Guide To Visiting The Okavango Delta in Botswana

Johnny

The Okavango Delta is one of the most prestigious, stunning, and bucket list worth places you can go for an African safari. It is unique to other destinations in that the entire viewing area is an enormous delta filled with rivers, marshes, and islands. The Okavango Delta encompasses a huge swathe of land to the tune of 20,000 square km!

It is also one of the most expensive places to do a safari. Private lodges within the delta can easily reach $1,000 per night per person. Not to mention the private helicopter you’ll need to take to get there! I ended up visiting the Okavango on a budget with an overland tour. Overland tours are still the cheapest way to see Africa and particularly to do a safari.

8 Day Maun to Vic Falls Overland Facts


Countries VisitedBotswana, Zimbabwe
Tour OperatorAfrica Travel Co
My Trip DatesAug 23-31, 2014
Trip HighlightsOkavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls
Trip StyleOverland
Trip Cost~6,800 Rand, Local Payment: 395$
Trip Start and EndMaun –> Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Detailed SummaryDownload

Arriving in Maun, Botswana


We arrived in Maun to one of the smallest airports I’ve ever seen. It’s warmer here than in Joburg so right away I could feel the heat. The lodge we were staying at, Maun Island Safaris, was supposed to have a shuttle waiting for us but TIA, and of course they forgot. Eventually, we found some people at the airport that were nice enough to call them and eventually we were picked up!

Maun airport (barely an airport)

Maun airport (barely an airport)

Maun is the gateway town to the Okavango Delta. Everyone flies here before either driving to the outer edges of the Okavango, or taking a private helicopter to the really fancy stuff deeper in.

Checking into our bungalow for the night at the Maun Island lodge.

Checking into our bungalow for the night at the Maun Island lodge.

Maun Island Lodge, our campsite for the night.

Maun Island Lodge, our campsite for the night.

Maun is a little town with hardly anything to see. There are a few shops to buy supplies,  and is just like all the other gateway towns before a major game reserve. There’s no reason to stay here long, especially since the Okavango is next door.  The campsite was on the nicer side compared to the many I’ve been to throughout Africa.

Enjoying some St. Louis, Botswana's national beer, while waiting for our group.

Enjoying some St. Louis, Botswana’s national beer, while waiting for our group.

For anyone doing the ATC trip starting from Maun,  they give a free night in a chalet, a nice treat for us.  Safaris in Botswana are the most expensive in all of Africa which was made clear to me as our very average chalet costs over 100$ a night!

We hung around the pool and bar for a few hours before the rest of the group finally arrived from Namibia and we were greeted to 15 other overlanders,  some icebreakers to get to know everyone,  and our guide  Christopher telling us about the two night Okavango excursion that we were all about to embark on the next morning.

The first night ended early as we were slated to leave at 7am the next day.

Visiting The Okavango Delta


The Okavango Delta is the biggest Delta in the world.  It spans some 1000km and home to an abundance of wildlife.  Water flows into the river from Angola and there is a huge abundance, making it one of the best places to view game in the world,  and likely also the most expensive game reserve to visit.

The group getting ready to go our boat ride through the river

The group getting ready to go our boat ride through the river

Sadly, most of the good game viewing is deep in to the Delta inaccessible by roads. Because of this,  anyone traveling on an overland trip shouldn’t expect to view the good stuff here.  That is reserved for the high rollers paying $2000+ a night and being flown to their lodges by helicopter!

Arriving at our mokoro launch site in the Okavango.

Arriving at our mokoro launch site in the Okavango.

 

Getting to the Okavango Delta by Mokoro

Our excursion leaves from our campsite as we’re picked up by speed boats.  We race through the shallow river and admire the scenery around us,  spotting a few crocodiles along the way.  This place reminds vaguely resembles that of the Florida everglades.  We ride on the boats for 40 minutes before reaching our destination where we meet our Mokoros with their polers.

Already relaxed and ready to go for our Mokoro ride.

Already relaxed and ready to go for our Mokoro ride.

Mokoros are long wooden canoes that the locals have used for centuries and powered by nothing more than a long wooden pole.  Because the water is so shallow (probably no more than 3m at its deepest), a pole is more effective than a paddle. It also makes for a cool picture.

The group getting ready to go our boat ride through the river

The group getting ready to go our boat ride through the river

It is two people and a guide per mokoro and we loaded up all our stuff for the two nights we’d be spending in the absolute desolate Bush.  The ride is about 2 hours to the campsite. This is where we sit back,  relax,  and let the poler do the work.

The scenery is very special as we’re surrounded by the reeds,  palm trees,  and the occasional elephant or hippo dotting the horizon.  For the arachnophobiacs,  this may not be the most enjoyable trip as there are huge 2 inch spiders all over the Delta.  Fear not as they are just huge but not dangerous.

The golden orb weaver spider of the Okavango. Saw at least 100 of these during our time in the park.

Riding through the reeds!

Riding through the reeds!

View of the sunset from our campsite in the Okavango

View of the sunset from our campsite in the Okavango

 

Okavango Delta Campsite


We finally reach our destination at a designated campsite literally in the middle of NOWHERE.  There are no toilets,  showers,  or anything resembling modern society at this campsite. Our cook,  Jared,  is already here preparing lunch,  and we set up our tents for the next two nights. After lunch,  our guide quickly runs through the itinerary for the next 2 nights,  warning us to pee right outside our tents at night as there are animals all around us at night.

The group waiting for lunch after setting up our tents.

The group waiting for lunch after setting up our tents.

