Okavango Delta by houseboat: what to expect

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A houseboat in Botswana's Okavango Delta
12/05/2017 / By / , , , / Post a Comment
In 2014, the Okavango Delta became the 1,000th site to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. But long before this, Botswana’s inland delta – described as ‘Africa’s last Eden’ – has been attracting tourists keen to experience its unmatched wildlife.

The waters of the delta are scattered with numerous small islands and most travellers stay in lodges and tented camps which are accessed by charter flight. But if you want to experience the Okavango Delta in a truly unique way, you can spend two nights on a houseboat with Peregrine. Here’s what to expect:

A magical, 90-minute speedboat trip to your houseboat

The houseboats we use are located in the northern end of the Okavango Delta’s ‘panhandle’ and can be accessed only by speedboat. It’s a one-and-a-half hour journey to reach your home for the next two nights, but it’s about as magical as transfers get. You will lose track of time as you glide over the smooth waters of the winding river bordered by high reeds. Expect to stop from time to time to watch a crocodile, hippo, or some of the many birds found in the area.

The Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta

No wifi, no phones, no TV

Once on board the houseboat, there is no wifi, no TV, and no phones. Think of it as a digital detox (this does actually appeal to many people). Evenings on the boat are a unique and memorable experience – not for what you do, but more for the absence of activity. In truth, it is utterly blissful.

…But you CAN recharge your camera

The boat is powered by solar and you will be able to recharge your cameras at a communal station on the deck. Given the unique wildlife you’re likely to see on your trip (did we mention the wildlife?), you’ll definitely want full camera batteries.

There’s an honesty bar

After a peaceful sunset cruise downriver, grab a sundowner from the boat’s honesty bar, pull up a chair and witness the often breathtaking sunset. Don’t forget to note down your drinks and pay the captain in local currency at the end of your trip!

The sounds of nature are all around

This is true wilderness. Fall asleep (and wake up) to the sounds of the delta: the lapping of water against the houseboat, hippos breaching and grunting, cicadas trilling and thousands of birds singing.

The sounds of your fellow travellers are all around 

On the flip side is every other not-so-romantic sound that can be easily heard. Flushing toilets, snoring, showering, people talking. In a setting like this it doesn’t seem so bad. Bring your earplugs just in case.

Your cabin is VERY cosy

The houseboat has twin-share cabins with bedding, towels and mosquito nets provided. Cabins are small, basic but functional – but you’re unlikely to be spending a lot of time in there. On a full departure, bathroom facilities are shared between two cabins (four people per bathroom). The boat is solar powered so the water for hot showers finishes by early evening.

Mokoros are a unique boating experience

Mokoros

Mokoros on the delta

A mokoro is a traditional wooden dugout canoe, although they are often made of fibreglass these days. A large part of the day is spent on a mokoro trip and island walk in the delta’s ‘fan’. This involves taking a small motor boat back down the pan handle and a short trip in a truck. You’ll then meet your mokoro ‘polers’. These are locals who have been using mokoros since they were children and are incredibly skilled.

Each long, narrow mokoro carries two passengers and is masterfully steered using a long wooden pole to push off the riverbed (a bit like a punt if you’ve been to Oxford or Cambridge).

The wildlife is unique, too

The delta ‘fan’ is very different from the ‘pan handle’. Thick reeds are replaced by low water grass and endless green lily pads spotted with purple and yellow lotus flowers. The mokoros glide quietly through the ‘hippo highway’, channels created by hippos eating the vegetation.

HippoThis is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Look out for fish eagles galore, cormorants, herons, eight types of egret, and many, many geese.

After a couple of hours you arrive at a small island for a nature walk. Your local guides will point out hippo, elephant and aardvark tracks; sausage trees; wild sage and various other fauna that have been used by locals for everything from cooking to treating skin cancer.

It’s not uncommon to come across a herd of elephants, but fear not: our expert local guides are experienced and know exactly what to do.

The walk is by no means strenuous and can be enjoyed by just about anyone, but it can get hot in the summer months. Comfy walking shoes, long trousers to protect against any nasties, hat and sunscreen are a must.

A one-off fishing experience

Back on the boat there is also the option to head out for a spot of fishing. You might not catch a thing but it’s a pretty nice way to waste an afternoon!

The best time to visit the Okavango Delta is May-September

The Okavango Delta is formed by rain which falls 1,200km away in Angola. The floods are generally at their deepest from June-August. As you can imagine, this makes the delta a very seasonal destination. For more detailed information, read our Botswana trip notes.

You can stay on an Okavango Delta houseboat on several Peregrine trips

A 10-day ‘Experience Botswana’ trip.

A 24-day ‘Explore Sub-Saharan Africa’ trip.

A 39-day ‘Classic Africa Safari’.

The truly epic 48-day ‘Grand Africa – Cairo to Cape Town’ trip.

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