It has been called the quietest place on earth, the river that never meets the sea and the most beautiful wildlife habitat on the planet. Okavango Delta in northern Botswana has a formidable reputation.
And when I visited this swampy maze of sparkling lagoons, meandering channels, and grassy islands, I was not disappointed.
The delta is formed when the Okavango River flows 1600 km into the parched Kalahari Desert from the highlands of Angola.
The Okavango Delta goes through dramatic changes in size and topography during periods of drought and flooding, swelling to 22,000 square kilometres in the peak flood season between March and August.
Yet, what draws so many international travellers to the Okavango Delta is not its unique geography but the astonishing variety and density of animals it harbours.
The vast area of the delta is, for the most part, untouched. Many parts of Okavango are remote and can only be reached by light aircraft. This means travel to the Okavango Delta can be expensive.
The good news is that it has kept the tourist footprint light. Most camps are eco-friendly and fall under the protected area of the Moremi Game Reserve.
On 22 June 2014, the Okavango Delta became the 1000th site to be officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List
Here’s everything you need to know about the Okavango Delta Botswana – arguably the best safari destinations in Africa.
Explore Okavango Delta.
The best way to explore the Okavango Delta, in my view, is by mokoro, which is a traditional dugout canoe. Nowadays, for the sake of economics and the environment, the mokoros are made of fibreglass.
They are narrow and somewhat wobbly canoes that are navigated by a person called a poler. The poler uses a long wooden pole to push the canoe along.
It is quite exciting to be punting silently in a somewhat flimsy boat sandwiched between 10-foot tall reeds of grass in a narrow channel of water.
You don’t know what’s waiting around the corner and you could come face to face with an African elephant!
You can also discover the Okavango Delta on motorised boat cruises which run seasonally. It is also possible to go exploring on foot with a local guide on one of the delta’s larger islands.
Most lodges also organise traditional jeep game drives.
A great way to admire the delta is on a scenic flight in a single-engine Cessna aeroplane. The flights, which usually last 45 minutes or so, take off from Maun airport. You get a sense of the scale and majesty of this unique ecosystem.
And it’s fun to see giant elephants looking like ants. I had prepared myself for a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride in the Cessna, but the day I went, the weather was clear, and the ride was surprisingly smooth.
Okavango Delta Wildlife.
The astounding diversity of animals in the Okavango Delta is the reason it is so popular with wildlife enthusiasts.
There are more than 150 species of mammals here, including the Big Five. Leopard sightings are common, and the delta is home to Africa’s largest population of wild dog.
Other animals you can see in the Okavango Delta include lions, cheetahs, zebra, giraffe, and elephants. Crocodiles are plenty in the delta’s waters, and your mokoro poler will surely show you a hippo pod or two from a safe distance.
The Okavango Delta is also a paradise for bird watchers with more than 500 species, including rare ones like the Pel’s fishing owl and African skimmer.
Fishermen can spend hours trying their luck in the delta’s rich waters, but all fishing is conservation-focused and catch-and-release.
Best Places to Stay in Okavango Delta.
Accommodation options in the Okavango Delta range from public campsites for budget travellers to luxury private tented camps where you can rub shoulders with royalty.
At the latter, you can indulge in gourmet food, soak in your private plunge pool, and watch wildlife from your elevated deck.
It’s also possible to take a bucket-list hot air balloon flight over the delta. I would recommend spending a couple of nights under canvas, perhaps on one of the islands.
This is the best way to experience the pristine and ecologically diverse delta. Some camps are incredibly remote and permanently surrounded by water, making for a fabulous romantic getaway.
I recommend going between May and September when the animals are easier to spot, and the weather is cool and dry.
How to Reach Okavango Delta.
The easiest and fastest way to get to Okavango Delta Botswana is from the small town of Maun. There are scheduled flights from the capital of Botswana, Gaborone, to Maun in the north (airport code MUB).
You can transfer from Maun to your lodge by 4×4, motorboat, mokoro, or charter plane depending on the location. I visited the delta on a road trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. On your way to Victoria Falls is worth taking a stop at Chobe National Park, home to the largest amount of Elephants in the world, or you can head to neighbouring Namibia.
It was a 5-hour drive from Ghanzi, a small town in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. After a couple of days in the Okavango Delta, we drove on to Elephant Sands, near Nata, Botswana, and then on to Victoria Falls.
Okavango Delta: Know Before You Go.
It’s important to know that water levels in the delta change every year based on weather patterns. Check current conditions before booking your trip.
Mokoro trips and motorised boat excursions sometimes have to be suspended due to a lack of sufficient rainfall. However, whereas seasonal water activities may be limited or closed, conditions like these are ideal for game viewing as the wildlife congregates around the remaining water.
The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, consisting of thousands of square kilometres of marshland. The delta is unique because here a river empties into open land rather than the ocean.
There are more than 150,000 islands, varying from a few meters wide to 10km across.
The delta is very flat with a height variation of no more than 2 meters. This intriguing and fascinating destination is a must-visit place for people who love unusual travel.
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