Seeing African animals from a traditional mokoro (boat) in the Okavango Delta is an amazing experience.
The Okavango Delta has a unique ecosystem that doesn’t follow normal rules, and in the middle of a northern hemisphere summer is the perfect time to see all kinds of birds and mammals. We couldn’t wait to be right there with the hippos and crocodiles on our Okavango Delta safari in a mokoro.
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The Okavango Delta was just recently (2014) inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its unique flooding pattern and how the flora and fauna has adapted to it. In the middle of what would normally be the dry season, the Okavango River floods, fanning out to form a marshland that is home to many endangered species.
There are not many ways to access the delta, but most people fly into the small city of Maun. We were driving, and we did spend the night in this dusty town, then another night along the way, and finally we arrived in the village of Seronga where we were able to find our accommodations for a couple of nights.
Our lodge was everything we’d hoped it would be. Organized by the Okavango Polers Trust, the camp solely exists to provide locals a way to make money doing mokoro safaris for tourists.
A Mokoro Safari in the Okavango Delta
We rented one of the chalets and were quite comfortable, and the meals were very well done too. One night we ate kudu, which I may not ever repeat, but it was interesting. We booked our mokoro safari for the next day, and we were off to bed early with anticipation.
Down by the water’s edge there were about 20 mokoros scheduled to go out. Mokoros traditionally were hollowed out from hardwood, but in the present day and in order to preserve the trees, they are now fiberglass.
Each mokoro poler owns his own boat, and each person belongs to the Trust. The polers grew up in the delta, learning to maneuver their craft by navigating the waters to get somewhere or for fishing. For the majority of the day, we were out in the delta completely on our own except when a mokoro full of locals poled by us.
For anyone who has kayaked, getting into the mokoro was just what would be expected. It seemed at first to be a little wobbly, but once everyone was settled it was quite stable and even a bit comfortable.
We wasted no time leaving the banks of the river and soon were splitting the papyrus reeds as we poled off. This part was probably the most unsettling. The poler stands and can see where he is taking us, but as the passengers, the view is from very low and you can mostly see plants.
A relaxing “swish” and “splash” was all that was heard as we quietly made our way through the wetlands. At one point, we did come across a bloat of hippos and spent some time talking to them, photographing them, and keeping our distance as these are the most territorial and potentially vicious animals.
Around lunchtime, we stopped on hard ground, an island, and our guide pulled out our cold lunch of spaghetti and salad, which had been kept cool and was perfect for the middle of an African day. We found shelter under a tree where we ate our lunch.
We stuck very close to the poler as we were in the middle of the wilderness, but the only threatening thing we saw was a massive termite mound. We wandered close enough to take a look, but chose to have a lunch away from the millions of insects.
It was an amazing day boating through the delta, with reeds folding down in front of you to expose the bright blue sky, with birds fishing, and just knowing that this place is special; special for its people, its animals, and its ecosystem.
Pro Tip – Camping in Botswana can be a hit or miss deal. When we were there, we were very happy with our accommodations, our meals, and our guides, but I’ve read that many of the places have gotten run down. No matter what, going on the cheap and camping out in the African bush will be an adventure!
How to Get to the Okavango Delta
Most people fly into Maun, then have their lodge send a van to pick them up. However, we can’t stress enough how fun self-driving through Botswana is, and even though the miles are long, the views are amazing.
- Johannesburg to Maun – around 700 miles or 12 hours
- Gabarone to Maun – 580 miles w 9.5 hours
- Victoria Falls to Maun – 420 miles or 8 hours
Best Time to Go to the Okavango Delta
July through September is the perfect season for this type of adventure. Some of the swamps have lessened and the water has started to go down, so it’s easier to see wildlife. There are not as many mosquitoes since it’s considered the dry season. It’s much easier to view the animals as well.
The Okavango Delta’s rainy season begins in late October and goes all the way through April. This is important to the health of the wetlands, and it provides such a fertile area for sheltering and feeding the various and abundant wildlife. It does make it harder to travel in the region, though.
The flooding season is November and December, and adventurers will want to avoid those months. The shoulder months of October, January, February, and March is a tourist low season, and lodges and tours will be discounted, but if you are traveling there by car roads can be washed out or closed. The breeding season begins in late December, so if you are in the delta around January – March, you might be able to see some babies.
If you love the water, especially kayaking, then you will enjoy a mokoro safari through the amazing world heritage Okavango Delta. Full of flora and fauna, there is so much to see as you glide through the gorgeous papyrus.
Have you been on an Okavango Delta safari?
Stay Tuned! If you are enjoying reading all about our road trip through Southern Africa, we’ve got more. You can read all about our next stop, exploring the rock paintings and world heritage site, Tsodilo Hills here.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.