Botswana is home to one of the world's great natural phenomena, the tranquil Okavango Delta, a 15,000-sq.-km (5,850-sq.-mile) inland flood plain that fans out in the northwestern corner of the country, creating a paradise of palms, papyrus, and crystal-clear channels and backwaters. Set in a massive sea of desert sand, this fragile wonderland of waterways, islands, and forests is an oasis for wildlife, drawn to its life-giving waters from the surrounding thirstlands. Here, the evening air is filled with the sounds of birds calling, frogs trilling, and antelope rustling in the reeds. Wildebeest, hartebeest, buffalo, and zebra roam the islands; elephants wade across channels guarded by hippos and crocs; and predators rule the night.
But it is not only animals and birds that are attracted to this huge, verdant oasis. Because the area is so sensitive, the Botswana government operates a policy of low-volume, high-income tourism, making southern Africa's premier wilderness destination a pricey holiday destination -- but this doesn't stop people from flocking to one of the world's most game-rich and unspoiled wilderness areas. To service these visitors, scores of safari companies have been established in and around the delta, particularly in the Moremi Game Reserve, in the northeastern sector. Because it is both expensive and complicated to travel independently in Botswana (huge distances are involved, and the road network is poor) and almost impossible in the delta itself, visitors are advised to contact one of these companies to arrange their trip. Most offer full-package holidays that cover the delta and surrounds and will organize everything for you, including flights, transfers, accommodations, and game-viewing.
Bear in mind that if you do a whistle-stop visit, flying in one night and out the next day, you will be disappointed. The delta has its own unique moods and rhythms and a varying landscape: To experience these, you should plan to spend 3 nights here, preferably 4.
But there is more to Botswana than the delta. To the northeast lies Chobe National Park, a 12,000-sq.-km (4,680-sq.-mile) home to some 100,000 elephants. To the southeast are the spectacular Makgadikgadi and Nxai pans, where the space is so vast that, it is said, you can hear the stars sing. Most safari companies include the Chobe and its surrounds on their itineraries, and some venture south into the endless horizons of the Kalahari pans.
Like so many of Africa's wilderness areas, the delta is under threat from human need. A shortage of good grazing on adjacent lands makes the lush grass in the delta a standing temptation to stock farmers, especially in times of drought. The demands of Botswana's diamond-mining industry and the ever-expanding town of Maun (principal jumping-off point for the delta), both thirsty for water, pose an ongoing threat to the delta's precious liquid reserves, as does the proposed dam at Popa Falls, Namibia. All of which means that, if you want to experience the untamed Africa of our ancestors, a trip to Botswana should enjoy the highest priority.