The Okavango Delta is something of a natural marvel. It’s perhaps the most incredible phenomenon across the entire continent of Africa, together with Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara. It’s up there with the greats and serves as Botswana’s most exciting safari destination. Known by its people and its awestruck visitors as “the jewel of the Kalahari”, this vast ecosystem stretching over 8,600 square miles, is nothing short of a miracle. It is, put very simply, a giver of life. Breathing existence into more than 200,000 large mammals, over 80 species of fish, 400 species of birds and countless plant life within the Okavango region, the annual floods really are the heart and soul of everything that happens here. Without the flooding which happens every year, the Okavango ecosystem would not be flourishing the way it is today. We like to think of it as Africa’s last Eden and it’s a must for every traveller’s bucket list. Here’s the ultimate guide to visiting the Okavango Delta with Signature Safaris. Read on to find out more about exploring the crown of Botswana, when to visit and what to see.
The stunning Okavango is the result of seasonal flooding and without it, the thousands and thousands of flora and fauna species that exist in the region would not be there today. So what is it that causes such an impactful natural event every year in the North of Botswana?
The annual floods are caused by the Okavango River draining the summer rainfall from the Angolah Highlands; this phenomenon is the effect of sudden transpiration and evaporation induced by the country’s very hot climate. The flooding begins around the start of May and when the river floods, the water spreads across 1,200 kilometres in a matter of just four weeks. The flooding peaks sometime between June and August (Botswana’s winter season) and the delta expands to three times its original size. It’s at this exact point – when the delta has swelled in size – that animals from other parts of the country congregate in this one region.
During the months of June and August, the Okavango Delta forms one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife, making it the perfect destination for a game safari.
The unique ecosystem of the Okavango Delta brings together the biggest concentration of game and wildlife in Africa; most guests will have the opportunity to see all of the animals listed here.
Botswana is most definitely the best place to go elephant spotting; with the largest population of elephants in the entire world, Northern Botswana is a must for keen safari goers. There is an estimated 200,000 elephants in and around the Okavango region.
The Cape Buffalo, along with elephants, make up one of the “big five” in game safaris and in the Okavango Delta, you can catch sight of large herds of Cape Buffalo feeding and rehydrating at the delta’s watering holes.
The notoriously grumpy hippopotamus is the most iconic animal of the Okavango Delta. The flooded plains create the perfect bathing spot for hippos and their loud honking noises can be heard from a fair distance. These animals are truly fascinating to watch. Beware though; hippos are very aggressive by nature and can be dangerous if you get too close.
Lions are always a hugely popular animal for game viewing enthusiasts and unlike some other parts of Africa, the Okavango still retains a very healthy population of lions. They can be easily spotted in the day and you may even hear their loud roaring at night.
If you’re wanting to see a leopard during your safari holiday, keep your eyes peeled. Despite them being common in the Okavango Delta, they are still a rare sight. With an experienced guide, some knowledge and some patience, you’ll be in for a good chance. Like many of Africa’s predators, when they’re not out catching their next meal, they’re usually cooling off under trees to get some well-deserved shade.
Cheetahs are also a rare sight, although rather abundant in North Botswana. With a recorded speed of 109.4 to 120.7 kilometres per hour, the cheetah is the fastest animal on the planet – so you better keep your eyes open!
The wildebeest population has dropped more than 90% in the last couple of decades so these wandering beasts are not as abundant as they used to be but there is still a great chance of spotting them during an Okavango safari. They’re often seen around the zebras and they always travel in herds.
The impala – otherwise known as the Aepyceros Melampus – is a medium sized antelope belonging to the Bovidae family. These antelopes are really one of the delta’s most iconic animals and they are in high numbers; it’s very likely that you will see them wherever you go.
This is perhaps one of the rarest animals to see in Botswana, along with the elusive sitatunga antelope, but more rhinos are being re-introduced to the Okavango, to move them away from the other areas of Africa where poaching is sadly rife. Rhino numbers are declining rapidly year by year especially in South Africa. The Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project, backed by the Botswana Defence Force, and a number of safari operators including Wilderness Safaris, Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond have, in partnership, brought both black and white rhinos back into the Okavango with a plan to move 1% of the world’s population there within 5 years.
If you are looking to book your safari holiday at the Okavango Delta, first read a bit about the different types of camps that you can stay in. Depending on what you want to see and what activities you wish to take part in, there may be a camp to suit your specific holiday requirements.
Wet Safari Camps
The wet safari camps in the Okavango Delta offer activities throughout the year which are very much revolved around the water. Embracing the region’s flooded plains, wet safari camps give guests the unique opportunity to see for themselves how the water creates such a unique ecosystem. Wet camps are very close to the Okavango’s main channels and they make up some of the delta’s most breathtakingly beautiful areas (a top place for photography). The wetland however, doesn’t make a comfortable habitat for big game so if you’re looking to spot the “big five”, this may not be the best option for your trip; wet camps are best suited to bird watching though.
