The Okavango Delta
What is the Okavango Delta?
The Okavango Delta in northern Botswana is one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife habitat and provides refuge to huge concentrations of game.
But, what is a delta?
The most common type of delta are river deltas, river deltas are defined by the amount of sediment they carry with it, the shape and the type of water they empty into. The most famous river delta is probably the Mississippi River Delta, it hosts millions of people while also supporting a unique ecosystem.
The Okavango Delta, however, represents an inland delta that flows into the Kalahari Desert – it is one of the world’s largest inland deltas. Inland deltas are far less common, and occur when a river empties onto dry land.
Where is the Okavango Delta?
The Okavango Delta is situated deep within the Kalahari Basin, and is often referred to as the ‘jewel’ of the Kalahari and is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most extraordinary places.
This prestige as one of “Africa’s most extraordinary places” is reinforced by its UNESCO World Heritage status. The Okavango Delta was inscribed as a World Heritage property in 2014. In fact, it was awarded the 1,000th position on the World Heritage List.
The Okavango Delta has successfully sustained a high level of unspoiled wilderness across its vast 2 million hectares. There has been little significant development and impact by humans, largely thanks to the indigenous peoples living in and around the delta that have conserved the area for millennia.
The bestowing of this status is hugely important for the continued conservation of the Okavango Delta.
Okavango Delta Wildlife
The Delta region of the Okavango can vary in size from 15 000 square kilometres during drier periods to a staggering 22 000 square kilometres during wetter periods.
Protected in part by the Moremi Game Reserve and numerous private concessions, the Okavango Delta supports 164 mammalian species, 157 species of reptiles and 540 species of bird including sought-after species like Pel’s fishing owl, bee-eaters and kingfishers. The best time for avid birders to visit the Okavango Delta is from November to April when many species migrate to the Delta and turn it into a true paradise for bird lovers.
The Okavango Delta is home to healthy populations of some of the world’s most endangered large mammals, including cheetah, white rhino, African wild dog and lion. Botswana supports the world’s largest population of elephants – 130,000 – and the Okavango Delta is considered the core area for this species’ survival.
Exploring the Okavango Delta
A fantastic way to explore the region is by boat, more specifically in a mokoro. The mokoro (or mekoro – plural for mokoro) is a traditional dug-out canoe which has become an iconic symbol of the delta and is the most popular way for visitors to explore the Okavango while on safari. Once made from certain trees such as Jackalberry Trees and Sausage Trees the canoes are now fashioned from fibreglass for environmental purposes.
Animal sightings can be breath-taking from the mokoro. From the reclined vantage point, the scale of everything appears more grand. While the polers ease you through the reeds and keep watch for larger animals such as hippo and elephant you can get up close and personal with the likes of Africa’s smallest frog. Undoubtedly, at some point your poler will alert you to an elephant traversing through the reed-lined channel ahead – a privileged sighting observed in the most peaceful way imaginable.
The great advantage of the motor-boat safari is you can cover more distance and discover some of the myriads of waterways that make up the Okavango delta. For a real explorer type of experience, a “Trans – Okavango” motorboat safari will take you from Shakawe in the north to Maun in the south camping on very remote islands a truly unique and adventurous experience.
From the air by hot air balloon , fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter
There are few experiences that can top a view of the Okavango Delta from the air. This activity allows you to capture a whole new perspective. Imagine seeing an elephant turn its head to look at you from below! Or capture those magical moments of seeing a thousand Cape buffalo crossing the floodplains.
Game drive vehicle
A game drive in the Okavango is different, there are water and sand to navigate, making for a really exciting experience with 100000 hectares of Botswana wilderness to explore.
Game drives are conducted by experienced safari guides and will make your safari experience come alive – they are able to read the bush and have an uncanny ability to predict the movements and behaviour of the various animals and birds. Leaving camp in the early morning is “predator” time many of the predators are active until it warms up and the guides will be focussed on picking up tracks and finding a leopard, lion, cheetah or wild dog.
Walking in an area which you know has been stomped by elephants and lions is an exhilarating experience, especially when you spot their tracks in the sand. A walking safari is a real privilege; you can get up close and personal to the smaller wonders of nature and learn more about the overlooked creatures which play a key role in the unique eco-system of the Okavango Delta.
For the ultimate safari experience a mobile safari ticks all the boxes. Small intimate camps in remote areas of the delta and Botswana ensure the very best African wilderness experience. A mobile safari experience means your camp and staff travel with you into remote areas and can vary from participation style camping to full-on luxury tents with staff and ensuite facilities.
Okavango Delta Ecosystem
Starting in Angola and never quite making its way to the ocean, the Okavango River snakes its way through the vast flat plains of Botswana, making the Okavango Delta an oasis of life. It is the world’s largest freshwater marsh ecosystem.
The eco-systems of the Okavango Delta range from seasonal floodplains and small islands to larger islands that support riverine woodlands, mopane forest, open grassland and savannah bushveld.
The greatest annual transformation to the Okavango Delta occurs during the Angola wet season rainfall some 500km away. Every wet season, Angola receives three times more rainfall than Botswana, discharging a higher than usual flow into the Okavango River. Although, the rains fall in Angola in January it takes several months for the water to reach and subsequently flood the Okavango Delta.
As the floodwater filters through to the lagoons and grassy plains, the Okavango Delta becomes an extraordinary hive of animal activity, from flamingos to wildebeest and dragonflies to crocodiles. Creating one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife.
The flood is at its biggest sometime between June and August, during Botswana’s dry winter months. During which time the wildlife is prolific with animals congregating around the pans and water holes.
When to visit the Okavango Delta
A winning combination of permanent wetlands and abundant resident wildlife means the Okavango Delta is a year-round safari destination. That said, you should plan when to go depending on what you want to see and experience. The best time for boating and canoe (mokoro) safaris is during and immediately after the floods, between July and September although these activities are generally available from April through November depending on the annual water levels . Botswana can experience some reasonable extreme temperatures -it can get very cold in winter and very hot in summer so best to dress for 4 seasons in one day.