Best online travel guide to visiting Okavango Delta (in 2022)

The river that never reaches the sea


Okavango Delta, Botswana

GPS: -19.315743500898, 22.927034125751

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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 Africa’s seven natural wonders. This enormous flood plain is the largest inland delta in the world, with a total area of 18,000 km² at the height of the rainy season. Located in northern Botswana, in the desert basin of the Kalahari, the Okavango enters flood once a year. For five months, its waters create an aquatic paradise by generating a unique wetland ecosystem, rich in wild flora and fauna. Marsh and small streams in the Okavango Delta are 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. It rises in the Bié Plateau mountains of Angola, transits through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and ends its course in the Kalahari Desert, transforming its arid plains into an oasis of lagoons, channels and islands. It serves as a natural habitat for 450 varieties of birds, 70 species of fish, 60 kinds of reptiles, 122 types of mammals and more than a thousand categories of plants including reeds, palm trees, papyrus and water lilies. Unlike most deltas that end their journey at the ocean, the Okavango River empties itself onto the Kalahari Desert, flooding the parched land with water and creating a unique inland delta.

The Okavango Delta is a labyrinth of countless permanent swamps, seasonally flooded plains, marshes, river arms and lagoons. Its lush 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 animals such as wildebeest, elephants, giraffes and zebras in search of fresh pastures. This migration from the east takes place during the dry season and the animals travel several hundred kilometres. It is an incredible sight to witness tens of thousands of wild animals progressing from the desert areas of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan 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 wildlife – elephant, zebra, buffalo, antelope, wildebeest, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, lion, African wild dog, rhino, hippo, monkey, crocodile, reptiles – is more easily observed during the dry season between May and October.
  • During the wet season from November to April, the area transforms into a bird paradise including species such as the African fish eagle, egret, cormorant, kingfisher, white stork, Marabou stork, African jacana, African sacred ibis, and Pel’s fishing owl.
  • The lush vegetation – palm trees, acacias, dense forests, papyrus, reeds, water lilies, mangroves, aquatic plants – and the 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 only permanent water source.
  • 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.
  • Excursions in traditional mokoro dugout canoes; flying over the region in a tourist aircraft; fishing.
  • The archaeological site and rock art of Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • An area of Africa little changed by man.
  • The salt pan is all that is left of Lake Makgadikgadi, formerly a lake so large that it was bigger than Switzerland.
  • At 1,600 km, the Okavango River is the fourth-longest in Southern Africa. It begins in the highlands of Angola and crosses the Caprivi Strip into Botswana where it forms the Okavango Delta.
  • Studies in recent years of human mitochondrial DNA indicate that modern man evolved around Lake Makgadikgadi about 200,000 years ago.
  • The semi-arid Kalahari Desert – an area of 2.5 million km² of sand and brush – receives less than 5 mm of rain each 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. Almost all the delta water evaporates 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 Boteti River.
  • At the height of the rainy season, the Okavango Delta can generate more than 15,000 islets.
  • 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 herbivorous animals in search of better grazing is not without risk. Wild animals are confronted with the long distances they must travel to the wetlands of the delta, the threat of many predators and the lack of water during their epic journey. 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 by 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. However, poachers are once again operating in the region with its large concentrations of rhinos.
  • Long periods of drought threaten the survival of large delta mammals such as hippos and elephants.
  • The closest town to the Okavango Delta is Maun. However, most private concessions can only be reached by plane and the majority of camps have their own airstrips.
  • Available accommodation does not match tourist demand, so it is strongly recommended that you reserve accommodation in advance.
  • The rainy season may make certain roads in the region inaccessible (between December to March) but it is the best time to observe the hundreds of bird species in the Okavango Delta.
  • The months of May to October when the delta comes under flood is the best time to observe the fauna and flora.
  • The most suitable way to sight see in the delta is on a dugout mokoro canoe, hollowed out from tree trunks. In an attempt to preserve the natural environment, mokoro owners are being encouraged to replace the wooden versions with those made of polyester.
  • Tourists must wear clothing suitable for the area such as beige and khaki safari-type outfits. Bright colours must be avoided.
  • Insect repellents are part and parcel of a tourist’s armoury.

Where to eat

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

Where to go

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

Where to stay

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

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