November 22nd, 2019

A Year in the Okavango Delta

Written by:

James Handley


Safari 101


The Okavango Delta - surely one of Africa's best known wilderness areas. 

During certain months of the year, this unique inland Delta, which only exists thanks to tectonic movements that disrupted the flow of water travelling down from Angola’s highlands, becomes a myriad of channels and rivers that brim with wildlife.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the Delta is the wettest during the height of the dry season - several months after the rains have finished. During this time, you can expect game drives to involve adventurous channel crossings with water threatening the top of the bonnet! 

It's also during this time that you'll have the opportunity of a water based safari - drifting silently through the channels in a mokoro (traditional dug-out canoe), or navigating some of the larger channels in a more sturdy boat.

The Okavango Delta from space

Distant Beginnings

As early as October, more than 1,000 kilometres away in the Angolan highlands, rainfall starts to slowly ebb and flow south through the Caprivi Strip in Namibia and into Botswana. The first small pulses of water arrive as early as February with the lions share of the 9.4 cubic kilometres of water arriving between April to June. 

The beginning of the Delta is known as the "Panhandle" and is where the volume, speed and depth of the water is at its greatest - at around 2m deep. Permanent and seasonal swamp-lands then extend out from the Panhandle covering around between 10 - 18,000 square kilometres, depending on the amount of rainfall. These swamps are generally less than half a metre deep and are dotted with small islands - safe-havens for the less aquatic animals!

By October the majority of the water has evaporated in the searing heat, or has drained into the Thamalakane River and onto Lake Xau and the Makgadikgadi Pans. Seasonal thunderstorms then arrive in Northern Botswana in November & December and refill the natural pans.

A herd of buffalo moving through the floodplains

A year in the Okavango Delta

January - March

With foals, calves and lambs starting to be born in December, this is 'baby season' and predator action can be spectacular. The majority of the annual rains fall during this period meaning that the natural pans are full and the bush is transformed into lush green canvas. 

It's by no means a washout - there may be a few hours of rain during the long days. Birds are in abundance and the vibrant backdrops are great for photography. Flamingos can be seen on the salt pans further south in Botswana.

Lodges are their cheapest 

Red lechwe keeping an eye out for any predators

April - May

The rains abate and it's a fantastic time to be in the Delta. Grasses are long, but this isn't a problem in private concessions. The flood peaks in the panhandle and nights become cooler. The first wave of the flood reaching the central Delta coincides with impala rutting season. Breeding elephant herds move north.

Lodges are in their shoulder season

The water depth in the floodplains is remarkable shallow

June - August

With the floods taking hold of the region filling up the pans, game viewing is at it's peak. The high water levels causes some wildlife to become stranded on islands. Temperatures are cooler. Elephants are concentrated around Linyanti area - amazing for mokoro trips. Aardvark sightings peak on Makgadikgadi pans. Wild dogs start to den and the vegetation takes on a neutral winter colouring and starts to thin.

This is when lodges are in high/peak seasons

Elephants revelling in the plentiful water

September - October

Wild dogs leave dens with their pups, nesting carmine bee-eaters arrive in north Delta. Leopards lurk in trees waiting for impala to feed on fallen sausage tree flowers. The elephants start to spread out and roan & sable can be sighted around Khwai. October sees a peak in temperature (up to 40C) - it can also be quite windy. Expect spectacular sunsets as dust starts to fill the air. The rapidly evaporating water concentrates wildlife around remaining water sources. 

Lodges are still in high season

A sunset mokoro trip

November - December

Periodic thunderstorms begin while the first summer migrant birds arrive. Birthing season for plains game. Start of the zebra migration on the Makgadikgadi pans. Expect very dramatic skies as the rains start to fill natural pans and bush is transformed. Red, pink and orange wild flowers carpet the plains. 

Lodges drop back to shoulder season

A mother leopard and her cub in the Delta

The only way to really appreciate the splendour of this breath-taking part of the world is from the air. As the majority of the camps and lodges in the Delta are only accessible via short flights, you'll have the opportunity to marvel at the waterways and wildlife as you come in to land.

If we've inspired you to visit the Okavango Delta, head on over to our Botswana page to find out more about this phenomenal country.

Thanks for reading,

The Bonamy Travel Team

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