Okavango Delta is an amazing once in a lifetime experience due to its pristine wildernesses.
The Okavango Delta isn’t a hilly wetlands, but like a flat wetlands with a myriad of meandering waterways where the height variation across the delta is less than 2 metres. These magical mysterious pathways whisper the secrets of nature as you traverse across.
The water in the Delta actually hails from the Okavango river which flows all the way from another country; the Angolan highlands into the Kalahari Desert. Just imagine an oasis in the middle of a dessert, except instead of a small water sprout, imagine a huge wetlands of up to 22,000 square kilometres. In contrast, Singapore is only about 722 square kilometres. This oasis is 300 times the size of Singapore!
All the water which flows into the delta is ultimately evaporated and transpired. The water doesn’t flow out into any sea or ocean. The Okavango Delta is never static and can vary in size across the seasons.
The water flows continuously into the delta but a surge usually happens during the months of March to June. It is during this time that the Okavango Delta is at its largest, where it can swell up to three times its permanent size. As one of the only sources of water during the dry period, it attracts thousands of animals from all around the region to congregate at the Okavango Delta, creating one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife.
I am mind-blown when I see and think about the scale of it, an oasis in the Kalahari Desert. The area was once part of Lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient lake, the name might be familiar to those who are looking to do the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans tour from Gweta.
Moreover, the Okavango Delta isn’t just water.
There are islands in the Delta. They usually start off as termite mounds and often have white patches in their centre where the high salt content of the islands collects.
The Okavango Delta is deservingly one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, and is also officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
My suggestion is for you to read more on it before you head there to enrich your experience.
There are many different kind of tours you can go for in the Okavango Delta.
Some people do it as part of a Safari package across the various African countries so transportation is easy. Some others do it as a Safari package across Botswana.
As the Okavango Delta is a huge area, there are many campsites and lodges across (like in the other African National Parks). There are multi-day camping tours, bushwalk tours, multi-day Mokoro tour or the 1-day Mokoro tour (which we did!).
Most people do the Okavango Delta tours starting from Maun.
As there are many options, I will not delve into all the various pricing. The most important thing is to first understand the Okavango Concessions.
Okavango Delta is divided into concessions. Traditionally these were hunting concessions, but now they have evolved into mainly photographic concessions.
Within the concessions are various types of camps, lodges as well as tours. Some camps have better facilities, or have more luxury-tailored camps.
Concessions generally granted by lease and are managed by safari outfitters, which is why most of the Okavango Delta Tours go through safari outfitters!
Therefore, you might wish to check google the camps and the various concessions to see which one is good for you. Of course, you could contact the camps directly instead of going through a Safari outfitter, but do note that not all camps are easy to access.
NG32 is the nearest to Maun and is the main one for Okavango Delta Mokoro Tours.
Okavango Delta Mokoro Tours
What is a Mokoro?
The Mokoro is a traditional transportation vessel commonly utilized in the Okavango Delta in the past. It is a narrow hollowed-out canoe, traditionally made of wood but now made of fibre-glass. The Mokoro is has become the iconic symbol of the Delta and is one of the most popular way for visitors to explore the Okavango Delta.
The Mokoro is basically the Botswana version of a “Sampan”. It was the only form of transport for fishing or transporting people and goods around the channels. In the past, the tribesmen had to painstakingly use hand-tools to craft the Mokoro from tree-trunks, use it for some time before the timber finally rots and the cycle restarts again.
Therefore, most of the Mokoros now are constructed from moulded fibre-glass which is more durable, long lasting and in a sense more environmentally friendly. To understand more on the shift from timber to fibre-glass, you can read it here on the Mokoro-making.
The Mokoro usually carries only one, or maximum two passengers.
The Mokoro moves via the “Poler”, the boat-man who stands at the stern using a long pole called “ngashi” to push and steer the mokoro off the Delta banks or riverbed. The “Polers” are usually the tribesmen from the village. They are extremely skilled and are able to maneuvere the Mokoro with a slick finesse. I have tried and it is no mean feat to balance while standing on the Mokoro and wielding such an unwieldy pole. If I was the “poler”, I would most likely hit my passengers and knock them into the water.
