Botswana, the home of the tswana people ( Batswana) is a large country with a relatively small population. A large part of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert, so any descriptions of the country are usually synonymous with dry, barren land. But in the North-West district of Botswana, lies the town Maun. It is home to the Okavango Delta, one of Botswana’s top travel destinations. The delta is formed where the Okavango river reaches a trough in the Kalahari. In the winter time, rainfall from the Angola highlands flows into the Okavango, causing the delta to flood. This is the best time to see wildlife in the area as the animals come closer to the banks to drink water, and there is less vegetation so animals are easier to spot.
There are a few options. SA Airlink has a direct flight from Cape Town to Maun, however the prices will generally be high. You can also fly Air Botswana direct from Johannesburg to Maun, or from Cape Town to Maun with one stop in Gaberone. Maun is also accessible by road, but no matter where you’re coming from, it’s going to be a long drive! If you are staying in a luxury safari camp, chances are a private plane can be chartered for you. But this is obviously the most expensive option. You can get a taxi to take you to your accommodation from the airport. The prices are reasonable and all taxis are clearly marked.
Where to stay
Maun has two extremes; really cheap backpackers and lodges, and really luxurious camps. Depending on your budget, you’ll know which applies to you here. I stayed at Old bridge Backpackers, where I paid for a camping spot. I had my own camping equipment, but you can rent a tent, mattress and chairs if you wish. They also have drive-in sites for those that are overlanding, as well as semi permanent camps, for those that want to feel like they’re living in a tent, but would still like the mod cons. They offer breakfast, lunch and supper; with all three catering for vegetarians. They accept, cash and credit, as well as major currencies, which is very convenient. The restaurant is popular with locals as well. There is a self-catering kitchen, should you wish to prepare your own meals. There is a supermarket near the airport, so if you need to buy some groceries, you can do this on arrival, or just catch a taxi back to the “New Mall” for 8 BWP (Pula).
Things to do
1. Mokoro Rides
It doesn’t get more authentic than this. A mokoro is a canoe that is made out of a dugout tree bark. They are steered by polers; local men and women who undergo training to learn how to steer the canoe with a pole by standing at the back, while balancing the canoe. There are two ways to experience the Okavango river in the mokoro. You can go for a day trip, where you head out around 8 in the morning, and go for a slow ride across the river. You stop of at one of the islands where you can then go and track animals on foot! We saw Wildebeest, Zebra, Elephants and several antelopes. And no, the guide is not armed. Don’t worry, it makes the experience even more exhilarating! You then have some packed lunch and go back to the mokoro to head back home. Be sure to wear a wide brimmed hat and light, long-sleeved top. Needless to say, you need a whole lot of sunblock too! The second way is to go for overnight trips. You need to carry your own food and water. A tent, mattress and cook are provided for the overnight trips. They also provide a spade; no guesses what that’s for! Not all overnight campsites have shower facilities, so you can just take a dip in the river. During the day, you will go out to see some wildlife, and depending on how many nights you’re out for, you will move around several camps.
2. Moremi Game drives
The Moremi Nature Reserve is a fantastic place to go for a safari. If you’re short on time, you can do a one day safari. Old bridge Backpackers can arrange this for you. You head out at about 5am and then come back around 5 or 6 pm. A packed breakfast, lunch and water are included in the price. If you have a 4×4 vehicle, you can also self-drive through Moremi, which will work out to be cheaper.
3. Horse riding in the Okavango Delta
This is the best way to really get into the water, without actually going in yourself. The horse rides can be 2-3 hours, depending on your riding competency. If you’re a beginner like me, don’t worry, 2 hours is more than enough. Just a word of caution to the guys, make sure you wear comfortable trousers and underwear that will keep things in place, if you know what I mean! It can get a bit uncomfortable. You can go for a ride in the morning or in the evenings. It’s much cooler and quieter then.
4. Sunset Cruise
If you went on a day trip for the mokoro, the cruise is a great way to get more of the river. It goes on a different route than the mokoro rides, and in the deeper parts you get to see more animals. We managed to see a family of Hippos, and some crocodiles. There are also lots of birds out on the river; it’s breathtaking. You can go out on the boat for an hour or two. It all depends on your budget. Also, the more of you that go, the cheaper it becomes, as the price is fixed for the boat.
5. Basket Weaving
Get closer with the locals, and try your hand at basket weaving. Learn about how the crafts industry has been a source of living for many in the area. The course is three hours, and I managed to make a small basket to keep my earrings. If you catch on quickly, you can probably make a bigger basket. The lady is very friendly and has a shop full of curios, should you wish to purchase anything else on your trip. She accepts card for any purchases from the shop,but the basket weaving courses must be paid for in cash. It’s a great experience!