Okavango Delta, Botswana

GPS: -19.316776563475, 22.926320200389

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Described as “the river that never finds the sea” in the absence of a sea mouth, the Okavango Delta is one of the most beautiful animal reserves in Africa. After the Inner Niger Delta in Mali, this enormous flood plain represents the second largest interior delta in the world (total area of 18,000 km² at the height of the rainy season). Located in the northern part of Botswana, in the desert basin of the Kalahari, the Okavango enters flood once a year. For five months, its waters created an aquatic paradise by generating a unique wetland ecosystem, rich in wild flora and fauna. Marsh and small streams in the Okavango Delta are indeed considered by naturalists to be the most diverse biotopes and natural environments in the world.

In shallow waters and narrow canals, the delta is fed by the powerful Okavango river, on a linear around 1,500 km. This has the particularity of being the only river on the planet to throw itself into a desert. It rises in the mountains of Angola (Bié Plateau), transits through Namibia (Caprivi Strip) and finishes its course in the arid plains of the Kalahari Desert (place where Lake Makgadikgadi once formed, disappeared there is about 10,000 years). Its stream serves as a natural habitat for 450 varieties of birds, 70 species of fish, 60 kinds of reptiles, 122 sorts of mammals and more than a thousand categories of plants including reeds, palm trees, papyrus and water lilies. This delta is said to be endoreic, that is to say without mouth towards the sea. It runs through landscapes of great scenic beauty (savannah, forests, wet meadows…) and participates in the formation of several thousand islands of plant origin uninhabited by humans.

The Okavango Delta draws a water labyrinth made up of countless permanent swamps, seasonally flooded plains, marshes, river arms and lagoons. A veritable oasis in the Kalahari Desert, its lush-like wetlands are an indispensable food source for the many wild animals in this region of Botswana. Each year, the fertile land of the Okavango Delta hosts hordes of large herbivores such as wildebeest, elephants, giraffes and zebras in search of fresh grass. This process of great migration takes place during the dry season from the East over several hundred kilometres. Guided by their spatial memory, tens of thousands of wild animals leave the desert areas and the salt works of the Makgadikgadi pan to reach the delta gates along the Boteti river.

