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Rise & Fall: How the Okavango Delta “works”

Fly over the Okavango Delta at a certain time of year and below you lie glittering wetlands and looping lazy rivers. Try the same thing a few months later and it’ll be dry grass and sandy tracks.

If you’re planning a safari to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, then it’s a good idea to understand how it works. This way you can safely set your expectations concerning the wildlife you may see or the activities you will be able to do, especially if they include drifting downstream on a mokoro – the local canoe.

Aerial view of mokoro exploring the Okavango Delta channels

The classic bird’s eye view of the Okavango Delta during the floods, complete with mokoro, the Okavango’s equivalent of a canoe.

Fed by a river that rises in distant Angolan highlands, the Okavango Delta is a seasonally-driven ecosystem. There is a part of it that is always wet but most of the Delta depends on the arrival of what the locals simply call ‘the flood’. This event – which happens when Botswana’s climate is at its driest – completely transforms the landscape, turning parched savannah into a lush wetland attracting great numbers of animals and birds.

The Okavango Delta is home to big cats and hippos

The Delta floods are welcomed by some animals more than others! Lions find the hunting good but are wary around water.

The flood also ensures visitors have the full set of safari activities to look forward to in the greater Okavango Delta area, which includes the famous Moremi Game Reserve. Camps that specialise in the water-based experience now deliver a broad mix of boating, fishing, canoeing and island walks. And lodges that usually focus on land-based activities – day and night drives, horseback and walking safaris – are now able to offer water activities.

Mokoro and boat excursions are available in the Okavango Delta

Water-based activities like these are often dependent on the floods, especially at camps in the southern delta.

It’s not something that is carefully choreographed however: the timing of the flood and the volume of water differs from year to year. And it’s not necessarily the case that peak flood months in the Okavango Delta are the very best months for wildlife viewing in the rest of Botswana – the Chobe River or the Kalahari for example.

Elephant herd drinking at the Chobe River

Do some careful planning if you want to combine the Okavango floods with big herds of elephants at the Chobe River.

But the Okavango Delta is often the centrepiece of a Botswana safari itinerary and the month you choose to visit will determine the experience you are likely to have. To understand how the Okavango Delta works, it’s best to break the year down.

Okavango Delta water levels

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