ABOUT THE OKAVANGO DELTA
WHEN TO GO TO THE OKAVANGO DELTA
When to visit the Okavango Delta is one of the most frequently asked questions when planning a trip to one of the world’s largest deltas and premier wilderness areas. Its winning combination of permanent wetlands and abundant resident wildlife means the Okavango Delta is a year-round safari destination. Making a trip to the Okavango Delta both rewarding and memorable any time of the year. However, it is extremely important to take into consideration the seasonal nature of the Okavango Delta when planning your dream trip.
The Okavango Delta has two distinct seasons, namely the dry season (winter) and wet season (summer). Although a year-round destination, each season in the delta offers an entirely unique experience as it pertains to wildlife and birdlife sightings, Okavango Delta River water levels, temperatures, park conditions, surrounding scenery, available experiences, and adventures to be enjoyed. As most people (both local and international) travel to this unique pulsing wetland at the heart of Botswana’s arid Kalahari Desert for its pristine wildlife, April – October (dry season) is considered the best time to visit the Okavango Delta.
REASONS TO VISIT THE OKAVANGO DELTA DURING THE DRY WINTER SEASON
The best time of the year to visit the Okavango Delta and its vast freshwater wetlands and pristine wildlife areas is during the region’s dry winter season. Okavango Delta’s dry season takes place from April through to the beginning of October. One of the top reasons why the dry season is considered the best time to visit the Okavango Delta is because of the pristine game-viewing visitors will be able to enjoy during this time. As most local and international travellers to this unique wetland region at the heart of Botswana’s arid Kalahari Desert travel to this bucket-list destination for its incredible wildlife sightings, they will certainly not be disappointed. Home to an incredible diversity of wildlife as well as huge numbers of plains game plus unusual antelope like puku, sitatunga and red lechwe (many of which you may never have encountered before), it is any wildlife and nature lovers dream come true. Not to mention the Okavango Delta is world-famous for its variety of predators. Which means wildlife enthusiasts are in for quite a thrilling wildlife experience and African wilderness adventure when visiting the Okavango Delta during its dry winter season.
Besides the Okavango Delta’s exceptional wildlife sightings, here are more reasons why visiting the Okavango Delta during the dry winter season is a great idea:
- Water levels are at its highest during June – August in the Okavango Delta. This provides visitors, thrill seekers and avid adventurers with the best opportunities for boating and canoe safaris. Besides authentic wildlife and birdlife sightings, many people travel to the Okavango Delta to enjoy water-based safaris – traversing the waterways on a traditional mokoro canoe. The unique mokoro (also spelt mokoro) or dugout canoe is a traditional canoe used to negotiate the channels of the Okavango Delta. This makes for an authentic and equally unique Okavango Delta experience.
- Many animals migrate to the Okavango Delta during the dry winter season. It is estimated that around 260,000 mammals congregate around the delta during this time of year. This gives visitors the incredible opportunity to see a diverse variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. As the Okavango Delta is affected by seasonal flooding with flood water from Angola reaching the Delta between March and June, peaking in July, this coincides with Botswana’s dry season, resulting in great migrations of plains game from the dry hinterland.
- Although the Okavango Delta’s dry season coincides with its winter season, the average day-time temperatures are mild and lovely enough to explore and experience everything the delta has to offer. Including going on some exciting adventures as well as enjoying a thrilling Okavango Delta safari.
- The Okavango Delta experiences minimal rainfall during this period allowing for tons of adventuring, exploring, and discovering the delta’s unique and breath-taking landscapes and scenery.
- The Okavango Delta experiences a largely mosquito-free winter climate during this period.
- Although weather conditions start to shift and become increasingly dry and hot during the months of September and October, these two months are still considered particularly good months to visit the Okavango Delta as thirsty animals are concentrated in enormous numbers on its fringes (the Moremi Game Reserve is particularly rewarding at this time).
- As April and May mark the beginning of the dry season in the Okavango Delta, the vegetation in the delta is still green and beautiful, perfect for exploring and going on exciting adventures around the delta.
Additional wildlife, vegetation & birdlife sightings you can expect to experience during the Okavango Delta’s dry season:
- During April reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the dry season.
- Impala rutting is in full swing during the Okavango Delta’s dry season with dramatic clashes between rival males.
- Trees have completed their flowering and fruit is ripening, with massive sausages hanging from the Sausage trees.
