A safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta will make you a rain worshipper.
A safari in Botswana doesn’t isn’t the same as a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. Why? Because of the Okavango Delta. These 15,000 square miles of stunning grasslands and rivers, located in the heart of the Kalahari desert, set the stage for a wildlife encounter like no other.
Crucially, these luscious wetlands come alive only after the July and August rains (see, rain is good for something). This is when the region transforms into a paradise for some of Africa’s most beautiful flora and fauna. Otherwise, it is arid and dry.
Of course, the Okavango isn’t the only thing that Botswana has to offer, as this guide explains. To put it another way, this is our ‘where to go, when to go, and what to see’ guide to one of Africa’s most unspoilt wildernesses.
When to go
In July and August, in the middle of their dry season, the Okavango River will burst its banks and send watery lifelines through the landscape. This reboots the previously arid and muggy papyrus swamp and sends wildlife rushing headfirst for its water and bountiful food. In a way, you’ll also be part of this incredible movement.
The delta safari is arguably Botswana’s main annual attraction and most will visit during these months when it’s arguably at its best. However, there’s more to Botswana than the delta, meaning you don’t have to stay in the delta. From the Kalahari in the south the Makgadikgadi salt pans in the east, a Black Tomato Botswana adventure will give you the complete picture. The full circle of life, if you will.
You’re less threatening in a Mokoro canoe. This means you can get much closer to the animals.
What you should experience
A land, water and helicopter safari around the floodplains of the great Okavango Delta
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Okavango Delta is one of the greatest safari experiences on earth.
Depositing 11 billion tonnes of water every year, rainfall in the Angolan Highlands rainfall kicks this annual wildlife bonanza into action. Regardless of how you travel (by canoe, helicopter, jeep or foot), viewings include any of the Big Cats, Elephants, Hippo, Rhino, Zebra, Buffalo and many more. Picture the opening moments of the Lion King, basically.
In one day in the Delta, you can experience three types of safari in 24 hours
Start your morning with a sunrise game drive that will take you through the drier areas of the Delta. This gives you the best chance of witnessing a hunt on the water’s edge. Though some areas of Botswana offer fantastic opportunities for self-drive safaris [SUCH AS], the Okavango Delta requires knowledge and experience to make sure you make the most out of this ultimate offroad encounter.
On your second game drive, take to the skies and witness this beautiful landscape from above. It’s from here that the intense and vibrant colours of the delta come into their own; washed in brilliant blues and glittering greens.
The final way to do safari is the most authentic. The Mokoro canoe is a historic form of dugout boat once used for hunting purposes. Now it’s used for boat safaris. This is one of the most immersive wildlife experiences in Africa, as you drift and paddle between tall reeds and watch wild animals come down to the water to drink. You’ll feel part of the crowd.
Get star-struck on the Makgadikgadi Salt Plains
Northwest of the delta, the Makgadikgadi Salt Plains offer a totally contrasting experience. From your base of Jack’s Camp, you’ll strike out across these vast, lunar landscapes by day, before drinking in the entire universe by night.
The reason for the sky’s clearness is down to there being almost zero light pollution. You’ll have a fine-dining experience like no other beneath a canopy of stars. Candle-light is so passe, isn’t it?
Where to stay: Jack’s Camp
An epic 45-kilometer canoe journey through the waters of the Selinda Spillway
Flowing eastward from the Delta into the Zibidianja lagoon, this region is best known for sightings of elephants, hippos, lions, leopards, buffalo, roan antelope, and wild dog. Due to uniquely high rainfall over the past few years, the spillway has expanded considerably. The best way to exploit this new watery kingdom is to take a four day, 45-kilometre adventure across its swollen, animal-rich floodplains.
Where to stay: Selinda Camp
Where everything is
The Delta runs into the north of the country
In the northwest of Botswana, you’ll find the Angolan Highlands. These are often called the ‘lifeblood’ of the delta. That’s because the summer rains run out of Angola and into the delta, where it soon begins to disperse. One branch of water heads east along the Selinda Spillway towards Zibidianja lagoon, which makes a great route through to the north-eastern parts of the country and into Chobe National Park.
And it’s there where you’ll find – after an exhilarating helicopter ride – the mighty Victoria Falls. From the devil’s pool that sits at the very edge of the abyss to the wild ways you can explore this region – including microlight rides over the edge, to bungee jumping, or even walking the knife-edge bridge. Visit between April and August to catch a peek at the Lunar Rainbow, which is at its best during a full moon. a sight to
When the Delta is dry, head south to the Kalahari Desert
This is the last surviving migration of Zebra and Wildebeest in Southern Africa. The long grass, stones, and smaller bushes of the valley create a rigid texture to the landscape which is blanketed with hot, dense air.
The game-viewing in the Kalahari Desert is at its absolute best between November and April, as the herds of Zebra and Wildebeest migrate here from the Okavango Delta in the north after it has dried up, attracted by this inviting meal of lush grass.
There is much less game during the dry season of late April through October. If you choose to travel at this time, however, you can still spend your time quad biking onto the salt pans, or visiting and learning about the desert life from the San bushmen; introducing you to a way of life that has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
Where to stay: Zafara camp
The great eastern salt flats of the Makgadikgadi
The Makgadikgadi and Nxai sands can be found in the east. These are the remains of a massive super-lake that covered much of this part of Africa thousands of years ago. All that remains today are two huge, protected salt pans. From the Delta, this is a great stopover on the way to Chobe National Park further north and onwards to Victoria Falls. From December through to early May the Zebra Migration is an incredible sight to experience.
Where to stay: Jack’s camp
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Whenever the time of year or the experience you’re looking for, our trips to Botswana cover everything mentioned here and much more.