5 ways to experience the Okavango Delta

Posted by Claudia Hodkinson on 2 July 2019

Visiting three remote wildlife camps in the northern panhandle of the Okavango Delta, I got to take in this Botswana oasis from many angles. Here are my tips on five of the best ways you can experience this unique wilderness, as well as when to go and how to get there.


1. By mokoro or dugout canoe

Mokoro Botswana Okavango Delta

Mokoro polers deftly weave canoes through the waterways. Photo by Claudia Hodkinson.

Mokoro poling should be an Olympic sport. If you don’t know what a mokoro is, it’s a type of canoe used to get around the swampy, marshland of the Okavango Delta. The skill with which our guides balanced at the back of our mekoro, manoeuvring our canoes through narrow waterways and dense papyrus swamps, without falling off, was impressive. To be fair, we were told not to rock the boat (or canoe in this case). This would have certainly caused our guide to enter another new Olympic sport: swimming in crocodile-infested waters without a paddle.

Mokoro is arguably the best way to experience the Okavango Delta. Springing from the mountains in Angola, the Okavango River makes its way over an enormous 1600 kilometres before coming to rest in the dry Kalahari sands of Botswana. Never making an exit into the Indian Ocean, it branches out into papyrus swamps, lush waterways and around islands dotted with palms. With changeable water depths and tricky passes that demand maneuverability, it’s no wonder that the mokoro makes the perfect mode of transport.


Wildlife in the Okavango Delta

Get up really close to reed frogs. Photo by Claudia Hodkinson.

I spent almost equal amounts of time watching birds and wildlife from a canoe as I did on dry land: a huge bonus in my book! I got up close to painted reed frogs hanging out on papyrus reeds, glimpsed hippos mating and watched darting kingfishers catch fish. To top the list, we sat watching a herd of elephant with their babies washing themselves 100 metres from our mekoro. The sound was almost as exquisite as the scene. Catching a whiff of our scent the ellies made a hasty retreat back onto dry land, with a few trumpet calls just to make sure we knew whose fun we had spoilt.


2. On foot

Walking in an area you know was the stomping ground of a pride of lions the night before can sure get the pulse racing. It is a real privilege to be able to do a walking safari in the Okavango Delta. There’s a scent of mystery that hangs in the air, as you picture what may lie around the next corner. It was the smaller wonders of nature, however, that I most enjoyed. Our guide found great pleasure in asking us to decipher natural behaviour – such as what went down at the termite mound. Our walking safari was interlaced with bush tales, watching a hippo mow the grass a short distance away, and learning the medicinal benefits of the trees in the area. Having the chance to see one of the Big Five on foot or just getting up close to nature makes this one of my favourite wilderness activities in Botswana.


3. In an open 4×4

Bush game drive in the Okavango Delta

Take a 4×4 game drive to remote areas in this 100000 hectare concession. Photo by Claudia Hodkinson.

I’ve been on my share of game drives, but 4x4ing in the Okavango Delta is different. There’s water and sand to navigate and this makes it a whole lot more exciting to be at the back of an open vehicle. With 100000 hectares of private Botswana wilderness to explore, you rarely see any other vehicles. It gave me a fuzzy feeling to know that we were literally the only guests for miles. A great mix of different wildlife species – red lechwe and sitatunga (and even the herds of cow) give your safari a local flavour.


4. On a boat cruise

In a word: fun. Technically this was a transfer from one camp to another, but it can be an activity in and of itself. It allows guests to move quickly from one sighting to the next and is ideal for spotting birds. The Pel’s fishing owl is a master at hide and seek, and I so badly wanted to see one, not just hear its unmistakable low hoot at night. I wasn’t as optimistic as our enthusiastic guide who ensured me that this was one of the best times to see the shy bird as it emerges at dusk to an open perch. “There’s certainly one hiding in the darkness of those ebony trees,” our guide said, pointing upward. As promised, a flash of orange crossed the river and perched in the fork of a tree. Zooming in with my binoculars confirmed what I was hoping for. Ticking it off the list, we headed out again, whizzing through the waterways until we spotted our next interesting wildlife sighting.


5. From the air

Hot air balloon Okavango Delta

Viewing Botswana’s game from the air is a bucket-list moment. Photo courtesy of Apta.

Imagine gliding silently over a herd of elephant or flying just above a snaking waterway dotted with hippo? There are few experiences that can top a hot air balloon ride over the Okavango Delta. Although I didn’t manage to tick this off my bucket-list, there’s every chance that you can on your next trip. Some of the best photos I’ve seen have been from the air and you’ll have a chance to capture a whole new perspective and perhaps get a chance at seeing an elephant turn its head to look at you from below (for once). It’s not a cheap experience, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that few get a chance to do.


