Botswana is completely landlocked, with no beaches or access to the sea. It doesn’t even have very many rivers or permanent water sources, but in the Okavango Delta it has what must be the most spectacular, and certainly the wildest, inland delta in the world. Each year, roughly 11 trillion litres of water flow south from the Angolan highlands, bringing life and sustenance to thousands of species of plants and animals, before evaporating, subsiding, then beginning all over again. There may be no beaches in Botswana, but the Okavango Delta is a more than adequate substitute, and in some places, if there are no crocodiles around, you can even take a swim.
The Okavango never drains completely and the best way to experience the delta is by boat. The most traditional choice are the mekoro – small, dugout canoes which can be hired for short excursions or multiday trips. They’re a wonderful, peaceful way to explore the narrow, twisting waterways, poled silently along by local, knowledgeable guides who are usually only too happy to share their beautiful home with visitors. Short outings can be arranged from Xakanaxa Camp and the Mboma Boat Station in Moremi Game Reserve. They don’t need to be booked in advance. Longer trips are best organized through one of the operators in Maun.
Xomae Group, who operate Moremi’s Third Bridge Camp, also offer boat hire and overnight boat trips into the heart of the delta. Their wild campsite on Gcodikwe 1 island is one of the best ways to experience the Okavango on a budget. There are plenty of very high-end lodges out in the middle of the delta, but Gcodikwe 1 is one of the very few islands available to self-drivers who want to camp wild. You’ll need to take absolutely everything with you – including enough to feed your guide. There are few more wonderful experiences to be had in Botswana than sitting around your own private delta campfire as hippos grumble and splash on your doorstep and lions roar in the pitch-black night.
While mekoro are slow and peaceful, there’s nothing quite like zipping through the narrow delta waterways on an agile aluminium speedboat. These shallow-draft swamp boats are the modern workhorses of the Okavango, used as taxis, for resupply, fishing and sightseeing. They’re the fastest way to get out into the deeper channels and are ideal for birding trips and sunset cruises. It’s one of these boats that will take you to Gcodikwe 1, giving you the chance to explore the small channels and swimming spots on the way.
In the north-west panhandle, the delta narrows into a twisting network of wider, deeper channels. The panhandle is popular for fishing and dotted with tranquil riverside campsites and luxury lodges. Makoro and speedboat excursions are also available here, and the deeper water allows for bigger vessels including live-aboard houseboats – a fantastic way to experience the delta!
Most travelers opt for 4×4 hire Botswana to accommodate their travel plans.