes custom safari boats outfitted with swiveling gimbal mounts that allow quick access to the riverbanks. The birdlife here is stellar and most of the photography happens at eye level with critters either on the riverbank or in the water. Fantastic images are possible of Hippos, Crocodiles, Elephants, Cape Buffalo, Lions & more. For this section of the trip, we will stay in a great lodge right on the riverbank and venture out each morning on these special watercraft.

The Okavango Delta is vast & wild – its remoteness magnified by the fact that it is virtually unreachable by road. We’ll travel by bush plane to our safari camp that sits right in the heart of it all! This place is so large & wild that we’ll rarely see other people and the wildlife sighting are like one took a step back in time.

Come join us on the endless plains of Botswana, and experience Africa like it was meant to be experienced – wild & uncluttered. Raw & beautiful.

Additional Readings:

Botswana: A Tale of Two Seasons

Africa’s Garden of Eden: The Okavango Delta of Botswana

Botswana: A Picture Perfect Photography Adventure

Isak Dinesen probably said it best in Out of Africa

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”

Russ Nordstrand








Russ Nordstrand is an award-winning Landscape & Wildlife Photographer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in private collections throughout the world and he runs Photography Tours & Workshops in the most beautiful and inspirational locations in the Western United States and beyond.

Russ has been hiking, backpacking, photographing, and guiding people in the wilderness areas, deserts, canyons, and mountains of the world since 1997. He has logged thousands of miles on the trail and for many years in the past decade over half of his nights were spent in a tent in some far-flung outdoor destination.

His photography reflects an awe and admiration of the great, wide, and still wild world we live in. Often his subjects include towering canyon walls, mist-shrouded mountain lakes, or wildlife in their natural habitat. It also reflects a commitment to preserving these places for the health of our world and for those who come after.

It would be a lie to say he does it completely from an altruistic standpoint. Like any great outdoor photographer, he loves the thrill of wild, remote places and the accomplishment of nailing that shot after waking up three hours before dawn and hiking in the dark!