The inland delta where the Okavango River meets the Kalahari Desert has been called the world’s largest oasis. The Okavango, a tributary of the mighty Zambezi, creates a unique “water in the desert” ecosystem the size of Switzerland, forming floodplains, lagoons, channels, and island that all act as a magnet for wildlife. As a local brochure puts it, “if you see 10 percent of what sees you, it’s an exceptional day.”The birdlife is second to none, and there are legions of elephants, zebras, buffaloes, giraffes, and hippos. As you glide through a labyrinth of papyrus-fringed, lily-covered waterways in the traditional mokoro dugout canoe or explore islands and islets on foot, you’re immersed in a lush environment of otherworldly colors and sounds. Climb atop an elephant for an even better view of the wildlife. At Wilderness Safari’s Abu Camp, consisting of six canvas tents on elevated wooden decks, the stars are a motley crew of elephants that owner Randall Moore adopted from zoos. The smell from these sure-footed beasts masks your own, so the mahout (trainer) who straddles the neck of your mount can approach animals that would normally run from humans.
The camp is one of several excellent private safari concessions that surround the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Wildlife Reserve. Also owned by Wilderness Safari is Mombo Camps, a group of perched, tented suites on Chief’s Island, in the northeast, and the spare and beautiful, wood-decked Vumbura Plains Camps overlooking a waterhole on the edge of a large floodplain in the extreme north. Or you can choose to stay at either Xudum or Xaranna, two new properties opened by the luxury travel firm & Beyond in the southern part of the delta. There’s nothing rough about these camps’ huge billowing tents, contemporary lines, indoor-outdoor showers, and, in some cases, private plunge pools.
WHERE : 62 miles/100 km north of Maun; 30 minutes by scheduled air charter.
BEST TIME : May – Sep for coolest, driest weather.