Home | Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta boasts over 450 bird species and an impressive
collection of wildlife, including Africa's Big 5
A World Heritage Site
In the heart of the Kalahari Basin, in the north of Botswana
lies a natural phenomenon of outstanding beauty - the Okavango Delta. It is Africa's third largest inland
with an area covering between 6,000 and 15,000 km2. Because the Okavango
is seasonally flooded during the dry season and the plants and animals have
adjusted their movements and biological cycles with the rains and flooding, it
has been described by (UNESCO) "an exceptional example of the interaction between climate, hydrological and
biological processes". The delta became the 1000th site to be inscribed
in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.
Although it is not the largest in the world, or even in Africa, its size is what helped to make it one of Africa's Seven
Natural Wonders (not to be confused with the
Seven Wonders of the World), a list that includes
such beauties as Mount Kilimanjaro, the Nile River, the
Sahara Desert and the Red Sea. There are two other inland deltas that are bigger
than the Okavango; the Sudd and the Inner Niger Delta, which are part
of two of Africa's largest river systems - the Nile and Niger rivers
The Okavango Delta as seen from space (NASA)
Where is the Okavango Delta?
The Okavango Delta is situated in the northwest region of Botswana in the
heart of the vast Kalahari desert - the forth largest desert in the world. The sand
in this area sucks all the nutrients and water that occasionally falls. Some
plants and animals have learnt to adapt to the the harshness of the Kalahari,
with its extreme daytime heat and bitter cold
of the winter nights. In the middle
of this desert basin, the landscape is astonishing. It is a transitional zone
where the Kalahari sand is covered by the Okavango Delta - an oasis in the
Map showing the vastness of the Kalahari Desert (sandy colour), and the location of the Okavango Delta (circled)
Origins of the Okavango
The story of the Okavango Delta is that it was once part of the ancient Lake
Makgadikgadi that mostly dried up over 11 000 years ago. The Okavango Delta is
correctly described as an alluvial fan, mostly flat, with a height variation of
up to 2 metres. It is characterised by lush papyrus swamps, flood plains, a
network of channels, lagoons, and is dotted with lots of islands which range
from small mounds to the largest one which is Chief's Island. With the rising
and falling of the water levels each season, the islands are most visible during
the dry season during which they can be accessed and explored.
Flood waters from the Angolan highlands are fed through the Okavango River,
where it starts off as the Rio Cubango. The river does not drain into the sea,
but instead spreads out into the Okavango Delta. The water in the delta either
evaporates, percolates, transpires for use by the plants, only 2% of the total
flood water flows out into Lake
Ngami. It takes about a month for the water
to reach the delta from the source and then another 3 months for the water to
filter through all of the delta. This is when the size of the delta changes from
about 6,000 km2 to 15,000km2. The reason why it takes so
long for the water from the highlands to reach the delta is that there is
only a 60m drop in elevation from the start over 1000kms away.
What is interesting about the Okavango Delta is that the flooding period
actually occurs during Botswana's dry winter season because the local rain is
not what causes the flooding, it's the water from the Okavango River that fills
the delta - much like Lake Kariba which takes months to fill from the waters
that come from the upper reaches of the
Wildlife in the Delta
The permanent water of the Okavango attracts large groups of animals, especially during the dry season. There is a seasonal shift in the game between the dry areas around the delta and the delta itself. During the rainy season, the large game moves to the outer areas of the delta where they graze. When the season is dry, they move into the delta in search of water and the remaining grazing areas, particularly into the
Moremi Game Reserve.
The delta is one of the largest and most important inland wetlands of the world, with 2500 species of plants, 65 fish species, 20 large herbivores and their attendant predators
and more than 450 species of birds. The Okavango Delta boasts a variety of big
game, including Africa's "Big Five" - African elephant, African lion, leopard,
rhino, and Cape buffalo. It is one of the few places on Earth where you will find all these animals in one area.
Elephant island hopping in the Okavango Delta
Although the concentrations of wildlife are not as big as that ones you will
find in Chobe
National Park, there are greater opportunities of getting closer to the animals and without as much traffic around. Besides the big five, species found in the
Okavango Delta include zebra, giraffe, sable, warthog, side-striped jackal, lechwe, cheetah,
crocodile, wildebeest, hippo, Brown and Spotted hyena, impala, kudu, tsessebe,
sitatunga antelope, sable antelope, impala, steenbok, bushbuck, reedbuck, chacma baboon and vervet
monkey. The delta is home to the largest concentration of the endangered African
painted dog on the continent.
More than 450 species of bird can be found in the Okavango Delta, both
migratory and resident, including ostrich, Bataleur Eagle (thought to be the
bird depicted on artefacts from the ancient city of
Great Zimbabwe), Osprey,
African Cuckoo Hawk, several types of vultures, owls, goshawk, falcon, harrier,
buzzard, kestrel, duck, stork, heron, goose, pelican, flamingo, pranticole,
dove, quail, bustard, hornbill, spurfowl, lapwing, plover, nightjar, cuckoo,
lark, shrike, warbler, swallow, swift, oriole flycatcher, batis, weaver,
babbler, canary and so much more.
