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By Antonina 04 October 2019

How Water Levels Can Affect Your April Botswana Safari

YZ’s Antonina discusses her recent experience of Botswana’s Okavango Delta and the game reserves that have been affected this year by low water levels.

Travelling to Botswana this April was very exciting because not only was it going back home for me, but it was also going back into the bush that I missed the most. Although I grew up in Maun and explored many places around the Okavango Delta, travelling as far as Chobe through Moremi and Savute, I hadn’t visited other parts of the Delta, such as the Linyanti area. 

Maun in April usually looks lush and green from the summer rains that normally come in from December to March. However, I was quite surprised this year by how dry it looked from the air. After spending time in Maun, visiting friends and family, I was informed that the amount of rain had been rather lower than it tends to be for that time of the year, and that it hadn’t been as dry for a few years. 

Below, I’ve listed the game reserves and areas of the Okavango Delta that I recently visited, and I’ve noted the impact this year’s water levels have had on a safari experience:

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Chobe riverfront

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After my short stay in Maun, my partner and I flew to Kasane, where we were due to start our safari at Chobe Game Lodge. The Chobe river had quite a lot of water that I could see, but one of the guides said that it was quite low for that time of the year – not low enough, however, to stop water activities. And during my afternoon boat ride, which involved an electric boat to help reduce sound, I saw elephants, buffalos, hippos, baboons, crocodiles, and more. The only thing I found rather odd was that I had expected to see hundreds of elephants, rather than the handful that I saw, considering how dry it was out there in the bush. 

Although there might have been still quite a lot of water by Chobe Game Lodge, when we moved farther west of the river, towards places like Muchenje Safari Lodge or Chobe Elephant Camp, we found the water level was so low that these properties had stopped all water activities. Instead, guides have been taking guests out all day on game drives through Chobe National Park and ending up by Kasane, where they take guests out on a boat along the deeper and wider part of the Chobe river. This actually meant that we had a great balance of water and land activities, even though we were farther down the river.

The Linyanti area

Flying to the Linyanti area was amazing because from the air it looked rather green and watery… but I could see that farther away from the rivers many floodplains were rather dry. Our first place to stay in this area was in the Kwando Reserve at Lagoon Camp, which is one of my favorite camps because of its charm, staff, and simplicity.

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The location is perfect. As the name indicates, this camp is located by a lagoon (filled with plenty of hippos), and all rooms face out to it. The property offers great game drives as well as boat cruises and fishing. We had over an hour-long boat cruise (open double deck) that progressed quietly through one of the channels off the Kwando river. This was such a wonderful experience compared with the motorboat, as it’s slower and higher up, offering a good view. Although the guides did say the water was lower than normal for this time of the year, it was still high enough to do the water activities on offer.

Next, we stayed in a small tented camp called Selinda Explorers Camp, which is situated right along the Selinda Spillway. Years ago, this area went through a phase of regular flooding; however, when we got here the water was no longer running through the channel. This is due not only to the low rain fall year on year, but also to the movement of the tectonic plates. For the last few years, the channel has been dry and so Selinda Explorers is able to offer only game drives, but this was one of the best game drives I had in this whole area. It was just absolutely beautiful and totally exclusive – this was where we had our first leopard sighting!

Moremi Game Reserve

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Flying from the Linyanti to Moremi, we could see how relatively dry it was, but we could also spot where there were deeper channels that never dry up. It was nice to see areas that still had permanent water channels to some degree. 

Staying at Okuti Camp, situated right along the river, again we had a great experience because here we did the motorboat ride in the reserve and we saw a dead hippo being eaten by more than ten crocodiles! We also got out of the boat to go on a small island walk and get close to some red lechwes that were just grazing about the place, making us appreciate the smaller local game in the Delta.

Khwai Community Area

Sadly, the Khwai Community Area has been affected quite a bit by the lower water levels. Properties like Machaba Camp have had to stop offering mokoro safaris, as the floodplains have dried up, and are only offering land-based activities. However, when I was there Sango Camp was still offering mokoro rides.

The Okavango Delta

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Northern Okavango Delta

Known for having deep channels that provide more permanent water sources, the northern Okavango Delta is a paradise. And during our stay at Vumbura Plains, it was super-green, lush, and had lots of water. During our game drive just outside camp, we would drive through channels of water to get around. Here, and at other camps like Shinde and Splash, they were able to offer six different water and land activities. Shinde Camp was my personal favorite as the staff were exceptional, the guides were great, and the camp itself is charming. We tried something a little different here and also went fishing.

Western Okavango Delta

It was in the west of the Delta that we started to notice how many fires there were. The land looked scorched and the smell of smoke was spread across the Jao Reserve. Most camps in the reserve have stopped all water activities and instead are focusing on game drives and bush walks. The only camp we stayed at here was Pelo Camp, a lovely small tented camp situated on an island. However, there was not much water around the camp, let alone within the actual reserve. As a result of this situation, many camps are adapting and now exploring areas that would normally be under water at that time of the year.

Southern Okavango Delta

My trip to the Okavango Delta ended in Gomoti Plains, located in the south. Set near the Gomoti river, this area normally offers both land and water activities.

However, when we arrived there was no water in front of the camp and we were informed that there hadn’t been any water here for months, with no expectation of the water arriving this year.

Consequently, there no water activities were offered.

Overall: water levels in Botswana in April

After two weeks of being in the bush and experiencing different parts of the Delta, I’d had an absolutely phenomenal time despite the lack of water overall. The wildlife was superb and the lodges are as luxurious as ever. As is the case when there is scarce water in the bush, animals congregate around permanent water sources, so predator spotting is fantastic. 

The Okavango Delta by its very nature is constantly changing and that is why it is important that we try to give clients the best possible chance of water activities. If you are looking to book a safari to Botswana and want to know more about the Okavango Delta, such as where to stay, when to go, and how to experience a mokoro or water-based safari, please don’t hesitate to contact us here. Alternatively, take a look at my favorite lodges and camps below for more inspiration: