The top destination for a safari in Africa is arguably the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The delta is a massive inland floodplain that fans out across Northwestern Botswana. The massive swath of earth that is the Okavango Delta is a mix of land, marsh, water, and sand. Landscapes here change in meters, not hundreds of kilometers.
Over one-third of the Delta is occupied by the Moremi Game Reserve. The stretch of land is home to one of the densest animal populations in Africa and famous for the encounters that ensue.
While the water element of the Delta is an expansive body of crystal clear water that snakes through high reeds. Visitors are fortunate enough to take in the tranquility in a mokoro, a dugout wooden canoe, while lily pads drift across the water in the breeze. The Delta is truly untouched pristine wilderness in the heart of Africa.
In comparison to the rest of Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a stark contrast. As Botswana is dominated by the even more immense Kalahari Desert. It’s no secret that Botswana is one of the top destinations in the world for spotting wildlife. When we began making a list of places we wanted to see in Africa the Okavango Delta was cemented at the top. It is where countless nature documentaries are filmed, and a bastion for wildlife research.
Traveling To The Okavango Delta
Our plans were to drive Charlie, our truck, into the Delta. We left Maun at about 9:00 in the morning. The road North out of Maun is paved for a short stretch before turning into a poorly graded gravel road. It is a boring drive until you reach the veterinary fence. This is the boundary demarcating the wild and the domestic animals.
This vast section of wilderness is invariably what makes Botswana the preeminent location for safaris. It begins at the Chobe River and occupies almost all of Northwestern Botswana encompassing the large swath of land that is The Delta. So when we crossed the gate we entered the complete wilderness.
The end of our journey was Xobega Island Camp; however, to reach there we had hundreds of kilometers to cover and a boat transfer through the Delta. The Xobega Camp is located on an island at the outermost limit of the Moremi National Park.
Five hours of driving through the bush, deep sand tracks, and dry river beds Charlie got stuck. And not just a little stuck, but properly buried. Hitting one-meter deep sand at the hottest point of the day in two wheel drive spelled certain disaster for us. Two hours of digging later, an evaluation of our water supply, and contemplation of setting up camp we gave one more go of freeing the vehicle. Using our trusty HiLift Jack we were able to make a daring recovery and took off for the boat station in haste. In the end we only ended up with some very sandy safari clothes.
Boat Cruises Through The Delta
When we pulled up to the Mbmoma Boat Station at the end of Moremi Tongue we were relieved after the long journey. Looking a little concerned about the lateness of our arrival our boat drivers whisked us on to the boat to Xobega Island and we took off.
The drive from the boat station to Xobega Island Camp takes roughly forty-five minutes. The boat buzzes through narrow reed-lined channels filled with wandering crocs.Lilly pads parted way and we drifted around corners with our captain knowing every turn moved with haste. We had failed to see the urgency of our drive through the reed channels until we were made aware of the danger of hippos.
To witness the danger of a hippo firsthand was an incredible (albeit scary) experience. Coming around a blind spot we found a massive bull lying in the narrow channel. Startled by our presence he thrashed out of the water opening his jaws meters away from the boat and our captain pushed hard on the accelerator escaping by seconds.
Whizzing out of the danger we continued on deeper and deeper into the Okavango Delta. Rare bird life darted over our heads and the rhythmic sound of the boat’s wake pounded at the high reeds that swallowed us whole.
After spending nine hours journeying to this point it was rewarding to be swallowed whole by the delta. After a scary hippo encounter, getting stuck, and a long drive pulling up to the Xobega Island Camp was a total relief. We had made it! The crew greeted us with traditional dance, drinks, and introduction to the camp.
Xobega Island Camp
Xobega is one of the only private camps within the Moremi Game Reserve. A special spot in the world, Xobega provides visitors incredible access to the floodplains of the Delta. The camp itself has no permanent structures on the island.
Instead, it is a collection of tents that provide visitors a two seating areas, a dining table, bar, and even WiFi. It’s a bit of stretch to call Xobega “camping” given that we had real beds, a seating area, and personal attendant to fill our bucket showers up with hot water every night. We like to call this “glamping.”
