Botswana – Travel Review
By Erin Michelson
The Okavango in Botswana is the world’s largest inland delta. The labyrinth of lagoons and watery filled channels cover an area of more than 17,000 square kilometres. Produced by annual flooding flowing down from the Angola highlands, it was once connected to Lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient lake that is now part of the Kalahari Desert. In the dry winter months, the delta swells to around three times its size. As does the game. Here, you’ll find impala, kudu, giraffe and elephant. At this time of year the wildlife spectacular is one of the best on the continent.
An established hub on many small group and overlanding expeditions in Sub Saharan Africa, the Okavango is a head turner when it comes to safaris. Equally as thrilling is the journey through the delta. Here, travellers glide across the reed-filled haven by mokoro (long thin canoes). Local guides pole their way through the maze with seemingly effortless movements. A two-to-three hour ride will take you into the heart of the delta. This is a huge expanse of bushveld stretching out on all sides. In addition to numerous elephants, you’ll most likely encounter large herds of wildebeest and Red Lechwe. And, as with any place in Africa housing great numbers of game, an equal helping of predators.
Lions, hyenas and cheetahs stalk the vast floodplains. The latter are often found hanging out by an anthill while they wait patiently for their prey. Birders too need have no fear of being disappointed as the delta is home to everything from ostriches to colourful kingfishers. If you’re a raptor fan these skies are well known for their sightings.
“A meditative experience”
A balancing act, we stood up in our mokoros and are able to spot zebras over the top of the reeds. While we are surveying this natural spectacle, our guide enlightens us with his knowledge of the national animals of Botswana. Intelligently engineered, the graceful zebra uses its black stripes to store heat and the white to cool itself down. Each of them has its own unique pattern and the stunning covering plays a very cunning part in their survival. The lion, the zebras’ number one predator, is colour blind. The herbivore’s stripes enable them to remain hidden amongst the tall grasses.
Wildlife viewing in this part of the world comes with an early wake up call. A 5am start allows you to make the most of the locales more amenable temperatures. Chilly in the small hours, by midday the 35 to 40 degree heat wave will make any wanton safari goer seek out the shade.
For those who are used to a longer period of time in the land of slumber it can be a rude awakening. But your guides will be up and at ‘em way before you poke your head out of the tent. The tempting silver pot will be whistling over the campfire. A meditative experience, this is also a great time of day to sit back and contemplate your journey. Birdsong, the odd reed frog and the teasing light of the sun breaking through the tall palm trees that line the islands.
During the dry season, the Okavango offers travellers the opportunity to explore the vast delta on foot. When compared to the traditional 4X4 safari, the idea of stalking the animals on the ground adds an essential dose of excitement to game viewing.
“We find ourselves by a large pool watching to see if we can spy hippos”
Without the aid of a vehicle you feel totally exposed to the elements and the resident wildlife. Your proximity to the wilderness ups the thrill of any brush with the bush. Our overland expedition put us in touch with native guides telling us their stories and sharing their love of the flora and fauna in this truly authentic experience. After all, you can’t stage a safari or ask someone to read from a script. That’s what makes the whole of Africa so compelling.
The Okavango Delta also puts on spectacular sunsets and sunrises. Early evening mokoro rides allow nomads to capture the astounding beauty of this remote wilderness. At dusk one day, we glide along through the reeds, spotting two elephants on the bank of an island, both of them partly hidden amongst the ilala palm trees. A major source of food, these gentle giants use their force to shake the fruits down from the tall palms, feeding from whatever falls. As we are heading back to camp, we find ourselves by a large open pool watching to see if we can spy hippos ducking playfully in and out of the water.
What better way to spend the afternoon than on a delta swim? Even though this African travel haunt is home to crocodile and hippo there are various designated spots or swimming holes cleared of reeds. This is a great way to acclimatise. The warm swampy waters being especially inviting in the heat of the day. Finishing your safari at noon leaves the next five hours or so free to relax, swim or simply take in the surroundings. The more adventurous trying their hand at poling.
“Listening to nature’s sounds as you drift off into a peaceful slumber”
The vastness of the Okavango Delta makes a helicopter ride even harder to resist. The price is based on the number of people opting to take up this activity. So it’s worthwhile talking to the group you are travelling with in advance. On our excursion we are able to spy a herd of warthogs on the run. Plus, we see huge solo bull elephants with enormous tusks. This region is well known for its sizeable population of these beloved creatures.
Sleeping in the Okavango Delta with nothing between you and the wildlife but canvas is intoxicating. Listening to nature’s sounds as you drift off into a peaceful slumber, even more so. Well, the word I would use is unforgettable.
This is “back to basics” camping and a great way to reconnect with yourself and the natural world. Forget toilets as you know them, or kitchens for that matter. Sitting on a simple log to eat a dinner prepared on an upturned mokoro, which is then cooked over the embers of freshly chopped wood is how it’s done in the Okavango.
Of course, it may not be for everyone. But for me, bird watching, singing and storytelling around the campfire makes this location one of the most beautiful in all of Africa.
Travellers can experience Botswana on the 19-day Desert Tracker overland expedition– a camping expedition that is well suited to anyone with a sense of adventure. From £1,151pp (including local payment). The price is (no single supplement) and includes dome-tented accommodation, transport, most meals, local payments and services of a tour leader/guide. Price subject to availability. Excludes return flight. 18 + years. Acacia Africa: 020 7706 4700; [email protected]; acacia-africa.com. ATOL No. 6499 and ABTA No. W4093 PROTECTED.