Botswana Wildlife

From The Ground Up

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Bisected by the Tropic of Capricorn and located on the Southern African plateau, land-locked Botswana encompasses an area slightly larger than France. This fascinating country enjoys an astounding richness of wildlife and represents the last hope for a vast wildlife refuge free from elephant poaching—today, massive elephant herds still roam free in its reserves! On this unique photo safari we experience Botswana's vast expanses of uninhabited wilderness that stretch from horizon to horizon, feel the freedom of limitless space, and marvel at night skies littered with stars of unimaginable brilliance and stunning sunsets of extraordinary beauty.
"Outstanding tour – I don't know what you could do to improve the tour. Eric Rock was first rate! Everything about this tour was great! The accommodations at the lodges along with the food just could not have been better. The vehicles and boats were the best I have experienced in Africa."
- Joel R.

Wildlife Photography Taken To A Whole “New Level” From Boats And Waterhole Blinds

Botswana Wildlife From the Ground Up provides an exceptional and unique photography perspective at one of the greatest wildlife countries in Africa in two dramatic habitats—the wildlife-rich banks of the Chobe River and the famous private Mashatu Game Reserve. On this exciting tour wildlife photography is taken to a whole “new level” using specialty photo boats and sunken photo blinds positioned next to waterholes with continual dry season activity.

Chobe National Park

Along the Chobe River we photograph from specially-designed photo boats with swivel seats, built-in lens mounts to facilitate "big glass," and trolling motors for stealth when approaching wildlife. These boats bring photographers up close to the photography action as throngs of wildlife come to drink along the banks of the Chobe during the dry season. In many cases our view from the boat is below the animals on the riverbank—an angle that allows us to shoot up at them.
Photographing the Chobe National Park riverfront by boat is a fantastic experience as we get remarkably close to herds of hundreds of elephants as they drink and swim across the river. Large groups of buffalos, impalas and kudus crowd the shore, lions come to the river to drink and hunt at the water’s edge, and hippos can be approached for (virtually) nose-to-nose encounters. All breathtaking experiences from the boat!
Birds along the river are amazing, varied and usually unwary. Along with lots of big mammals, this part of our safari focuses on the throngs of birds we can quietly approach from the water. At the edges of the waterway and its islands, we see many species of herons, storks, ibis and waterfowl. African fish eagles are numerous here, as are three species of photogenic kingfishers. Alongside the high banks, the bright colors of bee-eaters betray their perch as dozens of species of songbirds flit in the riparian brush—avoiding stealthy predators as they quickly drink.
We reside in a fantastic upscale hotel —built with photographers in mind—featuring a jetty on the river where we board our boats. The hotel is the closest accommodation to the Chobe National Park gates. This allows us to be among the first people into the park and the last out, every day. 

Mashatu Game Reserve

Mashatu Game Reserve, a private landholding as part of the 72,000-acre Northern Tuli Game Reserve, is situated on the eastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert. Mashatu provides refuge to the largest elephant population on a private reserve on the African continent. As a private reserve it carefully controls the number of visitors, creating a great nature photography experience and a sense of private wilderness. Mashatu is a spectacular place to see big game such as elephants, lions, and leopards—all of which could appear at the reserve's amazing sunken photo blinds (hides) that are a wonderful part of our visit here. These unique blinds are built alongside waterholes to specifically maximize—for photographers—the photographic potential of the wildlife at the waterholes. The blinds are sunk into the ground in prime elephant habitat. During our stay—at the height of the dry season—many animals frequent the waterholes from the far reaches of the dry countryside. Inside the blinds, you are seated so that your head is at ground level. From your comfortably seated perspective everything you see is as if you are lying on the ground looking upwards. Imagine being a mouse under an elephant! The blinds are strong metal structures and totally elephant proof, so you can watch and photograph in total ease as the animals go about their business of drinking, bathing and wallowing. The blinds have been carefully positioned to consider the angle of the sun and the background, as well as the optimum angle by which you are photographing the animals and birds. As a photographer you will appreciate these features immediately. The results of the stunning photos taken from these blinds have been published in many magazines, books and websites, and have produced many award-winning images.
We reside at the Mashatu Lodge Main Camp (View Photos) in luxurious private air-conditioned suites situated in wonderfully private natural settings.

