Savute Safari Lodge is located in a far off corner of Chobe National Park between the Savuti and Linyanti Private Concessions. This was my first lodge in a publicly protected area and the experience was quite a bit different than in a private concession. In private concessions, local communities actually own the land and give companies 15 year leases to operate on them. There aren't a ton of restrictions -- you can drive off road to follow game, go on game drives at night and spent as much time at sightings as you want. As these are private concessions, there are a limited number of lodges operating on them and no vehicles on the roads other than those operating at the lodges. The downside of private concessions is seen from above: the network of dirt roads criss-crossing the landscape --- cutting up habitat. There are so many, it's shocking to see from above.
In National Parks and other public protected areas, you can't drive off the roads in order to follow game. That might mean that you've been dying to get a shot of a cheetah, but you glimpse one crossing a road from 50 feet away and it's gone in a flash. The experience I had at Vumubura would have been far different had we not be able to drive off road. Animals are active at dusk and dawn, but you can't go on game drives before sunrise or after sunset in public protected areas, which means that you are often hustling back to the lodge just when the game comes out. Probably the biggest difference I felt was the lack of seclusion. These are public areas with roads running through them -- that means you'll get self-drivers, mobile safari operators, and vehicles from the other lodges all on the roads.
It took me most of the trip to realize that both private concessions and publicly protected areas are needed to serve the conservation needs of Botswana. They serve different purposes, both from a wildlife conservation perspective and and from a social perspective. Most people can't afford the nightly rate at a lodge in a concession (think $2,000 per person per night in peak season). Even the mid-range lodges in public areas go for $1,000 per person per night in peak season. Without having the access to self-drivers and mobile safaris, Botswana would become off limits to most of the world's travelers.
I was impressed with the ability of our guide at Savute Safari Lodge to take us places where other vehicles were rare. We had a great sighting of the lion pride, found ostrich, zebra, elephants, hyena, cape buffalo and wildebeast. The lodge is located around an AMAZING watering hole -- you can see elephants right from camp (see overexposed photo below). The swimming pool is being moved down closer to the watering hole, which will be a fantastic way to spend siesta time.