The Ultimate Guide to Exploring the Okavango Delta in Botswana [Guide]

December 3, 2018
Leandra Slabbert
I don't think God intended for any of us to just be ordinary

It’s no wonder the Okavango Delta, an oasis found in the dry grasslands of Botswana, has been coined the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’. Stretching over 15,000 km, the desert meets the delta in this majestic wetland wilderness. Attracting a plethora of wildlife and bird species. A kaleidoscope of green and blue oozing from the healthy vegetation and fresh waters, with the sights and sounds of the wildlife and colourful bird species resulting in a natural wonderland.

The UNESCO World Heritage site is a significant region as it gives life to the Kalahari’s dry desert plains. This main water source makes it possible for the Okavango Delta animals to survive the otherwise harsh environment. Wildife such as lion, leopard, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, wildebeest, zebra and various other mammal and gazelle, 

The rather flat landscape of the Okavango Delta consists of various small ‘islands’, with waterways weaving through. Many concessions and game reserves make up the Delta. Yet tourism within the Delta is regulated. In an effort to protect the area, only a few lodges have been erected and adhere to strict rules surrounding the number of guests permitted to stay at one time. Therefore visitors can expect complete exclusivity during their stay in the Okavango Delta.

Many travellers believe visiting the Okavango Delta is out of their reach due to budget constraints. While it is certainly one of the most exclusive destinations in Africa, it can be affordable when traveling on an overland tour. We at African Overland Tours offer budget safaris through Botswana and the Okavango Delta, making use of comfortable campsites. Now it is possible for almost any traveler to experience this extraordinary jewel of Africa.

Our ultimate guide to exploring the Okavango Delta:

Activities

The Delta and it’s waterways are rich with wildlife, flora and bird species. This landscape presents great opportunities for unique tours and safari excursions. Instead of a traditional safari experience on land, you can enjoy the rare opportunity to spot wildlife from the water. The Okavango Delta is one of the only places in the world where you’re able to enjoy boating safaris or ‘mokoro’ tours in the wild. Travelling through the winding waterways, passing animals drinking and bathing is an experience unlike any other on earth. 

Mokoro tours in the Okavango Delta

(A makoro is a canoe, with a person directing the canoe from the back with a rod called a ‘ngashi’)

Mokoros are like canoes and if you ask anyone who’s been to the Delta they will agree that these tours offer one of the greatest ways to encounter wildlife in Africa. Because mokoro’s are silent and not operated by a motor, the animals and birds are not alarmed. This gives you the opportunity to catch unparalleled sights of the beauty that engulfs the Okavango Delta. Seemingly daunting, but rest assured your guide will have been through rigorous training with plenty experience not only with the mokoro, but also understanding the movements of the wildlife.

Mokoros may be a few meters in length, but their width allows for easy access to the narrow areas of the Delta, more tricky to get to by boat. Mokoro tours are also perfect for wildlife photographers, capturing wildlife up close, with the most beautiful backdrops imaginable.

Boating safaris

In the Delta boating safaris are yet another incredible way to see wildlife.  Especially in a territory that’s a little more risky – hippo infested waters in particular. Boating safaris offer a similar experience to the mokoro, except limited to the deeper waters and wider channels of the Okavango Delta. On a boating safari it’s almost certain you’ll encounter elephants and hippos bathing and drinking on the river banks.

Walking safaris

A Walking safari is a great way to get in touch with your surroundings and understand the terrain that these wildlife species live in. Though this may seem like a hair-raising excursion, the guide will never put you in danger. They will always make sure the area is safe from predators before you take a stroll. It pays to trust your guide wholeheartedly (and you can – we promise), so that you’re able to fully enjoy your experience.

Traditional safaris

For those who want to experience a traditional safari tour – game driving through the grasslands in a safari vehicle is possible in the Okavango Delta too. Yet, you are certainly not going to see as many species as you would from the water. The banks along the waterways are muddy which makes it difficult for even 4×4’s to get close enough to the wildlife. Your safari tour will take you inland, but you’ll see a good amount of wildlife and likely other species who prefer sleeping on tree branches or beneath a shaded bush. Yes, we are talking about the cats! The lions and the leopards are usually found further away from the waters edge.

Horseback Safaris

Some concessions offer horseback safaris and they make for an incredible adventure. There are few places in the world, or even Africa, where you’re able to take a horseback safari. These tours are also offered in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans which are north of the Okavango Delta, in the Kalahari.

Bird Watching

With over 400 bird species in the Okavango Delta, it is the perfect place to bird watch because you’re sure to spot more than a few rare species. Look out especially for the African Fish Eagle, the Red-Billed Hornbill and the endangered Wattled Crane. The best time for bird watching in the Okavango Delta is during the dry winter season around May to late July, as most of the birds stay close to the water source making them easier to spot. Bird watching in the rest of Botswana is best during summer months of November to March, when the migrant birds arrive.

Best time to visit Okavango Delta

There are perks to visiting the Okavango Delta in all seasons, so picking the right time for you depends on what you most want to experience. Most travellers prefer the dry winter season over the rainy, hot summer months.

Winter temperatures are a lot more ‘comfortable’ and it’s also easier to catch sight of wildlife which remain near the few water sources available. The mornings and evenings are often cold, sometimes reaching lows of 6°C. Whereas midday temperatures rise to a warm, but comfortable 25°C.

Summer spans November through to March and is hot, reaching highs of 35-40°C during the day. Yet it’s likely to rain most of the day – although showers are intermittent. Summer is a great time for water based activities and tours, as water levels are more favourable for boating.

Recommended Okavango Delta tours and travel tips

There are various areas that make up the Okavango Delta, each known and loved for very specific characteristics. Some are popular for the particular wildlife species that live in abundance in that area. While others have ideal sights, terrain or great accommodation options.

The most common areas of the Okavango Delta include Chobe, Moremi Game Reserve and Selinda Game Reserve (although this is semi private).

Chobe Game Reserve is in a fantastic area of the Delta, practically on the Chobe riverfront. This is one of the main waterways in the region. With plenty of wildlife, including big game (lions, leopards, buffalo to name a few), and the greatest population of elephant in all of Botswana.

Our eight day Chobe and Okavango Delta tour will ensure you get to thoroughly explore Chobe by boat, mokoro and on foot. The last three days will be spent adventuring through the heart of the Okavango Delta.

Our 16 day Botswana tour, is ideal for those who want to see and experience a little more of Botswana. This trip will not only take you to the Okavango Delta, but the famous Makgadikgadi Salt Pan and various national parks. Walk with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and enjoy a variety of safari tours.

Moremi Game Reserve is another natural gem located near the west of the Delta. Here you’ll find fairly different terrain, attracting a variety of wildlife and bird species. Moremi is one of the most popular reserves to visit, as it is the largest and the oldest reserve in the Delta.

Take a trip with us through the Okavango Delta. This is not just any trip, it’s a journey from the moment you step foot in Botswana!

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