Okavango Delta Safari Reserves: in detail
Okavango Delta safari holidays: the full story
The Okavango River rises in the highlands of Angola and flows southeast into the Kalahari, where it spreads out into a delta formation. The Okavango River delta, or 'Okavango Delta' as it's usually known, is one of Africa's top safari areas. It covers over 15,000km² with a lush water-wilderness of papyrus swamps, shallow reed-beds and floodplains, dotted with islands and laced with a network of channels. A safari to the Okavango Delta' is one of Africa's top big game safaris – and the Okavango Delta is also a wonderful place to relax.
An Okavango Delta safari may not be your first idea of a safari – but gliding silently in a mokoro (a traditional dugout canoe), you'll watch wildlife at eye level. It might take your guide's keen eyes to spot the terrapins basking on floating logs, or a fish eagle just perching, watching and waiting. Often it's the smaller things in the Okavango Delta that catch your eye, like the tropical fish that flash through the Delta's clear waters or the iridescent malachite kingfishers that dive for them; sometimes it's larger animals - red lechwe wading through the river's shallows, or elephants on the islands - whilst all around water-lilies bloom and birds call.
Why safari in the Okavango Delta's private reserves?Protecting the Okavango Delta's amazing delta environment is the Moremi Wildlife Reserve and, around that, a network of excellent private 'safari reserves', or 'concessions'. Most of these Delta reserves contain a couple of small, private safari camps. Guests arrive at these by air, and they offer great safari activities. In contrast to the public game parks, these private reserves have four main advantages:
- The guides are allowed to drive off-road whilst on safari when searching for and following game.
- The guides can conduct night-drives on safari, allowing you to see the nocturnal animals – for example, leopard are more frequently seen around dusk and at night.
- Some reserves offer walking safaris in the Okavango Delta; these are not allowed in the national park.
- These private safari reserves are private: you'll see few other people on safari here; this is a real luxury in such a pristine area!
Where to safari in the Okavango Delta's private reserves?There are two excellent maps of the Okavango Delta on this site: an amazing interactive Satellite map, with links marking all the camps; and a reference map showing all the reserves and their boundaries.
You can navigate using the links on the satellite map, but meanwhile looking 'clockwise' around the Okavango Delta, the main reserves here, and their safari camps and lodges, are:
Sandibe / Chitabe Reserve (NG31)On the south side of the Okavango Delta, this reserve has three camps and is effectively split into two halves: Sandibe Reserve has just one lodge, Sandibe Safari Lodge, on the north side – which offers a good mix of game and deep-water activities. To the south the adjacent Chitabe Reserve you'll find Chitabe Camp, and the smaller Chitabe Lediba. Chitabe is a very good area for dry-land safaris.
Stanley's and Baines' Reserve (NG32)To the south of Chitabe and Moremi Game Reserve, this large reserve has two main camps: Stanley's Camp and its smaller, smarter sibling, Baines' Camp. Its game is probably more variable than Chitabe, but it is the base for the amazing and sensitive elephant experience with Doug Groves – which is worth coming here for. Visit this from either camp, though best book it in advance!
Abu Reserve (NG26)In the southwest of the Delta, Abu Reserve is famous for its elephant-back safaris which are based out of the expensive Abu Camp. Also in this reserve you'll find the exclusive Elephant Villa, and the new Seba Camp – both of which are very good for families or small groups traveling together. The game here doesn't match the east of the Okavango Delta, or the safari areas of the Kwando-Linyanti during the dry season, but it's fine during the wetter months between about January and April.
Nxabega / Kanana Reserve (NG27A)West of Chief's Island, and bordering Moremi Game Reserve, this area includes the well-run Nxabega Safari Camp, Shinde's watery sister-camp, Kanana and, in a very picturesque corner of the Delta, the delightful Pom Pom Camp. Again, this reserve isn't a top game area during the dry season, but we do find that it is often excellent when more water is around at the start of the year.
Jao Reserve (NG25)Further north, and also on the west side of the delta, are several camps in the picturesque Jao Reserve. The three on the east side offer superb water activities, including the palatial Jao Camp, the classic Kwetsani Camp and the smaller Jacana Camp. On the drier (western) side of the reserve, Tubu Tree Camp is a lovely small camp, which concentrates on dry-land 4WD safaris.
Duba Plains Reserve (NG23)On the northern side of the Delta, Duba Plains Reserve has just one super little camp: Duba Plains Camp. This lovely reserve largely consists of vast grassy plains – of rich, nutritious grass – which attracts large herds of buffalo, amongst other game species. Safaris to Duba are known for the battles between lion and buffalo. Stop here for 3-4 nights if you can, to see the spectacle at its best, and book ahead.
Vumbura Reserve (NG22)East of Duba is the excellent Vumbura Reserve; for safaris in the Okavango Delta, it's one of the best and most scenic of the Okavango Deltas safari reserves. Like Duba Plains Reserve, this is a top-notch area for safari in the dry season. Then it comes close to rivaling its southern neighbour, Mombo, for the quality and diversity of its game. There are several camps here: Little Vumbura has been a first-rate, favourite camp for many years, meanwhile the newer, and substantially more costly, Vumbura Plains camps is probably the Delta's only truly minimalist, modern safari camp.
