The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the worlds largest inland Delta systems. A vast maze of permanent marshland, lush lagoons and seasonally flooded plains are connected by meandering channels. These channels are created by the Okavango River (also described as “the river that never finds the sea”) which originates in the Angolan highlands and slowly makes its way to the basin of the Kalahari desert in Botswana, where it does not have an outlet to the sea.
At the start of the dry season in Botswana, around March, the water starts flowing into the Okavango Delta with its peak in July/August. This seasonal flooding in the dry season gives this wetland its unique ecosystem, sustaining a vast amount of animal and plant species.
The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of my favourite places on this planet where I can chill, relax and be very close to nature. It is a fantastic and amazing hidden gem in the middle of the Kalahari desert. Before I list the reasons to visit the Okavango Delta, let’s have a look at some interesting facts about the Okavango Delta.
Interesting facts about the Okavango Delta in Botswana
- Seen from above, the Okavango Delta is fan shaped and can expand from 6.000 sq. km up to 22.000 sq. km during the occasional floods and wetter periods in July and August
- The floodwater finds its origin in the Angolan highlands and it takes 9 months for the water to cover 1600 kilometres to the Okavango Delta in Botswana
- Unlike you would expect, the Okavango Delta has high water levels during the dry winter months and reaches peak low water levels during the wet summer months.
- Traditional mokoro (plural mekoro) are made from digging out the trunk of a tree. Nowadays, most of the mekoro are made from fibre-glass. A mokoro made from fibre-glass is more long lasting and it preserves the use of endangered trees in the area.
- The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world. This means that the river has no outlet in the sea or ocean.
So why should you go and visit the Okavango Delta? What is so special about this highlight in Botswana? And why is the Okavango Delta one of our 7 natural wonders in Southern Africa? Out of my years of experience visiting the area, I have listed a few reasons to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
9 Reasons to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana
An abundance of wildlife and plant species
The Okavango Delta hosts a large diversity of bird and animal life all adapted to living in this wetland system. Due to the lay-out of the Delta, you won’t see large herds of animals, but rather a larger diversity in animal sightings during a safari. Animals that are most likely to be seen are elephants, giraffe, warthogs, various antelopes, zebras, wildebeests, buffalos, hippos and crocodiles. The Delta also sustains large populations of endangered species as cheetah, rhino, wild dogs and lions, which occasionally can be spotted as well.
Typical plants and trees of the Okavango Delta are the papyrus, palm trees, reed, acacia and sausage trees.
Not many tourists visit the Okavango Delta
The government of Botswana uses the tourism strategy “low volume, high value”, meaning that Botswana is a higher priced tourist destination but you’ll get more value for your buck. Only the tourists that really want to be there will pay this higher price resulting in a lower number of visitors and higher quality of service etc for the tourists that do visit.
The camps in the Delta are of very high quality, but for a high price. The rule which states, ‘you get what you pay for’, really counts here. The camps are located deep in the Delta and you’ll get there by light aircraft. Arriving by air adds value to the visit as it allows you to experience the delta from a different perspective. Also provision of the camps needs to come by air, hence the higher price for accommodation.
The construction of the accommodation is entirely made to blend into the local environment. Animals roam around freely and can be seen from the deck of your “luxury” tent, with no fences between you and them. Animal safety will be explained to you on arrival. There is a great feeling of intimacy and privacy due to only a handful of guests and the way the camps are constructed.
The Okavango Delta is full of various exciting activities
For game viewing in the Delta, there are various activities that can be taken with a local guide. A good way to explore the Delta is on foot. The guides will walk on the various islands in the search for animals. Meanwhile, they provide a good explanation about nature and animal behaviour by showing diverse plant species and looking for footprints and animal dung. Most of these guides are born in the area and their knowledge is just amazing. Seeing a wild animal during one of these walks is an unforgettable experience. The fact that there is no fence between you and the animal is priceless, however, safety should not be forgotten. Again, this will be explained to you.
Another activity is by mokoro, aka: a dug out canoe. While listening to the gentle sounds of nature and searching for animals, you slowly make you way through the various canals, surrounded by papyrus and water lilies.
A mokoro is the principal means of transport of the local people living in the Okavango Delta. It makes for a relaxed, beautiful and memorable experience.
