It’s about the feeling you get when you allow yourself to disconnect from the modern world and lose yourself amongst the weeds that overtake the water. It’s not about what you see; it’s about how you accept what you are given. This is what a trip into the Okavango Delta is like.
While there are many opportunities for wildlife viewing during your time in the delta, nothing is guarantee. Rumor has it that the Big 5 does, in fact, reside within the area. We didn’t see them but what we did see made the experience special for us.
We went into the UNESCO World Heritage listed Okavango Delta with no expectations other then to bush camp, interact with some locals and hopefully see some hippos. Anything more than that would be a bonus that we would welcome happily. This was, after all, a chance to experience the world’s largest inland river delta.
Maun, a small city in Northwestern Botswana, is the best place to access the Okavango Delta and our first stop in Botswana with Oasis Overland on our 17 week trip from Cape Town to Cairo. We were picked up at our campsite at a reasonable time and drove around an hour until we reached the edge of the delta. Along the way we left the pavement and drove most of the way on sand track through small villages where the mokoro polers live.
Upon reaching the waters edge, we were met by a site of organized chaos as local polers and travelers were unloading their equipment and loading it into the small mokoro canoes that would take us all into the delta and to our bush camps for the next 2 nights.
Mokoro canoes are the traditional forms of transportation within the delta and to date the only means of accessing it unless you stay in Maun and schedule a flight over it. We fit 2 people per canoe, each with our one bag, and the poler stood on the back and used a long bamboo pole that would push us through the water.
We had 5 canoes with people and 2 canoes loaded up with our tents and all the other equipment we needed to bush camp on an island. This included all our own food, cooking supplies and utensils. There was nothing waiting for us at the campsite, just sand and a place to make camp.
Along the way we were lucky enough to have our first encounter with the wildlife. Our poler navigated the mokoro to an opening into a lagoon and gave us our first look at a hippo. It was surprising to me how territorial and aggressive they behaved with us while we sat and watched them. They advanced towards us quickly and made aggressive moves in an attempt to scare us away. It was humbling to see the respect and fear from the local polers, hippos are not gentle animals and we didn’t stick around too long.
Arriving in camp we went straight to work on setting up camp, it was only 9am. Our group is like a well-oiled machine at this point; living off an overland truck will do that to you. It becomes routine to stop, unload, set up camp and start making plans for cooking. Camp was up in less than 30 minutes and we had meal times planned and a huge pile of firewood gathered before it had been an hour.
One of the pleasant things about the Okavango Delta is the siesta time in the middle of the day. It is too hot to really do anything, so we had our first actual break from things since we started the overland in Cape Town at the beginning of the month. I was exhausted and wasted no time heading back to the tent for a nap that was overdue.
That evening found us heading our for a bush walk just before sunset. We were looking for animals that were moving to the water after taking their own siesta during the day. Specifically, we were on the hunt for elephants, giraffe and zebra. The bush walk lasted around 2 hours and gave us an up close and personal look at the Eco-system on the islands within the delta.
This time of the year meant it was dry, so the grass gave off yellow tones that made it easy to see for several miles. Despite this and several signs of elephants, we saw very little besides a Kudu, Dick Dick and Aardvark from a long distance. It was one of those moments we were left to just appreciate the scenery and experience.
Back in camp we got straight to work on preparing dinner and visiting with our local team that had brough us into the Okavango Delta for our adventure. This also meant it was time for me to face my fears and head into the dark to the bush toilet. EEEKKK! I don’t mind using the bush toilet, and this one was quite good since they had dug a hole in the ground to last the 2 days. For me, it is the dark and knowledge that there may be predators lurking in the bushes.
There is nothing worse than hanging your ass over a hole in the ground when the Jackals start howling, scaring the shit out of you (no pun intended) and sending you racing back to camp. Poor Dave, I would make him accompany me to the toilet every time after that.
Okavango Delta- Day 2
Our second day kicked off with an early morning bush walk to beat the heat and lasted around 4 hours. We took the mokoros to a neighboring island where our scouts followed tracks and signs in search of elephants. 30 minutes in, they decided the leads were dry and we were back in the mokoro to another island. This would provide a bit more luck.
