The Okavango Delta is a glistening jewel in the heart of the Kalahari Desert, a thriving water world that spreads across over 2 million hectares. The seasonal flooding and rich grasslands bring diverse wildlife, making for one of the most exhilarating safari experiences in Southern Africa.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is well known as one of the best safari locations in Africa. I grew up there and later spent many years working in safari camps and lodges, on mobile safaris and walking ones too. Even though I have travelled Africa extensively, Botswana is always close to my heart and I feel very fortunate to have experienced the wide-open spaces, extraordinary wildlife and the warm and welcoming people who live here.
There are some super national parks and game reserves and of course the private conservancies too. There are camps that cater for young families and others who have high end lodgings, safari operators who take you on mobile camping safaris and some places where canoeing and walking feature in their activity schedules. Whatever your requirements, there is an option for you, whether you want to be active or have a relaxing stay, walk or take a mobile safari, meet local people or just wildlife watch!
In my selection, I have included some of the best safari abodes in the Okavango Delta. Each is completely different to the other; some uber luxury, some traditional and locally guided, a mobile safari and a bit extra! These are not in ascending or descending order of luxury or which is ‘best’, but instead mixed up, like a bag of liquorice allsorts, because doesn’t that make life (and a safari) more interesting?
Young Explorers is just fabulous in every way for family safaris! You take the small, tented camp exclusively and guide Odie and his team introduce your family to the wilderness. It’s all about getting active and learning to track, identify birds and listen to the animals. Walking with Odie is an adventure; you get to notice all the little things, as well as the big.
Learn to pole a mokoro (traditional dugout canoe), go fishing and identify animals by their footprints and spoor. Come sundowner time your young ones will be tired little bunnies, but still have the energy to roast marshmallows over the campfire. When you leave, (most children have to be prised away!), children will receive a Young Explorers certificate. They will love testing their newfound knowledge over the rest of your safari at other camps!
For a traditional safari camp, consider Bushman Plains Camp. This camp is in a private conservancy accessed by light aircraft, as are most of the accommodations in the Okavango. The most special aspect of Bushman Plains is that it is the only camp in Botswana that is majority-owned by San people.
They were the last of the Bukakwe San people to live their traditionally nomadic life, living off the bush when they were young. After years as safari guides in well-known camps across the Delta, they came together to purchase a portion of the ancient lands of the Bukakwe and operate their own camp, teaching guests about their ancient ways and their bush survival skills.
Being in a private conservancy, you are allowed to take walking safaris at Bushman Plains camp. It is fabulous to stretch your legs and look at the smaller things, but still be able to get closer to a pride of lion in the vehicle on game drives. Water levels dependent, you can also explore by taking a traditional canoe (mokoro) to paddle amongst the waterways.
Vumbura Plains is another luxury lodge with elegant and spacious rooms. The emphasis here is on luxury but do not think that this in any way compensating for a lack of wildlife! It is completely the opposite; the luxury is complimented by excellent wildlife viewing and all the activities possible in an Okavango based lodge. Frankly you don’t have to combine this with any other place in the Delta – it’s all there!
Sightings include lion and elephant which you can see whilst exploring on foot, on land by game drive and on the water by canoe. Then when you need a bit of pampering, spend some time in the spa too.
The Wilderness Wildlife Trust supports many projects and research and Vumbura guests are contributing to funding this through their stay. The Trusts’ mean areas of focus are Research and Conservation, Community Empowerment and Education, and Anti-Poaching and Management.
I think everyone should include a few days on a traditional mobile camping safari, after all this is the true meaning of ‘going on safari’: going on a journey. Don’t think boy scout camping, no, no! A mobile (temporary) tented camp set up just for you and your family can be positively luxurious! Some even have flush loos and always have hot water showers and delicious fresh food.
Take a mokoro across the flood waters at sunset then have three courses for dinner under the stars with candlelight and lamps before heading out for a last drive at night to spot some nocturnal beasties. You could see hyena, aardvark, genets and bush babies, before the sounds of the night lull you off to sleep.
