Africa is a disease, I tell you that with full responsibility. Once you’re on the continent, you can’t get rid of the idea of going back. I have not met a single person who regrets their trip and does not dream of coming back. The secret of it from my point of view is that Africa is one of the few places in the world where you can see the wildlife in its original form. And Africa is also home to beautiful people, kind, compassionate and proud at the same time, with a sense of dignity. Unlike in Asia, no one is trying to deceive you, trick you for money and look at you as a friend who came to visit, not as a money bag to be shaken.
I first went to Africa two years ago, visiting South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. That was followed by trips to Tanzania and South Africa. After returning from a New Year’s trip to South Africa, I took a breather and started planning a new trip to the black continent. Honestly, I had no idea even to go in any other direction:)
I had this new trip in mind as a tour focused exclusively on animal photography. Based on my past experiences I gave up on trying to grasp the vastness and see as many different places as possible. I wanted to choose one park and spend a week and a half there, meticulously photographing animals and birds, searching for the right light and subjects. For help, as always, I turned to my friend Peter, who has helped me many times to prepare my trips. The trip was scheduled for May, which is equal to late fall in those parts. Not the best time to visit South Africa. Another serious factor was the price, since I originally planned to go alone, the cost of travel significantly increased in comparison with a group tour. I therefore had to immediately give up such countries as Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africa with the Kruger Park and Botswana, where the rainy season was supposed to end by May, were still on the list. I had just been to South Africa, and Kruger Park, with its huge number of tourists and paved roads, didn’t appeal to me. So the choice in the end stopped at Botswana, namely the Okavango River Delta. The place is unique, unique in its kind, I’ll tell you about it a little later. After deciding on a place, Peter began to select camps and make reservations, and I in turn went to look for travel companions. The trip was not cheap at all, so as usual there was a problem with people who wanted to come. Finally I was joined by an old friend Alex, with whom I have already traveled a bunch of times to joint photography tours and a new member – Nikolai (NikM), responded to my invitation, posted on soniforum.
The final plan of the trip was as follows. On May 3 we flew from Moscow to Johannesburg via Cairo. On the 4th of May from Johannesburg we fly to Maun, in Maun we take a light motor Cesna and fly to the first Camp Xigera ( http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/botsw . roduction/ ), located on the island in the very center of the delta. There we spend 3 nights and on May 7th we fly to the second Camp Banoka (http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/botsw . roduction/ ), where we also spend 3 nights. On May 10th my companions are flying to Maun and then to Moscow via Johannesburg and Cairo. And I am staying in the camp for another three nights and on May 13 fly to Maun and then to Cape Town, where I spend 4 days and return to Moscow.
Everything was booked, paid, bought tickets and it would seem that nothing can stop our journey. But, the problem came from an unexpected side – the South African embassy in Moscow. I was given a visa at the first attempt and almost no questions, but the guys to get the transit visas were not one circle of hell. I will not describe in detail, I will only say that the rudeness and meanness of Russian embassy workers who receive documents goes beyond any conceivable limits. At some point, we were beginning to think that Alex and Nicholas would not be able to get visas and we had to take the difficult route through Zambia, which does not require South African visa for transit. But thank goodness last minute visas were obtained and we were on our way!
My photo arsenal on this trip consisted of the following. My Sony camera: A99, A850, A77 Sony lenses: 300/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 16-35/2.8, 100/2.8 macro, 1.4 teleconverter. 90% of the shots were taken with a combination of A99 + 300/2.8, which sometimes included a teleconverter.
Mykola took his Sony A77 and the 70-400 and 16-50 lenses with him.
Alex, who is a fan of Canon, took two brands, the second and third, with a bunch of different glass. But in the end, just like me, 90 percent of the time he used Mark3 + 300/2.8.
I have used tripods and monopods but I have never used them, because I have lost mobility which is so important for bird photography.
3. The Okavango Delta
The Okavango River begins in the mountains of Angola, flows across Namibia and reaches Botswana and the Kalahari Desert to form the world’s largest inland delta, i.e. a delta that has no outlet to the ocean. The area of the delta varies from 15 to 22 thousand square kilometers, depending on the season. This is how it looks from a satellite.
But all this is half the battle. The main thing is that the animals in the delta do not know what man is. They have seen us, of course, but they have never known evil from humans. For a long time, the tse-tse fly, a transmitter of sleeping sickness, was raging in the area, so people didn’t settle in the delta. Later, the fly disappeared and the government declared the entire delta a sanctuary, officially banning locals from settling there. So today the Okavango Delta is one of the few places in the world where there has never been and hopefully will never be a human settlement. The animals are in their natural habitat without human influence. It is a favorite place for filming wildlife movies in Africa and a paradise for animal photographers. There are about 30 small campsites (tent camps) for tourists in the delta. There are no roads, so you can only get to them by small planes. The government of Botswana, concerned about the conservation of wildlife, specifically limits the possibility of building large lodges and hotels in the delta, thus controlling the volume of tourist flow. All camps are exceptionally comfortable and all-inclusive. In Botswana they say it is better to make one tourist a royal condition than to bring 20 people and put them in standard rooms. All this is good of course, but it greatly affects the price, which ranges from $500 to $2,000 per night. True, this price includes full board with all drinks and most importantly trips on safari. So after you pay for the camp, you will not need the money there. One more peculiarity of our stay in the Delta is absence of communication, no phone, internet or TV. The administrator of the first camp explained to me that they had done this intentionally, so that tourists were not distracted from nature. And it really works! On the second day you start to forget about civilization.
