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An Okavango Delta camping experience is a one-of-a-kind travel adventure that reminds you how good it feels to be alive on this beautiful planet! You’ll understand this over-the-top exuberance once you’re fresh off of bush camping in the Okavango Delta, too.
The Okavango Delta is the largest inland river delta in the world, and arguably, the purest form of wilderness anywhere. No two days are the same. But no matter when you visit, the experience will take your breath away nonetheless.
Okavango Delta Camping:
An Unforgettable Experience in the Wild
Being part of the Intrepid Okavango Experience, our itinerary positioned us in the city of Maun the night before heading to the delta. Maun is in the north of Botswana and is the gateway to the Okavango. There are campsites and hotel accommodations, as well as stores, an ATM, and a currency exchange office to prepare for a couple of nights in the remote wilderness of the Okavango Delta.
Okavango Delta camping takes you into the bush to an island campsite with no electricity, no running water, and no facilities. If I’m being honest, I was nervous about this extreme level of roughing it. But the pull of an authentic Okavango wilderness experience washed away any jitters. And, in the end, I was so glad I chose this out of all the Intrepid tours! Read my Intrepid review of the whole tour.
How can you pass up the chance to experience this UNESCO World Heritage Site in such a real way and not just spot wildlife, but live among the animals who call the Okavango home?!
On the morning our Okavango journey started, we packed up the tents, gear, food, and water and headed off in open-air game drive vehicles to the delta jetty station. Because you’re in beautiful Botswana, spotting elephants and lilac-breasted rollers along the way is just part of what happens every day!
And, after a classic African massage 😉 along a bumpy, dusty road, we were face to face with the delta. The busy shoreline was lined with mokoros, the dugout canoes used to navigate through the narrow channels of the Okavango.
Polers, the local Batswana who stand on the back of the canoe and use poles to move and steer the mokoro, moved from boat to boat loading supplies. Each mokoro held 2 passengers each with a backpack, sleeping bag, 5L jug of water, and of course, a poler at the back to navigate the boat.
We pushed off into the water leaving the chaotic shoreline behind and quietly disappeared into the tall reeds and grasses of the delta. Whether you’ve been imagining an Okavango adventure for a while or not, this is a total pinch-me-now moment.
Within minutes, we came upon a couple of elephants eating grasses along the banks of the water. A few strokes later, we were greeted by the deep groaning of a bloat of hippos as we attempted to float along unnoticed.
Not 10 minutes had passed and we were swallowed up into the wilds of the Okavango. It’s inexplicably soothing to feel far away but also part of the larger world all at the same time.
After about an hour and a half on the water, our mokoros came ashore on dry land at the place where we would set up our campsite. My Okavango Intrepid Tour group had been together for a few days and had gotten the hang of setting up camp each day. Together with the polers and our group guides, our campsite materialized in less than an hour.
To be clear, the campsite was a wooded patch just feet from the water on one side and open grasslands on the other. There was no fence to separate us from wild animals. We each packed drinking water because the campsite had none. Which brings up the next point I’m sure you’ve been wondering…the bathroom/shower facilities.
For the 2 nights we were bush camping in the Okavango Delta, there were no showers unless you wanted to take a dip in the Okavango itself. Down a pathway from the campsite, surrounded by trees and shrubs, someone dug a bush toilet a.k.a. a deep hole in the ground with a toilet seat propped up over it.
With a few potty jokes and some nervous laughter about the inevitable, we had time for lunch, a nap, and a poling lesson for anyone wanting to try out the mokoro on their own, before a late afternoon walking safari.
One of the many great things about visiting the Okavango with an Intrepid Tour is not having to worry about food. The (amazing!) tour cook purchased, packed, and prepared everything while we were in the delta. I’m not talking about just sandwiches and fruit, either.
Curried vegetables and rice, eggs and bacon for breakfast, even beet salad and vegetable lasagna over the campfire for dinner…all in a remote slice of the Okavango! Diet restrictions are no problem. I’m a vegetarian and ate as well (if not better!) than I would’ve at home.
Which brings us full circle to the importance of the bush toilet. 😉
Okavango Delta Walking Safari
A couple of hours before sunset, we set off on foot in a few small groups into the grasslands beyond the campsite. After spending several days doing game drives from the relative safety of a jeep or truck, walking through the wide-open expanse that’s home to countless African wildlife species, including the Big Five, is humbling, to say the least!
