Over millions of years, shifts along fault lines have funneled water from nearby rivers into a tectonic trough in the middle of Kalahari Desert in Botswana. This has created the Okavango Delta, a lush desert oasis that is a sprawling network of weaving channels, lagoons, swamps, and islands. This ecosystem is home to an extremely diverse population of wildlife, including a remarkable number of birds, a dynamic population of predators, and unique species adapted to this aquatic environment. The logistical challenges created by changing water levels have preserved the delta as an extremely remote, untouched environment. Most of the delta’s secluded camps are accessible only by air.
Every year the rains in the Angolan highlands surge down the Okavango River, and after a 750-mile journey, the water flows into the Okavango Delta. When the region should be transitioning into a dry winter season, the bush rebounds with life and color when the annual flood arrives between April and May. The dry Kalahari soil transforms into a water-filled paradise of palm-fringed islands and zigzagging hippo highways. By October, the flooded regions of the Okavango have slowly dissipated into the Kalahari sand, turning the vast floodplains and deep-water channels into seasonal grasslands and small pools. Whether taking in its unimaginable scenery and rich wildlife on a drive, a dugout canoe, or a boat, the Okavango Delta is sure to leave you feeling fully embraced by nature’s beauty.
Beginning in April, temperatures fall throughout the Okavango Delta as it moves into winter. Daytime temperatures remain comfortable, and mornings and evenings are cool and crisp. Although this time of year experiences little to no rainfall, it is considered the wet season, as floodwaters reach the Okavango Delta, filling the plains, channels, and lagoons. With the inundation of floodwaters, nonaquatic animals become isolated on water-bound islands throughout the delta. The animals must wait for the waters to recede in order to migrate farther distances.
The water levels begin to drop across the delta through dissipation into the Kalahari sands, and by October only permanent deep channels and lagoons remain. Days become longer as the region transitions into summer. October is Botswana’s warmest month, and temperatures reach into the mid- to high 90s during the day. Heat quickly escapes the cool Kalahari sands, and when the sun sets there is a slight drop in temperatures. Summer’s warm temperatures and humidity build impressive thunderclouds ready to release the first rains. By the end of October to November the first rains typically fall. The rains cool the warm summer air, savanna plains fill with fresh shoots of green grass, and migratory birds return.
The biodiversity found in the delta is tremendous. Lions, leopards, hyenas, buffalo, and breeding herds of elephants followed by mighty bulls navigate this dynamic environment. The Okavango Delta’s palm-fringed islands, vast floodplains, freshwater lagoons, and channels support a staggering diversity of birdlife. It is a bird-lover’s haven with over 400+ species recorded, including Pel’s fishing owls, wattled cranes, rosy-throated longclaws, slaty egrets, and lesser jacanas.
The delta is also a refuge for some of Africa’s most elusive and rare animals. The sitatunga, a secretive, aquatic antelope, lives within papyrus and reed beds. One of the world’s most endangered predators, the African wild dog, has found refuge on some of the delta’s larger islands. Their numbers continue to increase with the help of grassroots conservation and research projects. Local ecotourism companies and conservation organizations have developed and completed successful rhino relocation projects in Botswana. These efforts have established a viable population of rhinos in a protected area and have helped ensure their survival in the Okavango Delta.