Botswana’s Okavango Delta: The Ultimate Guide
Published on: January 18th, 2024
Last modified: January 19th, 2024
The landlocked country of Botswana is among Africa’s best spots for an unforgettable safari. Its striking landscapes and majestic wildlife attract travellers from across the globe, while a national commitment to conservation ensures that each visit has a positive impact. And although the whole country abounds with natural beauty, one destination stands out: the Okavango Delta.
Distinguished as the world’s largest inland delta, this extraordinary environment is unlike any other. It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a treasure trove of rare and endangered species. To explain exactly why it’s so special—and help you get inspired to explore it—we’ve put together this detailed guide to the Okavango Delta.
Geography and Ecology of the Okavango Delta
Generally speaking, a delta is a wetland created at the point where a river meets another body of water – or, in rare cases, flows directly onto land. The Okavango Delta is a prime example of the latter; it’s where the Okavango River empties into the Kalahari Basin, rather than flowing into an ocean or lake.
The result of this phenomenon is a vast wetland ecosystem of floodplains, swamps, marshlands, lagoons and islands. Although parts of it are permanent, this landscape is constantly shifting. Every year during Botswana’s dry season the entire Okavango Delta floods, drawing animals from far and wide to its waters.
Interestingly, the delta’s flooding is actually the result of heavy rainfall in Angola. During the rainy season (which peaks in January), Angola’s rivers swell with excess water, which then flows toward Botswana. It takes several months to reach the Okavango Delta and empty out onto the land, triggering the annual flood.
Where Is the Okavango Delta?
The Okavango Delta is located in northwestern Botswana, right in the heart of Southern Africa. It’s at the northern edge of the Kalahari Desert, between the border with Namibia and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park (another of the best places to go in Botswana). The renowned Moremi Game Reserve is part of the delta, covering over a third of its total area.
Wildlife in the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta’s unique characteristics make it a haven for all kinds of wildlife, ranging from majestic creatures like elephants and hippos to miniscule frogs and brilliant birdlife. You’re likely to spot endangered species such as cheetahs, lions, wild dogs, and both black and white rhinos, as well as buffalo, hyenas, wildebeests, warthogs and dozens of other animals.
The variety of birds in the delta is especially impressive; more than 400 different species have been spotted here. Some of the most impressive are the colourful lilac-breasted roller and the elegant slaty egret, as well as the enormous Pel’s fishing owl. If birdwatching is your priority, the best time to visit Botswana and the Okavango Delta is the wet season from November to April.
Things to Do in the Okavango Delta
One of the most compelling reasons to go on safari in the Okavango Delta is the wide array of ways to experience it: game drives, walking safaris, boat rides and more. We highly suggest exploring the delta’s waterways on a mokoro (traditional canoe), allowing you to glide silently among its lagoons and thousands of islands with a local guide at the helm.
Most of the luxury camps in the Okavango Delta offer guided excursions by vehicle, on foot and by boat, and some also boast hot air balloon tours to give you a bird’s eye view. Even an otherwise commonplace game drive becomes an unparalleled experience among the delta’s largely untouched wilderness and stunning natural abundance.
National Parks and Private Conservancies in the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is home to several private concessions and conservancies, many of which have their own camps and lodges. The largest is the Moremi Game Reserve, which encompasses the Mombo Concession and Chief’s Island. Here you can stay at Xigera Camp to be completely immersed in the wetlands, as it’s located on a secluded riverine island
Khwai Private Reserve
At Moremi’s edge you’ll find the smaller Khwai Private Reserve and the exclusive Jao Concession, both featuring lovely camps that are committed to making a positive impact. For example, Wilderness Jao Camp is actively involved in Children in the Wilderness, which educates local youth and community members in conservation and environmental awareness.
Chobe National Park
If you’re visiting the Okavango Delta with kids, Chobe National Park is a fantastic family-friendly choice (although it can be slightly busier). Elephant lovers should head to the Abu Concession and its luxurious Abu Camp, where you can learn about its pioneering elephant conservation programme firsthand.
Remote Camps in the Okavango Delta
To get even farther off the beaten path, venture to a remote outpost like Duba Plains or Wilderness Qorokwe, both of which are located in privately owned and protected areas. In general, visiting a private concession or reserve allows you to leave a lighter footprint on the environment – in addition to offering greater privacy and exclusive access to wildlife.
When to Go to the Okavango Delta
The best time to visit the Okavango Delta is during the annual flood from June to September, when the lagoons and swamps are filled with water. The delta floods during Botswana’s dry season, and peaks in July and August. At this time of year the weather tends to be clear and dry.
The fact that flooding occurs in the dry season might sound contradictory, but it actually creates ideal safari conditions. Sunny skies and little rainfall, coupled with the high density of wildlife, make this the best season for game viewing in the Okavango Delta.
That said, the wet season from November to April is actually better for birdwatching. And if you want to see the dramatic spectacle of the barbel run – an annual feeding frenzy for catfish, tigerfish and predatory birds – mark September and October on your calendar. Visiting outside of the dry season also means you might get a piece of the delta all to yourself.
