fbpx

The Okavango Delta: The Ultimate Guide

The majestic Okavango Delta is the heartbeat of Botswana and the world’s largest delta. The delta is home to a diverse ecosystem that has been created as the Okavango River flows into the Kalahari Desert and is a World Heritage Site. Thousands of travellers flock to Botswana each year to bear witness to the abundant biodiversity found in the Okavango Delta.  

Here, you will also be able to see some of the world’s most endangered species of birds and mammals. The Okavango Delta is a 15 000 sq. kilometre (approximately), pulsing wetland that is unlike any other on the planet. The Okavango (Kavango) River, which flows from the Angolan highlands through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the Kalahari Desert, created the iconic Okavango delta. 

Okavango Delta Botswana

According to the World Water Development Report, the Okavango River dumps roughly 11 cubic kilometres (1.1 million litres) of water into the Okavango Delta each year. Plant transpiration accounts for 60% of overall water loss, followed by evaporation (36%), with only 2% seeping into the aquifer system and the remaining eventually draining into Lake Ngami. 

Seasonal flooding is common in the delta, especially during March and June, with a peak in July. This peak is usually in the middle of Botswana’s dry season, which means you can expect large groups of game migrating from the dry hinterland.  

It is important to note that the Okavango is composed of several small islands, which form when vegetation takes root on termite mounds. However, you can also find larger islands in the delta. For example, Chief’s Island is the largest island in the delta and is significant, since it was formed on a tectonic fault line.  

The Okavango Delta is most renowned for its exceptional wildlife experiences. It is protected by both the Moremi Game Reserve and various wildlife concessions within Ngamiland.  

It is affectionately described as an oasis, where wildlife thrives, particularly during the breeding season. You simply cannot anticipate what you will see on your Botswana safari, especially if your trip includes a visit to the Okavango Delta.  

Here, you will also find some of Africa’s most luxurious camps. 

Wildlife  

The Okavango Delta is a haven for wildlife. You will find a diverse variety of game due to the abundance of ecosystems and the conservation efforts in protecting these precious species.  

Many animals call the delta home, while others appear seasonally. Since conservation and wildlife management are a priority in Botswana, the delta has become a very rewarding destination in Africa for wildlife viewing.   

Springbok in the Okavango Delta, Botswana Safari

Dynamic seasonal sifts do occur between the arid areas around the delta and the delta itself. During the wet season. High concentrations of large animals migrate away from the delta during the wet season to take advantage of the abundant grass that surrounds it. As the grazing on this land begins to dwindle in the winter, the animals return to the delta.  

A diverse range of species can be found in the Okavango Delta, including the African Bush Elephant, African Buffalo, Hippos, Lechwe (Topi), Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Grear Kudu, Sable Antelope, Black Rhinoceros, and Plains Zebra, among other species. The Okavango Delta, in particular, is home to the critically endangered African Wild Dog, which has one of the densest populations of its kind anywhere in the world.  

You can find approximately 530 different species of birds in the delta, along with over 160 species of mammals, 155 species of reptiles, and 1500 species of plants. There are also 85 known species of fish, including Tigerfish, Tilapia, and Catfish, among others. 

Key Species  

The Okavango Delta would not exist in its current form without the assistance of several key species that contribute to the shaping of the ecology and ecosystems in and around the Delta. The elephant, the hippopotamus, and the termite are examples of eco-system engineers. 

The African Elephant  

Botswana has the largest elephant population in Africa. Without an elephant, a description of Okavango Delta wildlife would be incomplete. 

The delta is home to elephants. However, the Okavango’s population of elephants varies with the season. During the rainy season, herds move during the dry season. They then spread out in other areas of Botswana. These large herbivores can alter the environment by consuming large quantities of fodder and forage. These species can be found in large herds, many of which are led by matriarchs. 

An elephant in the Okavango Delta, Botswana Safari

The Okavango Delta eco-systems are created and maintained by elephants. These giants create channels in the river systems, allowing water to flow further into Okavango. Their movements alter the direction and speed of the flow. They also break down trees and create open areas for other species by knocking them down. 

The Hippopotamus 

Because hippos aid in the opening of water channels, they play a crucial part in the conservation and preservation of the Okavango Delta’s ecosystem. They are the Okavango ecosystem engineers. Waterways could become clogged as a result of the vegetation, causing the waters to reroute. This occurred in the Delta region at the beginning of the twentieth century, where hippos were heavily hunted. Because of the scarcity of hippos, the canals were not kept open, and water flowed in the opposite direction, resulting in a dry spell in the southwest.