Wildlife Game Drives

Mashatu shares unfenced borders with Zimbabwean and South African national parks in the north and south, respectively. Because of the exceptional diversity of habitats throughout the reserve, Mashatu enjoys an ecological biodiversity uncommon in other game reserves in the region. Here, in addition to our daily sessions in the waterhole blinds, game drives across the reserve’s varied landscapes allow plenty of photo opportunities from open safari vehicles. A hyena with its two pupsLeopards, lions and elephants are the stars of the reserve, while other intriguing species, including aardwolves, bat-eared foxes, African wildcats, honey badgers, spotted hyenas and black-backed jackals, are possible photo subjects. More than 50 species of mammal are found here. For visitors who are interested in bird life and bird photography, Mashatu is home to more than 350 bird species. There is always something exciting to photograph!
Join us on an amazing and unique Photo Safari in this safe and thriving country and discover Africa as it existed during the days of Burton and Livingston!

Check out Eric Rock's trip report from our most recent Botswana Tour
For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from home.

Day 2 (Aug 6, 2024)
Arrive O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Meet the leader. Dinner and overnight accommodation at a convenient airport hotel are included in the tour fee. (D)

Day 3
After breakfast we will transfer to the International Airport for our commercial flight to Kasane International Airport. Upon arrival at Kasane we clear customs and head to our hotel on the Chobe River—a five-minute drive from the airport. This afternoon we are introduced to the boats that provide our photographers easy access to wildlife coming to the river’s edge. The boats are specially designed for photography, spaciously outfitted to accommodate 8 photographers. Cameras are mounted on custom-built stands attached to seats that rotate a full 360 degrees. At eight feet in width, the vessels have plenty of space for accessible storage for our camera gear. The 100-horsepower engines get our group to the best locations quickly and are fitted with a rotational bass motor on the bow that allows an unprecedented silent approach to wildlife. The use of these boats allows for photos from a unique below-eye-level perspective and a close approach to some shy and seldom-photographed species that frequent the shoreline. Elephants coming down to the river to drink and (virtually) nose-to-nose encounters with hippos are breathtaking experiences from our boats! (BLD)

Days 4-6
We rise early and are out on the river for a morning cruise, followed by a midday break at our comfortable upscale hotel. Later, we enjoy a second photo cruise until dusk. Many animals come down to drink during the day, especially in the morning and late afternoon. Along the bank they must keep a watchful eye out for lurking Nile crocodiles—and so should we. Our images of eye-to-eye crocodiles could be amazing! We expect to shoot lots of birds that live along the river—ducks, geese, herons, bee-eaters, kingfishers, and fish eagles—as well as those early migrants from Europe that are just starting to arrive in Botswana during our visit. (BLD)

Day 7
Our safari on the Chobe River ends with a final morning boat excursion, after which we return to the airport for a charter flight to the Limpopo Valley Airfield. Mashatu Lodge vehicles meet us for the hour-long drive to the lodge. If our travel plans run smoothly, we will have time to have lunch and settle in before heading out on a late afternoon game drive. The evening will conclude with a relaxed dinner. (BLD)

Days 8-11
Four days of unique and amazing photography await our group as we venture out before dawn and head into the wilds of Mashatu. And what could be wilder than sitting three feet from a 15,000-pound bull elephant as it casually drinks from a waterhole?

August is a prime dry season month for photography from Mashatu's spectacular underground photo blinds. This is the time of year when wildlife activity—especially elephants—is at its peak. While we are safely in our photo bunker at water's edge, matriarchal families bring their inquisitive babies to drink and bathe. Then these newborns walk up to inspect you and mischievously fling water in your direction. It's a thrilling experience and an equally thrilling photo opportunity.

