Mopiri, Botswana

In the southern portion of Africa, Botswana is a must-visit destination for those looking to truly connect with nature. With the Kalahari desert sands and the Okavango Delta, you’ll feel like you’ve dropped into a NatGeo special on exotic animals. In Mopiri, we swapped our safari jeep for a double-decker boat and finished out our time out on a river in the African Bush.

Fast Facts

In the southern portion of Africa, Botswana is a must-visit destination for those looking to truly connect with nature. With the Kalahari desert sands and the Okavango Delta, you'll feel like you've dropped into a NatGeo special on exotic animals.

After delaying our African safari due to the global pandemic, we decided to take a chance and go in 2021 since we had the luxury of getting our vaccines. This is one of the few trips where we let someone else do the planning (Mary Beth, Stephen’s mother). And we also wouldn’t qualify this as a “quick trip.” But it’s still a worthy addition to the blog, and one of our favorite trips to date.

We wanted a few key things out of our trip: lots of opportunities to see animals in their natural habitat, a variety of terrain in one country (to avoid extra throat and nose swabs required to go between countries), and camps that had limited housing to cut down on our contact with other people. With a little help from our travel agent and many hours of research from Mary Beth, we landed on touring three areas in Botswana: Linyanti, Khwai, and Mopiri.

Typically, we start our blog posts with a variety of Fast Facts to set the stage for our quick trip. Our trip to Africa was different than any trip we have ever taken. Not only was it a trip of a lifetime, but it also took over three days of traveling to get from the CLT airport to our first camp (not very quick). Because of that, we are going to jump right into recapping what was an amazing trip! As with our other longer trips, including Italy, we’ll split Botswana up into a series of posts dedicated to each area we explored. That way, we can dive into the details of each without leaving you with a dissertation to read. The last stop on our journey was Mopiri.

If you want to view our top animal pictures from the entire trip, we've created a Google Folder.

Lay of the Land


As we took off from the Khwai airstrip, it was hard to imagine our trip getting any better! We had experienced the incredible remoteness and rawness of Linyanti and seen more big cats than we could count and wild dogs in Khwai. Our small bush plane headed almost due West toward Mopiri. A direct flight would have been around 30 minutes, but it was a bit longer because we had to make two stops before ours. One stop was in a village where crates of produce were unloaded from our plane—a reminder of the importance of tourism to the rural villages and communities in Botswana. Not only is tourism a crucial source of income and an integral part of the defense of the wild African Bush, but it also provides a logistical lifeline for important supplies like food. We noticed a familiar face on our flight: Our pilot from the flight into Khwai was on a safari with her mother. They hopped off at the second village stop. It’s a small world, even in the middle of the African Bush!

Finally, we touched down on the dirt airstrip. When the plane stopped next to the covered bench for waiting customers or tour guides, we noticed a sign saying “Terminal 1.” It looked as if one decent blow of wind could have knocked the whole structure down. Some terminal! This humorous touch was the first of many laughs and jokes during our time in Mopiri.

Mopiri Camp Logistics

Mopiri, which translates to “Little Island,” is a camp of raised buildings connected with boardwalks. The camp is situated on a lagoon, filled by the Taokhe River, that is slightly more than a mile long and stays full in both wet and dry seasons. As part of the Okavango delta, the water level rises and lowers dramatically based on the season. This means that the camp is only accessible by boat, which really set the tone for a unique experience compared to other camps in the bush.

After a few hours of travel, Ashley was glad to get out of the small airplane and back on dry land (or on boardwalks, since most of Mopiri is raised off the ground to account for the change in the river level). Following a few days with Aubrey the Cat Whisperer, who limited his talking to times of great hunting, we were intrigued to find out who our final guide would be. As our plane taxied to the “terminal,” we caught our glimpse of the larger than life personality of Chillie B, our final guide on our African safari.

Chillie B (yes he claimed that was his real name!) is a former soccer player turned African Bush host who indulged Ashley’s love of birds and finalized her transformation into a true birdwatcher. We had to take a boat from the airstrip to our lodgings, giving us our first taste of the boat we’d be spending a lot of time on the next few days. He spoke quickly, with a thick accent, and peppered in a joke seemingly every other sentence. We learned to not take life too seriously around Chillie B! With a cackle and a giant grin, we were off across the lagoon toward the camp.

Every camp on our trip was diverse, but seeing Mopiri emerge around the corner of the lagoon from the boat was a sight to behold. Slowly the tops of the huts came into view, then the dock, and finally the boardwalks connecting the buildings. With the closest village an hour and a half away by boat, Mopiri felt truly in the middle nowhere. Like our other camps, we were greeted by song and dance. After disembarking from the boat and strolling across numerous connecting boardwalks, we sat down with camp manager BK for orientation in the gorgeous outdoor common area among the trees.

