Expert Reviews – Okavango Delta

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The Okavango Delta – taking a punt on the Big Five
Overall rating
4/5

I got my timing badly wrong in the Okavango Delta. There’d been hippos grazing round my tent so I decided to leave the tent flaps up so I could watch them overnight. Unfortunately that night, a lion came into camp. I lay there very very still just waiting to see a whiskery face peering through the mosquito netting.
You are very close to nature here. No more so than when game-viewing in a mokoro, one of the traditional dug-out canoes, propelled punt-style with a long pole through the narrow, reedy channels of the delta. Right down at water level, you are at eyeball level when a startled hippo rears out of the water and gapes open his jaws in aggressive display – and those jaws open wide enough to swallow Big Ben! Even the fact that the hippo may be wearing a waterlilly fascinator draped over one ear doesn’t make it less nerve-wracking.

At around 17,000 sq km (6,564 sq miles), the Okavango is the largest inland delta in the world. It stretches out in a fan shape about 300 km (186 miles) from end to end. The water is sparklingly clean, filtered by the Kalahari sand, and the land richly fertile, fed by annual floods which wash 660,000 tons of silt a year down from the mountains to feed the vegetation. Within the maze of ever-changing rivulets and channels are some 50,000 islands. It supports an astounding 122 species of mammals, 71 species of fish, 444 species of birds, 64 species of reptiles and 1300 species of flowering plants. With the relatively recent reintroduction of tiny numbers of black and white rhino, the area is Big Five. Traditionally, this has been known as one of the richest wildlife oases in the world, but a recent survey has shown that some species are dropping drastically, possibly due to drought, poaching and habitat encroachment. At present, only a relatively small area, the Moremi is a National Park although many private lodges police their own concessions. There is a proposal to turn it into a UNESCO World Heritage site but inexplicably this hasn’t yet happened.

It really must be preserved. I realise I’ve been alarmist with all this talk of lions and roaring hippos. But this is also one of the most tranquil places on the planet. There really is nothing more serene than drifting through the lilly pools in a canoe in the late afternoon sun, watching a goliath heron fishing or a kingfisher tease a photographer.

Africa’s Ultimate Water Wilderness
Overall rating
4/5

The scenic delta, comprising large expanses of water and a myriad shallow channels snaking their way between innumerable little islands, is not only home to astounding concentrations of wildlife, but is also a twitcher’s paradise with around 500 bird species. It is, however, the huge diversity of plentiful wildlife that wows most visitors. Safari activities primarily revolve around game-drives and escorted mokoro trips – where you sit in the front of a canoe and your personal guide stands in the back poling you through the channels of the shallow delta – but outside the official park areas there is scope for walking safaris on the mainland, boat cruises and fishing trips in the permanent swamp areas, especially towards the pan handle. One of the reasons that the Okavango has developed into such a rich wildlife area is that the floodwaters (which swell the delta) arrive in July and August during the height of the dry season. A wildlife safari to the Okavango Delta will be a memorable at any time of the year, but to watch the life-giving waters spread across a parched landscape, drawing animals from far and wide, is a very special sight indeed.

A natural labyrinth of waterways teeming with wildlife
Overall rating
4/5

I first arrived in the delta by light aircraft. From the air is the only way you’ll be able to get a real feeling of size and complexity of this enormous delta. The scenic beauty of it struck me immediately and I got excited when I managed to pick up some elephant backs wading through the water.

I got a completely different perspective when we set out by mokoro. Pushing through water lilies, making our way slowly through this vast labyrinth of channels that seemed to close behind us was an unforgettable experience. Back on land, the more conventional safari began and the Okavanga is up there with all the great parks of Africa offering fantastic wildlife viewing.

Oasis in the desert
Overall rating
4/5

After the dirt and dust of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, the Delta is a welcoming green oasis. Stretching over 18,000 square kilometres and encompassing floodplains, lagoons, forest glades and savannah grasslands, this fertile inland wetland is as breathtaking as it is beautiful. Gliding through the reeds in a mokoro (dug-out canoe), may seem a little like a tourist cliché, but it really is a must. Sitting low in the dug-out you really do feel at one with your surrounds. The silence is only broken by the soft plonk of your guide’s oar as it breaks the water’s surface, the gentle rustle of the reeds as you slowly push your way through and the distant grunts of hippos happily wallowing in the shallows. While the rewards are plentiful if you choose either a foot, or dug-out, safari – particularly for birders with more than 400 species recorded in the region – it’s only by air can you get a true sense of the full magnitude of the Delta’s expanse. It’s also the best was to see the vast herds that roam its wilds.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.8/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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