- During May, as seasonal pans begin to dry, the Buffalo begin to group into large herds and visit the river areas more often. This provides visitors with spectacular Buffalo sightings.
- Breeding herds of elephant start to increase in density daily during the Okavango Delta’s fry season as they visit the permanent waters to drink.
- During the dry winter season the landscape starts to dry. Once the vivid green bushes and surrounding scenery starts to fade to the duller dry seasonal colours, the predators begin to take advantage of their colours blending in with their surroundings once again. This is when predator numbers in the Okavango Delta begin to spike, giving visitors to the delta the opportunity to experience some really thrilling predator sightings and encounters.
- June is an excellent moth to visit the Okavango Delta – Not only does it see the dry season start in earnest, but sightings of African wild dogs improve as they begin to search for dens for their puppies. As the beloved African Wild Dogs are considered an endangered species due to ongoing habitat fragmentation, conflict with human activities and infectious disease, sightings of these magnificent animals are always a special and memorable experience.
- July is undoubtedly one of the top months to visit the Okavango Delta. Besides all the incredible wildlife sightings and adventures that come along with the delta’s dry season, July is the time of year when more leaves fall from the trees, the grass gets shorter every day, ultimately resulting in excellent visibility. This gives visitors to the Okavango Delta the opportunity to enjoy exceptional wildlife sightings as they can see and spot wildlife from miles away.
- August is a great time to visit the Okavango Delta for bird lovers especially, as birding continues to evolve with the herons, storks and other birds starting to congregate at the heronries.
- October is very hot in the Okavango Delta with great game viewing. There is also an incredible fishing frenzy, with the annual catfish (barbell) runs in the rivers during this time. The heronries are full of activity with hundreds of birds breeding and nesting leading to excellent bird viewing.
Things to remember when visiting the Okavango Delta during the dry season:
- July to October are high season months, and lodges charge higher rates
- September and October are very hot – Day-time temperatures can reach as high as 40°C (typically October).
REASONS TO VISIT THE OKAVANGO DELTA DURING THE WET SUMMER SEASON
Although the wet summer season is not considered the best time of year to visit the Okavango Delta, it does offer visitors an entirely different Delta experience. Wildlife and nature lovers as well as adventure enthusiasts will be pleasantly surprised by what the Delta has to offer during this time of year.
Climate: The Okavango Delta’s wet summer season takes place from October through to March. The Delta summer starts with temperatures building in October and ends in March. October, before the start of the summer rain, is easily the hottest month in the Delta with hot and dry temperatures soaring up to 40°C. The arrival of the Okavango Delta’s first summer rains, which normally occurs around mid-November, cools things down considerably following October’s peak temperatures and the dust starts to settle.
During the Okavango Delta’s rainy season, which lasts until the end of February or early March, the days are hot, humid and sunny in the mornings with powerful afternoon thunderstorms, usually in short, torrential downpours. The Delta welcomes its highest levels of rainfall during the months of January and February. During the month of March it rains significantly less with only a few rainstorms every other day. Rainfall during the Okavango Delta’s wet summer season can however be quite erratic, unpredictable, and highly regional. Heavy downpours may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Heavy showers are often followed by strong sunshine – this means a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground, as it is lost to evaporation and transpiration.
During the Okavango Delta’s wet season, the rain often comes as a welcomed relief from the Delta’s extremely hot summer temperatures that remain relatively consistent throughout the wet season. The day-time summer temperatures can rise to 38°C, peaking at +/- 40°C or above in certain instances. Night-time temperatures can drop to around 20°C. Mornings are much cooler with temperatures averaging around +/- 19°C/65°F, making it a great time to explore and discover everything the magnificent Okavango Delta has to offer.
Lush greenery & great photography: As the Okavango Delta’s summer season is also its peak rainy season, the Delta landscapes transform into a beautiful lush green paradise. The Okavango Delta is widely known as a top photographic safari destination and offers some of the best unspoilt vistas in Africa. The glorious green surroundings, popping colours of the Delta’s vegetation, fresh sprouting grass, trees bursting into life and often dramatic thunderstorm skies allows for excellent photography opportunities within the Delta.
With a variety of habitats and ever abundant water, the Okavango Delta provides the photographer with a wealth of photographic subjects, dramatic landscapes, herds of plain’s game and spectacular birdlife. This makes the Okavango Delta’s wet summer season a great time of year for avid photographers and nature lovers from around the world. The high levels of rainfall results in several seasonal pans filling up throughout the Delta, attracting more wildlife to these destinations. As the rain becomes more regular from December – February, the grazers particularly enjoy the greenery that comes along with it. This gives photographers the opportunity to capture some amazing shots of the Delta’s wildlife and birdlife in their natural habitat.