By walking or by mokoro, the distance you cover is rather small, meaning you may see less animals, but this should not detract from the general experience of just being in one of the most serenely beautiful places on earth. For covering greater distances and slightly increasing your chances of animal sightings you can take a tour by motor boat. It’s a great and often fast paced exciting experience, albeit slightly more noisy but none the less worth it, as long as you are not concerned about your hair do.
There are a few more viewing activities that are organised by the different lodges but these 3 are the major ways to explore the Delta by land or water once at your camp.
The accommodation in the Okavango Delta is unique
It is possible to visit the Okavango Delta as a day tour from Maun. However, I would highly recommend to stay over for a few days. There are various types of accommodation you can choose from. Basically the whole range, from back to basics to pure luxury is covered. No matter where you will stay, the experience will be unique.
Personally I have stayed in nice luxury lodges, beautifully located, great comfort and basically all you need in the middle of the bush. I have also stayed in a tent with no facilities. No water, no electricity, no toilets for a few days. And I really enjoy both accommodation experiences. The basic one brings you much closer to nature, to the animals around you and to what the Okavango Delta has to offer. Sleeping in a luxury accommodation also means that you are close to nature, but it is still somehow different to close the ‘door’ of your huge tent instead of the zipper of a small tent.
So it all depends to your personal preference, but all ranges are great and highly recommended by me.
Watch some of the best African sunsets in the Okavango Delta
Watching an African sunset at least once in your life should be on everyones bucket list. It is said that the African sunsets are some of the best in the world. And I agree. I have seen some of the most amazing and spectacular sunsets in all imaginable red and orange colours. Watching a sunset in the unspoilt wilderness of the Okavango Delta makes it a magical experience.
A Bug’s Life
When going on a safari in Africa we would all love to see the dangerous animals of the infamous Big Five, or all the other large wildlife like hippo’s, giraffes, zebras wild dogs, large antelopes and so many more. Sometimes we forget about the other wildlife out there that can be as beautiful and spectacular to see. The pristine nature of the Okavango Delta provides a considerable opportunity to look for these little creatures, like dragonflies, frogs, butterflies, beautiful spiders and small birds. We forget to look at the pretty colours right in front of us, trying to see the large animals in the distance.
One of the most memorable moments for me was seeing thousands of fireflies dancing around the water edge just after sunset. It is pitch dark out there and just sitting out there looking at the swirling lights is just an unforgettable experience.
Cultural Interaction with local people
The Okavango Delta is great for any nature and wildlife lover. It also provides a cultural interaction with the local people. Any trip into the Delta needs to be with a local guide. If you go for a day tour, or a multi day tour, if you stay in a bush camp or in a luxury lodge, you will have the possibility to interact with your guides. Most people employed in the Delta are people from Botswana from which the majority either grew up in the Okavango Delta or in close proximity.
They will be pleased to interact with you, explain about their culture. And most of the times they will be singing their songs and dancing on their traditional music. The perfect combination of cultural interaction with nature and wildlife is another great reason to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana
The Okavango Delta is all about the experience
You cannot just visit the Okavango Delta, you have to experience it. It’s about the smell, the sounds, the views, the animals, the feeling of just being there. It’s a magical encounter that is difficult to explain. This you will realise when experiencing it yourself for the first time, and hopefully many more. Just being there, watching the sunrise or the sunset and reflect about life.
Unesco World Heritage
And last but not least, in 2014, the Okavango Delta became part of the Unesco World Heritage list. And what makes it even more special and unique, the Okavango Delta was the 1000th inscription of the World Heritage list.
When is the best time to visit the Okavango Delta?
A question that many people would like to know the answer to is when is the best time to visit the Okavango Delta. The good thing is that the Delta in Botswana is great to visit all year round. So what can be expected from the various seasons?
During the dry winter months (from May to September) the Okavango Delta will reach its peak water levels. The area of the Delta will expand to its maximum size. There are less islands and more canals, which is beautiful when taking a mokoro ride. Since it is winter season, the migratory birds will have left, but nevertheless there will still be plenty of bird life to see. The temperatures will be nice and sunny during the day and nights will be cool.
During the wet summer months (from October to April) the Okavango Delta has much less water. This means that there will be lots of islands and less water in the little canals. The main river canals will always have water, it is the small narrow waterways through the reeds and bushes that will be too low to pass through. This is also an excellent season for bird watchers as the migratory birds will have come back to breed. The temperatures can be really hot during the day and night, but will cool down with the rains. These rains often come with some dramatic thunderstorms.
Have you ever visited an oasis in the desert? Which one would you recommend to visit?
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