The Okavango Delta, Botswana: A Complete Guide
The Okavango Delta in northern Botswana is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Its aquatic landscape has endured dramatic periods of floods and droughts; yet the amazing diversity of animals has adapted to the changes, making it one of the best safari destinations in Africa. You can explore it on foot or in a 4×4 safari, or from the water in a traditional canoe (mokoro). However, you will choose to experience the Okavango, a wonderland filled with wild plains, forests and waterways.
The Okavango Delta is located in the Kalahari Basin and is fed by the Okavango River, the fourth longest river in South Africa. The river becomes more and more full during the rainy season, eventually flooding the Okavango at the end of the season in April or May. Because of tectonic activity, floods flood the Delta differently each year, bringing much-needed nutrients to the sandy soil and revitalizing the entire ecosystem. During peak flooding, the Delta covers more than 8,500 square miles / 22,000 square kilometers of the Kalahari Desert.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the floods, this vast area has remained virtually untouched. The only way to get to many parts of the Delta is by small planes, and most high-end camps. The expense of visiting the Okavango has kept a trail of tourists. The camps are built with sustainability in mind, and the Delta is protected by the Moremi Reserve and 18 separate wildlife management areas and controlled hunting grounds. This has helped minimize human impact and preserve wildlife.
The Okavango Delta boasts an astounding abundance and diversity of wildlife, including no less than 160 species of mammals. You can find the Big Five here (the Okavango in particular is known for leopard sightings). It’s also home to some of the richest habitat of endangered African wild dogs. Cheetah, hippos, crocodiles, zebras and giraffes are all explained, while antelope species include red lechwe, sable and vulnerable topi. The Okavango Delta may be the single best place for birds in South Africa, with more than 530 species recorded.
Keep an eye out for events such as the African skimmer and Pelah’s fish owl.
Moremi Reserve is the only state reserve in the Okavango. It is relatively small in size, but covers some of the most pristine and ecologically diverse areas of the eastern Delta. It is known for its healthy population of leopards and is one of the few places in Botswana where you can see both black and white rhinos. For those planning self-guided safaris, Moremi is the gateway to the Okavango. You can look for animals from your vehicle and spend the night in some stunning public areas.
Driving off-road and after dark is prohibited. To enjoy a night drive, you must stay in a private concession.
What to do
Trips to the Okavango are all about finding animals and enjoying the natural splendor of the region. The Delta’s lagoons and waterways are what make it unique, and water safaris are an unforgettable experience. Many private camps are permanently surrounded by water and offer only game viewing by boat. A silent hunt across the Delta to Mokoro is likely to be the highlight of your trip and is a great way to get close to the animals and birds. Depending on where you stay, you can also sign up for horse or elephant safaris, walking safaris and regular jeep safaris.
Passionate fishermen can spend hours catching tilapia, bass and bream. In some areas, you can also fish for ferocious tigers – but remember that all fishing in the Okavango Delta is catch-and-release. To get a true picture of the vastness of the Okavango, you need to see it from above. Be prepared with your camera for a charter flight to and from camp, or save up for a hot air balloon flight list bucket over the Delta at dawn. Several lodges offer the opportunity to spend a night or two under canvas in a makeshift camp on one of the islands.
Of all the things to do in the Okavango, this has to be one of the most rewarding.
Where to stay
Accommodation options in the Okavango Delta range from public campgrounds to private tent camps and luxury lodges. The best options in the Moremi Reserve include Sanctuary Chief’s Camp and Xacanax Camp. The former is a great option, located on Chief’s Island, with a gourmet kitchen and spa. The private pavilions have their own small pool and covered terrace for wildlife viewing. Camp Xakanaxa is the oldest and most iconic Busha Moremi camp.Located on the banks of the Khwai River, it offers 12 Meru-style tents with a bathroom in addition to a thatched dining area and a small pool.
Private concessions on the rest of the Delta offer the chance to partake in walking safaris and overnight trips. Some of the best lodges include the luxurious Khwai River Lodge (at Khwai Concession), Gunn’s Camp (at Xaxaba Concession), and Oak Plains Camp (at Oak Plains Concession). Gunn’s Camp is a water-based lodge that specializes in Mokoro safaris, guided bush walks and wilderness hikes.
When to go.
For the best wildlife viewing, visit the Okavango Delta between May and September. The dry season coincides with the annual flood and the animals are forced to congregate at higher elevations, making them easier to spot. At this time of year, the weather is also cooler, drier, and less humid with plenty of sunshine during the day. During the rainy season (November through March), the floods recede and many animals leave the Delta area to graze in the surrounding pastures. Some lodges cannot offer water safaris at this time of year, and others close.
Nevertheless, the green season is a better time for birds and cheaper prices.
By far the easiest way to get to the Okavango is to fly in by charter plane from Maun Airport (MUB). You will be picked up from the nearest airstrip and taken to the lodge or camp by boat, mokoro or 4×4. Air Botswana offers regular flights to Maun from Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, or from Johannesburg in South Africa. It is also possible to reach the eastern part of the Moremi Reserve by road. There are two entrances: the North Gate for drivers from Chobe National Park and the South Gate, located 56 miles / 90 kilometers from Maun.
Road conditions vary depending on the season, and you’ll need a 4×4.