Newborn wildlife: One of the most highly anticipated highlights of the wet summer season is that it marks the start of the birthing season in the Okavango Delta. This means visitors can expect to see plenty of newborn wildlife roaming about when visiting the Okavango Delta during this time of year. In November, the delta birthing season begins with the tsessebe, followed by impala and Lechwe, with more newborn species to follow thereafter. The wet summer months is therefore the best time of year to visit the Okavango Delta, especially if you’re eager to see the Delta’s young wildlife in their prime.
Predators: With an increase in the number of newborn wildlife during the delta’s wet summer season, there’s an associated increase in the number of predators seeking out these vulnerable young. The Okavango Delta is widely known as a world-famous stronghold for predators – which only dramatically increases during the Delta’s wet season. As rainfall levels increase as the delta dry season progresses, the ever-growing greenery and dense bushes provide excellent hiding places for predators to observe and stalk their prey – With the young and newborn wildlife being the easiest targets of course.
Excellent bird watching: November to April, the rainy summer season, sees the Okavango Delta transform from an excellent bird watching destination to a sensational one. In the Okavango Delta, bird viewing is especially exceptional during January as it is the peak breeding season for many of the migrant bird species. This coincides with stunning wildflowers, brilliant green foliage and constant sounds day and night – both from insects and birds.
Wildlife: While the game-viewing and wildlife sightings are not nearly as pristine as during the Okavango Delta’s dry season, the wet season in the delta offers reasonable game-viewing opportunities. Although the thick bush and dense shrubbery can make viewing a little harder. As the wet season is considered a prime time for predators, visitors are likely to see predators chasing the fast developing young of their prey species during this time. With the ripening of figs, which is eaten by many species, during February in the Delta, visitors will also encounter an abundance of fruit bats in the area. This makes for interesting night sounds while these creatures feed.
With the peak flowering of the water lilies in February the reed frogs are colourful and vocal, which means the whole Okavango Delta is brilliantly alive. Due to the rain, plants grow rapidly with Butterflies, birds, frogs and all the smaller creatures flocking to the Okavango Delta. As a result of the high levels of rainfall during this period, resident game don’t need to go too far for water. Making it a great time to spot the Okavango wildlife around the various water sources.
March is a great time to visit the Okavango Delta, especially if you’re a lover of the largest member of the African Big 5 – the Elephant! Within the Okavango Delta, bull Elephants are attracted to the fruit of the Marula trees and wander from tree to tree in search of their favourite meal. Often moving into the camps and lodges in search of fruit. As the Okavango Delta’s Marula trees are in their prime during this time of year, it is an ideal time to spot these African giants in their natural habitat. March also marks the beginning of the rutting season which sees sleek and fat impala males cavorting to attract suitable females. It truly is quite a sight to behold.
Things to remember when visiting the Okavango Delta during the wet season:
- It is extremely hot & humid with day-time temperatures peaking at +/- 40°C.
- There is less wildlife in the Delta due to the extreme temperatures.
- Wildlife sightings are harder due to dense vegetation.
- Water levels in the delta can drop too low for mokoro trips (boating and canoe safaris). This means visitors to the Delta during this time won’t be able to enjoy this exciting adventure experience.
- Afternoon rainstorms & powerful thunderstorms can interfere with delta activities, adventures, and experiences. Parts of the Delta can also become inaccessible during its wet summer season due to these high levels of rainfall.
- As the Okavango Delta’s wet season is also considered its low season, some lodges in the Delta close from January to March.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
OKAVANGO DELTA RAINFALL (mm)
WILDLIFE, BIRDLIFE, PLANTILFE & REPTILES
The Okavango Delta is home to a glorious diversity and abundance of wildlife and supports large concentrations of wild animals, birdlife, reptiles, and amphibians on both a seasonal and permanent basis. Through careful wildlife management, the Okavango Delta has become one of the top destinations in Africa to see wild animals and birds in their natural habitat.