A wide variety of birds also come to the waterhole for their morning drink. They are accompanied by baboons, impalas, kudu, and a host of smaller mammals. All this amazing parade of wildlife is photographed from a unique low-level angle that only these blinds can provide.

When we are not in the blinds, our safari vehicles transport us through remarkably diverse habitats that are packed with great possibilities for landscape photography. Dry mopane forest, riverine woodlands, and marshland are punctuated by towering sandstone cliffs, dramatic basalt formations, and unusually shaped kopjes. This is a region unlike any other in Botswana—drier than the Okavango Delta, yet with large river courses unlike anything in the Kalahari. Mashatu receives its life-sustaining water from the Shashe, Motloutse and Limpopo rivers, which serve as natural boundaries with Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In August it is not uncommon to find a leopard draped in one of the massive Mashatu trees. The soft rays of southern Africa's low winter sun make lions, leopards and cheetahs practically glow at sunrise and sunset. Cheetahs are particularly common at Mashatu, and the reserve is one of the best places in southern Africa to see them due to the open nature of the terrain.
In August, water is at a premium and it is not uncommon to find elephants digging in the riverbeds for water just below the surface. At the shrinking waterholes, doves and guinea fowl come to drink, attracting the birds of prey that hunt them. The cool weather has lions and leopards on the prowl and their kills are a magnet for a throng of charismatic scavengers, including black-backed jackals, spotted hyenas, and cape, white-backed and lappet-faced vultures. There is great wildlife action around every bend in the road! (BLD)

Day 12 (Aug 16)
After an early morning session in the hide and breakfast we will transfer to the airfield for our charter flight to O.R. International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, and flights home.

Day 13
Arrive home.
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Botswana Wildlife

Aug 05, 2024 - Aug 17, 2024

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and may be paid by check or bank transfer. If you wish to make your final payment with a credit card a 3% convenience fee will be charged.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation. Based on the cancellation date the following apply:

Trip deposits are non-refundable.
150-91 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 50% of the total trip cost.
90-61 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 75% of the total trip cost.
Within 60 days of the start of the trip: No refund.

If, on the trip start date, your space has been resold and the tour is full—as designated by “Limit” number of travelers on the tour website page—we will refund your payment, minus the non-refundable trip deposit and any discounts given to resell your space.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. Upon request, we can provide travel insurance options that includes the required medical evacuation insurance. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you, or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health, including viral illnesses, occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, and applicable health advisories. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch, or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, internal tour air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages, and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry, or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodation or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations, and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins, or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea is included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two people traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non -refundable air tickets, visa fees, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this Agreement, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Botswana Wildlife: Easy Activity Level

Four-wheel-drive safari vehicles, specially designed photography boats, commercial and chartered aircraft as transportation. Trip features specially designed ground-level photo blinds(hides) at strategic waterholes featuring large herds of elephants and other wildlife. There are no toilet facilities in the blinds. Minimal easy walking.

Trip Details
Aug 05 - Aug 17, 2024
Fee: $17,995 from Johannesburg, South Africa
Deposit: $5,000
Limit: 12 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy

Single Supplement: $1,700
  • Photograph in two incredibly productive wildlife areas of Botswana—the private Mashatu Game Reserve and wildlife-rich Chobe River system of Chobe National Park
  • Custom-built boats with swivelling built-in “big lens camera mounts”—specially designed for photographers—provide a unique eye-level river perspective to photograph animals in normally inaccessible locations
  • Exclusive access to spectacular waterhole photo blinds (hides) at Mashatu to photograph elephants and a host of other wildlife—up close and below eye level
  • Fly between shooting locations in small planes—with extra baggage weight allowance to accommodate personal luggage and photo gear
  • Luxurious accommodations throughout the tour
  • Trip includes all meals, lodging, ground and boat transportation, internal tour airfare, park fees, photo guides and instruction
Tour Leaders
Eric Rock

Eric Rock