Concessions from the Okavango Delta
Concessions from the Okavango Delta
Understanding the Concessions in the Okavango Delta
The Okavango river blooms into Botswana each year fanning out into the iconic Delta system. Each year the system dries, and each year it fills, with new channels opening, new islands forming, and new areas receiving water to replenish one of the richest eco systems found anywhere on earth. The area is made up of a national park surrounded by a number of private concession areas – all teeming with wildlife, and all different from one another in subtle ways.
The key to understanding the perfect safari lies in making sense of the different concessions or Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), how they work, and which concession(s) is/are right for you.
So, what are the concessions and how do they work?
Well ecotourism companies, or lodges are able to build non-permanent accommodation or lodge facilities on WMAs. This is all started as part of a government program to protect and make use of wildlife areas and was spearheaded by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and Natural Parks (DWNP) in the early 1980s. WMAs can be loosely defined as an area of land where the management of wildlife is the primary form of land use. Over 17% of the land of the country was divided into approximately 50 land parcels which became the first WMAs and safari operators were able to enter lease agreements for the management of the land. In return they had to meet strict environmental standards.
Later, in 1989, the government started a policy of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM). This was established in order to give local communities direct control over the use and benefits of natural resources within their traditional areas as a means to add sustainable value to natural resources and improve the health and human well-being of local communities. Think of it as a win for the communities and a win for the environment. CBNRM enabled communities living close to some of the concessions (not all concessions have communities on or anywhere near them) to have a greater say over the management of the concessions and the conditions of that management.
While communities are involved, it is government that monitors the operations of each safari company and lodge operator, and very strict environmental and social regulations must be met by the tourism operators in order to enter into lease agreements. These include meeting environmental targets and providing employment for members of the community. The list of conditions is long and includes limits on the number of lodges allowed within each concession, and the number of rooms and beds allowed by the lodges. This helps to keep the number of lodges within the Okavango Delta low enough to ensure that the ecosystem is not impacted or threatened by increased human presence. It also encourages lodge operators to increase their level of luxury as a means to derive greater financial returns from the fewer numbers of tourists allowed in the area.
All in all, the concession system not only makes the Okavango a more exclusive destination, but it also ensures that the ecosystem is protected. It also ensures that each visitor to the Okavango becomes a contributor to the overall protection of the area. This is great, as it means that if you visit the Delta, you contribute directly to its environmental sustainability as well as the health and well-being of community members.
Concession (WMA) areas and Moremi National Park
Basically, all concessions are located around the Moremi Natural Reserve, a vast national park covering 5,000 square kilometers. This national park has very few lodges located within it the park itself. Most of these are on Chiefs Island and include Mombo and Little Mombo Camp (which are essentially the same camp, but Little Mombo functioning as a private enclave villa), Xigera Camp, and Chief’s Camp. Chief’s Island is cut off from the rest of the Moremi Reserve, and cannot be visited by vehicles entering the Game Reserve. It is also the best place to view rhino in the delta owing to reintroduction programs spearheaded by Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains Conservation.
Within Moremi, tourists may enter in private vehicles and stay in one of three campsites. However, it is very important to understand that these self-drive safaris are limited to the roads and areas that are mapped out. Should a visitor deviate from any of the roads, a very hefty fine is imposed. As the reserve receives more visitors, this rule serves to protect the fragile ecosystem and keep it intact.
How to pick the right concession in the Okavango Delta
Concessions in the Botswana are numbered from 1 to 50 with the concessions in the Okavango Delta preceded by the prefix NG which stands for Ngamiland. Ngamiland is the regional name of the area. Managed concessions in the Delta range from NG 2 to NG 34. All are different and all are important in their own way. And each one is perfect for different groups and different kinds of safaris. It all depends on what you’re after.
We’re not going to discuss all of them. Just the most important ones.
NG 14 – KWANDO CONCESSION. This is often thought to be the wildest area in Ngamiland. It is certainly the most unchartered and sits on the flanks of the Kwando River as it weaves down from the Caprivi strip. The concession is managed by Kwando Safaris. There are two camps in this area called Lebala and Lagoon Camp. What is interesting about this concession is that besides having access to water from the Kwando River, it also includes some vast open areas which makes it perfect for Wild Dog packs. This concession has traditionally been associated with Wild Dog viewing, and Wild Dog enthusiasts have been visiting the camps in this area since the 90s. So if you are interested in a Wild Dog Safari, this is one of the best concession areas to visit.
NG 15 – LINYANTI CONCESSION. This is a beautiful concession located alongside the Chobe National Park and up towards the Selinda Concession and the border with the Caprivi Strip. The Linyanti region is well known and a world class safari destination. The concession is managed by Wilderness Safaris, and the lodges include the newly refurbished Duma Tau (now one of Botswana’s most exclusive lodges), Kings Pool, Savuti Camp, and Linyanti Tented Camp. The region has a great variety of wildlife from June through to November, but lacks good sightings the rest of the year as animals wander into the Mopani Forests to the East in search of water during the rest of the year.
NG 16 – SELINDA CONCESSION. The Selinda spillway melts off the Kwando river and runs down towards the greater Delta. This concession is managed by Great Plains Conservation sits right below NG 14 mentioned above. There are three operational camps in this concession which include Selinda, Zarafa, and Selinda Explorers. Selinda and Zarafa camp are considered to be some of the most luxurious lodges in Africa, and this concession is a great option for luxury travelers. It also has a healthy Wild Dog population and a good deal of elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo. Motswiri Camp, located on the tail end of this concession closed in 2019, and rumors continue to speculate over whether it will be reopened (and by who). We’ll keep you updated.
