A herd of elephants stomped across the wide-open plain while a family of giraffes craned their necks for a mid-day snack. As I stared out the window onto the lush green plain, it hit me: This is Africa!
I visited the Okavango – the world’s largest inland delta – during the wet season. In January the days are hot, the nights are warm and the sky occasionally turns black with thunderstorms. Although this is traditionally the low season, when the rain supposedly causes the animals to disperse, we saw plenty of wildlife during our stay.
With the help of Josiah, a friendly Batswan guide at the Mapula Lodge, we spotted elephants, buffalo, baboons, hippopotamuses, lions, giraffes, and impala.
Luxury in the Delta
I was visiting the delta with my fiancé Jake and his family, who met up with us half way through a year-long round the world trip. After staying in hostels and rustic guest houses for six months, Jake and I were enjoying the creature comforts of a safari.
The stress of a long morning of turbulent flights – from Capetown to Johannesburg to Gabarone to Maun to the Mapula Lodge – was instantly forgotten when our host, Thabo, greeted us at our last airstrip. Thabo and Josiah entertained our questions about the country and worked hard to give us the ultimate safari experience.
There was a strong sense of community at the Mapula Lodge, which was staffed by Batswana, as the locals are called. The staff even prepared a homemade cake and sang a traditional song to celebrate my future mother-in-law’s birthday. We spent our days on the plain and our nights in a private wood cabin with a canopy bed. I drifted asleep to the sounds of the river: hippos playing and fighting.
The Off-Road Animals
Since Mapula is in a private game park, Josiah was able to take us off-road to track animals. (In national parks, vehicles are restricted to the roads.) One of the trip highlights came when we parked a few feet from a group of juvenile lions. Fortunately, they seemed more concerned with catching up on their beauty sleep than attacking our jeep.
Our group got even closer to wildlife during a bush walk and a Mokoro canoe trip in the hippo-infested river. Surprisingly, hippos are among the deadliest creatures in Africa, and the narrow wood canoes don’t provide much protection. I sat out the Makoro trip, but Jake described it as “cool and scary.”
Visiting the Okavango Delta was an amazing experience. It surpassed my expectations of an African safari. Besides the abundant wildlife, the best part of the trip was meeting locals and learning about their culture and traditions.