The Okavango Delta in Botswana - Best Safari Destination on Earth
Both dramatic and strikingly beautiful, the Okavango Delta continues to be considered the best destination in the world for any safari experience. It is undoubtedly a wonder of the world and a truly world class destination.
Despite the fact that freshwater systems cover less than 1% of the surface of the plant, these habitats are home to over 10% of all known animals and approximately a third of all known vertebrae species. The Okavango Delta is no exception, it is an ecosystem that provides an idyllic home to a thriving biodiversity. The vast floodplain that fans out into northern Botswana consists of islands surrounded by floodplains, lagoons, which are fed by the Cubango and Cuito Rivers in Angola. It is the largest inland Delta on earth spanning over 28,000km2, and it contains a high level of biodiversity which is estimated to include 1300 identified plants, 71 fish, 33 amphibians, 64 reptiles, 444 birds, as well as 122 mammals. The most iconic wildlife are the masses of elephants, giant herds of buffalo, a healthy lion and leopard population, hippo, giraffe, and a large number of African Wild Dogs.
Besides being the home to an immensity of wildlife, the Okavango remains very well conserved and relatively intact, largely as a result of government protection efforts that give Botswana the distinguished status of having the highest percentage of total landmass under conservation than any other country in Africa.
This is truly the jewel of Africa and the highlight of any African safari. It isn’t just on the bucket list; it is the bucket list.
Best time of year to visit
An abundant wildlife and permanent wetlands mean that one can visit the Okavango year-round. However, sometimes of the year are more favorable owing to the heat and rainfall. Ultimately it depends on what your preferences and whether you prefer water-based safari activities over land-based activities such as game drives and game walks. More often than not you can combine any safari to the Okavango with both land and water activities, but make sure to check what each lodge is able to offer during different periods of the year. You may also be constricted by school holidays, or work – but we’re here to help and will ensure that the perfect time is found that suits your preferences and schedule. In the meantime, the different seasons are detailed below.
High-Season (June to October). This is considered the prime season for travelers. Water flowing down from the Kavango River in Angola reaches the delta during this time, and estuaries open up. This allows visitors to explore a larger area of the Delta by boat. It is also during this time that many animals migrate to the delta allowing for spectacular game viewing opportunities.
Mid-Season (November and April to May) are also great months to visit the delta. During these slightly hotter months, animals move towards the water source from around the country, and game viewing is sublime. The water generally arrives from the Cubango and Cuito Rivers in late April, which means that the Okavango tends to have water by May. In November, early rains in the delta itself often fill receding floods which start to diminish in December.
Low Season (December to March) is considered the rainy season, and while you may encounter the occasional thunderstorm, they are generally few and far in between. While water levels are lower during this time as the flood has receded, animal sightings are still excellent, and the land scape is it its most luscious and best. This is often the best time for photographers to visit the area as the richness of the vegetation adds flair to any photo. It’s also a misconception to think that wildlife sightings are less during this period owing to increased foliage.
Please keep in mind that prices change per season.
Getting there and away
In order to get to the Okavango Delta, you need to find your way to Maun or Kasane in Botswana. You can reach either Maun via a direct flight from Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Gaborone. Kasane has daily flights from Johannesburg but is also only an hour away from Livingstone and Victoria Falls which have their own regional connections. Most international travelers who visit the Okavango fly directly into Maun from either Johannesburg or Cape Town. These two major cities in South Africa are connected to worldwide hubs with direct daily flights to Europe, the US, Latin America, Asia, and Australia.
Maun is generally considered to be the gateway to the Okavango, but most charter companies can also fly directly in to camps from Kasane, which works well for some travelers who want to see Chobe and the Victoria Falls.
In order to get into the Okavango Delta itself, one needs to fly into the area and land on small airstrips close to the Okavango Lodge where you will be staying. While these flights are safe, we believe in only working with airline companies that follow the strictest standards and safety protocol. We have partnered with the best charter companies in Botswana in order to ensure your safety. This also allows our clients to fly on newer models of aircraft, affording our guests a more comfortable ride and better views out the window.
Safari Options in the Okavango
Any number of distinctive safari options are available in the Okavango Delta, and range from honeymoon safaris, family safaris, photographic safaris, and far more. It really does depend on the individual and what it is that you most want to get out of the experience. No one safari option is going to be perfect for any individual person, and in the Okavango Delta, this is especially true. It’s always best to mix up a little adventure with some family themes or add in some of your wildlife viewing preferences. We are here to help, and our objective is to tailor-make the safari needs and preferences you have into the ideal Okavango trip.
