The Okavango Delta nurtures some of the world’s most endangered species, including the cheetah and white rhinoceros. This gives you just a small hint of what’s in store, when you discover the UNESCO World Heritage-listed region in Botswana.
One of the planet’s largest inland deltas, it’s made up of seasonal floodplains and permanent marshlands. You’ll hear the roar of lions ringing out across transparent lagoons, find what lurks beneath swaying papyrus reeds and feel like you’ve arrived in paradise on earth.
Unlike most deltas, the water here never reaches the sea. The Okavango River winds through Angola’s highlands, to disperse over the sands of the Kalahari desert. As the river travels, so do the animals. Hundreds of thousands of them, in fact. They migrate from the heat, to drink the sweet waters spilling through palm groves and grasslands, creating a wildlife scene like no other.
The Best Times to Visit Okavango Delta
Visiting the Okavango Delta is an adventure you can take year-round, however the most popular time is during the floods of July and August. Along with an incredible amount of animals to see, the weather is great, with blue skies and daytime temps of between 20 and 30°C. As a bonus, the winter climate sees much less mosquito action than summer.
The next best months are September and October, as animals still congregate in gigantic numbers on the edges of the waterways. Fishing takes centre stage and hundreds of birds are nesting. Expect the temperatures to start creeping up towards a sticky 40°C at this time.
During the rainy, low season, in January and February particularly, it’s peak breeding time for migrant bird species, so this is when you should go for spectacular bird watching. You can also expect colourful wild flowers, dramatic afternoon thunderstorms and some seriously exciting opportunities for landscape photography in vivid, natural light.
What You Need to Know About Visas, Health & Safety and Regulations
For most nationalities, a visa isn’t required to visit Botswana for up to 90 days. However, all foreign visitors must carry a return ticket and hold a passport that’s valid for at least six months. Children under 18 must have a certified copy of an unabridged birth certificate. Requirements and travel advisories are always changing though, so make sure you check your local government site before leaving.
For travellers from the US, you can stay up to 90 days within a 12-month period, without a visa. However, if you hold a temporary passport you do need to get a visa before you leave. You can check for up-to-date requirements, here. For Aussies, Smart Traveller recommends exercising a normal level of caution and you can also stay for up to 90 days.
Adventurers from Canada and the UK are subject to the same conditions as well. Other things to consider are ensuring you have at least two blank pages on your passport and consulting a medical professional about relevant vaccinations. Most government travel advisories recommend being up-to-date with Hepatitis A and Typhoid. If you’re travelling from a country at risk of yellow fever, the government of Botswana requires proof of yellow fever vaccination.
In terms of Botswana’s rules and regulations, be aware that drug taking is a serious offence and same-sex acts are considered illegal. To avoid any potential conflict, keep public displays of affection to a minimum, especially in rural areas. Luckily for the wildlife, it’s illegal to trade protected wild animal parts. This means you need to be extra careful about what you’re buying though, and check the source. If in doubt, don’t buy it.
English is an official language in Botswana, so you shouldn’t have any issues with communication. The national currency is the Pula, but the US dollar is widely accepted at lodges and hotels. With regard to tipping, it’s customary, however not obligatory, to tip about 10% providing the service is good.
How to Get to Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is one of the most remote places on the globe, so it takes a fair bit of organising to get there. It’s best to arrange travel details through a tour company, to point you in the right direction depending on where you’re from. Generally, flights to Botswana from major world cities include a stopover in South Africa.
You’ll find flights to the safari stepping off town of Maun, from Johannesburg and Cape Town. They’re mainly operated by South African Airways and Air Botswana. If your visit is part of a larger African adventure, you’ll also find regular flights to Maun from Victoria Falls, Windhoek and Botswana’s capital, Gaborone. From Maun, most tourists fly directly into various camps and reserves in the delta via charter plane or go overland by 4×4, both of which are easily arranged through a tour operator.
Packing for Your Wildlife Adventure
Along with a sense of wonder, you’ll need to pack all the essentials to ensure you’re comfortable in this remote land. First up, make sure you have your best trekking boots and a broad-brimmed hat to keep that African sun off your nose. A weather-proof jacket, for both cold and rain, will come in handy year-round. Light cotton, long-sleeve shirts and pants are best for keeping away the sun and mozzies.
Stock up on your favourite deodorant, toothpaste, sunblock, insect repellent and hand sanitizer, because you probably won’t find it here. If you don’t mind what you use, most camps provide the basic shampoos, conditioners and soaps. Useful preventative medications include headache tablets, diarrhoea tablets, antiseptic cream and antihistamine. To enjoy your experience to the max, don’t forget binoculars, your camera and an adventurous spirit.
Staying in the Heart of Nature
When you arrive, you can base at a camp either on land or surrounded by water. There are an array of options for different budgets, but most are eco-friendly, quite luxurious and set in wildlife-rich game reserves. Choose from camps with thatched-roof safari tents and romantic outdoor showers, lodges with plunge pools and back-to-nature bush camps.
