A Walking Safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

Published 13 March 2017

Sophie Cole

Botswana is home to one of Africa’s most diverse, constantly changing landscapes: the Okavango Delta. It’s a maze of lagoons, meandering water channels, abundant islands, and home to a myriad of birds and wildlife.

The best way to experience life in this wetland wilderness is to spend a few days exploring it, enjoying a couple of walking safaris and mokoro rides along the way. By walking you notice the little, yet extraordinary things. You witness spontaneous, spectacular moments that unfold before your eyes and you get to experience the unknown, the exciting. It’s here that we got up close to hippos, we saw a herd of zebra and elephant on foot, and we encountered a midnight visit from the lions.

Okavango Delta from above

Flying over the Okavango

Before venturing into the delta, we were very fortunate to be able to enjoy a flight over it. Travelling in a small aircraft plane, we soared above the vast African plains, viewing the landscape from a totally different perspective. Looking down, a kaleidoscope of earthy colours before our eyes; rich greens, blended with the murky blue from meandering rivers, and the odd grey speckle of an elephant, appearing the size of an ant. Only 50 metres above the ground, the views were clear and vivid, yet the wildlife we spotted seemed the size of tiny insects, giving us a very real perspective of the scale of the delta.

A mokoro in the Okavango Delta image: Sophie Cole

The journey into the Okavango

The following day we began our journey into the wetland wilderness. We travelled by an open 4x4 truck, with back-to-front seats providing superb views across the African landscape. An hour and a half later we reached the entry to the delta. Roads and civilisation had been replaced by an abundant waterway and natural surroundings. It is here that we were introduced to the polers, our guides for the next few days. Before we had a moment to acclimatize to the sparse new surroundings, we were peacefully floating along the delta river in mokoros, traditional dugout canoes made by the Botswanan people themselves. We were told it takes one man almost a month to make one of these canoes, such grand designs that are sturdy and completely floatable.

Journeying deeper into the delta along the meandering river channels, we glided past some wonderful wildlife, witnessing everything from zebras and giraffes on land, to hippos bathing in the waters. It was a nature lovers’ paradise!

Hippos in the Okavango Delta image: Sophie Cole

Watching the hippos

By day we spent time lazing about in the shallow waters of the delta, sun bathing and applying a layer of natural mud masks to our bodies; all very earth friendly and completely free! One late afternoon, before sunrise, we hopped back into the mokoro to see the hippos. Surprisingly, hippos are one of the most dangerous mammals in Africa, therefore it was with relief we kept a pretty substantial distance away from these large creatures. They were continuously yawning, a sign of warning to rival enemies, therefore it was slightly relieving when our group leader decided to call it a day, leaving the hippos in peace in their wetland environment.

Sunset at the Okavango Delta image: Sophie Cole

A walking safari

During our visit into the Okavango, we were lucky enough to enjoy a number of walking safaris; one in daylight, one at nightfall and one at sunrise. By day, we witnessed a lone African elephant wandering around the thicket of the bush, a herd of zebras grazing in the distance, and our guide spotted the paw prints of a lion. At night the safari was pretty exciting, exploring in the dark, although we saw less wildlife. Whilst at sunrise it was all about the sun lighting up the morning sky. The birds were the most vocal at this point.


A night-time visit from the lions

Sleeping in the Okavango Delta is a magical experience. There was one night that will stick with me for the rest of my life. The night the lions paid us a midnight visit. Fast asleep, I was abruptly awoken when my camping buddy needed the toilet. However, to our amazement, and slight terror, one of the polers calmly told her, “Stay in the tent, there are lions outside!”

Minutes later, almost on cue, the deep rumbling roar of a male lion, only ten metres away from our camp, echoed into the darkness of the African night. Full of mixed emotions; excitement, fear, curiosity, we barely moved a muscle. Our poler reassured us, from the safety of his zipped-up tent, that the lions wouldn’t venture any closer, due to the fire burning bright in the heart of our camp. The lion’s roar was so loud, and incredibly powerful. It left us speechless. The soundtrack of the lions eventually diminished as the lion and three lionesses moved on from our camp. Apparently there was also an elephant in the distance, also making itself heard, however by this point I was fast asleep.

Guides dancing image: Sophie Cole

The African dance

Another memory that will stick with me was the African dance. By day, the African polers were quiet and reserved, always kindly offering us their seats around the campsite. By night, they came alive and shone in a different light. One night, they put on the most amazing performance. They started singing, perfectly in tune with the most soulful, powerful voices. This was followed by a dance, like an African ritual, which saw them effortlessly swaying and twirling around in perfect rhythm.

Mokoro safari

Mokoro safari

Travelling by mokoro was so relaxing and peaceful. On our way out of the delta, by chance, I looked up to see a herd of zebra close to the marshes, staring right at us. Something startled one of them and they galloped off into the distance. It was a beautiful rare moment, hearing the thundering hooves of zebra in the wild. Travelling by mokoro allowed us to get that bit closer to nature, so wild and free.

For anyone who thrives off an adventure and wants to see African wildlife up close and personal, a walking safari in the Okavango is ideal. It perfectly blends seeing stunning, otherworldly landscapes and close encounters with Africa’s beautiful wildlife. 

Set off on safari with one of Round the World Experts' safari holidays or chat to your Africa Expert for further information.

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