The Okavango Delta in Botswana (the largest delta in the world) is home to elephants, impala, giraffe, hippos and warthogs aplenty. Its watery nature means that there are virtually no roads – so the only ways of getting around are by boat or by plane.
Both versions will give you a truly amazing experience: either up close with the reeds and the animals in a traditional mokoro*, or gazing down at the swirls of the delta from the sky. Let me warn you now: both options are expensive.
*a mokoro – is a cross between a canoe and a gondola and used to be the traditional mode of transport on the Okavango Delta. It was previously carved from kigelia trees but since they take over 100 years to grow to the correct size, people now happily use fibreglass.
Most safari lodges in this part of Botswana operate on a fly-in, fly-out basis. Flights leave from Maun, a small but growing town on the edge of the Okavango. It’s not the most exciting of places but it’s a nice base if you want a brief taste of local life – and it’s a good start for organising independent trips into the Okavango itself.
Botswana has a deliberate “low volume, high cost” tourist policy and most visitors will have booked their trips months in advance through a travel agent. It’s virtually impossible to separate booking a safari from booking accommodation, since you’ll be staying in a remote lodge. Prices include food, usually drink, safaris and occasionally flights.
When I went (with absolutely no forward planning whatsoever), we managed to find a couple of nights (flights included) in Gunn’s Camp. With an elephant waiting for us on the runway, there was no mistaking that this was in the thick of the Okavango.
Thatched huts seemed to grow out of the reeds, warthogs scuttled past and we needed trained guides to escort us back to our (extravagant) tents after dark. The tents may have had walls of canvas, but inside we found a desk, two beds, several chairs, a chest of drawers and more space than we had stuff to scatter around.
Gunn’s Camp provides both walking safaris on the small islands of the Delta and mokoro safaris through the reeds. Food is plentiful, varied and tasty – and you eat with the other guests (which was hilarious in our case but it’s always going to be a lottery as you don’t know who else will be there. )
You’ll need to blend in with nature without looking like a predator (leopard skin is definitely out.) Stick to greens, browns and white if you have to. If you turn up with a red or pink jacket, you won’t be allowed to go. Although it’s blisteringly hot in the afternoon (take plenty of sunscreen), dawn and dusk are cold. Take hats, scarves and a proper warm jacket.
Make sure you’ve had all your vaccinations, that you have sought advice about anti-malarials and that you take plenty of long-sleeved cotton shirts and trousers and bucket-loads of insect repellent. You can do most things at the last minute, but not health prevention. Ask for advice at least two months before you plan to travel.
Most people fly in to Johannesburg and then either connect directly to Maun, or fly to Windhoek to combine Namibia with the Okavango Delta trip. The drive between Windhoek and Maun takes about 12 hours along a smooth, tarmac road. British Airways and South African Airways fly from London to Johannesburg.