Few safari destinations match the iconic Okavango Delta, situated deep within the Kalahari Basin in northwest Botswana.
Surrounded by desert thirstland, the very existence of this watery wonderland seems mysterious and magical, and its game-filled expanse offers heart-stopping and extraordinarily intimate encounters with Africa’s wild animals.
The Jewel of the Kalahari, as it is often called, is fed by the third-largest river in southern Africa, the Okavango. Over millenia tons of sand have been carried down the river from the Angolan highlands and deposited here, to form a fan-shaped delta that covers up to 22 000km2 at times of peak flooding. Fed as it is by summer rainfall in Angola, the time it takes for these waters to cross Botswana and spill over into the vast Okavango Swamps seems strangely perfect: just as Botswana’s summer rains dry up in April and May, the floodwaters begin their journey from Angola, bringing fresh water and growth to the Kalahari Basin. The flow and distribution of the water to the Okavango Swamps changes continually as tectonic plate activity underground shifts the playing fields, adding a capricious unpredictability that ensures things never stay the same and there is always something new to surprise you here.
This lush water-wilderness is an untouched delta of striking beauty and remarkable tranquillity. Channels and wetlands dotted with islands lace their way through the papyrus swamps, shallow reedbeds and grassy floodplains. The sheer number of species hosted by this pristine biodiversity hot spot is astounding: 530 species of birds, 160 species of mammals, 155 species of reptiles, 35 species of amphibian, 85 species of fish and 1 500 species of plant!
The concentration of big game and both permanent and seasonal wildlife has to be seen to be believed. A seasonal shift sees some inhabitants come and go: in the dry winter months animals from the arid surrounding regions move closer to the grazing surrounding the waters, while they disperse in the wet season as lush grazing covers more of the Kalahari Basin. As well as Africa’s Big 5 – elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino – look out for giraffe, impala, red lechwe, sitatunga, kudu, wildebeest, sable, bushbuck, reedbuck, roan, tsessebe, zebra, baboon, warthog, hippo, Nile crocodile. Predators include cheetah (a rare sighting here), brown and spotted hyena, African wild dog
One of the special things about the Okavango Delta is the many ways you can explore its pristine beauty. The level of guiding is outstanding, and extremely knowledgeable guides and trackers can help you track down wildlife on the larger islands (Chief’s Island during 4×4 game drives on open safari vehicles, during guided walking safaris or by horseback. Exploring the waterways and secret channels of the Delta by boat or mokoro (dugout canoe) affords you an incredible opportunity get right up close to these wild creatures. Or take to the air by helicopter or hot-air balloon for an astonishing bird’s-eye perspective and to make memories that will last a lifetime.