Okavango Lodge Selection
Important things to consider when choosing an Okavango Lodge are location within the Okavango, types of activities are available, whether a lodge is family/photographic/wildlife friendly, and budget.
There are lodges that are more family orientated, others that are more orientated for romantic couples, others that are more wildlife focused, and within this group there are lodges that are focused on certain types of wildlife such as Wild Dogs and Elephants.
Another very important component to consider is the time of year, as different lodges have different water levels at different times of the year, and this can change the available activities on offer such as mokoro rides and game drives.
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.
The greatest threat to biodiversity in the Okavango Delta is water supply and water fluctuation either as a result of direct human action or through the effects of climate change. Despite the UNESCO World Heritage status of the Okavango Delta, Namibia has mentioned plans to develop irrigation channels from the Cubango river for farming in the northern Kavango district, and Angola has long harboured plans to develop hydroelectric power stations on both the Cubango and Cuito Rivers. The implementation and impacts of such developments would have scaled and detrimental impacts on biodiversity within the Okavango Delta.
Beyond direct human action, climate change is another factor that is exacerbating existing stressors in the Okavango. In Freshwater systems these stressors are causing changes in the timing, availability and temperature of waters, affecting the condition of freshwater habitats and the life history of freshwater species. While accurate models to predict the effects of climate change on the Okavango are still being developed, global warming will undoubtedly play a role in changing water flows across the region.
In order to understand just how fragile this ecosystem is, you need to understand the dynamics of the processes which created and continue to sustain the ecological system, which is considered by scientists to be the passage of water through the ecosystem. The water in the Okavango is fresh despite the fact that chemical compositions of water from the middle of a number of islands have a very high salt composition. The reason the water is fresh is that trees on the edges of the islands have created a barrier of natural filters between the inner part of the islands and the floodplain (read more about this process here). Environmental processes govern this natural filtration system and should water flows through the delta deviate too far from the normal (either as a result of manipulating the water sources upstream or through processes of climate change), this could destabilize the entire ecosystem. A lower water supply would lead to desertification, and an increase in water supply would lead to the dissolution of salts at the center of islands that would salinate the water. Either process would be monumentally destructive to the ecosystem and all biodiversity it contains.
Water issues and contentions are not the only threat facing Biodiversity within the Okavango. Livestock and the encroachment of agriculture represent one such threat, as has the aerial spraying of pesticides against tsetse flies which may be responsible for the disappearance from the Okavango Delta of a number of invertebrates over the past 30 years. Other threats to biodiversity include the use of veterinary fences to segregate wildlife from livestock that affects migratory routes, as well as the illegal hunting of elephants and other species within the region.
We believe that one of the best ways to help conserve the Okavango Delta is to visit it. Your presence in the area spreads a very important message to the government of Botswana and the people of Botswana, that this is a place worth conserving and not plundering. Your presence will show that it is within the interests of the government to continue to enforce strict environmental policies in the country that protect biodiversity. Obviously, there are questions relating to the carbon footprint of flying over to Africa. However, based upon the importance of tourism for the future protection of the Okavango, coupled with increasingly greener travel technologies, the value of tourism outweighs the impacts that tourism would have on climate change. You can read more about this here.
If you would like to do more to contribute other than just visiting, we suggest looking into the following organizations and groups who we support 100%.
One of the greatest threats facing conservation in Afirca is human-elephant conflict. Ecoexist seeks to reduce conflict and foster coexistence between elephants and people. The team finds and facilitates solutions that work for both species. Our approach connects science with practice.
Another victim of human wildlife conflict are lions. In Northern Botswana lions are poisoned in retaliation for livestock killing. In response, CLAWS (Communities Living Among Wildlife) help people learn about the local prides to increase awareness and tolerance.
The Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM), is a river basin organisation established by the three riparian states of Angola, Botswana and Namibia to jointly manage water resources of the Cubango-Okavango River Basin.
The KAZA TFCA is a regional conservation program set up by the governments of Botswana, Angola, Nambia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe with the purpose of sustainably managing the Kavango Zambezi ecosystem, its heritage and cultural resources based on best conservation and tourism models for the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities and other stakeholders in and around the eco-region through harmonization of policies, strategies and practices.
Okavango Delta News and Resources
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