The Okavango Delta is a region in Botswana.
The Kalahari Desert lies in the Kalahari Basin, which is enormous, about five times the size of France, and the Basin covers all of Botswana and parts of her surrounding countries. The Kalahari Basin was created 135 million years ago when South America, Asia and Australia tore themselves away from Africa. The power of this event and of the secondary volcanic and earth shuddering activity it caused lifted the edges of southern Africa like a bowl, creating the Basin. Over many millions of years this part of the world passed through extremely dry periods, during which fierce sand storms dumped layer upon layer of sand into the basin. And today, 65 million years later, this is the oldest and largest stretch of sand on our planet.
These sands are about 250m deep and geologically this area has looked almost the same for most of those 65 million years. Now in all honesty one million years is quite difficult for us to contemplate, let alone 65. But in terms of an almost unchanged landscape that is, even geologically speaking a long, long time. To put it into perspective only 12 000 years ago most of Europe was under ice and completely uninhabitable. And the rugged valleys of Scotland and Fjords of Norway were carved by that very same ice.
Because of this great age and because of Africa’s position in relation to the equator, Africa was largely unaffected but the last few ice ages and thus, when compared to the rest of the planet, Africa has suffered far less extinctions. The result of this an amazing diversity of plants, trees, birds and animals. To give you an idea of this diversity the Okavango Delta alone has as many species of trees as the whole of Western Europe.
Now getting back to the Kalahari, we are currently in a wet period of its 65 million year history and its most outstanding physical feature is the living desert. The sands of the Kalahari Dessert have mostly been blown there rather than transported by water and they are not very fertile, but despite this, after good rains grass is plentiful and the desert supports an astounding diversity of life. The Kalahari Desert is the last refuge of the San or Bushmen, who have roamed Southern African for the last 30 000 years and are now on the verge of extinction. And if you wish to find out more about the world’s oldest contemporary culture on look on the Smartguide website for the Bushmen Download.
At some stage in this 65 million year period large Rivers flowed into the Kalahari Basin, creating a giant lake which in turn emptied into the Indian Ocean via the Limpopo River. And then about 50 000 years ago, due to the numerous fault lines in the area, all but the Okavango River were diverted, and the Lake began to shrink. Until about 10 000 years ago another fault effectively dammed the Okavango River creating the delta and leaving the Lake to become the largest the salt pan complex in the world, the Makgadikgadi Pans – an amazing expanse of whiteness the size Switzerland.
The University of Botswana's Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre HOORC was established in 1994 in response to the need to understand the natural and human processes that shape the Delta, which became a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance in December 1996. HOORC's multidisciplinary research teams provide the science to support the work of local, national and regional planning bodies such as Botswana's Okavango Delta Management Plan and OKACOM, the Okavango River Basin Water Commmission. Flow the HOORC Library weblog, reports research and news relevant to the Delta.
Most travellers start from Maun with their own car. You can also charter airplanes there or go on a tour with one of the flying-safari operators.
Go. It's amazing. Fabulous. One the most magical places in the entire world. The budget minded can take the bus from Maun to Sepopa. There is now a river taxi that travels daily from Sepopa to Seronga and coordinates with the buses. If your timing is off stay at Swamp Stop overnight. In Seronga you can stay at the Polers Trust and enjoy the mekoro trips.
Much of the area is divided into large concessions run by various safari groups. Development is strictly regulated so that there is little development and lots of wildlife. It is expensive, but worth it to stay in some of these permanent tented campsites. The guides are knowledgeable, and the accommodations very comfortable. Wilderness Safaris runs many great camps. They are all inclusive: two wildlife rides a day, all meals, snacks and drinks are included in the price.
The Okavango Delta is generally considered safe for travelers, although as with any part of Africa necessary precautions should always be taken. The Okavango is home to many potentially dangerous animals (including, but not limited to, the Nile Crocodile, Lion and Hippo) but attacks on tourists are virtually unheard of, it is best to closely follow the instructions of your guide at all times.
Malaria, along with many other mosquito-borne illnesses, can be present within the Okavango and thus preventive measures are imperative. It is important to note that the occurrence of mosquito-borne illnesses is much higher in the wet season (the same is true for any tropical location.)