Day 1: Arrival & Sunset

After orientation, which included some kind of herbal tea and snacks since it was also time for our daily late afternoon tea, Chillie B showed us to our rooms. Encased in floor-to-ceiling windows, the rooms offered vistas no matter where you were inside. As we walked to David and Mary Beth’s room, we couldn’t help but notice the scratch marks in the wooden doorplates. Chillie B showed us the complicated method of opening and closing the rooms, explaining that the monkeys in the area were very smart and had learned to open the previous few methods employed. So our rooms were monkeyproof—for now—at least until they learned how to open these new locks! Little did we know, this was just a small precursor for our experience with monkeys at Mopiri. The rooms themselves were something out of a luxury travel magazine, all with outstanding views of the lagoon. There was a separate room for the bathroom and shower with giant windows and screens offering private lagoon views. Quite the showering experience! We had a few minutes to drop our stuff and get settled before heading back to the common area.

Since we arrived at Mopiri later in the day, we had limited time before we’d need to be ready for dinner. Not one to waste a minute, Chillie B suggested we take the double-decker boat back out to catch the sunset over the water. Because we had the entire camp to ourselves, we really could do whatever we wanted, but we decided to trust his expertise and headed out onto the water. Wind blowing in our hair, we spent the evening puttering around on the water, searching for birds to check off Ashley’s birdwatching list and perhaps a peek at a hippo. Spotting bubbles in the distance near the shoreline, we thought we’d found a hippo hiding. Instead, we found a cow from a local farm that’d met an untimely demise and was fodder for the baby crocs. Following a magnificent sunset (accompanied by “sunsetter” beverages, of course), we returned to the camp for a late dinner.

For dinner our first night, we had a menu of traditional local foods that were all delicious. We also had BK and Chillie B join us for dinner, which was a pleasant surprise. In our other camps, most of the staff would either say goodnight or be part of the dinner staff, but they never joined in the meal. This gave us an opportunity to learn more about local culture, BK and Chillie B personally, and how camps like Mopiri were surviving through the pandemic. It really added a lot to dinner and was a nice touch that I hope other camps add to their experience more often. During dinner, we also added a moment into our family travel lore. Every once in a while, something happens on a trip that becomes a joke for years to come. As we shared before, Mopiri was where Ashley really turned into a fully-fledged birdwatcher—there were dozens of different species around the lagoon and delta. With a birdwatching book in one hand and binoculars in the other, she would often chime in to confirm her guess with Chillie B. Between the sound of the boat engine and Chillie B’s thick accent, it was sometimes difficult to understand the correct bird name. One that we misheard was the Fiery-Necked Nightjar. This came up at dinner and Chillie B pretended to be offended and began overpronouncing everything, including the Fiery-Neckkkkkked Nightjaaaaaaaarrrrrrrs we heard from the trees at dinner. After a delicious dinner full of hilarious moments with family and new friends, we headed to bed.

Day 2: Riverboat, Mokoro Canoes & Hiking

The way of life on the riverside was a bit slower, so instead of our daily wake-up call from a tour guide, we actually got to sleep in until we naturally woke up. A novel idea! In reality, our bodies had adjusted to going to bed at a good time and waking up as the world wakes up early in the morning, so we were up by around 7:00 a.m. 

After a quick breakfast, we boarded the riverboat and continued farther into the wilderness. Be it by boat or by jeep, there’s always an overhanging branch trying to take your head off, and this boat ride was no different. While dodging branches from both sides, Ashley kept her binoculars plastered to her face and regaled us with all of the birds she could identify: kingfishers, bee eaters, and cormorants. When she inevitably came across one she couldn’t identify, Chillie B would pull out a large encyclopedia of birds (Beat About the Bush) to show her the bird name and other details. 

The combination of how narrow the river channel was and the actual speed of the boat made it seem like we were flying. Cruising the waterways, we saw a ripple ahead and possibly the head of a hippo disappear beneath the water. To our horror, Chillie B floored the boat and headed straight at it! We all braced for impact, but the boat passed smoothly over the spot of the ripples. Sensing our question, Chillie B slowed the boat and explained that this was the safest way to handle a hippo crossing. Once they go under the murky water, there is no way to know where they went, but they do not stay in the same place. So it’s best to pass over the location you saw them as fast as you can.

Mokoro Canoes

Surviving our first meeting with a hippo from a boat, we landed ashore and picked up three additional guides and traded in our double-decker boat for three Mokoro canoes. Each guide used a long pole to move us through the shallow water, deeper into the delta. Mokoro canoes are the traditional mode of transportation of villages in this area and are still used in many places not only for their cost effectiveness but also for how they can access areas with shallow water. 

