Pula! If there is one word that sums up Botswana, it is this. Pula – that is water, more precious than anything else in one of the driest regions of the world. Pula - this is the name of the Botswana currency. And since half the country is partying when the rain comes in November after months of drought, the word also means cheers, cheers!
Although the Kalahari Desert makes up most of Botswana, there is plenty of wet in the country. The Okavango, a mighty river, at around 1700 kilometers much longer than the Rhine, is a curiosity. Its water comes from the highlands of Angola, where it fell from the sky as rain a few months earlier. There the river is called Cubango, in Namibia then Kavango, in Botswana finally Okavango. In the north, the river meanders, but does not flow anywhere, but simply loses itself in the wasteland.
But before all the water evaporates or seeps into the dry ground, it offers a unique spectacle! At 20,000 square kilometers - roughly the size of Hesse - the Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta on the planet. It lies on the map like a soaked sponge in the form of a giant four-fingered hand and shapes the landscape.
Here, water and desert literally kiss, it grows luxuriantly in this swampy, globally unique natural paradise. The abundance of greenery feeds antelope, waterbuck and other herbivores; which in turn are prey for predators of all kinds.
The abundance of animals is overwhelming. Already on the half-hour drive in an off-road vehicle from a landing strip in the bush to the "Vumbura Plains" camp of the safari provider Wilderness, you will encounter ten elephants, two giraffes, a herd of kudu, hippos by the dozen, impala by the hundreds - as well as fresh tracks from leopards and lions .
The Okavango Delta is one of the best spots on the African continent for big game face-to-face, and to top it all off, it offers the rare opportunity of a boat safari tour. At best, Chobe and Linyanti (in the north of Botswana) and the Serengeti/Masai Mara region (in Kenya and Tanzania) can keep up as a safari area in terms of diversity and guaranteed animal sightings.
And there is something else that speaks for Botswana: it is larger than France, but with a good 2.5 million inhabitants it is extremely sparsely populated and has earned the reputation as the “Switzerland of Africa” over the past few decades. When the British protectorate gained independence in 1966, it was a desperately poor young state, far from the sea and without a port. future perspective? poor.
Then came the historic stroke of luck: just a few months later, diamonds were found in the Orapa region. They finance the country to this day. Fortunately, the multi-billion dollar treasure was not frittered away by corrupt governments, as was the case in the resource-rich countries of Angola, Ghana and Zimbabwe. Rather, the clunkers secured (and still secure) the rise and prosperity of Botswana, and indeed in the breadth of society.
The country is now relatively wealthy, ranking 50th in the world on Transparency International's corruption rankings, better than a number of EU countries. Men and women as well as the different ethnic groups traditionally have equal rights. Apart from petty crime in the two largest cities, Gaborone and Francistown, Botswana is a safe, relaxed travel destination - which unfortunately does not apply to other classic safari destinations such as South Africa or Kenya.
In addition, Botswana has understood how to prudently and sustainably develop tourism, the navel of which is the town of Maun in the south-eastern tip of the Okavango Delta. There is no mass tourism, which is also due to the fact that safari tours are usually an expensive, expensive pastime.
A trip to the largely untouched wetland would not be recommended on your own, it would be negligent. An average European would presumably not survive 24 hours in this landscape reminiscent of the biblical paradise, no matter how beguiling and full of life it may be to look at.
That's why on-site visitors put themselves in the hands of a safari guide, in this case a certain Attorney Vasco, who admittedly has an odd name. Actually, the 41-year-old should have listened to the first name Antonio at his father's request. But when his mother went to court for the deed, the pronunciation didn't quite work out, and Antonio became an attorney on the document. Which literally means "lawyer", meaning "lawyer Vasco", and causes confusion. Everywhere on the Okavango the man is therefore only called Vasco.
Sure, the delta is a natural paradise, says Vasco dryly at the first sundowner with South African Sauvignon Blanc around the campfire at dusk. But dangers lurked in paradise, "some people have already lost their lives here - or at least one or the other limb".
There are a few people in the area who have survived a crocodile attack, but unfortunately with the loss of an arm or foot. But buffalo and hippo are even nastier. “The buffalo is the most dangerous. At least an elephant will warn you before attacking, a buffalo will not. Buffalo shoot at you like a rocket.”
Vasco's tip just in case: "Run as hard as you can. find tree. Climb up.” Which is also a good tip if an angry elephant is on your tail. The pachyderms in clan formations, who stomp in front of an off-road vehicle and camera every quarter of an hour in the Okavango Delta, usually appear in a civilized manner. Conveniently, their smacking Blubberblubb sound can be heard from afar.
