What is the best safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana - and how do I organise it?
Okavango Delta safari
Surely one of the most iconic wildlife locations in Africa and another jewel in the crown for Botswana’s many wildlife safari highlights. On 22 June 2014, the Okavango Delta became the 1000th site to be officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Okavango Delta is a huge inland ‘freshwater sea’ where seasonal rains from the mountains to the north in Angola arrive via the Okavango river - are soaked up by the endorheic basin in the Kalahari - and ultimately evaporate; before starting the annual cycle once again. How much water you see and experience in the Delta, is not just governed by this seasonal flood, it can also be affected by local rains and more importantly which Okavango Delta wildlife lodge you choose to stay in. The wildlife lodges to the north have access to deeper water and therefore a great variety of activities.
Best time to visit Okavango Delta - when to go?
The Okavango Delta is very much a year round destination and some level of water will remain throughout the year, allowing the water borne safari activities to continue, which it is famous for. The peak of the flooding in the Okavango Delta occurs from approximately June to August; so, this can be considered as one of the best times to visit Botswana to enjoy the Delta during the ‘high water’ season. Visit at this time of year to enjoy relatively dry weather, good game viewing and not too many bugs.
The months of September and October are the best time to visit Botswana for big cat safaris and predator action. As the water levels reduce in both the Delta and across northern Botswana, both prey and big cats congregate at the same water holes and wildlife photographers can enjoy some epic encounters between iconic species such as lions, leopard and wild dogs as they look to make a kill to feed their hungry family.
Although birding in Botswana is good at any time of year, it becomes simply sensational during the rainy ‘summer season’ from November to April and as this coincides with big discounts from wildlife lodges in Botswana, this is a great time to organise an affordable Botswana safari.
Okavango Delta safari – what are my options?
Although it is possible to drive from Maun and then take a short boat ride to your Okavango Delta accommodation; many visitors choose to fly in from Maun and enjoy a scenic flight over the Delta as part of their Botswana safari experience. Because of their location – often on an island - several wildlife lodges in the Delta only offer water based activities; which generally consist of either small group boat safaris with an engine or a private Mokoro trip. A mokoro is a type of canoe used in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. It is gently manoeuvred through the shallow waters of the delta, by a boatman standing at the back and pushing with a long pole.
For visitors who want to visit the Okavango Delta, but want to experience a greater variety of wildlife activities, then you must choose a wildlife lodge which has access to the water, but also land that is rich in game. An example would be to visit Moremi game reserve; where it is possible to enjoy both vehicle safaris, as well as guided walking safaris in some of the private wildlife reserves or concessions such as Khwai.
If you are looking to travel on a small group Botswana safari then it is highly likely that the itinerary – whether mobile camping or lodge based – will spend at least a couple of days in the Okavango Delta. They will also probably give you the option (additional cost) to take a scenic flight over the Delta while you are staying in or near Maun.
Okavango Delta safari activities?
The Okavango Delta is probably best known for its Mokoro rides. These are gentle open boat ‘drifts’ through the multiple channels and shallow lagoons of the Delta. These wooden style dugout canoes used to be hand crafted out of large Delta trees. Today most of the boats used in the Delta are fibre glass replicas, as part of a scheme to protect the few existing large hard wood trees in the Delta.
Many lodges in the Delta have access to motor boats, which as well as being used to transfer guests are utilised for boat safari in the larger, deeper lagoons. The engine can sometimes disturb wildlife, but you can cover a larger area of terrain and enjoy a higher degree of comfort.
Game fishing in the Okavango Delta is higher regulated, but a few lodges to have permission for their guests to fish and it is done on a ‘catch and release’ basis. Most of the fishing takes place in the Panhandle region, where the Okavango River enters the Delta
The thought of galloping along the shallow waters of the Delta on horseback alongside Zebra and Antelope, is enough to get anyone’s heart racing and offers a romantic and intimate insight into this stunning landscape. Obviously, such horse safaris in the Okavango Delta are not for beginners, but if you are an experience horse rider, a stay at a property like Macatoo Lodge in the Delta – with their superb horses and expert guides – will create a Botswana safari that will live long in the memory.