Seasons and the Best Time to Visit
Botswana's climate is generally sunny and hot, but in the dry winter months,
it is much more comfortable and it is when larger concentrations of game are
seen as they search for water sources.
Although it really is a year-round safari area, the best time to visit
the Okavango is during the cool dry season of May to August. Seasonal flooding
happens when the water from Angola reaches the delta between March and June,
peaking in July. During this time, the
plains game migrate from the dry outer areas to the delta in search of water. Daytime
temperatures are usually below 30°C (86°F), but it does get cold after
dark, sometimes very close to freezing. This is also the best time for boat
cruises and makoro (canoe) trips.
The hot and dry months of September to November are still great for game
viewing as the animals still prefer the inner delta because it is where they
water. At this time, there are huge concentrations of wildlife, particularly
around the Moremi Game Reserve.
The months of November to February are the wet and hot season where it
is hot during the day with temperatures reaching 35°C (95°F), and
sometimes even 40°C (104°F). Rain
comes in the form of afternoon thunderstorms, and the nights are generally warm.
The humidity levels fluctuate between 50 and 80%. These summer months
are the best time for birding, when the migrant species arrive, many of which
breed within the Okavango Delta. The scenery is beautiful as the plants are in
bloom and the plains game drop their young.
temperatures start to get more comfortable in March to around May when the land
gets drier and nights get cooler (though not as cold as in the winter months).
In March, the rains start to decrease, April has much fewer rain days and
daily temperatures range from about 12°C and 28°C, and May is the
start of the dry season where temperatures (especially night time) really start
Regions of the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Panhandle
This is where the flood waters arrive from Angola by the Okavango River. The
Panhandle is the north-western section of the delta shaped like a corridor,
where the river runs deep and wide for about 80kms before fanning out into the
delta, and the swamps are always flooded. Here, fishing, birding and village
tours are common activities.
The Delta itself is the wetland area that fans out from the Panhandle region,
covering up to 15 000km2 of lakes, lagoons, networks of channels,
grasslands and thousands of islands of various sizes.
Further east, the scenery changes to dry land with seasonal swamps and flooded
grasslands. The major land masses are the Matsebi Ridge, Chief's Island, and the
Moremi Tongue. The vegetation in this area differs from the rest of the delta,
and is characterised by Mopani, scrub bush, acacia, and a number of pans.
There are a few basic campsites at the South Gate, Khwai Gate, Xakanaka
and Third Bridge. These are ideal for self-drivers who self-cater and only need
a place to cook and ablution facilities. Although activities are not included,
you can book a makoro canoe trip as well as a boat ride when the water level is
high enough. Other activities include game drives and bush walks.
There are plenty of luxury camps both within and outside the Moremi Game Reserve. These
are typically on private concessions, and they pamper guests with delicious food and a
range of activities included in the price.
Getting to the Okavango Delta
Access to the delta and the safari camps is by flying in. There are several
airstrips usually situated a few minutes drive from the camps. Flights into
these airstrips can be from Maun or Kasane Airports and are usually not included in
the standard rates, although they may be packaged in with multi-night stays. The
lodges and camps will pick up from the airstrips at no extra cost. Flights into
Maun are via Johannesburg and Cape Town, or locally from Gaborone and Kasane.
Charter flights are another option, and inter-camp air transfers are available
when booking with sister camps in Botswana. Flights from Maun Airport into the
delta take no more than 30 to 45 minutes.
Self drivers who plan on camping at one of the campsites in the delta can
easily drive in through one of the Moremi Game Reserve gates. Driving from Maun
to the South Gate of Moremi takes less than 2 hours. The other access point into
Moremi is via the North Gate of the reserve en-route from
Chobe National Park. Self-drivers do require a 4 x 4 vehicle into the delta.
Interesting Facts About the Okavango Delta
• The water that makes it to the Okavango Delta is evaporated and transpired -
none of the water reaches any sea.
• Some of the flood water from the Okavango drains into Lake Ngami - another
remnant of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi.
• The Okavango Delta is the 1000th inscribed UNESCO World Heritage site.
• Approximately 70% of the islands in the Moremi Game Reserve began as termite
• The Okavango Delta is teaming with bird life and is home to the huge and extremely rare, Pel's Fishing Owl, (the world's only
• Constant flooding and termite nest building have contributed to the numerous
islands found in the Okavango Delta, while the biggest is Chief’s Island,
although it was formed through movement of the earth due to a fault line.
• The water that forms the Okavango Delta comes from the Angolan Highlands and
travels over 1000 kms to reach the Okavango Delta.
• The Okavango Delta has the largest concentration of Red Lechwe in the world.
It also has the most African Painted Dogs in the region.
• Even though most people think of the Okavango Delta as a national park, the
Moremi Game Reserve is the only officially declared national Park in the Delta.
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