News & Reviews Africa Botswana Review: Duba Plains, Botswana

If there’s one thing that defines me, it’s my passion for rustic, back-to-basics luxury resorts.  And Great Plains is to rustic what Twitter is to bigotry – they just go hand in hand.  So you may think that returning to Great Plains after a seven-year hiatus, I would come to Duba Plains – straight after a stay at the luxurious Mombo – and tell you how awful it is.  And you would be right if the focus was only on the lodge.  Yet, you see, when you’ve been on as many safaris as I have, you start to realise that not everything is about how much gold leaf is in your food or the number of threads in the linen.  Oh no, sometimes it’s about the experience.  And whether there’s a Japanese toilet installed or not.  There isn’t?  Oh, ok, back to my original point.

No Toto toilets? God, I wish I was this snake.

Barely a 10-minute flight from Mombo lays another legendary camp, this time from Great Plains. Upon arrival, the staff warmly welcomed me with songs, a charming yet brief affair perfectly fitting my personal rule of ensuring pleasure lasts no more than 15 seconds—just ask my wife.  Duba Plains is located in the northern Okavango Delta of Botswana on a 33,000-hectare private reserve known for its beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Famous National Geographic filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert chose the location. And if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that famous people are always right.

Duba Plains is a simple camp.  Don’t expect any fancy full-size giraffe skeletons greeting you.  At the centre of Duba Plains is a raised dining area, a cosy lounge with a library, an open kitchen, a wine cellar, and a space for guests to review their photos. An extended deck under large ebony trees offers outdoor dining. Of course, there’s room for a boutique but not a gym or spa.

Activities

I dunno what it is with Botswana camps giving themselves titles, but Mombo gets “Place of Plenty”, while Duba Plains is self-described as “Garden of Eden”. Does that mean the devil is here? If you see a snake, it’s probably best to murder it.  Let’s all take a moment to thank that crocodile.

Our daily excursions would lead us swiftly to the floodplains, still just about shallow enough to traverse in our vehicle, provided I lifted my legs to dodge the water rushing in. Every journey, we would pass a baby crocodile, which is even more adorable than you can imagine.  I just wanted to snuggle him, raise him as my own and then unleash him on my enemies.  You can explore via 4×4 safaris, guided walks, a motorboat, or mekoro (canoe) trips on the Okavango’s waters, with the option of night drives.  Although the major flooding occurs later in the year, there was still ample water.  My advice? Bring your snorkel.

Duba Plains stands alone in its region, making your closest neighbors the sprawling green vistas, an abundance of rhinos and a lecthwe invasion. The letchwe are so numerous I’ve swapped out counting sheep for these guys.  And for those a bit tired of the usual safari crowd, rejoice: not an impala or zebra in sight.

On the predator side, I had some great sightings.  There were a lot of lions around, which is normally good news that something is gonna down.  If you’re into bar fights, you don’t hang around the opera.  We saw some great interactions with lion brothers who were out hunting, but unfortunately, it got too dark before we could see the real action.  The next day, we had a great sighting a male lion devouring some lechwes.  Later on, we came across a baby lechwe right beside lions, hidden metres from them in the bushes.  Oh, how life can change in an instant.  One minute you’re minding your own business eating some plants, the next you’re almost cast in the role of dinner.

My highlight was a lioness stealthily approaching a warthog’s den.  Suddenly, this warthog bolted out, slamming into the lioness with such force she couldn’t hunt anymore and then kept running like it was training for its own marathon.  That warthog ran and ran and ran.  Truly the Forrest Gump of warhogs.   I half expect to see him on a motivational poster somewhere, still running.

Dubai is famous for its large pride of lions.  At one point, you could even watch hunts during the day, as they were so frequent, as was seeing wild dogs.  Now the dogs have gone, a different pride has moved in, and the old lions either died off or went on strike over artificial intelligence labour rules.  Either way, it goes to show how much a reputation can mean and how little it can last for.  Just like one day we’ll all forget all the terrible things I wrote on this blog.

My only complaint was that the car started making noises that sounded like geese had been following me for two days, mocking me. Probably a good sign that I’m losing it, and all my previous reviews should be voided.

Camp

The camp features five suites designed in the classic 1920s African safari style, seamlessly blending with the natural environment. One of them is The Duba Plains Suite, a two-bedroom.  Each suite is built on recycled railway sleepers, providing breathtaking views of the floodplain and visiting wildlife. The rooms include a lounge, indoor and outdoor showers, and a bath. Best of all, they have ceiling fans and eco-friendly air conditioning. Praise be.  Each room also has a private verandah with a plunge pool and shaded area.