We never did find elephants while bush walking in the delta but we did come across 2 different herds of Zebra. Contrasting the zebra with the dry, yellow surroundings made for some nice photos and perhaps a sneak peak of what the Serengeti will be like for us. This was the highlight of both bush walks and we never came across anything else too exciting.
Back in camp it was back to siesta time but the heat had already started to kick in and even in the shade the tents were sweltering. Dave and a fellow traveler opted for a swim in the Okavango Delta waters that left them refreshed but chilled and then later headed for a short walk from camp where we had spotted a large elephant skull the day before.
After preparing lunch I went for another nap and slept straight up to 4pm when I woke up a rushed to gather my stuff for our sunset mokoro cruise around the delta in search of hippos. While I’ve learned to not expect anything from wildlife, I secretly hoped the guides were on and able to find us some hippos.
Shortly after hopping into the mokoro and pushing back from the island I caught a glimpse of the sunset we had been given for the day and all of a sudden everything crammed into perspective. Africa seriously has some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen in my life, in the World and I have seen a lot, everywhere. The sun was beginning its melt into a quartet of colors and in that moment I realized it didn’t matter if I saw any hippos.
Our evening cruise took us away from the island for some amazing views of the sunset and after scanning a couple lagoons there was a sudden urgency in our polers that had us heading for a small peninsula island we hadn’t yet visited. They ran the mokoros aground and shouted for us to move quickly.
Exiting the mokoros we followed them through the bush to the opposite side of the peninsula where we were struck with the most beautiful thing we’d seen in a long time. The first thing I noticed was the position of the sun as it set against the sky, trees and water that was sitting in front of us. The light was painting that quartet of colors across not only the sky but also the water. The tree line formed a perfect silhouette of the Africa tree line that also reflected in the water. Then I saw the hippos.
I was so wrapped up in the scene I almost hesitated to raise my camera, it was the most perfect thing I had ever seen. The hippos were bobbing along at the backside of the lagoon and our guides quickly grabbed a log, that they banged on another log, to produce a low earthy sound. This caused the hippos to take notice of us and begin making their way across the lagoon towards us.
This meant the hippos came forward into the colors that were reflecting on the water, making it one of the most magical photography shoots I have ever had with wildlife. I was completely mesmerized and struggled to pull myself away from it when the sun slowly disappeared behind the tree line and our polers ushered us back to the mokoros in an attempt to beat the darkness back to camp.
That night in camp was like being high. Everyone was reeling from the experience, sharing stories, feelings and photos from the cruise. Then the polers started singing us traditional music from their villages and teaching the dances along with them. The culture was strong, beautiful and fitting as the darkness surrounded us and the fire whipped into the air giving us just enough light to see them move to their own sound.
The Okavango Delta is a magical place in Botswana and is one of those experiences that we will always remember from our travels. The passion and effort of the people in this part of the World shows in the way they share their home with you.
Details of Visiting the Okavango Delta
Cost. At the time of our visit the cost was $140USD per person for a 3 day/2 night bush camp experience. This includes nothing but transport to/from Maun to the campsite within the delta, 2 bush walks and 1 sunset cruise. You must bring in our own camping equipment and food. It seems like a lot but $90USD of that are just park fees, so essentially the trip costs $50USD. When you put it into that perspective, it’s an absolute bargain.
Tipping the polers. Don’t skimp here. These people are passionate and go out of their way to ensure you have a great time. Plus their great to interact with and you will enjoy 2 fantastic nights around the fire of storytelling and games. Be generous with them, they don’t have much and all live in the villages you will pass through on the way to the delta.
Pre-Trip Preparation. Make sure you have everything charged before heading into the Okavango Delta. It is a real bush camp and that means there is no electricity. Bring spare batteries for your camera equipment and headlamps. Bring toilet paper and bring mosquito repellent. Also, don’t forget any medication you take or your anti-malarial medication.
You really can’t go wrong with this adventure and it’s a chance to see a really special side of Africa and Botswana alike.
Disclosure: We have partnered with Oasis Overland on their 17 week Overland Expedition from Cape Town to Cairo to bring you this adventure. All opinions are 100% mine. All photos created and owned by Divergent Travelers.