Travel Botswana. You want the ultimate wildlife spectacle? I heart the Okavango Delta

Africa's biggest oasis. Not-to-be-missed-journey. One of Africa's true wildernesses. Experience of a lifetime ...

The Unesco says about the Okavango Delta: "This delta in north-west Botswana comprises permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains. 

It is one of the very few major interior delta systems that do not flow into a sea or ocean, with a wetland system that is almost intact. One of the unique characteristics of the site is that the annual flooding from the River Okavango occurs during the dry season, with the result that the native plants and animals have synchronized their biological cycles with these seasonal rains and floods.  It is an exceptional example of the interaction between climatic, hydrological, and biological processes. 

The Okavango Delta is home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammals, such as the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, African wild dog, and lion."

Being a massive admirer of Southern Africa I decided that I had to see this part of the world with my very own eyes.

"You cannot go on holiday by car from Cape Town in South Africa to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. That is a 4,000 kilometres return trip, that's too far to drive. One cannot drive alone through Botswana without a travel group. That's much too dangerous. You cannot camp in Botswana. You have to register at a safari lodge. You need a ranger, a person who shows and explains everything to you." ...

All these expressed concerns are going through my head when I jump at dawn into my Land Rover at the guesthouse in the district of Tamboerskloof in Cape Town to start my trip to Botswana. It's not as if I would
not have prepared for my little journey.  

The books by Alexander McCall Smith from the series "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" told me a lot about life in Botswana. How to behave when I meet a snake, that is something I know from my life in Australia. Never provoke a snake or touch it with a stick, it is best to retreat quickly (and not to hang around to take a photograph). If you get bitten by a venomous snake, stay calm, do not try to suck the venom out of the wound, put a bandage above the wound of the bite and search for the nearest help (hospital, ranger). 

And you can bet that I studied the one or other outdoor magazine in great detail. Jerry cans with water, fuel canisters, a tire pump, two spare tires, a jack, and food plus cooking equipment, all safely stashed away. I am determined to survive my trip.

These stories tell you a lot about Botswana

A white Land Rover parked on a sandy track in front of a small shop.
Okavango Delta - Tuck Shop

Medicine against love diseases

Botswana is often called the Switzerland of Africa. Not because that there are many mountains, it rather refers to the economic success of the country. I need three whole days for the trip to Maun in Botswana. The drive up there wasn’t safe at all. In Botswana unencumbered donkeys, goats and cattle graze freely. You really have to be careful not to run over one of these mates. Every few hours I see one of the unfortunates lying at the roadside. The sight of a dead cow stiff, its legs sticking up in the air is not particularly edifying. I've never seen that in Switzerland in this form. Same goes for classifieds by healers offering medication for all kinds of love diseases, gambling problems, and unproductive cattle.

Scrambled eggs and coffee on the campfire in the Okavango Delta

Cooking scrambled eggs and coffee on the campfire in the unfenced camps in Moremi and Savuti National Park left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. Whether in Khwai, Savuti, Linyanti, Xakanaxa, Third Bridge, or Maqwee, I constantly expect a lion to attack me. Why not? You hear the craziest things, right? 

Comes sunrise I'm on my way, the chance of animal encounters is massive, it is not too hot and they come to the waterholes to drink. Ever since I saw the African sky for the first time, I can’t get it out of my head. Here the sky is wide and the clouds are huge, I'm happy. I am not attacked by lions, nor by hippos, of which one usually only sees the eyes afloat in water holes, and on occasion their wide-open mouths.  

The many elephants that constantly block my way and fan out their ears let me go unscathed from thence. I don’t even get eaten by the crocodiles I discover on the boat tours through the in water lilies covered delta. As I have to pump some air into a flat tire, not even a baboon jumps onto my back.

The water of the Okavango Delta covered in water lillies under a blue sky with fluffly white clouds.
Boat tour Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta - driving on sand

Navigating the Okavango Delta - Turn left at the elephant tree

I also survive the eternal wandering and driving in the deep sand tracks in the scorching heat. The rangers support with well-intentioned advice and notes. "You know, at the elephant tree, you have to turn to the left, and at the river crossing you should adhere strongly to the right and near the shore." Not easy if one, like I, does not even remotely know how an elephant tree looks like, but with a little bit of goodwill everything is feasible, even for a city slicker like me.

On one day I search for a whopping seven hours for the junction that will lead me to my destination. All the giraffes and elephants who I meet on that day definitely feel confirmed in their belief that it is not always so easy for bipeds to make their way around in the wilderness. Did they just shake their head

Two hours before nightfall I find the turn to take on the sand track, and that with the help of a local construction worker. And indeed, that's the little one amidst bushes, in which my GPS tried to guide me over and over again. In hindsight, things are so easy if only I would have listened to the device. After two more hours in the car, I put up my picnic table. And the hyenas? Again, they don’t eat me.


Okavango Delta - flooded areas


I love you too Botswana

The impressions are difficult to process. The beauty is overwhelming. In the evenings countless fireflies dance through the night sky and the background music is the croaking of frogs. Everything seems like a dream. Even today, I still cannot believe that I was there. In the national parks, there are these signs: "Botswana. Thank you. We love you. And come again."

What can I say other than “I love you too Botswana".

Psst - better not say a word

Think about this before you go to Botswana

You cannot just arrive in Botswana and expect that you will be let into a national park. To avoid being sent away, you can book the stay in advance. Malaria prevention plus other vaccinations (please check with your GP at the time of travel) are essential. The equipment for the bush you have to take with you depends largely on the sort of trip you plan. And of course, you have to read the Alexander McCall Smith novels The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It's as if you were in Botswana. Just in case you wonder: The author doesn't pay me to say this.

Please don’t forget that a journey through Botswana is not to be confused with a walk in the park. The Okavango Delta is easily accessible from Maun. It might not be for everyone to organize everything without the help of a tour company and to visit the area alone. It depends on what you are like, and foremost on how much experience you have with travelling fully self-sustainable. 

It is already exciting enough to travel alone and in remote areas of, let's say Australia, but throw wild animals into the mix and it becomes a very different story. You would have to consider that you should store away food and water safely after dark, and never to walk around ever (unless there is a trained ranger with you), because you wouldn't want to get attacked by animals. You would have to constantly remind yourself not to step out of your vehicle on game drives, even if it is tempting, and only for this one picture, it is a big don't.

Set up camp and cook before dusk to be on the safe side. Rather be safe than sorry. Maybe you go camping in for example the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as a warm-up, and to get a feel for camping in remote areas. Campsites there are fenced in, hence it is safe at night. Read 20 things to take with you on a trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and 15 minutes of heavy rain in the Kalahari. 

Take enough time to decide what works best for you ... but do yourself a favour, just visit the Okavango Delta. I booked my permits via this website of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks by the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism of Botswana.

If you can't go there just yet, browse this amazing coffee table book: Okavango. Africa's Last Eden. I bought it after I visited, just so that I can be sure it wasn't but a dream but a place that really exists. 

Isn't it just wonderful? 

From Berlin with love