Botswana is a vibrant country with a spectacular landscape that offers the visitor a plethora of places to visit: the Kalarhi desert, the semi-arid grassy plains of Kgalagadai, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, the Chobe Desert and the most famous of them all the Okavango Delta. It is the world’s largest inland delta situated in an extremely arid area, and so attracts a great concentration of wildlife.
The Okavango Delta is one of the most sought after wilderness destinations in Africa, there is nowhere like it on the planet and it is renowned for its incredible birdlife, outstanding game viewing, breathtaking vistas and serene sense of wilderness. Tourism in the Delta is highly regulated and low impact, it is also upmarket and highly exclusive, years ago the Botswana government made a strategic decision to keep visitors to this fragile ecosystem low and the revenue high. For those who are already familiar with the wildlife viewing experience in African, this is the best there is, it is the safari connoisseurs’ destination of choice. The touch is light, the majority of accommodation is in isolated semi-permanent tented camps, guest numbers are low and wildlife viewing is up-close and personal. This high-cost, low-impact model for tourism puts the environment, local residents and wildlife first and in doing so creates a win-win situation for everyone. For the visitor it means an experience of game unstressed by human intrusion, of camps that retain a vivid sense of wildness, genuinely friendly and expert service and, best of all, an uncompromised conscience.
Each camp in the Okavango Delta is unique and a classic safari itinerary will usually combine at least 4 camps so that a guest experiences different habitats and the associated wildlife, with time spent both on the water and on land. The waterways of the delta are best explored by mokoro – the traditional Delta dugout canoe, poled by your own personal guide, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the reed beds and water lilies of a pristine wilderness teeming with frogs, dragonflies, bee-eaters and kingfishers. Back on land open jeeps that have been specially adapted for wildlife photography are used for wildlife viewing, you will see elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, hippo, rhino, gazelle, red lechwe, lion, leopard, cheetah and many more along with an immense variety of birds.
The camps are gorgeous and blend perfectly into the habitat that surrounds them. They tend to be built on wooden stilts with the main areas and tents linked by rough wooden walk ways. There are strategically placed viewing points throughout the camps so you have a devastatingly beautiful view where ever you are, whether it is by the pool, at the bar or in the restaurant. The tents are built on raised wooden platforms with canvas or wooden walls; they all have private decks or balconies with magnificent views over the water or plains. Rooms are always beautifully decorated, mixing traditional African fabrics and carvings with modern comforts. Yet one never forgets you are in nature, the sounds of the African bush surround you and monkeys, lizards, baboons and elephants are your neighbours and wander through the camp freely.
The Okavango Delta is huge and there is a fantastic selection of places to stay. Different camps have their own speciality or feature so it is worth taking some time to review the different camps before talking to a bespoke safari operator about your trip. Using a specialist is the best way to approach a trip to the Delta; it is easier, cheaper and more reliable to let a professional do it for you. After all, it’s their job to know the logistics inside and out regarding camps and lodges, internal flights and land transfers. There are many excellent bespoke operators; this writer has used Nwge Safari in South Africa (www.ngwesafari.co.za). Wilderness Safaris run some of the most sought after camps in the Delta (www.wilderness-safaris.com) and The Okvanago Delta website is a good source of general information about the delta, the wilder selection of different camps and operators (www.okavangodelta.com).
When to visit:
The Delta is an all year round destination and each month offers something slightly different. If you have a specific interest it is worth researching which month will offer you the best options to pursue your passion. Generally winter falls between April – September, when the evenings and nights can be cold and the days warm and clear; summer, the dry season, is between October – end of March and the days can be very hot but the advantage is that the grass has died back and makes wildlife viewing easier.
How to get there:
Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta. From here most visitors will transfer to a light aircraft and fly into the delta (a wonderful introduction to the Okavango), as most camps have their own airstrips.
Both British Airways (www.ba.com) and South African Airways (www.flysaa.com) fly directly to Johannesburg from Heathrow, where you will transfer to a flight to Maun operated by South African Airways and Air Botswana (www.airbotswana.co.bw).