Aerial View of Okavango Delta in Botswana

8 ways to experience Botswana’s magnificent Okavango Delta

December 15, 2014

Islands fringed by swaying reeds and riverine forests meet vast floodplains inhabited by curve-horned wildebeest, towering giraffes, elusive cheetah and the endangered African wild dog. Designated as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, and the 1000th site to be inscribed by UNESCO on their World Heritage List, the tranquil waters of the Okavango Delta are home to the deadly hippopotamus and Nile crocodile, as well as sacred ibis and crested cranes which fish precariously alongside. This spectacular seasonal landscape swells with water from March to August as the Okavango River drains its mass, luring animals from far and wide to create one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife, before transpiring and evaporating into a third of its size at the end of the season. To really appreciate the majesty of this landscape you need to give yourself time, and with at least eight ways to truly experience the Okavango Delta, one day here is never enough.

1. Cruise the deceptively placid waters in a mokoro canoe

Sailing in a mokoro in Botswana Okavango Delta
The mokoro is a traditional canoe used to sail in Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Being slowly propelled through the translucent waters of the Delta, sitting only a few centimetres above their crocodile-conceiling surface, is a far cry from the dusty, bumpy game drives that typify African safaris. With no motors humming or engines roaring, the only sound is that of the water gently lapping against the side of your mokoro as a ‘poler’ expertly negotiates the labyrinth of reed beds, while the call of kingfishers, the grunting of hippos, and the splash of elephants resonate around you.

2. Track Okavango Delta’s big game on foot

A cebra eating in Botswana Okavango Delta
A walking safari, tracking animals on foot, can give you an amazing experience.

Roaming the distinctive Okavango landscapes - palm islands, riverine forest and dry sandveld - on foot, while kudu, springbok and antelope browse alongside and lion, cheetah and leopard linger in the distance, offers a deep insight into the lives of animals in the Delta. Indigenous guides will equip you with the knowledge to grasp the environmental adaptations, behavioural patterns and wildlife movements as you follow in their footsteps, through vegetation enveloped with the ebb and flow of the seasonal waters that makes this landscape so unique.

3. Get a bird’s eye view on a scenic flight

Air view of Okavango Delta
Take a scenic flight to appreciate the largest inland delta in the world.

The only way you can really appreciate the immense grandeur and vast scale of what is the largest inland delta in the world is by taking to the air. Soar 500 feet over this watery oasis in a cessna or helicopter while migratory flocks of birds hover alongside, herds of big game amble between islands, and the bulging eyes and nostrils of crocodiles and hippos protrude in the reflective landscape below. Not only will you unearth the best wildlife viewing locations for the day, but enhance your understanding of the diverse lifeforms that this remarkable patchwork sustains.

4. Bush camp in the wilds under the never-ending African sky

Imagine discovering an uninhabited island, in the middle of a landscape teeming with wild lions, rhinoceros and chacma baboons, and setting up camp for the night with only a thin piece of canvas separating you from the merciless wildlife that awaits. This is what wild camping in the Okavango Delta is all about! No electricity, no flush toilets, no civilisation - just you and the great, untamed wilderness. While wild camping is not for the faint hearted, sitting around a campfire listening to the stories of the Hambukushu, Dceriku, Wayeyi, Bugakhwe and anikhwe ethnic guides while the never-ending star-lit African sky unfolds above, or drifting off in the eerie silence only to be woken by the trampling footsteps of a wild beast outside your door, are experiences that no money can buy.

5. Watch the sun sink below the horizon at one of the Delta’s hippo pools

Hippo in Okavango Delta
One of the many hippo pools you can find in Okavango Delta.

The flat expanses of the Delta and reflective qualities of the water mean that sun set is spectacular from almost any location in Okavango. But watching the luminous yellow ball ebb slowly towards the horizon, transforming into a bright orange before melting below, is particularly memorable from one of the Delta’s ‘hippo pools’. Watch the day draw to an end and the sky ignite in blazing oranges, soft pinks and deep purples, to the deceptively gentle exhale of these bulbous creatures breaking the water’s surface and dipping silently back below. If you are a little unsure of being within such close proximity to these volatile beasts in a mokoro, the Dumbo Pools located on the Khwai River can be accessed via road and an elevated observation post allows you to experience the hushed soundtrack and incandescent reflections from within relative safety.

6. Spot the Delta’s highly specialised bird species

Birdwatching in Okavango Delta
Birdwatching is one of the great attractions of Okavango Delta, specially from a mokoro.

The Delta is a twitcher’s paradise, particularly after the rains in late September/early October. Slaty egret and wattled crane patrol the waters by day, while Pel’s Fishing Owl and White-backed Night-Heron are elusive hunters by night. Discover long-winged African Skimmers scouting the serene dawn waters for fish from the front-row seat of a mokoro, or spy the Western Banded Snake Eagle from a ground vantage point as it eyes-in on its slithery prey.

7. Hook a prized tigerfish

The Okavango Delta is Botswana’s premier fly fishing destination, and there is nothing more prized than the razor sharp-toothed tigerfish. The first freshwater fish known to attack and catch birds in flight, these predators are renowned for their aggression and hooking one is no easy feat. But if the tigerfish eludes you, there are plenty of African pike, catfish and bream to be sought as you wile away the hours in the reed-lined waterways.

8. Indulge in the remote privacy of a luxury lodge

One of the Best Sunsets in the World: Okavango Delta Sunset
One of the Best Sunsets in the World: Okavango Delta Sunset.

Being immersed in the forests and floodplains of the delta on your own private island doesn’t mean you have to rough it. Luxury lodges and tents , complete with fine wooden furnishings, expansive views, and opulent attention to detail, dot the Delta. Venture into the wilds for an early morning walking safari, then watch dancing cranes from the privacy of your own deck while a masseur kneads your muscles. Or take to the water in a mokoro for one of the Okavango’s legendary sunsets before an exquisite gourmet meal complemented by fine South African wines.

The magic of Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is not a safari park you traipse through for the day to get a few token snaps from the comfort of a jeep, but an environment to immerse yourself in both by day and night, to discover not only the remote beauty of the region, but also fathom the wildlife that traverse these unique waterways and islands. And if you don’t have time to do all eight…then there is always a reason to come back.

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