News & Reviews Africa Botswana Review: Sitatunga Private Island, Botswana

It’s not every day that I get to write about a private island located in the middle of a landlocked country. Yet, here we are with Sitatunga Private Island—accessible only by boat or helicopter. Sitatunga is the latest addition to the Great Plains portfolio, having made its debut in 2023 within the lush expanse of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. This private island, stretching approximately 3km in length and 2km in width, is completely encircled by water. There’s something inherently wonderful about being near water. We humans are drawn to it, willing to pay a premium to be close, whether it’s a pristine lake, a sandy beach, or even a sewage pipe; count me in.

The headline is that the owners, Derek and Beverly Joubert designed it and created the interiors. Now, given the style of their previous camps, this is like boasting you designed the iceberg detection system on the Titanic. But something must have clicked in their golden years, because Sitatunga is not just a step up—it’s a whole new level.  It lays a really optimistic future for Great Plains.

This is where I get excited about a group – when I see them evolve to compete.  It’s all about the little details.  It’s not like they’ve suddenly decided tents are not the way forward and instead wanted a Dubai-esq 4,000-room resort here.  Sitatunga has only three rooms – two one-bedroom and a two-bedroom.  What they’ve managed to do is improve the interiors of the property to such an extent that everything feels luxurious and well thought through, you might even say stylish. This feels like a Bisate moment for Great Plains, where they’ve understood the need to create something of a higher quality to compete and actually deliver on it.  It’s still not quite at Wilderness level, but you’re no longer going to run away and cry to your mum about the prices.

Activities

Sitatunga does not offer game drives.  There are three activities here: boating, canoeing or walking.  This might sound in your mind like “boring”, “boringer” and “can’t I do this at home?”.  The camp’s name, Sitatunga, is also a nod to one of the few places where you can spot the rare sitatunga antelope.  It’s not exactly The Ghost and the Darkness on the excitement scale.

The boating trips are mostly for birds, with an occasional crocodile cameo. Rather than a typical safari, think of it more as a relaxing sunset cruise.  I didn’t find it boring, quite relaxing in fact. Only kidding, three men had to sedate me as I was trying to jump in with the crocodiles to relieve myself of the tear-inducing boredom. No, really, it’s not that bad. Just if you came here expecting a regular safari you’re going to be disappointed.  Instead, you’re just left to your own thoughts on the boat. Thoughts like how you want to strangle everyone who has ever wronged you, which is currently limited to the people who told you to come here.  I’m joking, again.  If you bring your kids here and they have to do a presentation to their class on what they saw, they might get bullied forever.  Ok, that wasn’t a joke.

One morning, we embarked on a serene hour-long boat ride through a misty sunrise to another island for a walk. I didn’t even bring my camera, and as it turned out, I didn’t need to. This island was known for sightings of lions, wild dogs, elephants, and buffalo, so we were on high alert throughout.  After walking for two hours, we saw almost nothing.  I will say this though: if you want to feel hyper masculine then a walking safari is for you. Walk along with your chest puffed out and see every animal flees as it sees you. One warthog tripped over in its haste to escape my dominating present.  We also came across an elephant skull and tusk, which had died naturally.  My first thought: take a picture of my guide holding it and post it on social media to see the absolute outrage.

After coming back from that boat ride, there were drinks waiting for me on the jetty, and housekeeping had my shoes and clothes cleaned up in just a few hours after I’d gotten them wet on the walk.

Incredibly relaxing and consistently tranquil, Sitatunga never veers into the realm of high adventure, yet it’s far from dull.  Everything is just chilled – even the activities start later than anywhere else I’ve ever stayed, meaning you can have a lay in. The point of Sitatunga is to relax before you get into your safari or to end it.

Facilities

The architecture and design of the camp are inspired by local fishing traditions, with rooms resembling tents set inside giant bamboo fisherman baskets. This design mimics the traditional reed fishing traps used by local fishermen. The interior colors, featuring misty greens and light-bleached woods, apparently a nod to the delta and natural beauty.

The camp is built with eco-friendly practices, using recycled materials and avoiding new timber, underscoring a dedication to environmental preservation.

