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Exploring the Wildlife of Botswana’s Okavango Delta by Canoe and Boat

Matthys van Aswegen

Author: Matthys van Aswegen - 16 February 2024

Last Update: 2 August 2023

Part of the Botswana Trips & Botswana Tourism & African Safari Collection

Also known as the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’, the Okavango Delta in Botswana is a majestic wetland wilderness. Attracting a plethora of wildlife and bird species, this life-giving region consists of a sprawling network of waterways and islands.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Delta is perhaps best explored by traditional mokoro (dug-out canoe) and motorized boat, giving you access to narrow channels and the chance to view wildlife from the water.

African elephant taking a bath in waters of the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
African elephant taking a bath in waters of the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

The best time to visit the Delta for a water-based safari is from June to August once the annual floods have brought all the water into the area from the Angolan highlands.

Navigating the Okavango Delta by Mokoro

Traditionally, mokoros were carved from ebony trees but nowadays they’re made from environmentally-friendly fiberglass. On a mokoro safari, your guide stands at the back of the canoe and steers you along with a long pole called a ngashi.

Mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Cruising along barely above water level, you’ll have the opportunity to silently make your way through narrow channels and see a variety of wildlife, birdlife, and flora, such as the rare sitatunga antelope, red lechwe, hippos, elephants, and crocodiles. 

Mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Mokoro guides have been doing this since childhood and are walking maps of the waterways. They’ll point out unique flora and tiny colorful frogs – the kind of things you’d never see on a jeep safari.

Mokoro tours are excellent for wildlife photographers who want to capture images of wildlife from a different perspective and against the most phenomenal backdrops. An Okavango Delta safari is not to be missed.

Touring the Okavango Delta by Motorboat

While a water-based safari on a motorboat won’t be able to take you into the Delta’s narrowest and shallowest channels, it’s still an amazing experience.

You’ll be able to safely navigate hippo and crocodile infested waters, hop onto small islands for short walking safaris, and gaze in awe at the wide variety of wildlife that comes down to the waters to drink and cool off. 

Motorboat safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Motorboat safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

The unique perspectives offered by a boating safari are great for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers and you’ll get to see a wide range of wildlife on the banks of the Delta. If you’re on a boating safari at the right time of day, you’ll get to witness the most mesmerizing sunset too.


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