The Okavanga Delta – Mokoro Cruising

The Okavanga DeltaThe Botswana government has approved spraying insecticides to control the tsetse fly population, and studies are underway to determine the effects of spraying on other insects, birds, and fish. As global temperatures rise, the delta’s abundant water at certain times of the year makes this area vulnerable to pipeline drainage used to supply water to parched desert communities.

Every winter—which in Botswana begins in July—the Okavango River flows south out of the uplands of Angola, its waters swollen to bursting by the rainy season. By the time it gets to this vast bowl in Botswana, it has overrun its banks, spreading out throughout the delta. Crystal-clear pools, channels, and lagoons spring up everywhere, playing host to a rich diversity of wildlife, who flock here in grateful escape from the adjacent Kalahari Desert.

Game lodges in the delta are classified as “wet” or “dry” according to whether or not they are surrounded by water during flood season, but it’s not as if being surrounded is a problem—it just means you’ll do all your traveling around by mokoro, a narrow canoelike boat propelled through the water by a human with a long pole. (Traditionally carved out of tree trunks, nowadays most are made from fiberglass.) These silent, shallow craft make it possible to get really close to birds and animals for wildlife viewing. As you glide along, the air is filled with the sounds of birds calling, frogs trilling, and antelope rustling in the reeds. Wildebeest, hartebeest, buffalo, and zebra roam the islands before you; elephants wade across channels guarded by hippos and crocs.

Game camps in the Okavango are generally tented affairs, since the operators are required to make no permanent marks on the land, but some of these are quite luxurious tents indeed. Most of the camps are set within the Moremi Game Reserve, in the northeastern segment of the delta, which is marketed as the “Predator Capital of Africa” for the number of lions and leopards you can sight. Given the complexities of travel within Botswana, it’s best to book your lodgings as part of a package trip through a safari specialist company. They’re pricey, yes, but the experience is once-in-a-lifetime special.