Sitatunga exudes a quaint charm. Upon entering, you’ll find the main area, which is essentially the heart and soul of the place—there’s no sprawling layout here. Featuring a wooden structure with tall ceilings and an expansive, single open space.  All that exists beyond here is the floating dock and fire pit, where you depart on your boating journeys.  The amenities invite a casual, help-yourself vibe, from the coffee machine to the alcohol cabinets. The “wine cellar” might just be a single fridge stocked with wine, but it adds to the laid-back luxury of the place.  But as I’ve said: the design really emphasises that this is another phase of Great Plains evolution and it’s a welcome one.  Whilst the focus is on the water, the design manages to be welcoming enough to warrant more than a glance, and feels welcoming to spend time in.

Elsewhere, there really isn’t much to be found.  L’Oreal have “Because you’re worth it”, whereas Great Plains are more “piss off and look at the animals, scumbag” view when it comes to the health and fitness side of things, with Sitatunga also not having a spa nor gym.  But a gift shop is to be found.

The rooms at Sitatunga are notably spacious and comfortable, marking a significant upgrade from their other camps. You’ll enter through large, inviting doors into a living room that opens up to stunning views. The space is well-appointed with a minibar tucked inside a cabinet, another glass cabinet filled with wine glasses, and a dedicated tea station area. Furnished with a sofa, two chairs, and a table, the layout flows effortlessly to the outdoors. To the right, doors open to a balcony with an outdoor pool, and to the left, the bedroom.  Air conditioning is included besides the bed.  The bathroom, while compact, is efficiently designed with double vanities and a walk-behind wardrobe—similar to what you’d find in Duba. I like the design – only let down by that large and out-of-place photo on the wall of the Impala.  I thought I escaped them.

The design is a significant upgrade on their other properties and is a showcase in small details making big improvements to the look, feel and luxury level.

Food

Dining works in the same way as other Great Plains properties, with a main dish, then drowned with fifty-seven million salads.

Breakfast is really quite comprehensive, including a cooked breakfast and then containers of yoghurt,  fruit and muesli, a cheese selection, some pastries, smoothies and juices.  Exactly what the body needs, when you’re sat around doing literally nothing all day.

I’ll never be a fan of a limited-choice menu, but with the exception of the pastries, everything I eat here was fantastic – from the cheese risotto to the chicken, which was so large I thought it was a dare.  The chef was sent out to explain the dishes, most likely because the waiter would go through the ingredients and have no idea what most of it was, often pointing at something and then simply repeating something he’d already said in a confused voice.  The man must have taken the same foreign-speaking classes I’ve taken, where my version of speaking French is to say it in English very slooooowly and shrug at the same time.

My only issue was the absence of a menu.  If they gave heads up on what is for lunch it would save us all a bother cos if I heard the words “corn soup” muttered – something I’ve never tried before – my body is already heading to the bathroom to start shitting.  And my only other issue was that in every Great Plains lodge, I’ve had to eat and get the hell back to the room due to the swarm of insects.

The service was really friendly and attentive, just as you’d hope when you’re the only guest. The staff lined up to greet me—a bit like a welcoming committee, complete with a choreographed door opening by two people and a ready drink in hand.

No preferences were passed on from Duba, which really should be standard. It’s quite the chore to have to remind everyone to bow down to me as their new lord and saviour every time I switch properties. I mean, a little continuity in my worship protocol isn’t too much to ask, right?

The Good

  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Different activities

The Bad

  • Not suited for first-timers
  • Lack of facilities

The Luxurious

  • Setting

Rating

Good

Conclusion

It’s remarkable how the simplest touches can transform a place into something that feels both homely and luxuriously comforting—just a few cosmetic tweaks and voilà!

I was expecting to be bored shitless but instead found it a very pleasant, relaxing experience.  Like Duba Plains, it caters for a certain type of safari go-er – probably one with a deep allergy to cars. I wouldn’t rush to go back, but that’s not because of the lodge, it’s because the activities aren’t that interesting to me.  I will recommend it to the right person.

This lodge points to a bright future for Great Plains.  I approve.

Rooms start from $2,935 per person per night during peak

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 16th 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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