Okavango Delta travel guide

Africa’s vastest oasis radiates across sand and swamps, forming forested islands and winding channels across 22,000km2 of otherwise desert landscape. A waterhole on an epic scale, the Okavango Delta supports Africa’s largest herds of elephants – just one of 122 mammal species that thrive on its lush vegetation and reed-filtered waters. Lions stalk buffalo through the papyrus, antelope rear tottering calves, and over 440 species of birds fly here to fish, nest and breed; this remarkable region is up there with the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and the Masai Mara when it comes to game viewing – while remaining just that bit off the beaten track.
Born in the highlands of Angola, shaped over millennia, carrying millions of tons of sand and ending its 1,300km journey in the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta floods life into Botswana.
Unusually, bush walks, off-road safaris and night time game drives are permitted across much of the delta. So, too, are mokoro canoe rides – a unique opportunity to experience the ecosystem at water level, eye to eye with hippos and herons. This is also a wonderful way to engage with the BaTawana who live on the edges of the Delta; chat to your guide as he poles you through the swamps to learn about life in one of Africa’s last great wildernesses.
Read more in our Okavango Delta travel guide.

Okavango Delta map & highlights

Underrated

Traveling off season

Water levels sink between the November to March low season, so you might not bump into the thousands of elephants and buffalo that follow the water – however, the year-round residents aren’t to be sniffed at. Lions, black rhino, hippo, giraffes and smaller herds of elephants are still around, plus it’s the best time for birders as red-billed hornbills and African fish eagles wing their way back to the Delta. Tourist numbers thin, too, so you’ll get more elephants than Jeeps in your viewfinder.

Walking safaris

On the face of things, a walking safari in big cat country sounds like a terrible idea. The lions might as well order a takeaway. But Botswana – and especially the Okavango Delta – is one of the safest places to see wildlife on their level. Botswanan guides are expertly trained: mokoro captains know where the hippos lurk, while bushwalking guides know when to hold your breath or make some noise.

Wild dogs

Wild dogs are tricky to find, but where you see one you’ll probably find the rest of the pack – sometimes up to 50 of them. They’ve got plenty of character, so when they’re not snoring in a dogpile you can watch the social hierarchy play out as they hunt and tussle. Wild dogs are always on the move, so be prepared to bump alongside them like a dusty extra from Mad Max.
Rated

Botswanan guides

The guides in Botswana are some of the most decorated in Africa. It can take years to make the grade and earn the qualifications needed to pair up with a lodge or tour company. The best vacations will get you meeting a mix of guides, however: those who have been through years of training and those who have lived in and love the Okavango Delta. Either way, your guide will know exactly how to detour around a hippo on a mokoro canoe or how to tell a red lechwe from a kudu.

Border hopping

The borders of Namibia and Zimbabwe are temptingly close to the Okavango Delta. You don’t want too many travel days, but a side trip to Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya – ‘the smoke that thunders’) is always worth a few hours’ drive. Some itineraries start in Johannesburg in South Africa. Try adding a day or two to explore the Museum of the African Diaspora and pair up with a guide to meet the Joburg residents regenerating their own neighbourhoods.

Little lodges

Botswana is known for its luxury lodges, but the real luxury is staying in small B&Bs and campsites without all the bells and whistles. With fewer people and smaller grounds, you’re more likely to see a blue-browed jacana padding through the gardens or hear the huff of an elephant from your tent flap. You’re also supporting people who live off the big tour companies’ circuits. The lodge owners can tell you about their own experiences of living in the Okavango Delta without the brochure gloss.
Overrated

Speedy safaris

The Okavango Delta is made for exploring… but slooooowly. You don’t dictate the speed of your journey – the animals and floodwaters do. Mokoro canoe rides are a good example: your journey, helmed by a guide, will crawl sleepily through the reedbeds, taking the time to admire tiny details like electric-blue kingfishers and luminous frogs.

Wildlife shopping lists

It’s good to have an idea of which animals you want to see – the guides can adapt safaris for avid birders or wild dog fanatics – but don’t have your heart set on a checklist of animals. The Okavango Delta is filled with creatures that are just as impressive as the Big Five. Sable antelopes and lechwe carry magnificent horns, African fish eagles are bald eagle doppelgangers, and spotted hyenas hoot and holler at night.

Elephant hunting

Botswana made headlines in 2020 when President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a ban on elephant hunting. It’s worth thinking about the different arguments: Botswanan farmers point to their stripped-bare fields, while conservationists want to protect declining elephant numbers. However, it seems like the hunting revival isn’t designed to help the Botswanans negatively affected by elephants – permits are largely auctioned off to trophy-hunting tourists who use out-of-town guides and stay in chain hotels. Your guide will fill you in on better ways for the government to manage elephant-human conflict – such as investing in responsible tourism.

Our top Okavango Delta Vacation

Botswana safari and Victoria Falls

Botswana safari and Victoria Falls

An unforgettable wildlife and scenery experience

From US $3853 11 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Okavango Delta or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tim Copeland] [Map intro box: Malcolm Macgregor] [Chobe National Park: Athena Lao] [Kasane: andytime] [Moremi Game Reserve: Alessandro] [Panhandle: lwh50] [Savuti & Linyanti : Malcolm Macgregor] [Tsodilo Hills: Joachim Huber]