It quickly becomes clear: if modern people are not careful in this area, they will quickly be crushed or become part of the natural food cycle. So the exotic wilderness holds a subtly spooky thrill, yet is deeply inspiring and mind-bending in its splendor.
"You realize that you live intensely when you are among lions," wrote the Danish writer Karen Blixen, author of the literary classic "Out of Africa", almost 90 years ago. “There is something about safari that makes us forget all our worries. You feel like you've had half a bottle of champagne - you're kind of bubbling over with a heartfelt gratitude that you exist.” Although this feeling also arises without alcohol.
Where there is danger, there is a growing desire for a safe retreat. There are now dozens of them in the middle of the delta: well-equipped camps that offer all the comforts of a top hotel, such as hot water for baths and showers, luxury king-size feather beds and Internet access. Vegan multi-course menus can also be served on request.
To be on the safe side, there is a horn in every tent quarters - for emergencies, i.e. if a roaring lion should be hanging around in front of the bedroom in the middle of the night. With 15 camps in the Okavango Delta alone, safari operator Wilderness, which is present in eight African countries, offers the largest selection of luxurious, but not over-the-top accommodations.
Classic tours, in which early mornings or late afternoons you rumble through the landscape in an open off-road vehicle on unpaved roads, are part of the standard program in the Okavango Delta, as in every African national park. Another means of transport is much more sensual and stylish: the mokoro, a dugout canoe, the perfect vehicle for a water safari.
Up until 20 years ago, these canoes used throughout the delta were made of wood; they are now made of more robust fiberglass. "You can only use a mokoro on flat ground," explains Vasco, because the side of the vehicle is just two handbreadths above the water level. “You have to be able to see the reason, otherwise it's too dangerous. A hippopotamus could be lurking in deeper water, attacking the mokoro and sinking it.” There is no motor, the dugout is poled.
And so, unlike jeep safaris, which are accompanied by the constant pounding of diesel engines, guests on a mokoro tour can enjoy ethereal stillness. You get goosebumps as the dugout glides silently through a sea of blooming water lilies and thick reeds.
The silence is only interrupted by the regular splashing sound of the pole, a gentle gurgle of water under the hull or the occasional croaking of a brightly colored frog bobbing on a lily pad.
One would like to jump into this completely clear water, into the luxuriance of nature, swim a lap. Not a good idea of course. Because there are fish and otters everywhere, but also crocodiles. And sometimes you can see giant elephants gliding past, stuffing their supper, heaps of water lily stalks, into their mouths with their trunks in the shallow water. As a bathing tourist, you would rather not disturb them.
But the real highlight is not even the dugout tour: the delta is already magical on water and on land, but viewed from the air it is even more breathtaking. It's a good thing that many camps on the Okavango are remote and guests have to travel by small plane. They typically have twelve spartan seats and a bit of storage space for luggage.
That may sound decadent and not good for the world climate, but in this roadless part of the world traffic only works like this – the small planes function as a kind of intercity bus. You take off and land on sand runways in the middle of nature. Sometimes the flight from one lodge to the next takes half an hour, sometimes just ten minutes.
The adrenaline rush that such a flight in the skies over Africa offers is unforgettable. The world below appears untouched, for long stretches without the slightest sign of human activity. Only the bright blue of the water shimmers in all directions, interrupted by the lush green of nature.
And in between there are always dark spots that look like rocks at first glance, but turn out to be bathing elephants or dozing hippos. It is, Karen Blixen sends her regards again, “a view of the world as God once devised it”.
how to get there
The journey takes about 24 to 30 hours. Since there are no non-stop flights from Germany to Maun, it is advisable to change flights in Johannesburg. From Maun continue by small plane to the northwestern Okavango Delta (maximum 20 kilos of luggage per person including hand luggage; no suitcases). No visa is required for Botswana.
Where is a good place to live?
Camps in the Okavango region are expensive (from 300 euros per person per night). The comparatively simply equipped "Setari Camp" costs from 355 euros without flight (setaricamp.com). The fine lodges of Wilderness such as "Jao" or "Vumbura Plains" are located in game-rich regions of the delta far from the tourist beaten path, where you pay between 600 and 2000 euros per person and night including meals, drinks, safaris; without a flight (wildernessdestinations.com).
Travel through southern Africa including the Okavango Delta can also be booked through tour operators such as Abendsonneafrika.de or African Special Tours (ast-reisen.de).
Anyone who cannot prove that they have been fully vaccinated against the corona virus must present a negative 72-hour PCR test and also undergo a test at the airport. Careful sun and insect protection is recommended.
Participation in the trip was supported by Wilderness. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at go2.as/independence