Some people describe a mokoro trip as one of the most peaceful experiences they have had, for me it really wasn’t ( you can read on the experience below). However, I can imagine why.
Being in a Mokoro, the scale of everything becomes enhanced. Without the noise of engines, moving vehicles and crowds, you are truly one with nature, with only the slow swish of the pole and mokoro gliding through the water and occasional animal sounds. Gliding through the water mirrors, reeds which are taller than you and block your vision until an elephant suddenly pops out, the Mokoro gives you a slow and raw tour of nature.
All your senses are heightened, perhaps due to the helplessness of being in a Mokoro when faced with the bigger animals (hippos, elephants etc), or the tranquility and you being stuck in this small confined space for the next 5 hours.
At the end of the day, one of the most important facets and the biggest joy of a Mokoro trip is simply being in the raw pristine and surreal surroundings of the Okavango Delta.
How to get an Okavango Delta Tour?
As mentioned earlier, most lodges in the delta organise tours. I would suggest to just google the various lodges and contact them directly for the tours. For example, you can contact Delta Camps, and many others that can be found on google or tripadvisor.
Not all lodges do Mokoro Trips. For Mokoro trips, there is a choice of 1 day or multi-day trips. The multi-day trips include accommodation at various lodges and bush-walks. Like most Safari walking tours, you usually relax in the afternoon, do some walks in the evening and enjoy sunset (sundowner) with drinks in a scenic location.
Is the Mokoro Tour Safe?
Although animal sightings are not the most common, you have a chance of seeing Elephants and hippos on top of other animals that might kill you. The hippopotamus is known as the world’s deadliest large land mammal. They are not the gentle giants you see, neither are Elephants.
Having said that, the animals usually ignore you and the guide knows how to navigate or deal with emergency situations. Common sense prevails and in the wild. Just like hiking, your survival is your own prerogative. Reading online, I’ve came across many articles or videos of “We had a crazy encounter with a *insert wild animal* but we survived”, so you can take solace in that. We are an example of it also.
So I would say it is safe statistically, but really scary when you think about it.
Can you DIY a Okavango Delta/Mokoro Tour?
No in a sense! Of course it would be silly to operate the Mokoro by yourself or explore the Okavango Delta by yourself.
However, you can definitely skip the big safari outfitters/ lodges or travel agents if you wish!
From my understanding, NG32 is under this trust called OKAVANGO KOPANO MOKORO COMMUNITY TRUST. This trust is a type of CBT (community-based tourism) and covers six villages namely Ditshuping, Boro ,Xharaxao,Xuoxao ,Daunara and Xaxaba. These villages are made of the local tribe called Bayei, who become the Polers/Guides for the tours in NG32.
To understand more, you can watch this video below
To quote: “Clients board our Mokoro at the following Mokoro stations: Ditshiping, Boro, Xharaxao, Xuoxao and Daunara. Tourists book through tour operators to access our area of operation. In these five Mokoro stations our local guides are the ones who provides guiding services and there are rich in indigenous heritage and adept at explaining or selling the beauties our areas and wildlife .”
To contact them, email seems to be the best. There are usually multiple numbers and emails and they might change overtime.
Email: [email protected]
+267 686 4806
Mobile: +267 75341813
After-all, all the travel agencies go through them anyway. The guides and polers are assigned on rotational basis.
Therefore, all that is needed is to contact them, get them to organize and turn up!
The value of a travel agent is usually the ability to control the quality of the tour, which in this case is getting a comfortable transport, the driver waiting for you and getting a good guide. With this fixed system for the guides and polers, the Safari outfitters and travel agencies have diminished value as they do not control the guides/polers. However, I still believe the good agencies will have a way around it, but most budget agencies wouldn’t bother.
I have heard that OKMCT can arrange transportation from Maun too. Therefore, it means that you can go directly to them. Although we booked ours through an agency, you can read more on this person’s experience.
