Imagine endless channels of water carpeted with floating lilies, distinctive islands packed full of Africa’s finest game set amidst a riot of colours and a cacophony of sounds. This is the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
In June, the floods from Angola are slowly making this famous area expand into a complex labyrinth of rivers and water channels to become one of the best and most beautiful game viewing experiences on the continent. Flying over in a small Cessna plane is a truly magical experience, where you can see elephants roaming freely, red lechwe running through the marshes and zebra galloping along the islands.
My latest trip was a fairly hectic whistle-stop tour of some of the finest lodges in this area. These included Savuti Bush Camp, where you can observe the elephants at a nearby waterhole – so close you can almost touch them; Kwara where predators are rife and a cheetah kill or wild dog hunt is all part of a normal viewing experience and Little Vumbura, the most stunning, intimate and beautifully designed camp set in the true heart of the Delta, surrounded by water. Baines was another water-based camp, that gave me the added bonus of spending a morning with semi-habituated elephants, who were rescued from death – walking, touching and learning how intelligent these majestic beasts are. I also loved the fact that all the walls at Baines camp are made from recycled cans – 150, 000 to be exact. Durable, long-lasting and utilizing the huge amount of waste we create every day.
Chief’s camp set on Chief’s island inside the Moremi game reserve provided some of the best game viewing experiences in this entire area. In my short stay, the game was bountiful. I witnessed lions chasing a leopard away from its recent kill and as I boarded my next Cessna flight, two lions mating! Shinde was the next stop. This is a striking alternative to other camps, designed with the hint of North African decor. Our night by the campfire was spent listening to a jackal protect its territory from the roaming leopard, whilst the full moon glistened overhead.
However, my absolute favourite would be Macatoo camp, part of African Horseback Safaris. I would classify it as a normal tented camp with all the necessary frills including flowing water and flush toilets. The main area is a mess tent with the standard campfire setup. A little taste of extra luxury comes with the viewing deck and plunge pool.
What makes Macatoo so special is the atmosphere. John, a colourful character leads horseback safaris into the bush/delta where one can gallop endlessly through scrub bush, forests and shallow water, alongside red lechwe and giraffes. My personal highlight was riding thigh-deep in water through the channels, silently tracking the wildlife.
The camp also offers other activities including game drives, walks, mokoro trips and boat cruises, so for people not so keen on four-legged safari there is plenty to keep you entertained.
Macatoo retains a relaxed feel and the staff do much to engender lots of fun and laughter. To round it off the cuisine is fantastic! So, if you’re looking for a real gem, this would be my choice. You will not experience the Okavango Delta in a more amazing way, in my opinion, and are as likely to shed a tear when you leave as to make the promise to return as soon as possible.
The focus on eco-tourism runs deep in Botswana and protecting this habitat a key concern. Tourism concentrates on high quality but low volume – preventing the area from turning into a seething mass of tourism. Rest assured, and true to memory, you will be greeted with a huge smile.