Duba PlainsOne of the most unforgettable safari experiences in Botswana, this is the area where Dereck and Beverly Joubert have spent years filming and photographing the amazing lions and buffalo that inhabit this part of the Delta. What makes the lions of this area so special, is their tendency to hunt during the daylight hours for the buffalo, meaning that you have a much greater chance of seeing the hunt (and the kill) in action that in other areas. This makes for dramatic, exciting game viewing when you are lucky enough to witness these amazing creatures in action. This is a private 77,000 acre private reserve, helping to protect and conserve the amazing wildlife of the area. The lodge itself has just 6 comfortable tents with a maximum of 12 guests. The tents are comfortable and cosy, decorated with brass fittings and period pieces, harking back to the style from the 1920’s. Photos of the Joubert’s work adorn the walls of the lounge and bar area, where guests are encouraged to mingle and exchange stories of the day’s viewing.
Xigera CampCaught on a riverine island in the Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve, Xigera is a truly excellent camp amidst the wetlands for its dynamic and varied activities, altered slightly according to the season so guests get the most out of the wildlife and terrain. It’s also the only camp in the area, giving you total privacy and where it doesn’t get much wilder. Ten simple, standalone, and sublimely comfortable stilted tent rooms are shrouded in the riverine forest, and its main areas are typically and tastefully African: thatch roofs, wooden floors and furniture, warm lantern light, bonfire, a traditional boma and a plunge pool to cool off in. Xigera’s (pronounced Keejera) position amidst permanent water all year round means you can embark on the area’s signature mokoro (canoe) safari, game drives and motorboat outings. The camp is also a good choice for keen birdwatchers, with Pel’s Fishing-Owl, African Skimmer, Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane and a host of raptors, other waterbirds and colourful kingfishers to be seen.
Wilderness Abu CampSet in a vast private concession of 180,000 hectares in the heart of the Okavango Delta, Wilderness Abu Camp offers some of the most luxurious tented accommodation in the Delta. The lodge is among the most comfortable and luxurious around, with six spacious wood and canvas tents centred around the main lodge which has a library, dining room and bar as well as a relaxing swimming pool area. For an unforgettable night out under the night sky, spend a night in the wonderfully romantic star bed. Wilderness Abu Camp offers a rare world-class luxury safari experience, and the expansive 180 000-hectare Abu Private Reserve is a wildlife-rich mosaic of habitats with exceptional game-viewing and birding. A visit to Wilderness Abu Camp is the quintessential Okavango Delta safari experience – with the added bonus of being able to learn more about vital elephant conservation work. Guests can explore the Abu Private Reserve on guided nature walks and enjoy water excursions and game drives with expert guides.
Wilderness Qorokwe CampWilderness Qorokwe Camp can be found in the enormous and exclusive Qorokwe Concession, bordering the renowned Moremi Game Reserve in the south-eastern Okavango Delta. This classic camp has eight tented suites plus a spacious family unit with its own splash pool. The grand main area is the focal point of the camp and overlooks a lagoon with a dining area, lounge, pool, library and bar built on raised wooden platforms, all connected by walkways.
Eagle Island LodgeAfrica’s ultimate water-focused safari has recently reopened with a new look and feel, allowing guests to discover a unique and dramatic ecosystem in total luxury. Hidden from the world, deep within Botswana’s Okavango Delta this lodge is located on one of the Delta’s most pristine natural locations with a myriad of waterways, palm-treed islands, and vast flood plains. Ideal for simply relaxing in a beautiful area, Eagle Island Lodge offers you the chance to experience some beautiful tranquillity in a quiet and mildly wild corner of the Delta. Between November and December the water levels are low enough for you to experience the surrounding areas in game vehicles. April through to October is best for water activities and although game is harder to find, the birdlife is magnificent during this time of the year. Each of the luxury air conditioned tents are housed on raised wooden platforms, offering great views, and shaded by a traditional African thatch roof. The large private decks are furnished with easy chairs and a hammock, ideal for viewing wildlife, or for enjoying a private dinner in complete privacy. The tent interiors are luxuriously appointed with such comforts as an en suite bathroom and a four poster bed complete with mosquito netting. Each of the lodge’s spacious Deluxe Tented Rooms now boasts its own plunge pool.
Wilderness Vumbura PlainsBotswana’s mesmerizing Okavango Delta is now brighter than ever with the newly transformed (as of 2022) Vumbura Plains. Nestled in a large private concession of 60,000 hectares in the far north of the Delta, the camp is enveloped in some of the most incredible landscapes, home to some of the best wildlife encounters in the area. Inside, the camp celebrates its sense of place and culture, with design elements that pay homage to its wonderful setting with patterns, textures and colours bringing nature inside. Rooms at the lodge are amongst the biggest in the delta, all open plan, with a sunken seating area, private shaded deck and swimming pool outside as well as indoor and outdoor showers. There is an amazing sense of space here, in keeping with the wide-open plains that the rooms face onto. The rooms are open on three sides (with netting) giving a feeling of being closer to the nature and wildlife whilst still remaining is absolute comfort. The local connections continue throughout the camp experience.The menu celebrates seasonal produce sourced directly from local farmers, suppliers and artisans. Activities here are a mixture of game drives and water activities which will vary according to the level of the water and the time of the year. You will find day and night drives, walks and mekoro (dugout canoes) activities, with hot-air ballooning – from April to September each year – as well as scenic helicopter flights, making Vumbura an exclusive destination for the discerning adventure-seeker.