The next question is, should you go directly to them? Having read the person’s experience and comparing it with mine, I realised that the difference is simply transport. He had rented his own vehicle and had to buy his own food but only needed to pay ~US$ 56 but we paid US$ 140. The difference sounds a lot, but it is actually for the driver and vehicle. I don’t blame agencies for earning on that because it can be costly and hard to guarantee a good driver/transport.
Cost of Guide: 200 BWP
Permits: 68 BWP per pax per day
Total: 336 BWP ~(US$ 33.6)
What is missing is the cost of transport, driver and food. Is that worth US$ 100?
Therefore, you should go direct if you
1) Have your own vehicle
2) Can find an arrangement of a vehicle from Maun – NG32 – Maun for less than US$ 100
3) Can’t find a tour below US$ 85 per pax
4) Wish to pay more directly to the guide
NG32 is accessible by a 4WD and it takes around 1 hour from Maun.
You should go through an agency if you are
1) On a multi-day tour across Botswana/Africa
2) Backpacking and don’t have your own vehicle
3) Not confident/lazy to find your own transport
To be far, arranging a transport has a lot of unknowns and it can be a real hassle.
On hindsight though, I would have gone direct! The backpacker in me would like the challenge.
Even if OKMCT isn’t able to arrange transport for me, I believe I would have been able to find someone in Maun who will transport me to NG32 and back for less than US $100!
Should you do a 1 day Mokoro tour?
There are many options for a tour, even for a Mokoro Tour. As most people have travelled a long way to get to Botswana and Okavango Delta, it makes sense to do a multi-day tour. The Okavango Delta is a huge area. A multi-day tour also allows you explore the Okavango Delta in greater depth, with more chances to uncover the secrets of the wild, like any other Safari tour.
The logic is the same for a multi-day Safari VS a 1-day Safari. Given unlimited time and budget, a multi-day tour in the Okavango Delta is the most ideal. So who should consider the 1-day Mokoro Tour?
1) You’ve already done bush-walk or other multi-day safari tours
2) You are backpacking/cash-strapped/time constrained
3) Don’t like camping that much
4) Just there for the experience and less of animal sightings
5) Wish for some peace and quiet (while under the hot sun)
The truth is, the Mokoro tour isn’t going to give you much chance of spotting animals. Honestly, you wouldn’t wish to encounter a hippo while in the Mokoro. However, it is the cheapest tour option in the Okavango Delta and still a special Safari experience, like a bush-walk but in water.
How to get there?
You can use this GPS here to find the entrance to NG32: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move195082398
This is our 1-day Mokoro trail GPS: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move195082378
This is to give a sense of the total route. Other guides might take different routes, but I think the duration and distance is around the same.
We had a memorable experience in Maun due to our complications in finding the tour, our crazy “near-death” encounter with an aggressive young Male Elephant and couchsurfing in Maun! Read on to find out in more details about our experience that might help you with your trip (expenses etc).
Taxi to Old Bridge Backpackers: 20 BWP
Mokoro Tour with Tim’s Temogo Safari: 1,400 BWP for 2 pax
Tip for Guide: 20 BWP
Accommodation: Free! Couchsurfing with Jackie
Taxi to Jackie’s House: 20 BWP
Taxi to Supermarket and back: 16 BWP
Wimpy’s Burger in Maun: 68.9 BWP
Beer in Maun: 44.35 BWP
Maun Bus Stop -> Old Bridge Backpackers
We reached the Maun Bus Station at 4am. This was after we had completed our long overnight journey from Livingstone in Zambia. I am always extremely wary of getting robbed and did not like getting to a bus station late at night or in the morning in general.
As usual, our fears were unfounded as people were friendly and honest. We got off the bus groggily because it was 4am. Our next destination was “Old Bridge Maun Backpackers”, a famous backpackers hostel. We were not staying there for the night, but to get an Okavango Delta tour through them because they were the cheapest.