The first thing that caught my eye was the overwhelming display of alcohol in the lounge area—it was so impressive that, despite being a non-drinker, I almost felt compelled to unleash my inner Englishman, tear off my shirt, and start smashing the place up. The abundance of free alcohol was impressive, to the point where they seemed to have tossed an extra minibar in the corner, just in case the main supply wasn’t enough.

Next to the bar lounge, the bedroom features a walk-through wardrobe and leads to a bathroom with a sizable copper bath.  The bathroom is a good size, but the toilet room is so absurdly large that you could invite an elephant over to hold your hand whilst you take a dump.  Outside, a plunge pool, an exercise bike and a selection of dumbbells serve as the makeshift gym.  The sound from the pool was surprisingly relaxing, which might explain why I slept so well, even though I could hear the frogs so vividly at night that I wanted to strangle a Kermit doll.

The room is basic, but it works, with the exception of the shower, which took about half an hour to figure out how to get a temperature that didn’t burn or freeze me.

If you want a treatment, they will come set up in your room, where the treatment is set up outdoors in the shaded area near your plunge pool.  They offered me a complimentary massage – complimentary in the same way shingles are complimentary.  The treatment started with a foot scrub and mention of natural products.  So far so good.  Actually, that’s it.  That was the good bit.  I was asked about areas I’d like to focus on, and then she just did basically the opposite, which is like saying to your children, “So, kids, today we’re going to Disneyland, but first the dentist and after the dentist more dentist”.  Getting a karate chop is never a sign of greatness.  The “if there’s no pain, nothing is happening” philosophy doesn’t stand up.  I’ll tell you what’s happening: pain.  No one ever stabbed someone and said, “Oh look, this must be good for them, just look at their agony”.  Unless that person was Ted Bundy or worked in this spa.  Overall rating: still better than Mombo.

Seeing who the owners are, Great Plains has always focused strongly on photography and I was impressed to see the best last-gen Canon equipment here.  It’s the stuff I would have been using about three years ago, which, in camera terms, makes it extremely recent.  Basically, anyone with any skill could use this and make it far better than anything I’ve ever done.

Duba Plains belongs to Relais & Châteaux, so the food should be good.  Yet guess what?  It is.  Except there are so many bugs around I could barely eat at times.  When you can eat though, it’s decent quality.  When I saw that lunch was just a buffet, I thought, “Here we go”.  Well, a buffet might be kind on it, as it’s a no-choice option of fish and four salad bowls.  However, they were really rather good.  Dinner too, including a memorable beef steak.  On another occasion, lunch came with potato and coconut soup with a kicker, which was delicious.  Even their ratatouille, a food so disgusting it was named after the disease-carrying rodent that destroyed Europe, was good.  I don’t like the limitations, but the quality is there to prevent it being an issue.

A hot drink is sent to your room at 5 am as part of the wake-up.  Come 5:30, there is one very small, sad and lonely-looking fruit platter with two muffins before you leave on the drive.  Breakfast is then served on the vehicle around 8ish with muffins (mango – both unique and delicious), some dried eggs in some kinda pastry (also surprisingly good), cheese, some meats and granola with yoghurt and your preferred hot drink.

I would not give the service full marks for punctuality, but everyone was very friendly and tried to make conversation, even when sometimes there was nothing to chat about. “So, have you seen any lechwe lately?”

The Good

  • Service
  • Food

The Bad

  • Basic facilities
  • Internet access was limited to the room and proved to be quite unreliable, frequently disconnecting.

The Luxurious

  • Setting
  • Activities

Rating

Good

Conclusion

You know those bullshit articles that say things like “best hotels in Boston” and then segment them into ridiculous divisions like “best for honeymooners” or “best for slightly neurotic individuals with a wooden leg and eye patch”. Well, allow me to indulge. Duba is best for experienced safari goers, not luxury seekers. I had a lovely time, and you might too, but be kind to yourself and start here and finish somewhere in real luxury like Xigera, Jao or Mombo.  It’s similar to another Great Plains property in Kenya, Mara Plains.  As I often advise our clients going to Kenya: start with the Mara (or, even better, the Serengeti with a private charter into Kenya….until Kipeloe opens) and then live it up at Arijiju or Ol Jogi.

I could feel the similarities with Mara Plains.  It’s what I’d expected with a Great Plains property, that feels not quite luxurious enough, but not far off.  I do, however, like the colonial design, but it’s not thrown together in a way that sweeps you off your feet.  Overall, the facilities and room are nothing special, but the setting, food, service, activities and sightings are top-notch.  That’s basically the Great Plains philosophy in a nutshell.

In Summary

  • Best suite

    Duba Plains Suite starts from $9290 per night

From $1935 per person per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 4th Apr '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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