The Okavango Delta is the world’s largest inland delta, home to vast numbers of birds and animals and an area of great natural beauty. Changing water levels throughout the year mark distinct seasons and different wildlife viewing experiences, though the Okavango Delta can be visited all year round and will never disappoint.
The floodwaters arrive across the Delta at the start of the dry season, in May, June and July. The floodwaters travel all the way from the highlands of Angola some 500km to the northwest. It takes some months for the water to flow slowly downstream and filter out across the narrow waterways and lagoons of the Delta.
Elsewhere in northern Botswana, the dry season means that seasonal waterholes begin to dry up and vegetation dies back. This is the signal for the animals in the drier areas of the country to begin to migrate towards the Okavango Delta (as well as north to the permanent rivers of Chobe and Linyanti). There is always resident game in the Delta, but in the dry season the numbers increase as large numbers of elephant, zebra, buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest are on the move. This is not an en-masse migration such as you’d find in the Masai Mara, but by July many animals have arrived in the Delta.
In July, August and September days are sunny, there is almost no rain and humidity is low. The floodwater spreads from the northwest to the southeast as the dry season wears on. This is peak season for safaris in the Delta, with water-based activities coming to the fore in some areas.
By October temperatures and humidity are high. It becomes increasingly oppressive until the rains finally arrive around mid-November. The floodwaters have now dried up in the Okavango, with water being limited to the few permanent channels, the showers of the rainy season making little impact on overall water levels. By November the migratory animals now commence their journey back to the Kalahari plains where the rains produce fresh grazing. In subsequent months Okavango’s resident game, such as impala and tsessebe, congregates around remaining water sources, making for relatively easy wildlife viewing.
Rain showers continue through December to March, the green season. If the rains are heavy the Delta can start to flood, albeit on a small scale, lending the landscape a more watery appearance. Rainfall causes the grass to grow taller, which can make wildlife sightings more challenging. In the green season only the permanent water channels are available for mokoro rides and boat safaris. At this time of year many camps offer reduced rates and this can be a very rewarding, and great value, time to visit. December to April are also the very best months for bird watching in the Okavango Delta, attracted by the thriving plant life.
This brings us back to May and the beginning of the dry season, when the floodwaters start to arrive in the Delta….