The taxi driver’s initial price was 30 Botswana Pula, which is around 3 USD. I immediately thought okay and was ready to accept it because it was 10km away and I was used to Livingstone’s taxi prices, but luckily SY chirped in 20 Pula and the guy agreed immediately.
I thought damn! We could have gone cheaper! I guess it is a lot cheaper in Botswana for taxis.
Maun isn’t a compact city. The buildings are all spaced out and everyone stayed quite far from each other. The area was very dry and there was a lot of sand and empty space.
I would have expected the taxi driver to know the way, but he didn’t! He took some time to find Old Bridge even with our GPS such that we had to ask around.
*Tip: It is important to pre-set all your locations on GPS just in case! (Use common sense too because the GPS might not be accurate)
The Old Bridge Backpackers
We reached Old Bridge around 5am, and nobody was awake. It looked like there was a big party last night, with beer bottles around.
The area was beautiful though, it was situated along the river. I have read online that sometimes there are hippos (not sure if it is a good thing).
Thebartender/manager was around and I think we woke him up when we arrived. We tried to asked him concerning the tour, but he told us that it was done through the reception and the reception was only open at 7am.
Therefore, we just relaxed, read our books, I was tempted to go for a shower. However, the toilets made you feel insecure as there were no doors or no locks. It meant I felt extremely insecure as I was taking a dump.
We were ready to head for the Mokoro tour. However, the receptionist who arrived at 7am simply told us that there was no Mokoro tour or Okavango Delta tour today. There was no reason given and no further help. H We had just spent overnight on the bus, travelled across the world just for this Okavango Delta Tour and there was 0 empathy for us. He just said “no tour” in a matter of fact tone and that was the end of it.
Was it a lack of people? Or they just felt lazy to organize? Maybe there must have been a 1 to 2 days enquiry before? However, we had contacted them before hand and they told us to just drop by.
Luckily, we had a few other contacts. I was still in a morning daze and was just stoning but SY thought of calling “Audi Camp” to ask for their tour. They didn’t have a tour unfortunately, but they were much more helpful by linking us with someone else! So he gave us the number of “Tim” who was from “Temogo Safari” who arranged the tour for us.
We had 2 options in mind before reaching Maun. Old Bridge’s Backpacker’s Mokoro Tour was 750BWP per pax, Audi’s Camp was 930 BWP per pax.
We agreed on the price of 1,400 BWP in total which meant 700 BWP per pax. It was cheaper than expected! Honestly, we didn’t really have a choice because we had travelled all the way there already. Unless it was exorbitant, we would have taken it. I was already prepared to bargain but was quite shocked to get a price of 1,400 BWP. It would be a private vehicle and private tour.
Okavango Delta NG32
We were relieved and happy that things were settled. The driver came, picked us up and brought us to meet Tim.
He put in an ice box with our packed lunch and drinks inside, before we left for the Delta. It was another 50 minutes to the Delta.
We reached area NG32.
So was there a NG1 to NG32?
It reminded me of the movie “District 9” (only in terms of the sand). For those who haven’t watched it, you should. There were many guides loitering around. I started to wonder how the system worked here and decided to discuss it with the guide.
For those who have read above, it is the idea of the Okavango Concessions. There are many different zones and areas as Okavango Delta is a huge area. So depending on the tour/agent and where you start from, you might go to different areas. Therefore, there are many entrances to the delta and many villages too. You could also drive to different areas and get the guides directly.
For this NG32, all the guides are from the village and is under a rotational policy. This is their main, if not only source of income.
The guide supposedly earns 200 (20 USD) pula per trip, but he is required to rent a Mokoro for 100 Pula (10 USD). If it is not his rotation but he wants the job, he can pay some amount to the person on rotation (50 pula, or ~US$ 5) to take over. So he earns maybe 50 pula just to get the job. In essence, he earns around US$ 10 per day if it is his turn, and half of it if he isn’t on the rotation.
This is all based on the word of the guide so I am not sure if the amount is correct, but the system seems about right. It is similar to the taxi or any freelance system.