On a Mobile camping safari your very own guide and support team will look after you as you travel for anything from 3 to 9 nights, it’s up to you! And the best thing? You do not have to lift a finger, everything is done for you. You just have to enjoy the exclusivity, the Persian rugs on your tent floor and proper beds with sumptuous linen and warm blankets, and, in winter, a very welcome hot water bottle!
Mombo is one of the most luxurious safari lodges in Africa. It is extraordinary; comfort across the board with all the little details thought of. Mombo lies on the north western end of Chiefs Island and within Moremi Game Reserve, which is reserved for low-intensity safari tourism making the area very exclusive and remote.
What’s more, the area has some of the best wildlife viewing in the Okavango Delta. Mombo has it all, wildlife galore with elephant, wild dog, lions and leopard. I recall once seeing rhino, buffalo and lion all before breakfast! Only game drives are offered here, and it is ideal for those who want a relaxing break, but is essential to twin this camp with a lodge or camp in another Okavango area if you want to experience the water activities of the Delta too.
The reason Gomoti features in my list, or for that matter Chitabe Camp that shares the same private conservancy, is because of the wildlife, particularly the giraffe. Some species of giraffe are now on the endangered species list but at Gomoti, one can see them in abundance.
Of course, Gomoti is comfortable and the tents spaced well apart, the food is good and the guides are informative, but for me the reason Gomoti features on this list is the same reason you wanted to come to Africa – the wildlife! In addition the camp has strong environmental principles and uses solar energy for camp electricity as much as possible, running energy saving appliances and recycling waste in Bio Plants. The structure is designed to have a low footprint without permanent fixtures meaning that the area can be rehabilitated in only 18months after the camp is deconstructed.
Setari is a privately owned, classic Okavango camp and your activities here are always water-based or on foot. Setari lies deep in the delta waters and has permanent water all year round, an important point to consider when choosing your safari camps in Botswana.
You can spend your time exploring the Delta’s channels with local guides as well as expert guide Grant Truter, who is Botswana born and bred and knows the delta intimately. He has a wonderful and gentle way of guiding which is welcomed when leading you through the myriad of waterways in this inland delta.
Xugana Island Lodge often features on my ‘top Botswana’ lists, perhaps I am slightly biased as I lived and worked here for many years, but this is a great lodge to visit on your safari! Their hospitality is extraordinary; the staff have been here for many years and they are like a family, and treat you as one of them.
The scenery is exquisite and there is no other lodge in the Okavango on a lagoon as large as this - watching sun set across the lagoon from the bar area is perfect in every way. The rooms are made of reed walls and sit right on the edge of the water amongst the reed beds so you may find your veranda visited by kingfishers and perhaps spy the elusive and shy sitatunga.
The wildlife viewing is good here too. Because the island is located on a main permanent channel you can do boat excursions and mokoro rides, but you are also close enough to the drier delta fringes so that you can do game drives in vehicles to see a wider range of species.
Personally, I like to mix it all up in a safari. Yes, there are some large safari companies in great locations with good guides, where you can go from one camp to another with the same branding, same vehicles, same style of bathroom… but after the fourth safari camp or lodge in a row, will you really remember which camp was which? I am guessing not, unless you took a photo of the dining table with its branded tableware and the view!
I myself prefer to visit smaller, more intimate and independent lodges and camps that give a variety not only in their individual characters, but also the type of environment and habitat too. I recommend selecting your accommodations depending on where you are keen to visit and what you most want to see and do. This is where a safari expert comes to the fore.
An expert knows what time of the year is best in each area, what style of lodge or camp will suit you best, when the annual floodwaters are likely to arrive in Botswana and when specifically they will arrive in the famed Okavango Delta, if that is where you are most keen to visit.
Keen birder? You can be guided to the best time to see nesting, or migratory birds. For example some will say don’t visit in the dry season as the migrants will have flown, but the heronries in the Okavango Delta are busy then. There are threatened and endangered species here, wattled crane and Pels fishing owls, as well as the largest populations of Slatey egrets. A specialist with knowledge of the country will be able to guide you to choosing the right places for you at the right times.
Whatever your preference and proclivities, there is something in Botswana for you. If you do not see something in this blog that entices you, then I would be happy to have a conversation to tailor an itinerary with accommodation, location and activities that are exactly perfect for you. Please do feel free to get in touch with me. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.