While at $395 a person a night we still found it to be one of the cheapest options to explore the Delta up close. Most operators in the area can charge several thousand dollars a night per person for essentially the same thing offered by Xobega. If you want bargain and comfort while exploring the Delta then Xobega is by far one of the best options.
The island is a birder’s paradise and there is even a heronry just a kilometer away. The island was surrounded by an incredible array of bird life difficult to find anywhere else in the world. We spotted rare birds everywhere like the lesser jacanas, lilac breasted rollers, pygmy geese, and wattled cranes.
A heronry so close was a sure thrill especially when the sun set and we could watch the colors of the sky ignite. Yellow-billed, goliath, and gray herons all come to this heronry to raise their young in a group. Despite being different species they raise their young in this remote place due to a lack of predators and of course because there is safety in numbers.
In addition, we found a roost where the yellow-billed kites of Europe migrate. The kites were in the hundreds and driving through their roosting grounds were breathtaking at sunset. Hundreds of birds of prey took to the sky for a sight that you can find nowhere else on earth.
Our Exit Out Of The Delta
The bird life and serenity at Xobega did not disappoint. It is little wonder what draws high paying tourists to the magic of the Delta. When we weren’t viewing birds we saw giant herds of elephants, buffalo, and baboons from the comfort of our boat.
Surrounded by elephants on all banks of the channel we found ourselves meters away from a bull in the middle of the channel. It was a situation that became tense. Elephants are a member of the big five for a reason, they are some of the most dangerous animals to come across. Especially, when cornered in a narrow channel in the Delta.
As the elephant behind us moved through the channel we became trapped. However, with a bit of patience and maneuvering, the bull moved and our guide made a quick escape.
After, our narrow encounter with the elephant our drive out of the Delta to Tuskers Bush Camp began. Our luck with the game did not end, as we spotted zebra, red lechwe, elephants, buffalo, and birds. However, what came next was a chance encounter, driving around Fourth Bridge we entered a dry river with two red lechwes.
As we watched the two beautiful antelope we were unaware there was a third animal. A sneaky leopard lies in wait. It was not until we had spoiled his hunt with our loud engine did we see the large male leopard. His movements in retreat to a safe hiding spot under the bridge were skilled and powerful. It was a chance encounter and it left us in awe in the untamed wild.
Tuskers Bush Camp
Running off of our high from seeing the leopard we continued on to Tuskers bush camp where we stayed for the next two days before heading back to Maun. Tuskers is a private concession near the Moremi Game Reserve that was once a professional hunting camp. After spending the afternoon exploring the camp and driving we were exhausted and needed some drinks. With sundowners in hand, we sat down and watched the sun set on another day in Africa, of course, there were elephants included.
The watering hole at Tuskers was frequently visited by giraffe and elephants. It became so commonplace that it seemed there was just a revolving door of elephants at the aptly named, Tuskers bush camp. Even as we went to bed our first night we could hear the tuskers throughout the night only meters away from our tent.
Did we mention there is no fence here? It’s just tents, guests, and wildlife.
Well, that very night we heard another call. It was deep grunting over and over just a few meters from our tent. While this may not seem like much to most it is the call of a leopard walking around our tent at night. Needless to say, we stayed inside and listened to the calls from the safety of our canvas.
The following day as temperatures soared we took head from the animals of Botswana and hid from the heat under one of the camp’s tents. Or at least we attempted to hide. Every so often we’d peer out and watch the herds of elephants at the watering hole.
Unfortunately, we were unable to explore the concession due to the absense of a game viewer at Tuskers, but we are told it is a haven for some large predators such as lions, hyena, wild dog, and leopards.
On our departure from Tuskers, we gave the truck a push start down the hill and took off for Maun in search of a mechanic to help Charlie! After a day without a truck in Maun, we got Charlie back but ended up paying $450 to buy a proper new battery, repair the alternator, overhaul the starter motor, rip out the annoying immobilizer, and adjust the carb. Have we mentioned our wallet is taking quite a hit from Africa?
Thank you to Xobega Island Camp and Tuskers Bush Camp for providing us with accommodation. As always, all opinions expressed are our own.