The Okavango Delta is truly unique. It is the largest interior river delta in the world. And this enormous river never reaches the sea. This is a place with its own climate.

The Okavango Swamp is the largest interior delta in the world, created by a ‘river that never finds the sea’. This enormous marsh holds an unprecedented wealth of fauna, with the notorious lions that hunt elephant. It is also the habitat of bushmen and other rich cultures. According to many, the Okavango Delta in Botswana constitutes the ‘real Africa’.

Endless plains with savannahs, rivers and river forests. Everywhere you look you can see wildlife, lots of wildlife. The Okavango is an enormous wildlife area in the heart of Africa, running right across countries like Angola, Namibia and Botswana. The part that runs through Botswana is the most famous. World famous, even.

The Okavango is extremely large and almost impossible to comprehend with its 28,000 km2. It is often referred to as the biggest marsh in the world, but the Pantanal in South America is nine times as big. However, the Okavango is the biggest interior delta. Once, the Okavango belonged to the lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient old lake that dried up about 10,000 years ago.

What remained is the Okavango river. Originating in the highlands of the Bihé Plateau in Angola, the river flows through Namibia and into Botswana. It never reaches the sea, though. In Botswana, the water flows across very flat terrain, causing it to constantly branch off. Everywhere, little pools and streams are formed as the water very slowly flows south. The Okavango river is the life line for this enormous area.

The river deposits salts on the sediment, which causes plants like many grasses and reeds, lilies and paper plants to flourish. This slows down the flow of the water even more and provides a living environment for many animals. The river partially ends up in lake Ngami, the rest evaporates on the Makarikari plain, which is part of the Kalahari desert.

The delta has an extraordinary weather cycle. Large parts become flooded every year. This first occurs in northern parts due to the extra flow of water. It happens during the local summer, around November and December. Islands disappear and many animals are driven back to dryer patches. Because of the heat, the water dries up quickly and through clouds it falls as rain in the southern parts in the months of May and June. This part of the Okavango then slowly becomes submerged. So the Okavango has its own climate.

Fresh water is a precious substance in Africa and the pressures on the Okavango River are increasing. Namibia has had plans to transport water from the Okavango to drier middle parts of the country for a long time. Other plans involve building hydro-electric power stations, among other things at Popa Falls in Namibia.

Just about anything you might encounter on an African safari lives here. There are about 150 species of mammal. Of these, most people are interested in seeing the ‘big five’. These are: lion, elephant, African buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. The latter is the most difficult to spot and you certainly have no guarantees. However, the quest in itself, in this amazing setting, is more than enough.

Must-do! tips:

Discover the ‘Little Five’ on safari
The ‘Big Five’ is famous among travelers on safari. In the Okavango, the term ‘Little Five’ is often heard as well: animals that are very easily overlooked. Like the: Elephant Shrew, Ant Lion, Red Billed Buffalo Weaver, Leopard Tortoise and Rhinoceros Beetle.

The Okavango is particularly a place where you come across so many animals, which you would not see in other safari regions. For instance, the sedge and bush frogs, which you may see sitting in the reed. There also is the African Pygmy Kingfisher, an extremely colourful little bird of only 13 cm.

Search for the elephant hunting lions

You need a strong stomach for this … but it is possible to go and look for the notorious Savuti lions. They are known for hunting elephants. And they don’t just go after the young, but the adult animals as well. Once an elephant is caught, the lions will eat it alive. So you just might witness scenes you will not be able to forget too easily…

Enjoy a walking safari among the animals
It may sound rather illogical, but this area is famous for walking safaris. Led by an armed guide, you will search for wild animals. The feeling that you’re much more vulnerable, makes this an extraordinary experience. It will be harder to see wild animals than during a safari by jeep. The emphasis is more on trees, flowers, insects and such. You will go places where others never do. It is also possible to go on hikes for multiple days and spend the night in various camps.

Sleep on a ‘houseboat’
Een houseboat in de Okavango biedt een bijzondere manier om te overnachten.Ari Bronstein
A luxury lodge is often considered to be an extraordinary stay, especially after a dust-filled day on safari. However, the Okavango also has something special on offer. In the Okavango Delta you can sleep on a ‘houseboat’.

Houseboats provide the ultimate, yet safe pleasures of being on the water, where you will have lovely views across the delta. You can bring your own food and prepare it yourself, but you can also have it done for you. Pay attention to the sunset.

See the Okavango from a small airplane
You can travel to the Okavango Delta by air, but you can also book a special flight to get a proper idea of the immensity of the area. Flying across the delta like a bird, you will understand the purpose of this massive body of water. The flights depart from the town of Maun and vary from anything between half an hour to a full day flight.

Dare to angle the tiger fish or African piranha
Het vissen op tijgervissen kan op talloze plekken in Afrika.Gregor Rohrig
The tiger fish is also known as the piranha of Africa. Only, this is a much more aggressive fish. Just looking at its teeth will make you understand why this is such a feared creature. Its strength makes it a handful for any fisherman. The Okavango is famous for its tiger fish and you can drop a line in the water with the help of an expert guide. This is a real challenge, for sure.

Go on a horseback safari
The Okavango is one of the few places in Africa where you can encounter a full range of wild animals, while on horseback. If you enjoy riding, this is something that is really worth a try. A park ranger will accompany you and he will step in when there may be danger. You may go out for a couple of hours, but also for several days.

Enjoy a ‘sundowner’ by the water
It is tradition at the end of the day. To bid the sun goodnight with a beverage, in a peaceful spot. Birds are looking for a place to sleep, while boisterous hippos will let everybody know that they are in the water. As the daytime animals slowly make way for the nocturnals, a whole different world unfolds. Have a good look around you, this is something you will most certainly remember for a long, long time.

Learn more about the impala
It’s the animal you encounter most on safari. Most people will have seen enough of the impala after the first day. However, this animal is a very social creature. The males will sometimes battle each other for days to gain superiority over a herd of females. Their reign will last for just a couple of weeks, in which they will have to breed. It is a time when they will hardly eat anything, which eventually may even lead to their death. The role of this animal is essential for nature reserves like the Okavango: the impala is the ‘fastfood’ for predators like lions, leopards and wild dogs. So give it a second look.

Climb on the back of an elephant
Asian elephants are known for the fact that they can be domesticated. But the African elephant is also more frequently used for elephant tours. You can travel on their backs. Swaying back and forth, you enter the delta in search of animals. At an elevated position, there is not a whole lot you will overlook. This is an extraordinary experience, especially when you encounter big game. In the meantime, you may want to inquire after Abu, a remarkable and famous elephant that passed away in 2004. There’s a discussion going on about the use of elephants for this. It’s not to everybody’s liking.

Best time:

  • Rainy season
    The rainy season is from January until March. Most animals have their young between November and March, so also in the rainy season. The vegetation is green in this period, with many young leaves that serve as food. But that most animals are a lot more difficult to spot because of the dense foliage.
  • Dry season
    In the colder months (May to November), most brushes are leafless and the animals will move towards the water more. This is when you can sometimes see countless numbers of animals. The months of July and August are the high season, which is when this place will be teeming with tourists.

Be aware:
The Okavango Delta is malaria area. Make sure you come well-prepared. Consult a physician in advance.

How do I get there?
Maun is the nearest city in Botswana. It’s two hours driving from the delta. Many travelers will rent a car, preferably a four-wheel-drive) and explore the region by themselves. If you wish to go deeper into the delta, the best thing to do is to rent a small aircraft. You may opt to go on lodge excursions. The Okavango is included in many tours across Southern Africa.