Planning a Trip
Botswana's Department of Tourism has a website (www.botswanatourism.co.bw) listing its international representatives; in the U.S., you can contact Leslee Hall (email@example.com), and in the U.K., Dawn Parr (firstname.lastname@example.org). (Botswana does not yet have representatives in Canada or Australia.) Alternatively, contact one of the specialist safari operators listed later in the chapter directly, or read some of the useful features published in Getaway (www.getawaytoafrica.com; search using keyword "features"), Africa's largest-circulation travel magazine. This is primarily aimed at the local South African market (that is, those traveling on a tighter budget and usually not that discriminatory) but features great accounts of journalists on safari in Botswana. If you are considering a self-drive safari, you will need to contact the Parks & Reservations Office, P.O. Box 20364, Boseja, Maun (tel. 267/686-1265 or 267/686-0368) for permits.
By Plane -- Air Botswana (www.airbotswana.co.bw) flies directly from Johannesburg to Maun, which is the jumping-off point for most destinations in the Okavango Delta. Prices can vary greatly depending on the month you fly, but you're not going to get much change from R3,900 for a return ticket from Johannesburg. Most operators will arrange for you to fly into Maun and then transfer you to your Delta camp by charter flight; make sure this is part of the package. To reach Chobe National Park and surrounds, fly to Kasane, from where you can transfer by road (Vic Falls is incidentally only a 9-min. drive away); again, your operator or lodge should arrange this pickup. Note that you must bring your onward international airline ticket with you on safari, or you may be refused reentry into South Africa.
By Plane -- The region's large wilderness areas are mostly inaccessible by car, so flying is the most sensible way to get around. From Maun, visitors usually join overland safari operators or fly in light aircrafts into their camps. Many charter companies operate out of Maun: Sefofane (tel. 267/686-0778; www.sefofane.com) is the biggest; others are Mack Air (tel. 267/686-0675; www.mackair.co.bw) and Delta Air (tel. 267/686-0044; www.okavango.bw). Unless you're claustrophobic, this is an exciting way to travel: Views of the delta and Botswana's untamed wilderness are spectacular. The plane (which may be anything from a 6- to a 12-seater) often has to buzz the airstrip to clear herds of grazing animals, and the "departure/arrivals" lounge may be a bench under a tree.
Lighten Your Load -- The luggage weight restriction for light charter aircraft from Maun or Kasane is 12kg (26 lb.) per person, preferably packed in a soft bag. The 12kg luggage limit does not include hand luggage and photographic equipment, which needs to be kept to a reasonable weight and volume. If you're leaving from and returning to Johannesburg, you can transfer any essentials to a small soft-sided bag and store the rest in the convenient luggage-storage facility in the Jo'burg airport. Also check with your safari operator or ground handler to see what services they provide -- a number of them will store your luggage at their offices in Maun or Kasane. Note also that if Botswana is your first destination after an international flight, it's worth packing a change of clothes or two and essentials such as your toiletries, camera, and binoculars in your hand luggage. Suitcases regularly don't make it on the same flight. If you're separated from your luggage, you probably won't be reunited with it till after your safari, given the remote locations of the camps.
By Car -- Traveling under your own steam at your own pace could be the adventure of a lifetime, but it will certainly impact your time. You will need permits and a fully equipped four-wheel-drive and camping vehicle (R1,070 a day gets you a 4x4 rental outfitted with a tent on the roof, tables, chairs, cutlery, gas lamp, extra fuel, bedding, and torch). For details, log on to Maun Self Drive 4x4 (http://maunselfdrive4x4.webs.com). You can also hire a four-wheel-drive vehicle from Avis, Mathiba I Road (tel. 267/686-0039; www.avis.com), or Budget, Mathiba I Road (tel. 267/686-3728; www.budget.com), both located near Maun Airport. Note that, to rent a car, you must be 25 or older; your home driving license is good for 6 months, provided it's in English. If you rent your own safari vehicle, you will also need to hire camping and cooking gear from Kalahari Canvas in Maun, Mathiba I Road (tel. 267/686-0568), also near the airport. The delta is huge, but because of variable water levels and private concessions, there are only four "regular" campsites available in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve; there are more in and around Chobe. Facilities are simple, providing drinkable water, showers (equipped with boilers), and rudimentary toilets. Both Maun and Kasane (612km/380 miles away) have large, well-stocked supermarkets.
With A Package Tour -- In Botswana, it really is worth using an established operator to make your bookings. At the very least, you should compare package prices before booking. Going it alone can be as expensive as buying a car from spare parts. Packages include, among other things, transport to the lodge or base camp; accommodations; food, soft drinks, and, in many cases, all alcoholic drinks except for imported liquors; game-viewing, fishing, and photographic expeditions; professional guides; boat hire; and mokoro trips (sometimes you pay extra for park entry fees). See recommended operators under "Specialist Safaris & Operators," below.
When To Go
Much of the Delta's high season is during winter (June-Oct). Temperatures are cool enough that you'll have to pack in warm layers for the night, but game can be less concentrated because of the floods. October is an ideal month because game centers on water. During low season (Nov, Apr, and May), temperatures are sweltering. Surprisingly healthy game populations move through the Kalahari year-round, but the desert comes to life with the summer rainfall (Dec-Apr), and thousands of plains game, such as springbok, gemsbok, and wildebeest, converge to feed on the grasses, with predators in close attendance.
Delta on a Budget
The words budget and Delta are virtually tautological. That said, you could cut your final bill by 25% or more, depending on where you stay and with whom you book. Highly recommended Footsteps in Africa (www.footsteps-in-africa.com) specializes in budget trips throughout Botswana. If you're looking for a Delta-only destination and don't mind roughing it a bit, consider Oddballs Palm Island Lodge (www.oddballs-camp.com), one of the best-known budget camps in the region. If you book online, Oddballs charges $145 to $234 per person per night for a standard tent, depending on season -- that includes full board and your own private guide. The vibe here is young and fun: Accommodations are in dome tents set on raised platforms; mattresses, pillows, and a light are provided (pack your own sleeping bag and towels unless you're staying in one of the pricier Meru-style tents); hot showers and flush toilets are communal. Mokoro camping and walking trips are a highlight of the Oddballs experience -- you set off at dawn with your personal guide/mokoro poler and camp out on an island in the reserve. Oddballs provides all provisions and equipment (tents, cookery, and such) except bedding, which can be rented. A 4-night mokoro trail, camping on islands, will cost $800 to $1,160 per person, depending on the season. It's accessible only by air, so you'll have to charter a flight from Maun, 20 minutes away. Before booking here, though, it is worth consulting with the excellent Africa Travel Resource (tel. 866/672-3274 or 831/338-2383; www.africatravelresource.com), an online independent agent with a range of budget (and luxury) options. Mail them with a budget and/or time constraints, and an agent will call or mail to discuss a few camp options with you, such as Camp K06 and Mankwe Lodge in the Delta (around $530/night and $280/night, respectively), or Camp Kalahari ($470) and Nxai Camp ($555) in the Kalahari. If you ask, Africa Travel Resource will also look into Zambian options to fit your budget constraints and will provide a full package, flights included. Alternatively, contact www.island-safari.com (tel. 866/254-1428 in the U.S.), which specializes in discounted travel to the delta, or request a quote from Shaun Petri, owner of South Africa-based www.detourafrica.co.za.