A Botswana Okavango Delta Safari: an Okavango safari to never forget!

Botswana, a land of contrasts, from the swampy inland delta of the Okavango to the Kalahari desert and shimmering horizons of the Makgadikgadi salt pans. With water brings life and nowhere is that more apparent than in Botswana. The Okavango delta floods annually, bringing water to the otherwise dried up, ancient salt lakes in the Kalahari basin. This flood brings a migration of zebras, flocks of flamingos and a whole host of other wildlife. Onwards they go, into the Okavango Delta itself, the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’, where hippo-filled channels of water wind through reed beds that are humming with birdlife. It's a true garden of Eden supporting the largest population of elephants on the planet, huge herds of buffalo, dazzling plains game and impressive predators. Privacy and wilderness are synonymous here, with something exquisite to see during every month of the year.

Where is the Okavango Delta & how do you get there?

The Okavango Delta is located in northern Botswana, a land-locked country in Southern Africa. This means that it is one of the very few major interior delta systems that do not flow into a sea or ocean. The Delta is a patchwork piece of art, with permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains, a vast wetland fed by the Kavango River which flows annually from the Angolan highlands, across Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the Kalahari Desert. Rich in wildlife, this World Heritage Site is a sanctuary to some of the world's most endangered animals and birds. 

Cape Water Buffalo cross the Okavango Delta channels - Sitatunga Private Island Camp
Cape Buffalo cross the Okavango Delta channels - Sitatunga Private Island Camp

Due to its remote (and soggy) nature, access into the Delta is predominantly by air. The road network is limited and many roads are inaccessible during both rainy season & the flood. The best way to get to the Okavango Delta from overseas, is to fly into Johannesburg and catch a connecting flight to Maun, Botswana. From here, a light aircraft will take you deeper into the delta to the stunning Okavango Delta lodges. Alternatively, for those wanting to combine with Victoria Falls, you can also fly into the Delta via Kasane. 

Safari in Botswana: What is the best time of the year for a Botswana Delta Safari?

As with any safari destination, Botswana & the Okavango Delta have varied seasons and weather patterns throughout the year which affect animal movements, game viewing and other safari activities. 

Our favourite travel months for an Okavango Delta Safari?

  • Best for game viewing: June - August
  • Best for birding: January
  • Best shoulder season month: May

When choosing a time of year to visit the Okavango Delta, it is important to know the difference between the “wet/rainy season” and “flood season”.  

“Rain season” in Botswana runs November to March but the Delta itself is fed by the Kavango River which originates in the Angolan highlands. In Angola, January is peak rainfall season but the increase in water levels takes months before it reaches the Delta. Typically, these floodwaters from Angola reach the head of the Delta around May, marking the start of “flood season”. The progress of the water through the dense swamps is slow, and the highest water levels in the Okavango are usually seen in June/July. This annual flood from Angola to the Okavango attracts huge herds of animals, flocking to take advantage of the ready supply of water and nutrients. And with the herds, their predators follow! 

A leopard sighting on on safari in botswana
A leopard sighting on Little Mombo, located just off the northern tip of Chief’s Island, the largest landmass in the Okavango.

This means that June – September are the best months for game viewing. Not only are there more animals in the area, but days are cool, vegetation isn’t as thick (due to it being the dry winter months) and days on safari are less likely to be impacted by heat and rainfall. The higher water levels also means a greater variety of activities, from water-safaris to game drives and walks. 

Fishing in the Okavango Delta. Credit Wild Wonderful World.
Fishing in the Okavango Delta, an experience not many are privy to. Credit Wild Wonderful World.

That being said, travelling to the Delta in the “low” or rainy season (November-March) has its advantages as well. The days can be blistering hot but the scenery is spectacular. Thunderstorms over the vast expanse of the Delta are something to behold! There are generally fewer travellers as this time of the year so lodges are quiet, rates can be significantly lower and child policies are also usually more flexible during this period. Single supplements are often not applicable during these months. Knowing where and when to visit the Okavango, working with a travel agent will help you to snatch up the best deals

What wildlife can you see on safari in Botswana Okavango Delta?

