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First Impressions of Travel in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

  • Leslie Koch
  • 21 July 2011

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!

My first wildlife sighting in Botswana came before I had even touched down in the Okavango Delta. I took the elephants and giraffes grazing below our Cessna as a sign of things to come.

Elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

A herd of elephants roams the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

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.

Giraffe, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Giraffes are a common sight in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

With the help of Josiah, a friendly Batswan guide at the Mapula Lodge, we spotted elephants, buffalo, baboons, hippopotamuses, lions, giraffes, and impala.

Jeep safari, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Writer Leslie Koch and her fiancé Jake enjoy their safari in Botswana. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

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.

Small plane in Botswana

A small plane takes visitors from the town of Maun, Botswana, to the Mapula Lodge. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

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.

Jeep safari at dusk in Botswana

Treks at the Mapula Lodge in Botswana are conducted in a classic safari jeep (see above), on foot and by canoe. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

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.

Lion in Botswana

A juvenile male lion yawns within feet of the safari vehicle. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

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.”

Canoes on the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Mokoro canoe trips are a popular attraction in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Photo courtesy of Leslie Koch/downtowntraveler.com

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.

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Leslie Koch

Leslie Koch is a freelance writer and blogger based in New York City. She edits DowntownTraveler.com (click on 'Read More' below), an online magazine for urban travellers interested in art, culture and adventure. Follow her on Twitter (@DowntownTravel).
Leslie Koch
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adventure travel, Africa, Botswana, game reserves, outdoors, personal experience, safaris, Southern Africa,

3 Responses to “First Impressions of Travel in the Okavango Delta, Botswana”

  1. I envy you …. i wish i would go in such a awesome trip soon.

  2. Teamworkz says:

    Sounds like a fantastic adventure

  3. Lovely article with great photos! Would love to go there…

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