What Makes the Okavango Delta Unique?
Published on: May 31st, 2022
Last modified: February 9th, 2024
Flooding to over 15,000 square kilometres, the Okavango Delta is the world’s largest inland Delta. Unlike most Deltas, the flood waters span out onto land and not water, making it an unquestionably unique destination. It’s a stunning location for water safaris, birdwatching and much more.
We’ve rounded up a few reasons why the Okavango is so special – and why you should start planning a trip to experience this awe-inspiring environment in person.
It’s wonderfully wild and undiscovered
There are plenty of places to experience an authentic African safari, but the Okavango Delta is undoubtedly among the best. Here you can have a truly unique and exclusive experience, far from the crowds of more densely populated destinations. In fact, Botswana has one of the lowest population densities in Africa with just 3 people per square kilometre (9 people per square mile) compared to its neighbour South Africa where the population density is nearly 50 people per square kilometre.
The country’s government has also imposed limits on tourism and development in an effort to protect this area. They have restricted the construction of camps built within the countries private reserves and concessions – and it’s working. For example the mighty Abu concession, home to the elephant focused Abu Camp, is a massive 1750 square kilometres but the limited number of camps means only around 36 people can be on safari in the concession at one time. Compare this to the Sabi Sands private reserve in South Africa which is 650 square kilometres in size with the possibility of around 500 people on safari each day.
These conservation efforts have kept the Okavango Delta largely untouched, preserving both its beauty and biodiversity. This is beneficial for everyone; animals’ habitats are kept intact, local residents are able to maintain and nurture their land, and travellers are treated to a rare glimpse of raw natural splendour. There aren’t many places in the world that feel truly wild, but this is certainly one of them.
It’s full of fascinating wildlife
One of the things that makes the Okavango Delta so unique is the seasonal flooding that fills its lagoons and waterways, attracting all kinds of interesting animals. Because this happens during the dry season, local species flock to the abundant sources of water and nutrients. This creates an intense concentration of wildlife, making it the perfect place for a Botswana safari.
In the peak season of March to August, around 260,000 mammals congregate in the delta. You’re likely to see elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, hyenas, giraffes, antelope and endless other species, you might also encounter cheetahs and wild dogs. This rich concentration of many of Africa’s rarest and most iconic species makes the Okavango one of a kind – and a dream come true for any animal lover.
It has hundreds of bird species
In addition to hundreds of thousands of mammals, the Okavango Delta is full of distinctive flying creatures. More than 400 bird species call this area home, making it a fantastic destination for birdwatching. Here you can spot the beautiful lilac-breasted roller, with its brightly colored feathers of blue, purple, gold and green. The hamerkop – a less flamboyant but equally interesting type of wading bird – is another common sighting.
The delta also hosts herons, storks and some rarer species like the endangered slaty egret, with its elegant dark feathers and bright yellow legs. You might even get to witness a Pel’s fishing owl – one of the world’s largest owl species – swooping down from the trees to snatch a fish from the water.
It’s an ideal place to explore by boat
You’ve probably heard of Jeep tours and walking safaris, but how about exploring the African wilderness by boat? One of the best ways to experience the Okavango Delta is by cruising through its infinite waterways, allowing you to get up close and personal with its abundant waterfowl and wildlife.
To see as much as possible in one trip, step aboard a powerboat that will whisk you across the enormous expanse of the delta. But if you’re okay with a slower pace, we highly recommend opting for a mokoro: a traditional canoe that locals have used to navigate these waters for generations. The mokoro is stealthy and silent, allowing your guide to get you incredibly close to animals that would otherwise be scared away.
It has over 150,000 islands
When most people picture the landlocked country of Botswana, they probably don’t imagine islands – but the Okavango Delta features more than 150,000 of them. These islands range in size from just a few metres to several kilometres wide. They’re constantly changing; as animals and floodwaters reshape the terrain every season, some islands disappear while new ones emerge elsewhere.
The largest of them all is known as Chief’s Island. Located in the Moremi Game Reserve, it includes the highly fertile Mombo Concession, which is a treasure trove of wildlife. You can stay right in the middle of the action at Mombo Camp, which is one of the most renowned camps on the continent. There’s nothing quite like looking out over the floodplains from your own private luxury suite.
It’s home to five different indigenous groups
Beyond the natural wonders that the Okavango is known for, it’s also rich in culture. Five different indigenous groups reside here: the Hambukushu, Dxeriku, Wayeyi, Bugakwe and Xanekwe. Each one has its own distinct identity, language and lifestyle, and learning about them is essential to understanding this part of Botswana.
During your trip to the delta, you’ll notice the strong ties between local people; their culture, traditions, heritage and the camps you stay at and activities you take part in. Whether that be trips in a mokoro with your local mokoro ‘driver’, enjoying a traditional meal or learning about the flower and fauna of the Delta with your expert guide from a village close to camp.
Part of the reason that these groups have managed to maintain their traditions is the controlled development of tourism in the region. The Okavango is the perfect example of a place where traditional ways of life and modern luxury coexist in harmony.
It has global claims to fame
Although the Okavango Delta still feels like a closely guarded secret, it has its share of international fame. Most notably, it was named the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, based on its unique combination of climatic, hydrological and biological factors. It’s also been recognised as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, a list that was created by popular vote and also includes iconic sites like the Sahara and Mount Kilimanjaro.
With all of this recognition the Delta still maintains its sense of wonder and mystery, it’s quite simply unique and we’re betting the Okavango Delta will earn a place on the bucket list of nature lovers and adventurers across the globe.
Our Team's Favourite Trips to the Okavango Delta
Where to stay in the Okavango Delta
Wilderness Jao CampVery intimately placed in the private Jao Concession area bordering the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta, Wilderness Jao Camp is a luxurious way to experience this beautiful part of the world. With just nine tented rooms, you will be well looked after and be able to enjoy some incredible service tied in with excellent guiding. Each of the tented rooms are situated a short distance from the main area and are accessed via raised walkways which adds to the charm of the place. All of the tents have their own deck area with great views over the expanse of floodplains before them, you will be nice and comfortable in your luxurious canvas setting. Wilderness Jao Camp also has a great wine cellar where you can enjoy a private dinner and if you really wanted to treat yourself, they have a great spa where you can enjoy some superb treatments. Within the camp itself, you have access to two plunge pools which you might want to dip into in the afternoon heat when you aren’t relaxing inside the beautifully decorated interior with a nice book from the library. Activities here are entirely dependent on the flood levels at the time of year you visit, however as a rule of thumb you can expect about 30% game drives and 70% water activities which give you a brilliant and new perspective of the animals that call this place their home. Mekoro trips are highly recommended! As the camp is within its own concession area, it also has the ability to provide night drives (weather permitting) to spot the elusive nocturnal creatures found here.
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.
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.
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.