You have to be in the moment with your senses alert. Respecting wildlife is no longer something people say but actually becomes a silent agreement you make with the animals themselves.
We came upon buffalo and giraffe (past and present) right away. It was a real reminder of the space needed to keep people and animals comfortable and the predators in our midst.
Our Intrepid Tour guide pointed out elephant highways, the pathways that breeding herds will use to move across the land, oftentimes unchanged for generations. We spotted some solo and small groups of elephants off in the distance and, although we were quiet, they were downwind of us and caught our scent easily. We backed away to ensure one of the youngsters didn’t act on its curiosity.
We inspected termite mounds and admired fish eagles. We watched a lone buffalo graze in the distance and checked for tracks in the sand as we walked.
When you think of a safari, naturally, you focus on the wildlife. But the landscape shouldn’t be overlooked. As you walk and look around, you can’t help feeling as if you’ve been plunked down into an episode of Planet Earth.
Except when you actually have boots on the ground, you get to breathe in the sweet smell of the grass mixed with wild herbs and the fertilizer left behind by elephants. It becomes a scent memory forever connected to Botswana and the Okavango.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, we headed back towards camp. But not before squeezing in a flurry of photographs to capture the vibrant yellows and oranges radiating onto the African bush.
Night in the Okavango Delta
With a campfire blazing and a delicious dinner enjoyed, everyone in the group was upbeat from a surreal day in the delta. And, there was no way we were going to miss the opportunity to see the dark night sky.
Okavango Delta camping gives you the chance to see millions of brilliant sequin stars covering every inch of the pitch-black delta sky. You can even see the Milky Way and the arc of the galaxy.
A guide escorted us into the blackness just outside the confines of the campsite. After all, wildlife can be anywhere at any time.
Nothing prepares you for the unrivaled Okavango night sky, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to stare up at the sky all night. No matter how hard your eyes try, it’s impossible to take in all the stars.
Back at the campfire, the head poler gave us our overnight guidelines. If you need to get up for the bush toilet, listen first and use your light to scan the campsite for eyes.
Up until then, camping in Botswana was no sweat. But right then, I knew there was no way I’d get up for any reason in the night if I could help it!
Before bed, I headed back to the bush toilet one last time. It was pitch black except for the light of my headlamp when I heard what I think was a hippo grunting. Trust me when I tell you, I’ve never had a faster potty break!
But overnight, the sounds of the wild will lull you to sleep. It’s an unforgettable experience to hear the gentle lapping of the water, along with the shaking brush that comes from an elephant eating nearby and the chattering of the hippos as they come ashore to graze.
Day 2 of the Okavango Safari
Wildlife rises early and so we did, too. The plan was a morning walking safari through the grasslands in the opposite direction as the previous afternoon.
From the start, it was clear herds of elephants were on the move. Breeding herds up ahead altered our path. A group of elephants to our left meant we had no choice but to go right. All the while, it was fascinating to watch them lumber so gracefully along their established route.
All at once, we were upon several giraffes and a dazzle of zebra! Even from our distance, the giraffes surveyed us all while continuing to chew the leaves in their mouths. Apparently, we weren’t that interesting and they moved on but not before allowing us time to admire and photograph them.
Suddenly, though, the zebras started to run. We kept still, watching their direction. They were looking to get out of where they were and fast! Out of nowhere, 3, 4, then 5 vultures circled overhead.
Our guide told us to be silent and to get together in a close, single-file line. He used a termite mound to get his best birds-eye look at the landscape. We trekked on cautiously, looking in all directions and checking the footprints in the dirt for clues.
As we made our way into a less bushy and more open meadow of knee-high golden grass, a lone kudu came charging to the left of us. We got down and tried to remain out of sight as she kept running opposite to our direction.
Three signs, running zebras, circling vultures, and a dashing kudu meant something had to be nearby. And I’m sure it saw us, even though we never saw it.
Eventually, we moved past the meadow and circled left for a bit of a distance. We even came upon the zebras again who were once again casually grazing, a sign that whatever danger there had been likely moved on.