According to the guide, the villages are under a certain zone, which is controlled by some white guy who is like elected after he wins the votes from the 6 villages and promises them like jobs and money etc. Like a mayor. I might have understood him correctly, but I think that was the gist of it. It really made me wonder how the zones really worked and who was in charge or in power (which made me research into the Okavango Concessions).
Okavango Delta 1 Day Tour
The guide emerged with a long pole, like it was a super long lightsaber. I got reminded of the army slogan for our weapons: “protect it with your life”. After-all, the pole is everything (for the guide and us)! It would propel us, and I imagine save us from hippos or elephants.
We saw the other Mokoros move off, but the guide told us they were the multi-day Mokoro tours. We found out that nobody really did one day trips. In fact, I am not surprised. I think nobody really goes through this area without their own car.
I wasn’t the most game for this Mokoro tour, because when I Saw the Mokoros I was like “We are gonna die!! Why are we looking for wild animals in this manual boat?”
As we moved by ourselves towards the “destined Mokoro” (Our lifeline), I started feeling more excited. How was it going to work? How was the Poler going to navigate the boat? What animals would we see?
Two movable seats were placed into the Mokoro for our fat butts. The poler pushed off with great finesse, it felt like yoga or taiji if you asked me. Every stroke and movement was gentle yet firm.
It started off slowly and I was just enjoying the tranquility, the wind and the sounds of our Mokoro and paddle gliding over the water. There was only 1 other Mokoro near us, local people who were headed to another village in the Delta.
10 minutes was fine. After around half an hour, I got slightly bored. Perhaps it was due to the lack of proper sleep or long travel before this. I tried I engaging conversations with the guide about the Okavango Delta but turning around to chat was too tiring.
In my opinion, I found the 1-day Mokoro tour quite a merciless tour.
Why? Because there was no way to escape the sun. It just beats down on you mercilessly. I was stuck sitting sprawled, without any ability to move much for the fear of tilting the boat and capsizing into the unknown waters.
The Mokoro moved at a very slow pace and it was quite boring without animals. It might been enjoyable, if it wasn’t so hot honestly. It would be extremely tranquil and peaceful, if the temperature was 15-20 degrees instead of 38 degrees.
Wild Animals Encounters
Before long, we could see elephants from afar. This was not our first encounter with wild animals as we had our first Safari experience at the Kruger National Park in Nelspruit.
I wasn’t as excited. Not because I had seen them before but because I was really scared. I can imagine being trampled over by an elephant with no chance for recourse as I was stuck in a manual “sampan”. I kept telling SY that this Mokoro tour isn’t fun because we are at the mercy of everything.
We spied the first elephant from afar. As we inched closer, suddenly it was 2, 3, 4 elephants! They were huge and just grazing near the water. They were male elephants, which can be a pain in the ass depending on their age and personality.
Luckily for us, it was a herd of non-aggressive male elephants. Just a group of “bros” hanging out, a bachelor herd. They look like what my friends and I look like at the playground chilling out.
The other canoe stopped the moment they saw the elephants, they stopped. They were too scared to cross. So they were either waiting for the elephants to leave or going to put some reeds on fire to chase the elephants away. I was shocked! Fire in a nature reserve just to chase the elephants away?
My guide concurred, he never liked to do it because it was harmful to the environment and there was no control over the fire. This was to bite us in our ass later.
We detoured slightly into the reeds to create more space from the elephant herd as we “poled” past them. I felt safe, because honestly there was nothing I could do anyway. I just had full faith in the guide and felt like a “tourist”.
Further ahead, a solo male elephant lay about on the left bank. Was it a juvenile? A truant elephant who ran away from the herd? Unfortunately it was an AGGRESSIVE YOUNG MALE ELEPHANT. They are famous for being randomly aggressive and notoriously difficult to handle.
It moved steadily and precariously closer to the water. We stopped afar at a distance, wary.
At first, we thought it was trying to get a sip of water, or some reeds for food. It was initially, and then it moved closer to the water (and us), and started playing and trashing around with the reeds.
