The Okavango Delta - A Watery Oasis in a Thirsty Desert
An exhilarating trek in search of endangered mountain gorillas? Experiencing the vast desert wilderness of Namibia? Following a herd of elephants on foot? Paddling papyrus lined waterways of the Okavango? Discover your African adventure on one of our safari packages or we'll help design your own itinerary.
The Okavango Delta is a vast swampland covering over 9,000 square miles of northwestern Botswana. Abundant populations of bird (herons, storks, cranes, pelicans) and animals (elephants, hippos, crocodiles, antelopes) can be found here, along with a high diversity of plants (fan palms, date palms, papyrus, mopane). Moremi Game Reserve is on the eastern edge of the delta, with Chobe National Park stretching off to the north east. The combination of these wilderness areas is what makes northern Botswana one of the best destinations for an African safari. Here it is possible to see a wide variety of habitat, lots of game and have a true wilderness experience.
The Okavango Delta is formed as the Okavango River enters Bostwana from the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. The river arises over 700 miles away on the Banguela Plateau of south-eastern Angola. The Okavango River has no outlet to the sea but instead empties into the sands of the Kalahari Desert. The delta forms as the river slows and spreads out over this vast area. The summer rains that fall in Angola (starting in January) give rise to the flood that will eventually fill the delta region with water. The water that falls in Angola takes about 1 month to reach Botswana. However it takes about another 4 months for the water to move its way through the delta. This is perfect timing. The floods arrive during the winter dry season in Botswana (June-October) providing life-giving water to thirsty animals and people. In recent years the flood has been so strong that rivers which had been dry for decades are now full of water. The Savuti Channel hasn't seen water since the early 1980s but is now flowing. The same for the Thamalakane River that flows near Maun. The Thamalakane is now feeding water into the Boteti River, a bonanza for the wildlife of the Makgadikgadi Pans. Since the Okavango River has no outlet, most of the water is lost by evaporation and transpiration.
The geologic forces that have contributed to the formation of the delta have been going on for millennia. It is thought that the Okavango River, along with nearby rivers like the Kuando and Zambezi, may have once flowed south into the Orange River of South Africa and emptied into the Atlantic. Over millions of years a long series of tectonic activity (uplifting of the earth's crust and the formation of faults) has changed the course of these rivers. Now the Kuando is a tributary of the Zambezi River which eventually discharges into the Indian Ocean. The land where the delta is currently located has dropped relative to surrounding land, essentially trapping the Okavango River in the Kalahari Desert.
People of a number of ethnic groups inhabit the delta region. The Bayei people immigrated to the delta region in the 19th century bringing with them their dug-out canoes, or mekoro (mokoro is singular). The mokoro is crafted from an old tree trunk and the strong wood of the Sausage tree is favored. However, in modern times the traditional wood mokoro has been replaced by fiberglass boats. It is a common means of transportation throughout the delta. Historically the Bayei used the mekoro for fishing and even for harpooning hippos. Since the bottom of a mokoro is round and lacks a keel, great skill is required to maneuver them.
Most of our Botswana Safaris visit the Okavango Delta. Our Fish Eagle Safari includes camping on a remote island in the delta. For a lodge deep in the delta, take a look at our Focus on Botswana Safari where you can enjoy mokoro excursions and bush walks.