There is a dynamic seasonal shift of animals between the arid region that surrounds the delta and the Okavango Delta itself. During the wet season most large animals move away from the delta to take advantage of the lush grazing that surrounds it. As the grazing begins to die in the winter, animals move back to the delta. This is one of the top reasons why the dry winter season is considered the best time to visit the Okavango Delta – It is the prime time for wildlife sightings as game concentrations significantly increase in the Delta with around 260,000 mammals congregating around the area. The Okavango Delta is also known to attract a huge number of herbivores in the Dry season, which in turn attracts the carnivores as well.
A myriad of species are found within the delta, some of which includes the following: African Bush Elephant, African Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Lechwe, Topi, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Nile crocodile, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Brown Hyena, Spotted Hyena, Greater Kudu, Sable Antelope, Black Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Plains Zebra, Warthog and Chacma Baboon – to mention just a few. Notably, the endangered African Wild Dog still survives within the Okavango Delta and exhibits one of the richest pack densities in Africa. Seeing these magnificent endangered animals in their natural habitat is a truly special and memorable experience.
In addition to the incredible diversity of wildlife found within the delta, the Okavango Delta also supports over 500 species of birds, with many sought-after bird species like Pel’s Fishing Owl (the world’s only fish-eating owl), bee-eaters and kingfishers. It is also home to 85 recorded species of fish including Tigerfish, Tilapia and Catfish.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR THE OKAVANGO DELTA
Water camps vs land camps
When planning a trip to the Okavango Delta, make sure you know exactly what kind of camp you are planning to visit. Although most camps and lodges in the Delta offer an exciting range of activities and experiences, lodges located at permanent water sites offer a variety of thrilling adventures like boating and canoe safaris throughout the year. Camps and lodges located in seasonally flooded areas focus more on game drives and may not offer water activities during the low water season.
Bring your binoculars & always keep your camera handy
Not only is the Okavango Delta home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem and exceptional wildlife, but the bird watching is fantastic thanks to a mix of water and land habitats. Pel’s fishing-owl, white-backed night-heron and slaty egret are among the ‘mega-ticks.’ So make sure you take those binoculars along on your trip to ensure some sensational sightings! We also highly recommend you always have your camera handy during your trip to the Delta. It is not deemed one of the world’s premier wilderness areas for nothing. Nearly all visitors to the Okavango Delta fly into their accommodation on light aircraft from Maun, the Okavango Delta’s gateway town. This means that the bird’s eye game viewing begins the moment you take off as well as magnificent views of the delta from above.
Get active & be adventurous
No trip to the Okavango Delta will be complete without some action and adventure. So make sure you take your sense of adventure and up-for-anything attitude along, and most of all, be open-minded to all experiences and adventures. An Okavango Delta safari offers the widest range of guided activities in Botswana –You can enjoy day and night game drives, guided nature walks, motorboat trips, canoe safaris and so much more! There is so much to explore, discover and experience in the Okavango Delta it will undoubtedly have you going back again and again.
Make sure you’re well prepared for the seasons
When planning your trip, make sure you pack according to the season you choose to visit the Okavango Delta. During the wet summer months (October – March), it can get extremely hot and humid during the day. With temperatures reaching above 40°C at times, particularly during October which is considered the Okavango Delta’s hottest month. On the other hand, during the dry winter season, the temperatures can drop significantly, especially during the early mornings and evenings. Warm clothes are thus a must from May – August. Visitors on early morning game drives and late afternoon boat trips can expect temperatures not much above freezing during this period.
Be prepared for local wildlife visitors
To offer the most authentic African wilderness experience, accommodation in the Okavango Delta is unfenced and it’s not unusual for anything from elephants to monkeys to wander through the lodge grounds. Adhere to the safety rules and remember that you are perfectly safe in your tent and lodge. However, a guide or manager will be happy to accompany you to and from your tent if necessary.
FLIGHTS & GETTING AROUND
Set at the edge of the Okavango Delta, Maun International Airport is Botswana’s busiest airport. It is served by flights from Johannesburg, Gaborone, Kasane (Chobe) and Windhoek. Less regular flights are also available in peak season from Cape Town. You will transfer to a light aircraft for the final leg into the delta and then usually a short 4X4 drive to the lodge – So make sure you’re ready to kick-start your trip on a thrilling and adventurous note!
Okavango Delta travel is both exciting and varied, depending on your sense of adventure and what you’re up for. Game drives are conducted in open-sided 4X4s but visitors to these diverse wetlands can expect excursions by motor-boat and canoe as well as on foot – making for quite an adventure-filled experience. Transfers between camps are usually via light aircraft and less often via boat.