Next to our campsite is a 1m hole that has been dug by the polers (who stay with us for the 2 nights).  This hole,  believe it or not,  IS in fact the bathroom. A shovel and toilet paper is provided for at the campsite,  and anyone going to the bathroom takes ahold of the shovel to let people know the bathroom/hole is “occupied”.  Shovel a bit of dirt after every use to cover up the smell,  and that is it for our bathroom services. There are no toilets, no sink, no showers. It’s all natural here!

Game Walks in the Okavango

One of the main reasons to come to come to the Okavango is to see the beautiful scenery back dropped with the countless animals.  Our 2 day stay in the deserted Bush of the Okavango included 3 game walks, where an unarmed guide would take us around the island helping us look for animals.

A group of wlldebeest and zebras in the distance.

A group of wlldebeest and zebras in the distance.

We embarked on our first game walk after having our lunch.  The guides split us into smaller groups just to make it easier to see animals and to not attract too much attention.

Onlookers catching a glimpse of the bull elephant in the distance.

Onlookers catching a glimpse of the bull elephant in the distance.

The idea of walking close to animals in Africa seemed spectacular to me. Having always seen the animals in cars,  this should offer a unique experience on seeing Africa’s wildlife.  While in theory,  this is right,  the island we stayed on just didn’t offer much to look at.  We walked around each time for a few hours,  looking for animals and saw the same ones each time.  We saw many wildebeest,  one bull elephant,  some zebras,  and a bunch of different antelopes.

Problem with walking is,  most of the animals run away if we got too close. Also, I suppose for safety reasons, there are very few predators here.

DSC09856 DSC09851 DSC09847 DSC09843 DSC09839

The first game walk we went on was exciting but the subsequent walks afterwards were boring as we saw the same animals again and again.  Walking gets tiring after awhile as well,  especially in the heavy heat of the Delta! I think we were all hoping to see some predators but the only animal in the big 5 we saw were elephants.

Enjoying a beautifu African sunset after our game walk.

Enjoying a beautifu African sunset after our game walk.

Paddling my own Mokoro

It’s impossible to walk around the Okavango the entire day so during our downtime, we had little to do. The extreme heat doesn’t help either. However, I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing for a few hours so I decided to try my luck paddling my own mokoro. After a short demonstration by our friendly guides, I was on my way! Poling a mokoro is not as easy as it looks! Navigating through the reeds and requires a bit of finesse and extreme control of the boat. Also takes a bit of muscle too!

Poling through the Okavango, looking a lot cooler than I really did.

Poling through the Okavango, looking a lot cooler than I really did.

 

Sunset cruise around the Okavango

After a long days walk on the second day of the excursion,  we were all taken out on our Mokoros to catch the stunning sunset in the Delta.  Seriously,  it’s hard to beat an African sunset and this experience further reaffirms. We were taken around the island we stayed on until the guides/polers found the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset.

Sunset on the Okavango!

Sunset on the Okavango!

Along the way,  we saw a big buffalo into the distance. Since the water is shallow (1m or so), the polers didn’t want to get close to them as an angry buffalo could easily destroy the boat.

Okavango Delta mokoro

Great views in the Okavango Delta

A few minutes later,  we were treated to two hippos in the water with us!  I was really hoping for this experience.  I’ve seen hippos plenty,  and even a few meters away from me while I was camping in Uganda but never by boat.  Hippos hang out in the water all day to cool off before looking for food at night so these guys were just waking up getting ready for the night.

Our boats got within 50m and they were clearly visible.  They saw us too but didn’t seem too bothered. The polers told us about their experiences with hippos, and some of them told us the Hippos have been known to bite a mokoro in half!

As they were telling this story,  the two Hippos submerge completely and suddenly resurfaces within 30m from us!  Exciting moment but also a moment where I realized that holy shit, if these hippos submerge again,  they can swim all the way to our boats and attack us.  That would be it right there.

Thankfully,  they did not come.  We head back,  while enjoying what’s left of the sunset on our mokoro before having dinner and our last night out in the Bush.

On our last night,  a herd of elephants walked right by our campsite and I was woken up by them trumpeting. The guides told us the next morning they were no more than 50m from our campsite!

Helicopter ride through the Okavango


Heading back from our two night excursion in the Okavango, we arrived back at our original campsite at Maun Island Safari lodge. It is here that we had an afternoon open to either relax or take a scenic flight around the Okavango. For the scenic flights, there are two options; helicopter or a small airplane. The helicopter ride is the way to go as the airplane flies much too high to see anything besides just the landscape.

Our helicopter at sunset.

Our helicopter at sunset.

There are two helicopter options available, one is a 3 seater for 130$ a person, and the 4 seater at 200$ a person. I’d recommend booking this as early as possible as the 3 seater planes were full and we ended up paying 200$ a person! Nevertheless, some things you just have to do while traveling and this is one of them.

Bull elephant making his way through the Okavango.

Bull elephant making his way through the Okavango.

The pictures and viewing opportunities that someone can get here are incredible. Having just been on a mokoro for the last few days, and walking through the Okavango, taking a helicopter ride and seeing everything from the air just puts it all together.

I had no idea how beautiful the Okavango really was! The trees, water, colors, and animals all come together like a painting.

The helicopter is completely open door so you can feel the wind and take pictures with ease. Also, this helicopter ride was much cooler than the one I did later on in Victoria Falls!

Aerial view okavango delta botswana helicopter

Aerial view from our helicopter.

Continue Reading:

Guide To Visiting The Okavango Delta in Botswana

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