Namibia's Caprivi Strip comprises a narrow tongue of land, running alongside mighty rivers.
Caprivi StripIn the northeast of the country, Namibia reaches out to touch the great Zambezi. Here, in the Caprivi Strip, wide tropical rivers bear names to conjure with – the Zambezi, the Okavango, the Chobe and the Linyanti. The vegetation is lush and supports a dense population, making this a unique corner of Namibia which, in many ways, feels much more like a part of Botswana or Zambia than it does a part of the rest of Namibia.
On a trip across the Caprivi you will come across many villages and their inhabitants. Children herding goats wander back and forth across the road, women sell fruits, carvings, pots and pans from makeshift stalls, and everywhere you will be warmly welcomed. Even the Strip's main town, Katima Mulilo, is fairly small.
The town of Rundu gives access to the Caprivi Strip, meanwhile if you're driving past, consider dropping into Botswana for just a taste of that country during your trip.
National parks & reserves in the Caprivi StripThere are five protected areas within the Caprivi Strip – and in all of them you'll find big game, including water-loving species – like hippo, crocodile, sable, waterbuck, reedbuck and buffalo – which are largely absent from the rest of Namibia.
Popa Falls ReservePopa Falls lie at a point where the Okavango River breaks up and drops 2.5m over a rocky section, caused by the first of five geological faults. Essentially they are a series of rapids, pretty rather than spectacular; even the warden at the entrance admits that many visitors are disappointed. Beyond the falls, the Okavango begins gradually to spread out across the Kalahari.
The area by the riverside at Popa Falls is thickly vegetated with tall riverine trees and lush green shrubs, which encourage waterbirds and a variety of small reptiles. Footbridges have been built between some of the islands, and it's worth an hour's stop to spend hopping among the rushing channels, or walking upstream a little where there's a good view of the river before it plunges over the rapids. In a few hours you can see all of this tiny reserve, and have a good chance of spotting a leguvaan (water monitor), a snake or two, and many different frogs.
Mahango National ParkThe eastern boundary of Mahango National Park is the Okavango River, which is also the reserve's focus. Here the river forms channels between huge, permanent papyrus reedbeds. Adjacent are extensive floodplain areas, where you're quite likely to spot red lechwe or sable.
Beside these, on the higher and drier land of the bank, are wide belts of wild date palm-forest, as well as the lush riverine vegetation that you'd expect. Further from the river are dry woodlands and acacia thickets, dotted with a few large baobabs. This rich variety of greenery attracts an impressive range of animals including the water-loving buffalo, elephant, sable, reedbuck, bushbuck and waterbuck and the more specialist red lechwe and sitatunga. Good numbers of hippo and crocodile are also present.
Mahango is a great favourite with birdwatchers; more species can be found here than in any other park in Namibia. This variation should come as no surprise, as the reserve has one of Namibia's few wetland habitats, adjacent to large stretches of pristine Kalahari sandveld. Thus many water-loving ducks, geese, herons, plovers, egrets, kingfishers and various waders occur here, along with the dry-country birds that you'll find in the rest of Namibia. Okavango specialities like the slaty egret can sometimes be spotted, and for many birds – including the lesser jacana, coppery-tailed coucal and racket-tailed roller – Mahango marks the western limit of their distributions.
Bwabwata National ParkBwabwata National Park (frequently pronounced 'Babatwa') covers a large chunk of the Caprivi Strip. This is a largely undeveloped park which, whilst home to much wildlife, has few facilities and little in the way of marked game-viewing side roads. Most visitors just pass through, saving their time for other parks. All that you can usually see from the road are a few raptors aloft and the occasional elephant dropping on the road – but drive carefully in case something does appear unexpectedly. The park is very sparsely populated, with a few settlements: Omega, Chetto, and Omega III.
Mudumu National ParkThe more northerly of Eastern Caprivi's two reserves, Mudumu, covers 850km² of riverine forest south of Kongola. Bordered by the Kwando River on the west, the reserve has good populations of a large variety of animals. Together with Mamili and the Triangle, Mudumu is notable for its buffalo (otherwise uncommon in Namibia), roan and sable antelope (both generally uncommon species), the water-loving lechwe and sitatunga, and often large herds of elephant.
Mamili National ParkThis unfenced swampland reserve of about 350km² was created shortly before Namibia's independence and consists largely of marshland, veined by a network of reed-lined channels. It includes two large islands: Nkasa and Lupala. Together with Mudumu National Park, it has the vast majority of Namibia's population of sitatunga, red lechwe and puku, as well as large herds of buffalo, and a recorded 430 bird species.
Mamili is located in the southwest corner of the eastern Caprivi Strip, where the Kwando sharply changes direction to become the Linyanti. As yet there are few facilities for visitors.
If you really want to see Mamili, then one easy way is probably to stay on the other side of the river, in one of several exclusive camps in Botswana, which overlook the park.
History of the Caprivi StripThe Caprivi strip consists of a 450km strip of land from Rundu westwards to Katima Mulilo in Zambia and Chobe on the Botswana border. It's an unusual corridor in that it is really very different from the rest of the country.
Briefly delving into the history of the region sheds light on why it is so. Germany annexed South West Africa (modern day Namibia) in 1884. At the Berlin Conference of July 1890 Britain agreed to slice off the Caprivi corridor from their Protectorate of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana) for Germany in exchange for the island of Zanzibar. Thus were lines on the map decided and they still hold today.
A Taste of Botswana: the PanhandleIf you plan to drive across the Caprivi Strip, then there are several possibilities which would allow you to drop from Namibia into Botswana for a few days.
For a fascinating introduction to the Okavango Delta, drive south of Mahango for an hour or so, into Botswana's Panhandle area.
Meanwhile, if you plan to continue through the Caprivi to Livingstone, then you will usually pass through Chobe National Park renowned for its high concentrations of elephant and buffalo – and where Muchenje Safari Lodge often makes a good stop to explore.
The Wild about Africa website has a large selection of small group camping and lodge safaris to Namibia, including some which visit the Caprivi Strip; all of which are backed by the expertise of the Expert Africa team.