Dry Safari Camps
The dry camps offer something very different to the wet safari and you can guarantee game drives at any time of year here. When the Okavango flooding is at its peak, it can be difficult or even impossible to enjoy a game drive in the wet camps so if you’re excited to see Africa’s most spectacular mammals, we would recommend choosing a dry camp instead. Some of the best dry camps for game viewing include Chitabe and Duba.
Mixed Safari Camps
This is the ideal way of getting the best of both worlds; mixed safari camps in the Okavango provide a diverse itinerary of activities including boating, driving safaris and hiking. And some of the delta’s mixed camps offer the most luxurious of accommodation. Some of the finest camps for luxury seekers are Tubu Tree Camp, Jao, Kwetsani and Vumbura Plains.
The best time to visit the Okavango Delta is between June and August, the peak months of the delta flooding when wildlife is at its most abundant and stirring; this is most certainly the best time to visit North Botswana’s wet camps. For the drier parks, March to May is a great time to go as it’s high season during this particular period, and game spotting is just fantastic.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, the quietest time of year is during the low season, between the months of December and April; during this period, you will get the rare opportunity to enjoy the beautiful nature of the Okavango without the huge tourist crowds.
For those who don’t get on well with the extremities of weather, the trick is to travel during the transitional season (this is around April and May time), the buffer period just after summer and just before the winter creeps in. Summer in the Okavango (November to April) is the wet season and winter is the peak of the flooding and a gateway into the dry season (which happens from May to October). If you want to avoid the humidity of the summer and the chills of winter, we would definitely recommend booking your trip for the months of April or May.
1| Pack Clothes for All Weather
May, June and August can get rather chilly, especially if you’re setting off on early morning safari tours or partaking in late afternoon boat journeys. The weather and the temperature is a sensitive affair in the Okavango during these months so be sure to pack for every possibility. Warm clothing really is a must! If you’re travelling during the hotter season, be sure to bring loose, comfortable clothing – preferably made from high-tech fabrics with wicking properties to keep you cool and dry throughout the day.
2| Take Your Camera Everywhere
Never let your camera leave your side. Surrounded by wildlife and the magic of Mother Nature in beautiful Botswana, you never know when you might spot something spectacular. Always have your camera on the right ready-to-use settings during a driving or boating safari; those amazing moments really could be fleeting.
3| Be Careful with Wandering Animals
Because the camps in the Okavango Delta are unfenced, you could be in for a surprise when the locals pop by and visit your lodge or campsite. One day, you could see an elephant wandering next to your accommodation, or you could be lucky enough to see some game gathering at nearby watering holes. Always be prepared for these occurrences in the wild, keep a safe distance and do not scare / intimidate the animals in any way. If you are worried about stray wildlife or encounter any issues, the camp staff are well-trained to handle these common problems and will escort you safely to your rooms.
4| Invest in Binoculars
Get the best possible view at all times with a pair of binoculars. There could be an awful lot you’re missing out on if you don’t have the advantage of some lenses and we would definitely recommend buying some before you travel. Some of the best binoculars for game viewing and bird watching include Bushnell, Celestron, Nikon Aculon, Nikon Prostaff and Olympus. When buying binoculars, it’s important to remember that bigger isn’t always better; higher powered binoculars have a few disadvantages including narrow FOV (field of view), less depth of focus and images that aren’t as bright. So do your research before your buy! To make sure your binoculars are steady, we would also recommend packing a tripod.
5| Try Every Activity
In order to maximise your experience in Botswana, we would say that it’s necessary to try everything once. The Okavango camps offer a whole range of activities, including day game drives, night game drives, hiking, guided nature walks, birding, canoe safaris and exciting motorboat trips. If you’re interested in trying a bit of everything, do your research before you pick your destination; opt for a mixed camp (rather than a wet camp or dry camp) so that you can get the best of both worlds.
6| Learn More About Wildlife
There are more than 164 types of mammals, 400 species of birds, over 150 reptiles, 84 species of fish and over 5,000 different insects living in the Okavango in North Botswana – now that’s a lot of species to tick off your list. The likelihood is that you won’t see all or even most of these but because of the highly concentrated population in one small space, you will get to see a very good amount. In order to see everything you want to see, make sure you read up on the mammals / birds that matter themost to you; there might be a particular time of year or a time of day when they might be more prominent.
To find out more about planning your perfect Okavango trip, please don’t hesitate to contact our expert team. We will help you build the perfect luxury safari holiday based on your requirements and preferences. Just call us on 01342 811787 (US toll free 1-855-413-7422) or drop us an email at email@example.com and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.