The wildlife sightings in the Okavango Delta are extraordinary, offering anything from the Big 5 to enormous herds of red lechwe plunging through the shallow floodplains, secretive sitatunga, wild dogs, spotted and brown hyena, and massive herds of buffalo and elephants. Indeed the Delta is home to the largest remaining elephant population on Earth—more than 80,000 elephants arrive in the delta annually to meet the oncoming floods. Equally noteworthy is that the endangered African Wild Dog still survives within the Okavango Delta and exhibits one of the richest pack densities in Africa. 

Wild Dog sighting in the Okavango Delta on a Wild Wonderful World safari.
Wild Dog sighting in the Okavango Delta on a Wild Wonderful World safari. Credit Wild Wonderful World
Top tip for game viewing: Wild Dogs den in June which increases your chances significantly of spotting these highly endangered predators. 
A stunning and rare Pel's Fishing Owl with a kill! Credit Michelle Pengilly
A stunning and rare Pel's Fishing Owl with a kill! Credit Michelle Pengilly, Wild Wonderful World

On the birding front, the Okavango is a twitcher’s paradise and every year a variety of bird species nest side by side at enormous heronries – herons, storks, darters, egrets (including slaty egrets) and occasionally even pink-backed pelicans all using the same trees or matted reed-beds to breed. With over 530 recorded bird species, there is a lot to look out for. Our favourite bird specials in the Delta are the African skimmer and Pel's fishing owl. 

Top tip for birding in the Okavango delta: Peak bird breading season in January/ Herons, storks and egrets arrive in their hundreds to begin building their nests in the lagoons in August. 

What safari activities can you do in the Okavango Delta?

One of the best things about the Okavango Delta in our opinion is that it presents the opportunity of water based game viewing, giving you a totally different perspective of wildlife on safari. Check out our best water safaris here. Water based activities would include;

  • Motor boat cruises through the bigger channels and lagoons
  • Mokoro excursions a traditional dugout canoes that seat 2 people at a time, poled expertly by a river guide through the smaller & shallower waterways
  • Fishing 

Bush walks, 4x4 game drives in open sided game viewers, helicopter scenic flights and even hot air ballooning are also popular activities on safari in the Okavango Delta. 

Top Tip: When choosing your lodge, think carefully about the activities you are interested in doing as not all lodges offer the same safari activities.

Lodges in the Okavango Delta typically fall across three broad categories – water, land and mixed camps – categorised by the activities they offer;

  • Water camps are usually set in the permanent delta and offer boating, mokoro excursions and walking.
  • Land based camps offer game drives and sometimes walking safaris, often located on bigger islands within the Delta
  • Mixed camps provide both land and water activities. However it is important to note that many mixed camps cannot offer water activities year round, with water activities subject to availability based on water levels.

We generally recommend combining water and land camps, or a mixed camp, to ensure you get the full Okavango experience.

elephants in okovango delta from a boat
An elephant sighting at eye level! Credit Wild Wonderful World
Guided walking safaris in the Okavango Delta. Credit Sandibe Okvango Safari Lodge.
A pride of lions rests at sunset
A pride of lions rests at sunset. Chitabe Lodge.

What are the best safari lodges in Botswana and the Okavango Delta?

If you are looking to go on a Botswana luxury safari, the Okavango Delta offers a range of accommodation options, from rustic mobile tented camps to some of the most sought after luxury lodges on the African safari circuit. Botswana’s low-density tourism model means that most safari experiences in the Delta are relatively private and away from the crowds. In terms of rates, a fully inclusive safari package can vary from $450 per person per night, right up to $5000, depending on the style of lodge & safari experience chosen. 

Click to see our top Okavango safari lodges.

Want to go on safari in Botswana Okavango Delta or enquire about other Botswana tours & safaris? Send us an email or book a free enquiry call!

Written by Michelle Pengilly.

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