Hippos in the Okavango Delta  

Hippos are enormous, powerful creatures that are a sight to behold. They are capable of travelling at speeds of more than 30 km/h and weighing up to 2 tonnes. Throughout the day, they are completely submerged in water. Because they are unable to sweat and are susceptible to sunburn, they must remain submerged in water throughout the day. Their nose and eyes are located at the top of their heads in order to allow them to see and breathe in water. They will travel great distances at night in search of food, as they make their way near water to graze.  

If your boat is in close proximity to hippos, keep an eye out for their yawning. Their enormous tusks, jaws, and gaping mouths are intended to scare off other potential predators and warn them of additional risks. 

Termites 

It is the Okavango Delta’s modest termites that are responsible for building the beautiful islands. These amazing engineers were responsible to the construction of 70% the Okavango Delta islands. 

It is hard to believe that the beautiful Okavango trees would exist without these tiny creatures to support them. These animals are vital to the food chain as they provide food for many animals, including reptiles and birds. 

termite mounds in the okavango delta

Termites have straight lines that have minimal separation between the head, thorax, and neck, while ants have a pronounced “waist.” Termite mounds are one of the most distinctive features of the African environment. These termite mounds’ size and function are testament to their social structure and ability to work together. 

Wildlife, plant, and bird species abound in the Okavango Delta and its waterways. This terrain offers several options for one-of-a-kind trips and safari excursions. Instead of a standard safari trip on land, you may take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see animals from the water. The Okavango Delta is one of the few sites on the planet where you may embark on boat safaris or ‘mokoro’ trips in the wild. Traveling along the twisting canals while encountering animals feeding and bathing is a thrill unlike any other on the planet. 

Types of Safaris in the Okavango Delta 

Okavango Delta Mokoro safaris 

(A makoro is a canoe with a person steering it from the back with a rod called a ‘ngashi.’) 

 Mokoros are similar to canoes, and anybody who has visited the Delta will tell you that these trips are one of the best ways to see animals in Africa. The animals are not scared since mokoros are quiet and do not require a motor. This allows you to see the Okavango Delta’s breathtaking grandeur up close and personal. It may appear intimidating but rest assured that your guide has undergone rigorous training and has much expertise not just with the mokoro, but also with recognising the motions of the animals. 

Botswana Khwai Community Area

Mokoros are just a few meters long, but their breadth enables for easily accessible to the Delta’s narrower regions, which are more difficult to reach by boat. Mokoro cruises are especially ideal for wildlife photographers, allowing them to capture wildlife up close against the most gorgeous scenery conceivable.  

Boating Safaris

Boating safaris are another fantastic opportunity to explore animals in the Delta. Especially in more dangerous area — hippo-infested waterways.

Boating safaris are comparable to mokoro safaris but are confined to the deeper waters and larger waterways of the Okavango Delta. It is almost guaranteed that you will see elephants and hippos bathing as well as drinking on the riverbanks while on a boat safari. 

Walking Safaris  

A walking safari is an excellent opportunity to connect with your surroundings and learn about the habitats of various wildlife species. Despite the fact that this may appear to be a dangerous expedition, the guide will never put you in risk. Before you go for a walk, they will always check sure the area is free of predators.

elephant_walking_safari_Nyamatusi_Camp_Mana_Pools_African_Bush_Camps

It pays to have complete faith in your guide (which you can – we guarantee) so that you may truly enjoy your adventure. 

Traditional Safaris 

Traditional safari tours — wildlife drives over the grassland in a safari vehicle – are also available in the Okavango Delta for those interested. However, you will not see as many species as you would from the ocean. The banks of the canals are muddy, making it difficult for even 4x4s to get near to the animals. Your safari excursion will take you inland, but you’ll encounter plenty of animals and other species that prefer to sleep on tree branches or beneath a covered shrub. Yes, we’re referring to the kitties! Lions and leopards are typically located further from the water’s edge. 

Horseback Safaris 

 Horseback safaris are available at some concessions and are a fantastic activity. There are few areas in the world, if any, where you can go on a horseback safari. These trips are also available at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, which are located in the Kalahari north of the Okavango Delta. 

Birding Safaris 

With over 400 bird species in the Okavango Delta, it’s the ideal area to go bird watching since you’re bound to see a few uncommon species. Keep an eye out for the African Fish Eagle, Red-Billed Hornbill, and endangered Wattled Crane.

Wattled Crane Wildlife

The greatest time to go bird watching in the Okavango Delta is during the dry winter season, which lasts from May to late July, since most birds stay close to the water source, making them easier to see. Bird viewing in the remainder of Botswana is greatest from November to March, when migrating species arrive. 

