News & Reviews Africa Botswana Review: Mombo, Botswana

The only reason I ventured back to Mombo was solely to exorcise the ghosts of my last visit, which was notably barren in the wildlife sightings department.  This is Mombo, a place with such a reputation that they even have a tagline – The “Place of Plenty”.  Because there are plenty of animals.  And a lot of them are killing each other.  Basically, it’s paradise.  I needed to go back for round two to prove the accuracy of this very serious claim.  Everyone I know who has been to Mombo seems to have endless stories of the epic wildlife; I could not be a pariah in the snobbish safari community.  So naturally, I returned, got ill, and spent the first 36 hours in bed.  I was starting to think this was my curse.

Always playing hard to get.

Nestled in the heart of the Okavango Delta, Mombo Camp sits amidst the wild, untouched landscape, in an area rich in history and once used for royal hunting.  Thanks to its unique position, wildlife is abundant here, especially in summer when antelopes and their young thrive, drawing in many predators, and the flooding further concentrates the wildlife as they cannot escape.  It’s basically nature’s version of Big Brother.

Surrounded by towering mangosteen and fig trees, Mombo Camp is designed to celebrate the views of the teeming Okavango Delta.  The design of the camp emphasises sustainable living, incorporating natural materials and solar energy to minimise its environmental footprint, all while enhancing the untouched beauty that surrounds it.  To some degree, the architecture is simple, somewhat understated by today’s standards, but the interior design amplifies the luxury and never takes away from the king: the view.  While it may not leave you in awe, its elegance and comprehensive amenities offer everything you need and are far beyond most of the competition.

Facilities

Mombo Camp is divided into two camps, Mombo and Little Mombo, linked by a pedestrian bridge.  I previously stayed at Little Mombo, which only has three rooms, compared to the eight single-bedroom units and one two-bedroom family suite at Mombo.  Guests from either lodge can easily move between properties.  Little Mombo felt like staying in a more intimate version of its counterpart.  Little Mombo does still have its own facilities, such as a wine cellar, boma and pool, its appeal lies in its exclusivity. It’s the preferred choice for those seeking solitude or wishing to reserve the entire space for family or friends.

Sitting between both properties is the spa and gym.  The gym is the rarest of sanctuaries, with its air conditioning, that is offered nowhere else but one of the spa treatment rooms. It’s almost enough to convince you to become healthy. It offers a few cardio machines, and some strength equipment, aka enough to get a workout in.  The spa is rather basic, with just a single treatment room with two beds.  There is also a swimming pool, large enough to actually swim in rather than splash about.  I needed to do a thorough review, so booked a massage, hoping for a repeat of the blissful Jao experience.  Instead, I found myself in a scenario where the therapist, multitasking between her phone and my supposedly relaxing treatment, skipped the pleasantries of a consultation and dove right in.  It was of a high standard, assuming no human has ever touched you before and you have nothing to compare it to.

Upon my arrival, the management team assembled for a warm welcome, accompanied by an elephant that seemed to orchestrate the entire scene with an uncanny sense of timing, making it feel like a meticulously planned part of the greeting ritual.  Following introductions, the first thing I spotted was the gift shop.  Nearby is their fire pit and boma, as well as the indoor/outdoor restaurant, bar and lounge with books and board games, a wine cellar and pizza oven.

The camp’s main attraction, however, is the unbridled access to wildlife—so close that you’d swear you could reach out and touch the buffalo as they graze nearby.  As night falls, their eyes glint in the darkness, reminding you that, sometimes, there are worse things out there than a lack of air conditioning.

Rooms

Each of the elegantly designed wooden and canvas tents boasts spacious interiors and private decks for an intimate view of nature.  The challenge is how intimate nature wants to get with you, as they have upgraded the locks since my last visit as the monkeys figured out how to get into the rooms.

I was in room #4, a walk measured in seconds from the dining area.  The rooms now include WiFi, which really is all I feel needs to be said to confirm it has improved since I was last here.  Hurrah.  Surprisingly, the place still feels brand new, and I could not see any wear and tear, which is a testament to its quality.  However, transitioning from the exemplary Jao, I needed a moment to adjust, despite Mombo’s own merits, such as the innovative airflow system around the bed.  Hooray.  However, I still felt I was getting sun stroke just being in the room, so hot it was.

