Looking at the Kalahari thirstland, you might wrongly assume that Botswana is all about desolated land. The north of the country is exactly the opposite and perhaps the lushest area in the entire continent. A natural phenomenon plays a key role in this unusual occurrence: Okavango Delta.
While many deltas find a way into a sea or ocean through river flows, Okavango is an inland delta that has no connection with any ocean. Despite the isolation from open waters, Okavango has a critical role in the region like a messenger of the generous Mother Nature.
In a land where every month has different scenery, Okavango Delta offers surprising sights whenever you go. Spending a few nights and sailing along this African oasis is a bucket list item for every tourist.
Okavango Delta has phenomenal geography that depends on the ever-changing water level.
The delta expands due to floods during the first half of the year. It then starts shrinking between September and November as large masses of water evaporate due to the extreme heat. The reason why the water level fluctuates a lot is the flatness of the area. The variation is only 2 meters across 15000 square kilometers of land, so you can imagine the impact of even a small change on the entire region.
The area receives 11 cubic kilometers of water flow annually, which can be hard to manage. Here, you can see a mutual benefit type of relationship between the plants and water. Water breathes life into plants that transpire a large portion of the water, which in turn prevents catastrophic floods. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The intense and lush vegetation gives rise to other natural phenomena. For instance, the salt agglomeration around plant roots forms salt islands, where only palm trees can grow. Many inland islands formed this way within Okavango Delta. The largest inner island, Chief’s Island (70 x 15 km), was uplifted through historic earthquakes.
The park was declared not only the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site but also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
There are both private and public game reserves, the largest one being Moremi Game Reserve in the east.
It is hard to think of an animal species absent from Okavango’s wildlife. The combination of permanent and seasonal wildlife adds up to 200,000 large mammals, one of the richest in Africa.
The abundant water sources attract thousands of herbivores, while carnivores follow them for a real-life version of hunger games.
The largest herds belong to species of elephant, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, and zebra. It was estimated that the number of elephants and buffalos alone add up to 30,000.
Lions, leopards, and cheetahs are frequently seen since they track down the herbivores for hunting. The area is considered a major conservation region for these big cats. Okavango is also regarded as one of the best areas for viewing wild dogs and hyena.
Both black and white rhinoceros were absent from the park until recently. They have been successfully reintroduced to the park, although their sightings are still relatively rare.
The swamp has permanent wildlife of rare antelopes that often go unnoticed amongst the popular big game animals. These include rare and endangered red lechwe, tsessebe, sable, sitatunga, and roan.
The abundance of water also attracts over 400 bird species and 71 fish species.
The vast territory of Okavango Delta defies everything you knew about safaris. There isn’t an ultimate way to experience Okavango. Instead, you will get several options that will each make you feel like you are seeing the park for the first time
Let’s start with the classic game drives. The 4×4 open safari vehicles present the untouched wildlife from the common herds to rare species. Chances are, you won’t be seeing other vehicles since the area is enormous. You can go on a game drive at any time of the day, but we would recommend the night drives if it is the predators you are after.
Where there is water, there are boat cruises. We can’t think of a better way to get close to elephants and buffalos while they are drinking water. This is also an excellent opportunity to admire the vegetation as well as birds, hippos, and crocodiles.
If you are looking for a more authentic safari experience, you must consider bush walks. This allows you to track the footprints of mammals including the big 5. Also, you can learn more about the primitive Bushmen lifestyle.
Up until this point, we listed safari activities that you could join almost anywhere in Botswana. However, not every park offers the Cappadocia-like feeling of hot air balloon safaris. Floating above the delta will make you realize how small and insignificant humans are compared to the vastness of nature.
Another unique option is a mokoro safari. This is similar to boat cruises in the sense that you will be sailing along, except it will be ONLY you and a guide. The traditional mokoro boats used to be the only way of transport between the villages around the delta in the old times. Now, it is used as an adventurous attraction that offers the chance to watch as large animals bathe in the swampy water.
If none of these float your boat, you can still do self-driving provided that you own / can hire a 4×4 upon arrival.
Climate & Best Time To Visit
Just like the majority of Southern African countries, Okavango experiences two distinct seasons: wet and dry.
The dry season runs between April and October. The temperature is pleasant during the day around 26-29 degrees, while night temperatures can drop below 10 degrees. The peak temperatures occur in October.
The wet season begins in November and causes a slight cooling of the temperatures; however, the numbers still range between 25 – 35 degrees.
Technically, it is possible to visit the park throughout the year, but both seasons have their advantages. The dry season has cooler temperatures and less rain, which causes the bush to become thinner and expose the wildlife. So, it will be easier to spot animals during this time. The water levels are the highest during this time, so boat and mokoro cruises are ideal during this period.
On the other hand, the wet season is ideal for game drives and bush walks because the receding water exposes more land. Besides, there will be more baby animals and migratory birds during this season. Since this period is considered the low season, you can find tours with more reasonable prices.
The closest gateway to Okavango Delta is the Maun Airport. If you have booked accommodation at one of the lodges, you will be picked up at the airport by private air-charters. Each lodge has its private airstrip for the small planes to land. The flight takes about 30 minutes depending on the lodge you will stay at.
For self-driving, hiring a 4×4 is essential. There are many rental companies at Maun Airport, as well as in Kasane and Victoria Falls.
Tips & Things You Might Need To Know
- Some lodges and touristic sights in Okavango Delta shut down due to the flood from the rising water levels. Always remember to enquire with the lodges about potential threats.
- Okavango is a large area, so it is impossible to explore it entirely in one day. So, you should save at least three days to see all of it.
- Bringing binoculars is a must for every safari, even more so for Okavango since the massive plains and thick bushes can make animal-tracking challenging.
- Okavango Delta is in a high-risk malaria zone, so you should always consult your doctor about the medication needed.
- The hot-air-balloon safaris run from May to September.Many tourists prefer Duba Plains Camp for the unique mokoro safaris because it is quite close to the cruise routes. The lodge even offers multi-day mokoro trips, which would be the trip of a lifetime for everyone. Enquire with the lodge to find out more about multiday trips.