The hot, dry Kalahari Desert appears as an uninhabited wasteland unable to support life. Dried up riverbeds wind through dusty plains; even a light breeze creates swirls of dust in this hot and unrelenting environment. Then, almost overnight, a natural phenomenon occurs. Water floods into the desert creating a beautiful wetland. At the heart of the Kalahari sands is the Okavango Delta, an expanse of floodplains and forested islands criss-crossed by an expanse of waterways. As the floodwater filters through to the lagoons and grassy plains, the Okavango Delta becomes an extraordinary hive of animal activity.
During the floods animals arrive in their thousands; swarms of dragonflies appear in thick clouds as if by magic as soon as the flood begins. Bullfrogs awake contributing to the deafening chorus of frogs celebrating the arrival of the floodwater.
The sky turns pink with the arrival of great flocks of flamingos, returning home to breed.
A multitude of other birds and insects, fill the skies as the plains come to life. Great herds of wildebeest, buffalo and zebra gather. Thousands of elephants congregate, while large hippos battle over prime breeding territories. With them come Africa’s great predators. Hungry lions congregate while crocodiles lurk in wait.
Where and when
The best time to visit is during and immediately after the floods reach the plains. This is generally between July and September and is when the wildlife is most prolific with animals congregating around the water holes and pans.
There is a good choice of accommodation in the Okavango Delta and different camps will offer different types of activity depending on their location. Camps located in the heart of the floodplains will offer more water-based game viewing, while camps set in the outer lying dry areas will be able to offer vehicle safaris. We recommend staying in a couple of different camps when you visit the region to get the full experience.
Travelling earlier, during the wet season is not without its highlights as the whole area is a vibrant green and many of the animals give birth providing excellent photo opportunities.
While the majority of rivers in the world flow to the sea, the Okavango River ends in its Delta, right in the middle of the southern African landmass. Rising in the highlands of Angola some 500km away, during the wet season rainfall causes the river to swell, sending a cascade of water down towards the Okavango Delta.
Due to the distance involved it takes time for the water to filter down to the floodplains, with the flood normally arriving at the start of the dry season between July and August.
During the wet season from December to March, Botswana wildlife is widely dispersed. As the outer lying areas start to dry up and popular waterholes disappear, vast numbers of animals migrate back in to the Okavango Delta to coincide with the arrival of the floodwater.
A key feature of the Delta is its extraordinary nutrient base; this enables vegetation to grow quickly and also means that it has a higher nutritional quality. This may help explain why this region is so rich in wildlife.
How can I see the Okavango Delta when it is flooded?
The Government of Botswana has established a very successful strategy of low volume, high value tourism to this fragile environment; numbers are strictly limited. You’ll typically stay in a private concession and will not see others during your game drives, boat or walking safaris. This exclusivity does come at a cost, staying in the best located camps expect to pay from £5,000 per person for a week’s safari during peak season.
One of the best ways to explore the region during the flood is by boat. In a mokoro, a small dug-out canoe, follow your guide through a mass of water lilies and bright emerald reed beds, punctuated by the brilliant flashes of blue and yellow of kingfishers. Chiefs Camp on Mombo Island is perfectly located for exploring the floodplains by mokoro and offers some of the best game viewing in southern Africa.
Best time to go
July to September