Xugana Island Lodge proudly proclaims its island site as the Okavango’s finest. And we’re not inclined to quibble. Xugana Island was long favoured by the local BaSawra (or Bushmen) as a place to refresh and recreate after long hunts (its name means “kneel down to drink”), and our recreation at Xugana is sublime: traditional mokoro (canoe) or motorcraft explorations of the unendingly fascinating Delta and its denizens, fishing for tilapia and tigerfish in its crystalline waters, forays to nearby Moremi Game Reserve to meet up with Moremi’s own stellar cast of animal characters.
Our refreshment at Xugana reminds us of something Isak Dinesen once wrote about Africa, how it “soothes the homesick soul.” We enjoy great privacy here: Xugana is surrounded by its own private concession, allowing us to savour the Okavango’s serenity and beauty in glorious solitude. The lodge’s up-to-the-minute luxuriousness and welcoming hospitality blend magnificently with the Delta’s ancient lushness.
Xugana’s eight chalets look out from floor-to-ceiling windows to the waters of the Okavango, whose “very existence in the middle of the Kalahari,” the great wanderer/photographer Frans Lanting writes, “is nothing short of miraculous . . . like a dream.”
Newly and inspirationally spiffed-up, the chalets are plushly furnished with canopied beds, carefully chosen artworks and bright decoration, en suite bathrooms, and an expansive (expressive might be a better word) deck from which to sip early morning coffee and witness the awakening of the Delta or bask quietly in the African sky’s “soft velvet darkness,” as Elspeth Huxley saw it, “a warm conservatory whose great dome was encrusted with all the diamonds in the world, and all the scents of the world [are] there too, changing like currents in the sea.”
We take our meals on our deck or in Xugana’s main lodge, shaded by noble mangosteen and ebony trees, or on its wide, viewful deck. And a post-exploration swim in the lodge’s pool awaits us, along with cooling drinks and ceaseless smiles and warmth from Xugana’s dedicated crew.
Saying the Okavango Delta is an enchanting place to see unique wildlife is like saying the Louvre is a pleasant place to see paintings. Nothing comparable exists in the known universe, to put it simply.
Activities at Xugana are largely water-centered (though an excursion to drier land in the Moremi Game Reserve reveals a classic, free-roaming collection of plains creatures, including the fabled Big Five). We embark with expert, knowledgeably at-home boatmen on wooden mokoro canoes or nifty little motor boats and wend our way through the wonderland in peaceful search of the Delta’s rare lechwe antelopes, its craggy Nile crocodiles and gigantic gamboling hippos, its stately kudus and the lions who keep an eye on them, its frenetic packs of baboons, and a host of other creatures, very much including ceaselessly scurrying warthogs and water-loving elephants, in whose “every aspect” Isak Dinesen found “a morally edifying quality.”
With more than 400 species, the Okavango is a birder’s Eden, and we’re on the lookout for every feathered thing from Pel’s fishing owls, crested cranes, lilac-breasted rollers, and hammerkops to the iconic African fish eagle. As we mentioned, anglers find the Delta’s waters nicely full of big tiger fish, bream, and catfish. And a characteristic Okavango grace note: 99 species of colourful dragonflies to add a little colourful buzz to an already buzzy natural masterpiece.