Mapula Reserve (NG12)In the far north of the Okavango Delta, north of Duba Plains and Vumbura, the Mapula reserve straddles the Okavango's famous fence. In this area, this is widely broken down and there is excellent game on both sides of it. Here you find the relatively new Mapula Lodge. It's not currently well-known, but is a very interesting lodge which has the strong involvement of the local community here, and we've visited it.
Shinde Reserve (NG21)East of Vumbura, Shinde Reserve deserves more recognition. The game is also plentiful and varied during the dry season, and the water activities have access to some very picturesque deep-water lagoons. Here Shinde Camp is an old-school camp and nearby is the Okavango Delta's best camp for walking safaris: Footsteps Walking Trails.
Kwara Reserve (NG20)Slightly further east, the vast Kwara Reserve has excellent big game and two small camps: Kwara Camp and its newer, slightly smaller, sister-camp: Little Kwara. Both offer enthusiastically-guided Okavango safaris, using 4WDs and boats. Like Shinde, they're also close enough to visit the vast heronry at Gcodikwe Lagoon.
Small group safaris to the Okavango Delta with Wild about AfricaFancy joining a small group of like-minded travellers on a simple camping adventure or luxury camping safari to Botswana's Okavango Delta? Or are you interested in a private and exclusive safari holiday? Wild about Africa can give you a wide range of ideas for small group safaris to the Okavango Delta!
Safaris in the Okavango DeltaThe Okavango Delta's ecosystem is amongst the richest and most diverse in Africa. It's been effectively protected for years, and with wildlife tourism now thriving here, this looks set to continue – witness the success, and expansion, of the programme to re-introduce black and white rhino to the area over the last few years.
Flora of the Okavango DeltaOver 1,000 species of plants are recognised in the Okavango Delta, yet large tracts of the drier parts of it are dominated by one tree: Mopane. These cover many areas with rich but badly-drained soils, often in beautiful, tall 'cathedral' Mopane woodlands – named after their gracefully arching branches, which resemble a Gothic cathedral. You'll often find large areas in the Okavango River Delta where there are virtually no other species of trees represented.
Beside the area's many rivers you'll find extensive floodplains, and stretches of classic riverine (or 'riparian') forests which contain a wide range in species of bushes and trees. Open areas dotted with camelthorn trees follow the sandy beds of ancient watercourses, joined by silver terminalias, wild seringas and Kalahari apple-leaf threes.
Wildlife in the Okavango DeltaWith the reintroduction of rhino, you can see all the 'big five' here on a safari to the Okavango Delta, and a lot more besides.
Elephant and buffalo occur here year-round in large numbers, and you're likely to see blue wildebeest, Burchell's zebra, impala, kudu, tsessebe, red lechwe, waterbuck, reedbuck, giraffe, common duiker, bushbuck, steenbok, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey throughout the Okavango Delta. Eland, sable and roan antelope also range across the region – but are less common, as they are elsewhere in Africa. The deep-water and papyrus areas of the Delta have thriving populations of sitatunga, which live deep in the swamps.
Lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena all have thriving populations here. The Okavango Delta is central to wild dog, which range widely across most of Northern Botswana – and they're easiest to find on the northern and eastern sides of the Delta.
Both black-backed and side-striped jackals occur – though the former are more common. Brown hyena probably occur, but relatively rarely, and probably only in drier areas where there are lower densities of the other large predators. Similarly, bat-eared fox are found here, though not so commonly as in Botswana's drier areas. There are a wide variety of mongoose found here, including the slender, banded, dwarf, large grey, water and Selous'. Meanwhile in the water, spotted-necked and Cape clawless otters are often seen, though they seldom hang around to allow visitors a good view!
Serval, aardwolf, caracal and aardvark are found throughout the Okavango Delta, though due to their largely nocturnal habits, they are only occasionally seen. Pangolins are also found here, and seem as if they might be slightly less rare than in other areas of their range!
Up until 2001, rhino had been exterminated from here by poaching. Then in October 2001 the first white rhino were reintroduced into the Mombo Reserve, within Moremi Game Reserve. They're now free to roam, and have done so widely. They're also breeding, and Botswana is well on its way to having a nucleus of successfully breeding rhinos.
Birdlife in the Okavango DeltaThe Okavango Delta has over 400 bird species, a great variety of which are patchily distributed in association with particular habitats. Though visiting any area, the sheer number of different species represented here will strike you as amazing.
Although there are no birds that are truly endemic to Botswana, the Okavango Delta is hugely important to many species, including a number rarities worthy of noting here. First on the Okavango's list of 'specialties' is the slaty egret – which can be found in shallow, reedy back-waters and pans. Aside from the Okavango River's delta, this rare egret is only resident in quieter corners of the Chobe and Linyanti areas, and the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia.
Easier to spot are magnificent wattled cranes, which can be seen easily in the Delta. They're usually seen in pairs or small groups, wandering about shallow floodplains or wet grasslands, searching for fish, small amphibians and reptiles.
For keen birdwatchers, other Okavango Delta specials here include coppery-tailed coucal, brown firefinch, Bradfield's hornbill, the lesser jacana, pink-throated longclaw and the tiny chirping cisticola.
Where to stay in Okavango Delta
Our suggestions for safari camps in Okavango Delta Safari Reserves
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings in Okavango Delta
This is their success for sightings in Okavango Delta Safari Reserves.
Click on a species for more detail. How we work this out.