 

Best Places to Stay in the Okavango Delta 

 Khwai Leadwood 

This picturesque camp is set among the woods on the brink of the Khwai River in the Okavango Delta’s community-run Khwai Concession. This river is the only thing that divides the famed Moremi Game Reserve from the concession, with hippos, elephants, and even lions crossing on occasion. Even the most seasoned safari veterans will enjoy watching these creatures manoeuvre through the water. 

Khwai Leadwood Botswana

Khwai Leadwood‘s beautiful design accommodates six conventional tents and one family unit, maintaining with the personal and exclusive wilderness experience. The new camp expertly bridges the gap between luxurious accommodations and the sensation of being in the big African outdoors. Woven baskets and beaded décor, combined with modern features, create a genuine contemporary African flair. 

During the day, visitors may go on game drives, walking safaris, and mokoro safaris (water levels allowing) in search of Africa’s big wildlife, such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, elephants, buffalo, hippopotamuses, and giraffes. Another advantage of this location is that guests may go on night drives and get up close and personal with some of Africa’s more nocturnal and secretive wildlife. 

The abundance and diversity of animals in Khwai is undeniably its most appealing feature — you’ll never be bored here! Guests may enjoy both adventure and leisure as they live out their ideal safari experience, from a morning walking safari to a gin and tonic overlooking the Khwai River. 

Khwai Bush Camp 

Khwai Bush Camp, located on the banks of the Khwai River amid a grove of sycamore and leadwood trees, offers breathtaking views into the untamed wilderness of the famed Moremi Game Reserve and is home to the true Botswana luxury safari. Our Botswana safari resort is open all year and mixes the romance of a bygone era with a sustainable, community-centered approach to safari. The Khwai region contains a variety of habitats that beckon exploration – from magical woods and undulating grasslands to lush floodplains and meandering lagoons – and is one of the most constant sites for wildlife encounters all year. 

Khwai Leadwood Swimming Pool Botswana

Khwai Bush Camp has four basic cabins (one with a fireplace) and two family chalets, all of which are en-suite. From the privacy of your chalet’s cool, thatched interior or the porch that overlooks the renowned Moremi Game Reserve, watch the majesty of Africa unfold. Each guest room has a fan and a charge station for batteries. Charging stations are also available in the main lodge area for your convenience. Spend lazy days by the lovely pool, taking in the tranquil floodplain surroundings. Before eating into substantial, homestyle meals at our family-style feasts, have an aperitif around our vibrant fire circle. Walking safaris, bird viewing, river activities, and game drives to see Africa’s signature animal species — lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, elephant, buffalo, hippo, and giraffe – are all available. 

All of our excursions are conducted by competent and enthusiastic guides who will share their expertise and enthusiasm for the bush with you. A cultural highlight is a visit to our neighbouring Khwai village. Here, you will encounter a Botswana safari resort that values the interests of the Khwai community while honouring the pioneering spirit of safari explorers. Khwai Bush Camp is a Botswana luxury safari that provides a sustainable, community-focused experience. 

The Okavango Delta is Africa’s Most Valuable Wetland

For the survival of wildlife, humans and other species, it is vital to maintain the ecological health of wetland ecosystems. Ramsar states that wetlands around the world play an essential role in the removal of pollutants from the environment and protecting the climate. They store up to 30% of all carbon-based on the land and absorb water, which supports food supply and provides a habitat and breeding space for as many as 40% of all species.

The Okavango Delta, as mentioned earlier, can be found in Botswana’s north-western reaches. It is located in the Okavango Highlands. The Okavango River floodwaters cross the Namibian Caprivi Strip deep into the Angolan Highlands and fill the Kalahari Desert’s sandy basin to form the largest inland delta in the world.

Okavango Delta Botswana

The Okavango Delta was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. This recognition follows its 2013 designation as one of Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It is an amazing region on the continent with many unique characteristics.

It is known as “the river that never finds a season,” and it is one of the few major inland delta systems that does not flow into the ocean.

  • Flooding occurs during the dry winter season (May through September), when animal and plant life have uniquely adapted their reproductive, and other survival processes in order to flood at this “unusual” time.
  • The pristine environment of this wetland provides sanctuary for many endangered species, such as the white and black rhinoceros and the African wild dogs.
  • In the diverse habitats, you will find a wide variety of wildlife and plant species. There are also large numbers of ungulates that migrate to the flooded delta.

The Okavango Delta, Botswana’s largest freshwater wetland, is a national treasure. It also provides vital natural resources for wildlife and communities in Angola and Namibia. The region’s rivers, which are seasonally full, flow outward to provide water, sanitation, and other natural resources for more than one million people, including small communities made up of indigenous people.