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  • The sparkling beauty of the Okavango Delta, considered the pearl of the Kalahari Desert
  • The abundance of exotic fauna (elephant, zebra, Bubalina, lechwe, wildebeest, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, tiger, lion, African wild dog, rhino, hippo, monkey, Nile crocodile, reptile…) more easily observed during the dry season between May and October
  • The exceptional quantity of birds (African fish eagle, egret, cormorant, kingfisher, white stork, Marabou stork, African jacana, African sacred ibis, Pel’s fishing owl…) during the wet season from November to April
  • The lush vegetation (palm trees, acacias, dense forests, papyrus, reeds, water lilies, mangroves, aquatic plants…) and the fishy waters of the delta
  • The Moremi reserve (large island and protected area within the delta), the semi-arid Kalahari Desert, the Xakanaxa Lagoon and the large Linyanti marshes
  • The incredible ecosystem of the Okavango Delta; the alternation of wetlands and drylands; the presence of countless islands and islets (including Chief’s Island in the south-east of the delta); the channels dug by hippos at the time of their passage
  • Excursions in local pirogue (mokoro); flying over the region by small tourist aircraft; fishing and sport fishing activities
  • The archaeological site of Tsodilo Hills (old cave paintings)
  • A region still little impacted by human activity
  • Originally, the Okavango River spanned thousands of kilometres and threw itself into the distant waters of the Indian Ocean a few million years ago. It is an earthquake that would have blocked its path and changed its trajectory to lead to the creation of the old Makgadikgadi lake. The latter dissolved after a new earthquake and turned into a salt desert. Since this event, the delta has been delimited by earthly faults.
  • It was around Lake Makgadikgadi that the first modern Homo Sapiens (whose genome with humans corresponds to 99.9%) would have evolved 200,000 years before our era.
  • The semi-arid Kalahari desert (a large area of 2.5 million km² of sand and brush) receives less than 5 mm of precipitation per year but retains more water than most deserts in the world.
  • Floods on the river take more than three months to travel to the southern part of the Kalahari on a long distance course. Almost all the delta water (around 95%) evaporates naturally due to the high heat, the burning sand of the desert and the high level of sunshine in the region, before irrigating the Kalahari desert via the small water net of the Boteti river.
  • At the height of the waters received, the Okavango Delta can generate more than 15,000 islets. Its water flow strongly depends on the rain inflows upstream from the basin (in Angola and Namibia). It is the termite mounds that are behind the formation of the delta Islands when it reaches its most advanced stage.
  • Now divided into large areas of private concessions where animals can move more freely, the delta welcomes a still relatively small number of visitors, thus reinforcing the experience of immersion in the heart of nature.
  • The great migration of herbivores, in search of better grazing areas, is not without risk. Wild animals are confronted with the long distance between them and the wetlands of the delta, the threat of many predators present in the bush as well as the lack of water during their epic of several days. In recent decades, humans have increased their difficulties by developing a huge network of barriers over 5,000 km long to protect livestock. Often impassable, these fences are located in the animal migration zones and affect the ancestral displacements of wild fauna. They pose a significant threat to the survival of many species.
  • While in 2001 poaching had wiped out the last rhino populations (white and black), the Botswana government successfully reintroduced this species by imposing stricter conditions to preserve the environment of the Okavango Delta. This revival hinted at better days for these pachyderms, but horn cutters and traffickers have resumed their activity in this difficult region of access which concentrates the largest number of rhinos in Botswana.
  • Drought episodes, more and more frequent and sustained over time, threaten the survival of large delta mammals such as hippos and elephants. All the animal and plant species of the Kalahari have thus developed unique skills to support the extreme temperature ranges of this region of Southern Africa.
  • Acacia is one of the rare trees to flourish in this hostile environment where water is scarce thanks to a very deep root system (its roots can engulf up to 60 meters in the ground to reach the water table). The freshness generated by the shadow of acacias is precious for the survival of many animals. Elephants eat their root to feed on water and revel in their protein-rich fruits (orange pods).
  • The closest city to the Okavango Delta is Maun, a few kilometres apart. However, most private concessions can only be reached by plane (the majority of camps have their own airstrips).
  • Given the low reception capacity of the area, it is strongly recommended to reserve accommodation in advance.
  • The rainy season may make certain roads in the region inaccessible (between December to March), but it is the most favourable time to observe the hundreds of bird species in the Okavango Delta.
  • The months of May to October correspond to the flood phenomena of the river branches and are the best time to observe the fauna and flora.
  • The most suitable way to venture into the delta is to sail aboard a mokoro (a traditional local dugout canoe without a motor dug into a tree trunk such as the ebony tree). Little by little, the material of these dug-out canoes is being replaced by polyester in order to limit the cutting of trees and preserve nature.
  • The wearing of neutral coloured clothing is compulsory before any visit to the delta in order to remain as discreet as possible with regard to wild animals. Avoid bright colours or wearing white and prefer beige, khaki, grey or black tones.
  • Plan suitable products to control insects and mosquitoes in these wetlands.

Where to eat

  • Sports Bar & Restaurant
    (popular and animated)
  • French Connection
    (good food in a quiet place)
  • Hilary's Coffee Shop
    (dietetic and fresh)

Where to go out

  • Tsodilo Hills
    (the Louvre of the desert)
  • Helicopter Horizons
    (incredible experience)
  • Makgadikgadi Pan
    (salt desert)

Where to sleep

  • Modisa Wildlife Project
    (in the wild)
  • Dombo Farm
    (comfort in the bush)
  • Nxamaseri Lodge
    (inside the nature of the delta)

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