The Okavango Delta - one of the world's last truly wild places
The highlight of any trip to Botswana, and indeed the whole of Southern Africa, is visiting the wilderness gem of the Okavango Delta.
This spectacular wetland covers 15,000km² of northern Botswana, a largely uninhabited country of open savannahs, ancient deserts and magical wetlands. The largest inland delta in the world, Okavango Delta is formed by the Okavango River flowing from the highlands in Angola down into the arid Kalahari Desert, never to reach the sea.
Botswana's Natural Treasure - beautiful, wild & tranquil
Heading into the heart of the untamed Okavango Delta is all about immersing yourself in raw nature and being in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Exploring the intricate network of calm channels in this vast area of flat floodplains, transports you to an enchanting world, far removed from modern life.
Four of the best ways to see the lush delta are in a traditional mokoro, on foot, by airplane and from elephant back.
You stay in secluded camps surrounded by unspoilt nature, experiencing the profound peace and beauty of a place that is not ruled by man and marred by development. Larger overland vehicles cannot access the delta, which leaves 4x4 vehicle, plane, elephant-back and mokoro transport. Once in the delta, exploration is mostly done by mokoro or boat, and on foot.
Delta by Mokoro - traditional style
Glide through the maze of papyrus-lined waterways and island-dotted lagoons in a traditional mokoro. The BaYei people have been using mekoros as the mode of transport in this swampy part of the world for hundreds of years. Mekoros are traditionally carved out of large ebony or sausage trees, but today more environmentally sustainable materials are being introduced.
A local stands in the back of this traditional dug-out canoe and guides the vessel through the lily pads of the placid waters, using a long pole. This is the wild African version of the tamer gondolier in Venice.
One or two passengers sit back and soak up the beauty, listening to the birds in the surrounding bush and looking out for snorting hippos. Moving slowly and quietly through the bush is the ideal way to catch a glimpse of antelopes and birds, among others stirring in the shrubs and palms. Mokoro and boat trips in the delta rank amongst the best for boat-based game viewing in Africa. The leisurely pace allows you to ease into the rhythm of African life, taking in the details of this pristine wilderness area in the sunshine.
The experienced 'polers' know the labyrinths of the Okavango Delta and can take you to safe spots for a dip in the clear waters, avoiding the crocodiles and hippos.
Delta on Foot - down to earth
Walking on the secluded islands, though palm forests and along the lagoons of the Okavango Delta with a guide is a fascinating and unique wildlife experience.
The guides are able to track animals by following their spoor, sharing their in-depth knowledge of the bush and its inhabitants while you walk. This is a great way to get up close to nature and learn about some of the 80 species of fish found here, as well as the birds, insects and animals.
The delta is home to predators - lion, wild dog, leopard, cheetah and large mammals - elephants, giraffes and buffalo, among other creatures large and small. A huge variety of antelope species also roam the wilderness, including the rare red lechwe. You will see hippos and crocodiles lurking in the waters of the delta, along with a dizzying array of birds, the best known of these being the African fish eagle.
This is however not a traditional big game viewing destination, although there are numerous animals living in the delta. The vegetation and watery habitat make it difficult to spot animals, most of which are relatively unaccustomed to people and therefore shy and elusive. It's not about the Big Five checklist in the Okavango Delta, but the best place to see large game species in the delta is Moremi Game Reserve on the eastern side of the delta.
Delta by Air - spectacular sights
Get the bigger picture on a small plane or helicopter flight over the delta as you soar overhead and survey this incredibly scenic haven from above. The bird's eye view of the Okavango Delta provides perspective, enabling you to really grasp the enormity of this wetland system.
From above you not only get to appreciate the scale of the winding channels and lush lands, but also to spot big animals, like elephants and giraffes, roaming the wilderness below. Flights over the delta offer stunning photographic opportunities while you enjoy the thrill of swooping through the open skies.
Many of the lodges are accessed by small airplane allowing you to ogle at the scenic delta as you arrive and leave. Alternatively, you can take a flight from Maun, the closest town to the delta.
Delta on Elephant Back - the wild way
Now this means of transport combines the advantages of walking with the rare chance to ride an elephant in the wild. Riding an elephant through the delta, you can bond with these gentle giants whilst moving majestically through the wilderness. Perched on the back of an elephant, you have an elevated vantage point that allows you to take in more of the beautiful scenery and your chances of spotting animals and birds are better from up there too.
On elephant back safaris you are also able to get closer to animals in the bush, one of the perks of moving through the bush slowly on one of the animals of Africa.
Bit about Botswana
Botswana's government has purposefully developed the country as an exclusive safari destination where tourism is structured to keep the number of visitors down and thus protect its natural wonders. One of Africa's richest nations travellers can expect high standards of service, infrastructure and accommodation in Botswana.
Botswana is a stable democracy with the longest history of peace out of all the African countries. The diverse people of this prosperous nation are generally friendly, living in harmony with each other. This is a country with few roads which leaves a lot of isolated places for remote off-road adventures and wild camping. The roads that are in place are however well-maintained which makes travelling in Botswana a pleasure.
The Okavango and joining tributaries once emptied into the massive Lake Makgadikgadi, which is today the Makgadikgadi Pans - the world's largest salt flats.
See some Safaris to the Okavango Delta.