This ever-changing ecosystem saw a shift in rainfall patterns in 2019, which resulted in drought conditions, and rains arriving later than normal. This is part of the Okavango Delta’s dynamic cycle, and is expected to occur around every ten years. Last year’s report showed that the Okavango had a change in its situation. The Okavango was blessed with an exceptional flood from the Angolan Highlands, which was the highest in five years.

 

10 Facts You Should Know About the Okavango Delta

The Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Okavango Delta was declared the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 22, 2014. The fact that the Okavango Delta, one of the most important inland deltas on the globe, doesn’t flow into either the ocean or the sea was the basis of this decision. The river Okavango is subject to flooding during dry seasons, and the delta is home to endangered animals like black and white rhinos, as well as wild dogs, lions, and cheetahs.

The Delta has over 150 000 Islands

okavango islands

Over 150,000 islands make up the Okavango Delta. Some are small, while others can be more than 10 km in length. Chief’s Island is the largest island in this delta, measuring approximately 70 km in length and 14 km wide. It was once a private hunting reserve for a chief. Today, it is one of the most popular places in the delta to spot wildlife and is home to some of the finest luxury lodges.

There is no “overtourism” in the Delta

The Okavango Delta feels wild and remote, which is one of its best qualities. Botswana controls how many tourists and camps are permitted in the Okavango Delta. A lot of cars don’t bother or hurt wildlife, and there is no risk of overtourism.

The Okavango Delta floodwaters flow from the Angolan Highlands

Angola is the source of the water that sustains this delta. Rainwater from Angola’s highlands flows into the Cubango River, which then flows through Namibia to Botswana. The Okavango River flows into the delta when the river reaches Botswana. Another Okavango Delta fact is that the river once flowed into Lake Makgadikgadi millions of years ago. This lake is twice the size of Switzerland. Since then, the lake has dried up and is now part of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.

There are ethnic groups who stay in the Delta

The Okavango Delta is home to five ethnic groups: the Hambukushu (Dceriku), Wayeyi, and Anikhwe. These two groups are Bushmen who were hunter-gatherers in the past, while the other three have been fishermen, farmers, and hunters.

Over 250,000 mammals can be found in the Delta during the dry season

The Okavango Delta is known for being one of Africa’s most wildlife-rich areas, making it a prime safari destination. You might see lions or leopards, elephants or giraffes, as well as wild dogs, hippos, rhinos, and spotted and brown hyenas. Lechwe, the largest large mammal population in the delta, is home to around 60,000.

The Delta is a birdwatcher’s paradise

With over 400 species of birds found in the Okavango Delta, it is a paradise for birders. The Hamerkop, the Lilac breasted roller, and the African fish-eagle are all common in the Delta. As well as the rare and endangered Pel’s fishing Owl and the slaty Egret.

When floodwaters reach the Delta, it grows almost three times larger

The Delta grows threefold when floodwaters enter during the dry winter months. During the dry season, it can reach approximately 15,000 km2 during this period (usually from March to August).

The Okavango Delta was named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa

Official announcements of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa took place in Arusha (Tanzania) on February 11, 2013. Along with the River Nile and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as the great Serengeti Migration, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Red Sea coral reef, and the River Nile, the Okavango Delta was included in the list.

FAQ’s

Where is the Okavango Delta in Africa?

The Okavango Delta, sometimes known as the ‘Inland Delta,’ is a huge low gradient alluvial fan in northwestern Botswana. The area includes 600,000 ha of permanent marshes and up to 1.2 million ha of periodically flooded grassland.

What is Special About the Okavango Delta?

Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest landlocked deltas. Unlike most river deltas, the Okavango River spills into open land, flooding the grassland and producing a distinct and ever-changing inland delta. The Okavango Delta is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful wilderness places.

Is the Okavango Delta the largest delta in the world?

The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest wetlands. Despite popular belief, it is not the world’s largest inland delta; there are two bigger ones in Africa: the Sudd Swamp in South Sudan and the Inner Niger Delta in Mali.

What is the best time to visit the Okavango Delta?

The greatest time to visit the Okavango Delta is between May and August, when the rains have stopped but the water has finally reached the Delta, attracting species from all over the world.

Is the Okavango Delta Safe?

We believe the Okavango Delta is safe to visit because of Botswana’s low crime rate. The safest, quickest, and most efficient way to travel between lodges is by chartered airplane. Guided mobile safaris are also a highly safe alternative, as the tour company and your guide will look after you.

ENQUIRE NOW