Where to stay in the Okavango Delta

1. Fallen Baobab Camp

Fallen Baobab Okavango Delta

The comfortable, raised Meru-style tents at Fallen Baobab Camp. Photo by Claudia Hodkinson.

This is one of the newest mid-range camps to the area with a modest vibe about it. On our arrival we were warmly welcomed by the rhythmic singing voices of the camp staff, who handed us a cold towel and cocktail to freshen up with. As the name suggests, the tented camp is named after a majestic baobab tree that continues to grow despite being knocked over at a young age. Being the focal point of the main guest area, a hive of activity buzzes around it. Leading away from the covered lounge area are eleven raised Meru-stye tents, arranged in a horseshoe around a marshland that has a cloak of mist hanging over it as dawn breaks. The en-suite tents are a good distance apart ensuring adequate privacy, which I really appreciate. Comfortable beds, warm showers and fresh towels add a touch of comfort. Three meals a day are laid out under the covered dining tent. Grilled hamburgers with an assortment of fresh salads for lunch or braaied meats with roast veggies for dinner are the order of the day.

Wild dog, lion and elephant have all be recorded in or near the camp – so sitting with a steaming mug of coffee or glass of wine in camp can be just as rewarding as a game drive.


2. Kana Kara Camp

Kana Kara Okavango Delta

Expect prime views over the waterways from Kana Kara Camp. Photo by Claudia Hodkinson.

You know your next camp is remote when you have to take a mokoro to get to the front door. Located on an island, you are surrounded by beautiful swampland and majestic ebony trees. With a slightly more rustic feel to it, the camp is a firm favourite for those wanting solitude and is a great combination with Fallen Baobab Camp, allowing you to see a different corner of the Delta. Eight twin Meru-style tents are dotted along the edge of the island with an elevated seating area at the top of a ginormous termite mound. Warm bucket showers are prepared every evening together with mouthwatering dinners such as whole roasted chicken with potatoes. The area is well known for its epic battles between lions and buffalo and looking at the watery swampland that lay before us, it was hard to believe that a furry cat would want to swim across that in pursuit of a meal. The lions have adapted to this environment so well that they have developed powerful muscles from swimming across deep channels when on the hunt. You can imagine how excited we felt heading out on our game drive that evening.


3. Jumbo Junction

This is a fantastic option for those that are on a budget. It doesn’t come with the three course meals or the en-suite bathrooms, but it’s not far off the ‘exclusive experience’ that one would expect from being in the delta. It’s comfortable, it’s clean and it also has a prime setting: spitting distance from the corridor elephants use when migrating from Angola. It has 24 pre-erected dome tents, each with two single stretcher beds. It’s got a laid-back, backpackers feel to it and one can expect great company in the lapa and bar area, particularly at night. The resident toad often puts in an appearance on the bar counter when he feels lonely, keeping everyone on their toes. The onsite restaurant dishes up tasty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Best time to go

It’s recommended that guests travel to Botswana during the dry season (April to October). It is cooler with less rain, allowing the bush to thin and the chance of spotting game becomes easier. The green ‘wet’ season in Botswana (November to March) does have its advantages though. It does rain – short thunderstorm-showers, which bring a wealth of game and bird life to the area. It is trickier to navigate by vehicle and temperatures can get uncomfortably hot, but the hive of wildlife activity often makes it a rewarding experience.


How to get there

By far the best way to get to these camps is to charter a flight to the nearby airstrip. This makes sense for guests that are only staying for a short while and would like to make the most of their stay. The charter flight from Maun to Xarakai airstrip is roughly 40 minutes and allows guests a rare opportunity to spot some game from the air. The cost of a charter flight will set you back roughly US$400 for a return trip.


Ching Ching

So we all know that the Okavango Delta can be a rather unaffordable and pricey destination. Fortunately, there are affordable package options to choose from that won’t break the bank.

Package options

1. Three night fly-in

Stay two nights at Fallen Baobab and two nights at Kana Kara and get the best of both.
Package includes: Return air charter (Maun/camp), accommodation, all meals, two activities per day.
From R20480 per person sharing (December to 31 March 2016)
From R24832 per person sharing (April to 30 June, 1 to 30 Nov 2015)
From R27648 per person sharing (July to 31 Oct 2015)

Read more here: Okavango Delta fly-in safari


2. Budget camping safari

This amazing participation camping safari for 6 nights will take you through Chobe National Park, Savute, Moremi Game Reserve, through the world-famous Okavango Delta and on to the vast Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
Package includes: All meals, camping equipment, professional guide and camp cook, 4×4 safari vehicles, daily game viewing activities and park fees
Price: From R18,250 per person sharing
Extra costs:
Return flights ex JHB/Kasane = +/- R5500 per person
Hot-air balloon trip = US$400 per person  (R5000)

Interested? Send an email with your dates, number of people and requirements.

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