In the virtual silence of the canoes, we could get even closer to the birds on the shoreline. Ashley was in heaven. We arrived at an island, where Chillie B and our other guides pulled the boats on the shore. Since the chances of running into big cats were minimal, we hopped out to stretch our legs on a trek to see the local flora and fauna. Similar to Linyanti, we got up close and personal with some more wildlife scat, and we even learned about nature’s toothbrush, should you find yourself up a creek without a Phillips. After a lunch out on the island, we said goodbye to our Mokoro guides and powered our way back to camp. Although we did not find any more hippos (and we were not sorry about that), we enjoyed the numerous birds and even saw some baby crocodiles less than two feet long in the shallow waters near the banks of the river.

We returned the same way we came, basking in the sunshine and breezes off the water (and dodging the branches). Maintaining this slower pace of life, Ashley took her Kindle to the pool and whiled away the evening until dinner. Chillie B’s motto in life was “We’re late and we’re not sorry,” so we never felt like we had to do anything at more than a snail’s pace. Our goal was to relax and enjoy the scenery. 

Day 3: Relaxation & Fishing

In a total state of bliss from such a peaceful previous day, Stephen started relaxing and forgot we were in the African Bush. Loading up on breakfast options, including a few bananas and muffins, Stephen put his first plate down and went back to grab his required cup of coffee —there’s nothing like a day of boat riding to make a man hungry. But Stephen wasn’t the only hungry guy in this campsite. When he walked away from his plate, a vervet monkey swung down out of the trees, jamming muffins into his cheeks and making off with as much food as he could carry (and it was an impressive haul). One of the women helping with breakfast ran after the monkey and threatened him with her chancleta. Clearly, this monkey was no stranger to the chancleta. He ran off with his spoils, and Stephen had to return for another plate.

After an eventful day two, we decided to take it easy in the morning, lounging around the common area reading, swimming in the pool, and wandering the boardwalks. Once we ate lunch, Chillie B gave us a history lesson on the delta using a map in the common area. He explained how the first settlers came into this area, how the lands have changed over time, and how the ecosystems in this area are critical for areas as far away as the Kalahari Desert. Fun fact: The Okavango Delta is the only delta that does not end in the ocean. Instead, it ends in the Kalahari. 


Since we were out by the water, it seemed natural to drop a line and see if we would have as much luck with the underwater creatures as we’d had with the land-dwelling creatures. For our final afternoon activity, Chillie B drove us to a few fishing sites he’d had luck in before, and we sat around with lines drifting in the water for a while. But unlike the plethora of birds we’d been lucky enough to see, the fish were elusive. 

Rounding out our last night in Africa, we had another delicious dinner and wonderful conversation. During dinner, Stephen’s friend stopped back by and grabbed his bread from the table while his head was turned (two strikes). A male bushbuck and small spotted genet also joined our dinner, ensuring we wouldn’t forget the ever-present wildlife. On our walk to turn in for the evening, we heard a crash to the side, which is rather startling in the pitch-black night with only one flashlight. Swinging the flashlight toward the ruckus, we saw a hippo barreling through the camp, running right underneath us on the boardwalk, and heading toward the river. Quite the showing of animals and excitement for our last night in the African Bush!

Day 4: The Final Ride

Waking up in Mopiri on day four, it was hard to believe the end of the trip was here. To make it even harder to leave, the camp moved a small table right beside the river for a romantic breakfast by the water for the two of us. This was the perfect way to start our last day…until our breakfast for two turned into a breakfast for three. Stephen’s friend managed to run off with another muffin. At this point, everyone is beginning to believe Stephen and his monkey friend are in cahoots.

After breakfast, we finished packing our things, said our goodbyes to BK and the crew, and jumped back on the pontoon boat for our final ride with Chillie B over to the “terminal” to start our journey home.


Mopiri was the most relaxing camp and provided much-needed downtime to just exist in nature. An oasis in the middle of the African Bush, the camp and its small but mighty team of staff provided everything you needed to relax and get to know the African Bush at a different pace. Mopiri still had enough excitement and wildlife to remind you that you were still in the middle of the African Bush, but it also provided more opportunities to explore on your own time, which was a nice change of pace from the slightly stricter/more coordinated schedules at the non-water-based camps. If we were planning another African safari (and yes, you know we hope to one day), we’d sandwich a water location like Mopiri between two game drive camps to buffer the early-morning departures with a laidback and pleasant intermission. 

Although there are many other places to explore in the world, we know we’ll be back to Africa because nowhere has such unspoiled landscapes, genuine people, and impressive wildlife—there’s almost a unique bird for every day with 350 bird species in the Okavango Delta. 

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