After an entire morning of walking, the sun was heating up. Even in winter, Botswana’s cool mornings warm up to typical (non-African) summer temperatures. It was time for a break and the campsite’s shade and ready lunch was calling.
Looking back on my complete Intrepid Okavango Experience, I loved the mix of African safari types. We saw game from a vehicle, on a mokoro, from the air, and on a larger boat. But it was on foot where you understand just how enormous nature is.
Okavango Delta Sunset
With the afternoon naps, poling lessons, and Okavango swims done, there were just a couple of hours until sunset. In the winter, the sun drops from the sky completely by 6 p.m. in Botswana.
Off in the mokoros for a safari sunset adventure and it wasn’t long before we came upon a couple of lone elephants feasting on the delta grasses. A narrow channel opened up into a bigger pool and the grunts from a few hippos who were soaking up ahead.
All the while, the sun’s rays turned the sky from blue to orange. And as we drifted on the mokoros from a passageway into a pool with sunset views, the sky lit up into a brilliant orange silhouetting the tall reeds stretching from the water.
If you’re lucky, you just might realize in those last moments of daylight that an Okavango Delta sunset is one of the most beautiful scenes your eyes will ever see.
Saying Goodbye to the Okavango
That night at the campsite, our Intrepid Tour group marveled and smiled at the polers who sang and danced to and with us. We’d only known them for 2 days but time seemed to slow in the delta and what grew felt like a genuine togetherness.
The next morning, we packed up camp, loaded the mokoros and headed back to the jetty station, albeit not before having one final send-off from a grumpy hippo. Luckily, the hippo thought twice…and our polers knew how to quickly put the mokoro in reverse.
And just as quickly as we had disappeared into the Delta’s tall reeds, we were back to reality. The difference, though, was us. As you’ll see, it’s impossible to return without a piece of the Delta forever in your heart and memory.
Intrepid Tours in Botswana
Intrepid Travel offers a variety of Okavango Delta tours. All these Intrepid Africa tours come in different styles from Basix to Comfort so you can choose the best fit for how you want to travel. The trips vary in length, activities, budget, and theme, from overland adventures to trips geared towards families.
The Okavango Experience is a 10-day Intrepid Tour that starts in Johannesburg, travels into Botswana, and finishes in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The trip centers around the 2 days in the Okavango Delta where you camp out on a remote island in the wilderness chosen by the local polers based on the current level of delta flooding. Chobe National Park and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary also offer you the opportunity to see the Big 5 and other wildlife before arriving at the rainbow-wrapped Victoria Falls.
The tour is Intrepid’s Basix style, which means camping out in tents, mostly in campgrounds with bathroom and shower facilities. In most cases, upgrades to a hotel-style accommodation are offered if available upon arrival. Nearly all meals are included during the trip, but if you wanted time to explore Johannesburg, plan to arrive a couple of days before your Intrepid tour departure date because there are no official activities in the city before leaving for Botswana.
For a comparison of Intrepid tours in Botswana, the Botswana Highlights tour is 9 days in Intrepid’s Original style. Highlights include staying on the Okavango Delta panhandle in a lodge with time to experience a mokoro safari and a nature walk. In fact, all the accommodations on the tour are hotels and lodges. Even though the tour has a Botswana itinerary, it starts and ends at Victoria Falls. During the 9 days, you’ll also have the chance to see game, including the Big 5, at Chobe National Park and Elephant Sands.
Is an Intrepid Botswana tour right for you?
This was my first trip with Intrepid and I absolutely loved it! Now, for most of my travels, I travel independently, even solo to places like Thailand and Romania. But, for a destination like Botswana and southern Africa, it made a lot of sense to go with a tour group. Not only are the overland logistics of border crossings and navigation best left to a pro who knows what to do and where to go, but having a local expert guide who can explain what you’re seeing and gives helpful tips on everything from the day-to-day plans to the local culture is invaluable.
As someone who ALWAYS plans every detail of every trip, whether I go solo, with my husband or family, it was fantastic to just enjoy the trip and not worry about anything at all. Not to mention, I loved getting to make new travel-loving friends from around the globe.
Don’t wait any longer to see the Okavango Delta! And, allow yourself to savor every moment by joining an expert-led Intrepid Okavango tour.
Would you like to camp in the Okavango Delta?
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