The Okavango Delta, a vast and virtually untouched freshwater wetland situated in the heart of Botswana’s arid Kalahari Desert. Welcome to one of Africa’s most extraordinary places. This massive fan-shaped wetland provides its inhabitants with one of the most pristine habitats on the planet. The Okavango River system which feeds the Delta begins its journey in the highlands of Angola before it is swallowed up by the sands of the Kalahari. The area generally experiences two flood periods – the early floods (January-March) and the main floods (April-June). The first is caused by local rainfall and the second is brought on when the floodwaters arrive from Angola.
The scale and magnificence of the Delta helped it to secure a position as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. Although not a reserve as such, the wetland is surrounded by massive private concessions which are each home to very few camps indeed. Because of the nature of the terrain the area is accessed almost exclusively by fly-in safaris. This all equates to one of the most private and exclusive safari experiences available in Africa today.
Through my experience, I have found that it is very important to carefully select which areas you visit here. In general, the more water there is within an area, the less big game there will be. These wet areas are incredibly beautiful and will give you a taste of the classic Okavango but they must be combined with a drier area elsewhere in the Delta or even in the Linyanti region for an injection of big game. There are several legendary private concessions – like Jao Plains, Abu, Nxabega, Khwai and Kwando – that are not open to the public but to guests only. Expect low visitor numbers, very few vehicles and an unhurried approach to sightings. Camps are very well spaced and offer some of the purest game viewing in the most pristine conditions anywhere in the world.
The classic Okavango activity is a mokoro safari. The locals have for centuries used these traditional dug-out canoes to travel around the Delta and they will allow you to slide quietly through the lilies in search of some of the smaller creatures which inhabit the area. You should definitely try at least one whilst you are there! The walking safaris here also tend to focus on the finer details of the ecosystem whilst game drives will allow you to cover more ground and see more big game. Finally, boating safaris will allow you to get around and explore more of the pristine waterways and channels in the shortest time possible. If you are a bird-lover the Delta is a paradise for you!
Regarding accommodation, Botswana has some of the continent’s toughest conservation rules: all lodges must be able to be disassembled in 24 hours and not leave a trace behind. Despite this, the accommodation is superb and highly creative. Mostly constructed from timber, many lodges are raised on stilts to cope with the varying water levels, giving you gorgeous views over the Delta.
The Okavango Delta is surprisingly easy to combine with Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Namibia and the Kruger Park. Ask me for advise to create your perfect travel itinerary!