Elephants, lions and crocodiles: travelling across Botswana, from the Okavango Delta to Victoria Falls

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Thinking of booking an African safari? You’d probably hope for a few things: a stress-free guided tour, bearable weather. Not to mention a decent view of the Big Five, Africa’s most famous animals – the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Watching a lion in the wild is a breath-taking experience, but what if you could do even better? Many have described a safari in Botswana as the ‘greatest show on Earth’. It’s a land like no other, teeming with beautiful, endangered wildlife.

Most of Botswana’s national parks have at least four of the Big Five, and there’s many of them: almost a third of the entire country is officially protected land. The united efforts of its people to conserve its flora and fauna have paid off. A third of Africa’s elephants live in Botswana. Protecting wildlife is a key factor in Botswana’s tourism policy, so visitor numbers are limited. To venture on safari there is to be lost in wilderness, with few people, and where animals usually seen through a zoo fence roam freely.

 

Maun

If you embark on a Botswana safari, Maun is your first base. A frontier town that’s rapidly urbanised in the last few decades, it’s a mix of modern and traditional, with hotels, shopping malls and bars, while herdsmen still bring cattle to sell in the markets. Travellers usually spend a night here, stocking up on fuel and supplies, before setting out to the Okavango Delta.

Okavango Delta

A delta is a landform created when a river deposits sediment as it enters another body of water, usually the ocean. The Okavango Delta is a rarity the world’s largest intact interior delta, providing sustenance to animals in the vast Kalahari desert. This oasis is one of the Seven Wonders of Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire Okavango Delta boasts a stunning array of wildlife; UNESCO estimates there are 1,061 types of plants, 89 species of fish, 64 species of reptiles, 482 bird species and 130 species of mammals.

The Delta’s habitats are diverse, including permanent marshlands, seasonal rivers and lagoons, swamps, forests and dry woodlands. During its annual flood, the Okavango Delta triples in size. It’s a lifeline for flamingos, crocodiles, wildebeest and many other species, as the flood occurs during Botswana’s winter, and recedes in the first summer rains. For tourists, it’s fortunate that the flooding season attracts not only a wider range of exotic animals, but also has milder weather and fewer mosquitoes.

Moremi Game Reserve

On the eastern side of the Okavango Delta lies the Moremi Game Reserve. It was created in 1963 by the Batawana tribe, out of concern for the impact of unregulated hunting on local wildlife. While it only covers 3,900 sq km, it contains a variety of habitats, from mopane woodland and acacia forests to floodplains and lagoons. Many animals call it home. As well as Botswana’s famous elephants, you can look out for lions, buffalos, wild dogs, hippopotami, zebras, giraffes and crocodiles.

While most of the Okavango Delta is impossible to reach by car, a capable off-roader, like a Land Rover, can tackle the Moremi Game Reserve’s forests and wet, muddy floodplains. But the beauty of a self-drive tour isn’t only in the excitement of challenging terrain, but in the ability to stop and look. You can witness from your car window everything you may have seen in a wildlife documentary.

Chobe National Park

Chobe was Botswana’s first National Park, conceived in 1931 to protect the local wildlife and promote tourism. It officially became a National Park in 1967.

Nowadays, like the Moremi Game Reserve, it is home to many spectacular animals. It has 50,000 elephants, which can often be seen drinking in the Chobe River during Botswana’s dry season. It also has a sizeable pride of lions, as well as zebras, buffalos and wildebeest. It’s the place to be to get close, stunning shots of nature in action.

A drive through the Park often involves stops to let animals pass. A deer at the roadside is one thing, but a towering elephant in its natural Botswana habitat is something else.

Many also opt for a cruise ride on the Chobe River, offering a vast, lively panorama of the National Park. The views are spectacular and intimate; when you travel by river, the animals come to you.

Victoria Falls

The spectacular wildlife of Botswana isn’t the only natural wonder. Victoria Falls, on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, is the largest waterfall in the world – twice the height and width of Niagara Falls. It’s known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. This gigantic wall of water is formed by the Zambezi river travelling across a wide, level sheet of basalt, before falling in a single vertical drop.

In the rainy season, up to 540 million cubic metres of water gushes over the edge every minute. It’s not surprising that, across the year, Victoria Falls’ mists can usually be seen from more than 20km away. There is so much spray that opposite the falls, dense vegetation grows like a rainforest. It’s a unique vantage point, as it remains green throughout the dry season.

Land Rover Adventure Travel offers a Self-Drive Botswana tour, where you journey through Botswana’s natural wonders, then beyond to Victoria Falls, passing through all the landmarks previously mentioned. It would leave the most seasoned traveller awestruck at the stunning biodiversity sub-Saharan Africa has to offer.

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