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Okavango Delta

  • Okavango Delta, Botswana

Last updated: 15 June, 2023

The Okavango is the largest inland delta in the world: a maze of grasslands, indigenous forests, islands, channels and lakes covering 17,000 square kilometres that teems with all the big game and spectacular birdlife (more than 400 species). Even if you’re not a twitcher, the feathered creatures here are captivating.

The variety of ecosystems in the Okavango make it a fascinating place to safari; one might spot an elephant swimming, see a malachite kingfisher diving, or bump into a lioness.

Thanks to the Botswana government policy of high-revenue, low-volume tourism, there are very few camps or tourists. Nearly all are based near water, on the mainland – in private concessions or in the Moremi National Park – or on islands, and the real draw of the Okavango is the unique water-based safari opportunities it provides: mokoro (dugout canoe) or speedboat excursions through channels and papyrus reedbeds.

Walking (a real treat near water) and night safaris (when cats mostly hunt and nocturnal creatures come out) are only permitted in private concessions – so not the Moremi National Park.

Even flying into the Okavango on a small plane is one of the best things about the holiday; the views over the vast areas of water are breathtaking.

Orientation

The delta is located in north-east Botswana, surrounded by the Kalahari Desert – and almost entirely flat.

Rainwater flows from more than 1,000km away in Angola to the Delta, at its peak covering more than 16,000sq km of land, and 7,000sq km less then this in the dry winter (May to October).

At the heart of the Okavango is the Moremi Game Reserve, where most game grazes all year, in grasslands and thick indigenous forests.

There are five main ethnic groups in the Okavango, as well as a small group of San Bushmen; most camps will be staffed by villages from these tribes.

The Botswana safari industry has been regulated to ensure money goes back into communities, so many camps are often closely linked to a local village and offer visits for guests who want to learn about local traditions.

Travel advice

When to go

The Delta can be visited all year, although it is most popular in the dry winter season from May to October, when it rarely rains and animals converge near water to take advantage of drying floodplains. In September, the migrant birds arrive; in summer (December-February) there are about 20% more birds. Summer’s dramatic rainclouds, clear air and lush landscape make it a popular season for photographers, although it is in winter that groups of buffalo and elephant congregate near water – making them easier to see.

Getting there and away

You’ll fly into Maun airport, then take light aircraft to bush airstrips, from where camps collect their guests. The only way into most camps is by private plane, particularly during wet season when roads may be flooded.

Getting around

Game drives are offered by most camps morning and evening – and in private concessions at night. Most camps have the use of mokoros and motorised launches and those in concessions offer walking safaris.

Where to stay

Rhino are rarely seen here (they were only reintroduced in 2001, having been poached out), but it’s one of the best places in Africa to see the other Big Five and plenty of smaller game. Sightings are particularly good in the Moremi, around Chief’s Island. Some concessions are particularly well-known for one thing: Duba for interaction between lion and big groups of buffalo, the eastern concessions for general game, Chitabe for up-close elephant experiences. Game is slightly less dense around Abu and Nxabega, and in the Okavango Panhandle area in the dry seasons. Bird life is rich all year.

Who to go with: tour operators

1

YellowWood Adventures [Okavango]

  • London, United Kingdom (UK)

Well-regarded tour operator specialising in small group and private/bespoke horse-riding trips in the Okavango Delta. They’re renowned for taking the ‘lesser known path’, avoiding the crowds.