NG 18 – KHWAI CONCESSION. There are essentially two Khwai concessions. There is the larger NG 18 that sits above the Moremi National Park, and then there is NG 19, which lies outside of the veterinary fence, but also along the western edge of the park. NG 19 is mostly visited by mobile safari operators and is directly managed by the Khwai Community Trust. NG 18, while owned by the Khwai community trust is managed by Natural Selection. The concession has four major lodges called Tuludi, Sable Alley, and Jackal and Hyde, and Hyena Camp, along with some smaller campsites and a sky bed option for the adventure safari enthusiasts. Wildlife viewing in the area is good, but can also be quite seasonal.
NG 20 – KWARA CONCESSION. The Kwara Concession sits just beneath the Selinda Concession and east of the Vumbura Concession. This is a highly prized concession owing to its excellent access to year-round water along with an amazing variety of wildlife. This concession is run by Kwando Safaris and has two operating lodges called Splash and Kwara. Kwara also has a smaller camp called Little Kwara which operates as an enclave villa. This concession is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts as they offer one of the best game viewing opportunities in the Delta, and also because Kwando Safaris remains one of the few safari operators that still use trackers seated on the front of their vehicles. The use of trackers increases the chances of wildlife viewing considerably.
NG 21 – SHINDE CONCESSION. The Shinde concession sits between NG 22 and NG 20 and has some excellent wildlife viewing opportunites. Its border with the Moremi Game Park runs along some pristine land. The concession is managed by Chobe Holdings and includes Camp Okavango, Shinde, and Xugana Camp. This is a great option for wildlife enthusiasts, but also an amazing option for romantic getaways and honeymoon safaris.
NG 22 – KWEDI CONCESSION. The Kwedi Concession sits below NG 16 and is managed by Wilderness Safaris. This is a spectacular concession on the northern border of the Moremi Reserve. Because of its excellent location, it has water year-round, even during drought. Two lodges sit within this concession and include Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura. Vumbura Plains is actually registered as two satellite camps, North Vumbura and South Vumbura, each consisting of 7 rooms, and while each is independent, one can walk freely between them along raised platforms. Owing to access to water, this concession is a great option for anyone interested in water activities such as mokoro, but worried about whether drought or time of year could affect access to water.
NG 23 – DUBA PLAINS CONCESSION. The Duba Concession sits directly left of the Vumbura Concession and contains only one camp, Duba Plains. This is one of the most valuable concessions in the Okavango as it has permanent water flows and is located close to the north of Chief’s Island where rhino are regularly seen. Duba Plains is also considered one of the most exclusive lodges in Africa and a visit to this concession is recommended for luxury safari enthusiasts. This concession is also managed by Great Plains Conservation. They also run a concession just north of this called NG 23A, which is under contention with government over its acquisition.
NG 25 – JAO CONCESSION. The Jao Concession is one of the most historic and better-known concessions in the Okavango. It sits to the west of the Moremi National Park and is managed by Wilderness Safaris. The concession has five lodges located within it and include Tubu Tree (as well as adjoining Little Tubu), Jacana, Pelo, Kwetsani, and the recently renovated and luxurious Jao Camp (which is privately owned with Wilderness Safaris managing marketing). Jao is now considered one of the most exclusive camps in the Delta. Jacana and Pelo are more rustic options, and Kwetsani is one of the prettier lodges in the entire region. This concession has a lot of variety. From exclusive through to adventurous. It’s got some great game viewing opportunities and appeals to both luxurious, budget, and wildlife safaris.
NG 26 – ABU CONCESSION. The Abu Concession sits directly beneath the Jao Concession and is also managed by Wilderness Safaris. The two main camps in this concession are Seba Camp and Abu Camp. Seba is a regarded as one of the better family safari options in the Delta and Abu Camp is a well known elephant camp where guests are able to walk with elephants on safari. The concession is beautiful when water is present and hosts a wide variety of wildlife. However, it can get quite dry around the periphery during winter.
NG 27A – POM POM CONCESSION. The Pom Pom Concession is one of the better known concessions in Botswana. The concession centers around a number of island flanked by the Moremi Game Reserve on the North Eastern side side and the Xudum channel that runs South East. The best lodge in the concession is Pom Pom Camp, run by Kwando Safaris. 2019 was a very dry year for this concession but the 2020 waters have come back in wonder, and created a very magical safari experience for all visitors to the Pom Pom Concession. This is a great concession for romantic getaways and honeymoon safaris.
NG 27B – XAXABA CONCESSION. The Xaxaba Concession sits directly south of the Moremi National Park, with a few lodges nestled along the border of the park. The concession is managed between a number of different operators and lodges include Gunn’s Camp, Moremi Crossing, Delta Camp, Oddballs, and Eagle Island. Flights from Maun are short, and this is an attractive concession for wildlife enthusiasts, and people looking for water based activities (although you need to check on water conditions in advance.
NG 34 – SANKUYO CONCESSION. This is a really beautiful concession located to the west of the Moremi National Park and belongs to the Sankuyo Community. The concession is managed by a group called Under One Botswana Sky, and includes two beautiful camps called Rra Dinare and Mma Dinare (Father Buffalo and Mother Buffalo). The camps are located approximately 6km apart and both are similar in design and offerings. The concession has a vast array of wildlife, and lions in particular are a common sight owing to some open delta pans which attract prey. This concession is an excellent family option as the lodges are child friendly. It’s also closer to Maun which means less time in a small aircraft, and less time for kids to get motion sickness in a small Cessna.