The Okavango Delta in northwest Botswana is unique. The annual flood of fresh water that gathers here from Angola's western highlands slowly spreads for more than 5,800 square miles (15,000 sq km) over the Kalahari Desert forming a maze of lagoons and channels. The thousands of islands that arise sustain several diverse ecosystems, which are home to vast numbers of game and a myriad of birds, while the champagne-coloured waters support a varied array of aquatic life.
The height of the flood occurs in August each year, and as it recedes in its constant cycle, the delta shrinks. At its lowest level the delta covers about 2,300 square miles (6,000 sq km).
As the flood increases, so does the wildlife that congregates in huge numbers between May and October each year. The delta draws large numbers of animal populations that are rare, such as crocodile, red lechwe, sitatunga, wild dogs, buffalo and wattled crane. The familiar favourites are there in force too - various antelope, elephants, giraffe, hippos, lions, and leopards.
Numerous game camps and lodges are located in the Delta catering to the range of visitors who come to enjoy the teeming flora and fauna. The favoured way to travel through the Delta's channels is on a , a dugout canoe, paddled by a local guide.
Moremi, about 37 miles (60km) from Maun, is a 1,160 square mile (3,000 sq km) reserve in the middle of the Okavango Delta, in one of the world's most pristine wilderness areas. Accessible by air or road from Maun, self-driving is recommended for experienced four-wheel-drive enthusiasts in the dry months. Alternatively visitors can join safari packages from the reserve's luxury lodges. A wonderful way to see the delights of the Delta is on a mokoro (a dug-out canoe), which is poled through the waterways by experienced guides. Stay in unfenced camps and experience nature at its purest in the heart of Africa.
The second largest game park in Botswana, Chobe comprises four regions; the river floodplains and teak forest, the Savute marshes, the Linyanti swamp, and the dry hinterland. Chobe is especially well known for its immense elephant population, counting more than 70,000, and it is not uncommon to encounter herds in excess of a hundred members at a time. The Chobe River forms the northern border of the park, and makes for excellent game-viewing by boat. There are a number of game lodges, hotels and camps in the Chobe area and at Kasane, the main town in northern Botswana, which has an airport and good road network. Close to the Zimbabwean border, Victoria Falls lies barely an hour's drive away.
To the west of the Okavango Delta area, about 33 miles (53km) from the town of Shakawe, is a mysterious site shrouded in myth, legend and spiritual significance for the local San people, who have inhabited the area for 35,000 years or more. The Tsodilo Hills are believed by the San to be the site of first Creation. The area is festooned with thousands of rock paintings representing a variety of scenes, some of which date back to 1,300 AD. Several trails lead to more than 350 rock painting sites. The area is remote, with no shops or accommodation facilities, but it is possible to camp and draw from borehole water.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are located in the north-east of the country and are among the largest salt flats on earth, covering 6,200 square miles (16,000km²) of the Kalahari basin. During the annual rains, the pans become a source of fresh water and grass for migratory wildlife, especially the massive wildebeest and zebra herds that move through the area. Self-drive visitors are advised to use only four wheel drive vehicles as the terrain can be testing. A good map and a GPS system are also essential, as getting lost in the desert can be disastrous. Also, as a general rule, it is advised that visitors drive in the tracks of other vehicles and keep to the edge of the pan.
The Okavango Delta experiences heavy afternoon thunderstorms during the months between December and March, accounting for most of the annual rainfall. The hottest months are December to February where average daytime temperatures can soar as high as 104°F (40°C) and humidity is high.
March to June are the most pleasant months to visit as the temperature cools down and average temperatures reach around 86°F (30°C) and nights are cooler. The winter months of June to September are dry and cold with night-time temperate dropping to close to freezing.
The main attraction to the Okavango is without a doubt the wildlife, which is in abundance in this geographically unique region. Big game viewing is the heart of the tourism industry in the Okavango with many species on offer including hundreds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, hippo, crocodiles and not to forget the big cats such as lions, leopards and cheetah. It should be noted, however, that game viewing very much depends on season, and water and food availability. The winter months of June to August are a good time to visit as the floodwaters bring many new species to the region.
The town of Maun is the administrative centre of the Delta region and has an airstrip which serves as landing point for most incoming visitors to the Okavango. Countless safari and air charter companies operate in the town, which has been transformed from a rural outpost by the advent of tourism, although it is still a little rough around the edges. It extends along the Thamalakane River, and now boasts good shopping centres, hotels, banks, and lodges.
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