Okavango Delta

Overview

Introduction

One of the most exciting areas in Botswana is the Okavango Delta. Unlike most rivers, which flow toward the sea, the Okavango fans inland, forming a 4,000-sq-mi/10,360-sq-km network of islands, lagoons and waterways. (The Okavango River flows down from Angola to the edge of the Kalahari Desert, where the water evaporates.)

Visitors to the Okavango Delta, which lies 395 mi/635 km northwest of Gaborone, can glide among the water lilies along narrow, papyrus-lined streams and watch as eagles, herons, storks, egrets and other waterfowl soar overhead. In addition, the animal-viewing opportunities are exceptional, especially around the fringes of the delta.

We like to tour the portion of the delta that's in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve. The reserve itself has no permanent structures, only reed chalets and tented campsites—permanent structures are against the law. When selecting a site, it's important to determine whether it's considered a wet or dry camp.

Some Moremi camps, even though they're on the water's edge, offer only land game drives—they're dry camps—and guests there will have a good chance to view Moremi's lion, leopard, hyena, jackal, giraffe, elephant, zebra and more than 550 species of bird. Wet camps, which are farther into the delta, concentrate primarily on touring via a mokoro (dugout canoe) or other boat. They may offer game watching on islands, but there aren't as many animals to see as in the land portion of the reserve.

A few camps on the Okavango Delta's edges are both wet and dry: They offer both land game drives and boat rides, and their guests generally view a wider variety of animals, birds and vegetation. The only drawback to these sites is that, to get far enough into the delta to see the birds' nesting sites, the operators must use motorboats, which are anything but peaceful. They also can't reach the territory of the sitatunga antelope—which can be seen swimming in the water—or the nesting grounds of the Pels fishing owl, the largest owl in the world and the only one that feeds exclusively on fish. To get the best balance, we recommend two nights in a wet camp followed by three nights in a wet and dry camp.

Nature is about the only distraction in the delta. Some camps offer excursions to local villages, or fishing and boating trips, and there are some camps that specialize in horseback riding among game and through the floodplains. On Chief's Island (the largest in the delta), travelers can view ancient rock paintings. On the western fringe of the Okavango is the town of Gumare, noted for basket weaving.

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