The architectural design cleverly separates the living and sleeping areas without the use of doors, creating a cohesive yet distinct space.  The bathroom, elegantly tucked away, exudes sophistication.  The outdoor deck features a plunge pool, swing, sofa, and dining table – an ideal place to spend time, were there not so many bugs around. It’s impressive to see USB-C chargers beside the bed, and even more impressive that they worked.  It rained and rained and rained on the final night, with strong wind moving things around indoors, which was less fun.

I liked the luxurious feel of the room.  The space offered is plenty, the outdoor decking is perfect for close encounters of the wildlife kind, and the little design details add up.  The end product is one of the best safari lodges.  But, there is always a, but with me, I was bedridden due to being ill.  Venturing beyond the comparatively blessed oasis of the bed’s airflow system felt like going from the Antarctica to walking on the sun.

Falling ill meant I missed quite a few meals, but the ones I did manage to nibble at were, to put it mildly, underwhelming compared to the culinary wonders of Jao. Have I sung the praises of Jao enough?  Probably not.  Jao, Jao, glorious Jao.  On a brighter note, Mombo’s menu boasted a wide range with plenty of choices.  However, it seemed my food preferences were lost in translation, leaving a bit to be desired when I finally felt up to eating again.

The service was warmly presented but sometimes a bit uncoordinated.  Multiple people would regularly ask me the same questions, and small points of confusion arose, such as when to get me from my room.  The communication just needed to be a bit smoother, but management were very engaging and no request was ever a problem.  One thing I will compliment, though, is housekeeping, who were in very, very regularly.  Their dedication to tidiness didn’t falter, even on my last day.  But they seemed to have developed selective vision when it came to replenishing my snack stash.  A moment of silence for the uneaten snacks that never were.

Activities

For a “Place of Plenty” there’s actually not much on offer beyond game drives.  No boats, no walking tours, no night drives; you even have to be back at camp by 7:30 pm at the latest. It’s not even a private concession, with one other camp nearby.  With all this, you might wonder why Mombo is amongst the most expensive safari camps in the world.  As lodges go, that is really rather restrictive compared to, say, Singita Sasakwa, where they own the land, and the only restriction is: don’t lick the animals.

It sounds like a contradiction that so little is offered for your money.  But, the concentration of animals is so high, your chance of seeing something is even higher.

Battling illness on safari, I plunged into a pit of self-pity so deep, I began to wonder if, after 40-some safaris, I even enjoyed them anymore.  My illness reached a point where the discovery of wild dogs couldn’t lure me out.  It was so dire I thought I’d need to write my final will and testament.  Who was I going to leave all my angry letters to hoteliers to?

Turns out I did love safari.  I loved watching the animals from my deck.  I loved embracing the outdoors and the anticipation of not knowing what we might encounter next.  I loved the peace.  I loved the brutality.  I witnessed a leopard’s hunt of a baby warthog one day and a baby impala the next.  Lions were in sight, and buffaloes seemed to be at every turn.  My guide, memorably named Z, was exceptional.  The trip, whilst not exactly how I hoped it would plan out, was a triumph, and at least my curse was broken.

The Good

  • Accommodation

The Bad

  • Food

The Luxurious

  • Setting

Rating

Good

Conclusion

Mombo is a great property.  Xigera and Jao are better lodges, but why go to a lodge just for the accommodation? That’s like going to a whore house cos you like the wallpaper.  However, most of my brain is not logical, so I still felt it was a downgrade coming here after Jao.  Kinda like remembering old childhood movies, then rewatching and realising Face/Off isn’t actually the best movie ever made.

With the intense heat, lack of WiFi, and an abundance of insects, at this time of year, your room becomes a sanctuary by default.  Hopefully, they improve the food, and then it’s just surviving the heat, although I was there during their hottest months, and the best viewing is in the cooler period between June and September.

If you’re heading to Botswana, Mombo should be top of your list.

Rooms start from $4,000 per person per night during peak season

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 21st Mar '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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