Many camps rest on the banks of waterways, surrounded by diverse habitat and wildlife. Some accommodate only a small amount of guests, to ensure peace and serenity in the wilderness. Luxury lodges offer bathtubs, onsite spas to send you into bliss with decadent treatments, libraries and fire-decks to soak up the views by night. Your taste buds aren’t left out either, with international cuisine, local meals and wines available.
It’s also possible to stay in Maun and explore the delta from there, in a range of lodges, hotels and hostels. You’ll find a variety of restaurants for eating out in Maun, with everything from French cuisine to pizza and traditional bites, plus opportunities for souvenir shopping. Stock up on African arts and crafts, postcards, textiles, pottery and even useful stuff, like torches, for your adventure. For culture vultures, pop into the Nhabe Museum, which focuses on preserving culture, arts and crafts.
Discovering the Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai
The ‘must see’ highlight for many visitors to the Okavango Delta, is the Moremi Game Reserve. It was the first wildlife sanctuary created by an African tribe on their home ground, in 1963. The story is founded in the need for conservation, due to the rise of hunting at the time. Covering a staggering one-third of the delta, the reserve provides fantastic trails for safari adventures.
Habitats here range from dry savannahs to woodland, grassland, floodplains and permanent waterways. In the dry season, there’s an influx of buffalo, elephants, wildebeest and zebras, in search of water and food. It’s home to birds including the African Fish Eagle and Sacred Ibis, among 400 of the Okavango’s species. Wild dogs, cheetahs and lions hunt in open grassland, while lechwe antilopes reside in the papyrus banks.
Best of all, it’s a place to make your African safari dreams come true, by potentially spotting all of the ‘Big Five’, thanks to the Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project. Both the elusive white and black rhino populations were drastically reduced due to poaching, but after being reintroduced, you stand a chance of a rare sighting.
Between the reserve and Chobe National Park is the private Khwai Concession, with crystal-clear lagoons, waterways blanketed in lilies, palm islands and vast dry lands to spot buffalo, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest. Flowing through the concession is the Khwai River, with high populations of hippos, crocodiles, lechwe and waterbuck. To get a feel for local culture and taste traditional food, you can also visit Khwai Village.
The Top Okavango Delta Activities You Must Do
Okavango Delta activities are largely based around safaris on private reserves, including the famous Moremi Game Reserve. They change, depending on the time of year you visit. One thing you can be sure of, is an incredible experience in the midst of remote wilderness.
See rows of elephants, graceful giraffes and birds swooping for lunch, on a safari by the water. Mokoro is a dug-out canoe, used by the Okavango’s original inhabitants. Today, you can glide through the waterways on a relaxing exploration, with a guide propelling the river craft via a Ngashe, or pole. As you meander through the reeds, you’ll feel like you’re almost sitting in the water, home to exotic frogs, birds and fairytale waterlilies.
For a more uptempo journey, cruise the intricate network of winding channels and serene lagoons on a motorised boat, to see more of the landscape from a watery perspective. Expect to watch bee-eaters, owls, jewelled kingfishers and reed frogs, while getting up close to big game as they quench their thirst on the water’s edge.
Back on land, a walking safari with an expert guide gives you a personal experience of the delta. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about how to track wildlife, animal patterns and behaviours. Because you’re on foot, rather than in a vehicle, each step brings new, natural discoveries in a sensory overload. Along with elephants and your favourite ‘big’ animals, guided walks are the perfect way to discover the tiny ones of the insect kingdom, too.
Game drives in the Okavango Delta tend to be fairly secluded, so you can look forward to up-close and personal views of lion prides, African wild dogs, giraffes and zebras bounding over the floodplains. At night, more animals come out to play, like aardwolves, leopards and hunting lions, all viewed from the safety of your vehicle.
Until you see it from the air, it’s hard to truly grasp the vast beauty of the Okavango Delta. Scenic flights give you a bird’s eye view of the labyrinth of channels, herds of big game and leaping red lechwe antelope. As you soar high above lagoons and flood plains, you’ll discover a patchwork landscape drenched in colour and long, criss-crossing animal tracks to feed your anticipation for the next animal-spotting.
If you love to throw a line in, you have the chance to catch Tilapia, Tiger Fish, African Pike, Catfish, Bass, Bream and more, under the watchful eye of crocs and hippos. Motor boat safaris allow you to do so in safety, under a catch and release system.
If you’re an experienced rider, imagine galloping across the floodplains to join a herd of speedy zebra? While you may not keep up, the sense of exhilaration will remain with you long after. Horseback safaris are led by expert guides and the only drawback is the inevitable saddle-soreness, which is a minor inconvenience given the adrenaline-rush you’ll have to get you through.
With so much to see and do, it’s best to combine your preferred activities within a custom tour, so you don’t miss out on any of the action. That way, you’ll make the most of the Okavango Delta, to leave with incredible memories of this Eden on earth and your time spent journeying into the wild.