Damn, that was like me when I am bored and plucking the grass.
Our guide, in a bid to chase the elephant away, tried shouting and making sounds scare the elephant. It lifted its head, stared nonchalantly at us, before going back to his business, as though saying don’t bother me!
It had clearly noticed us. As we edged closer, so did he, like we were long-lost lovers, shy at having not met for some time. He kept staring at us once in awhile, as thought waiting for our acknowledgement of its reed destroying prowess. You can see from the pictures how close we were to it.
Like a young teen, it liked to show-off, or maybe it wanted someone to play with him. He just went on trumpeting and trashing randomly, before staring at us for a few seconds, and continued. If I was a giant, I might have considered petting him, but unfortunately I am pretty sure we were like annoying lego bricks on the floor to it.
Despite waiting for another half hour, it was still too risky for us cross. What happens if he “hugged” us, or more like charged and trampled us while we were poling the Mokoro across? There was no way we would be quick enough.
We decided to park at the opposite bank and continued with our noise shenanigans while still in the Mokoro. He trumpeted even louder and got more aggressive, clearly unimpressed with us. I had a feeling our approach was clearly wrong, but full faith in the guide right?
As though annoyed, the male elephant bellowed, ears fully flapped and started to charge at us. We instinctively jumped out of the boat, into the water and started running onto dry land.
I just wanted to get on dry land to feel safe before I turned around to observe the situation. Before I knew it SY had already ran a few hundred metres away. The guide was the last man and still situated near the boat. Technically if the elephant chased us, there was no way I could outrun it, or nowhere safe for us to hide because it was all grassland, but it was the illusion of choice.
The elephant didn’t chase us, it was just a fake charge. As if mocking us, it just went back trashing the reeds and triumphantly trumpeting which to me, sounded like laughing.
I thought this was a surreal moment to capture and document. I shouted to SY “Film this!”
“F&*$ you! You’re crazy. Why would I want to film this?”
She obviously wasn’t having any of it, being scared out of her wits.
I walked back towards the guide to try to figure out a way. In my view, the guide was in front of me, shouting and waving his arms at an elephant, which was just 20 metres away, staring down at the guide, immovable, unexpressive.
It felt like this moment hung on the precipice of time, what was going to happen next?
I truly didn’t expect what conspired afterwards (I regretted not videoing).
The guide bent down and started taking the mud rocks from the ground and hurling them at the Elephant. His aim was short initially, but he started finding more solid pieces of mud rocks to throw.
I was taken aback, my mind scrambling for a reaction.
Is this what we should be doing? This doesn’t seem right? But trust the guide right? He must know what he is doing. Should I help throw? Okay, maybe not, I think I should tell him to stop.
The water splooshed. Another few landed near the reeds.
“Hey! I don’t think this is going to work, should we really be throwing things at the elephant? Wouldn’t it make it more angry?”
The elephant turned away. It was finally not facing us. Maybe it was working? I was wrong, the guide knew what he was doing. But maybe now that he’s turned, we could wait awhile and the elephant would walk away.
“Hey err maybe let’s stop. We can wait….”
Before I could complete my sentence, the elephant lumbered a few steps away, as though done with this playground.
Then he turned, with a 360 degree turn on its hind legs, raising his whole body, both front legs and bellowed. No longer the fun-loving, laughingly naughty trumpet. It was a real angry elephant bellow, and it took a few steps towards us as it geared to charge.
Even all these years, the image was still etched in my mind. The moment I saw the elephant turn with half its body in the air, I panicked and immediately turned and ran. At the corner of my eye, I saw the guide did the exact same thing.
SY who was behind us the whole time, ran even further away.
I ran maybe 10 steps, but stopped as I had not heard any elephant footsteps across the water. I turned around, it was another fake charge, but a real scary fake charge. The previous one was a stationary fake charge, but this time, the elephant had actually pretended to run, before jam-braking to mock us.
Almost had a heart attack!
Maybe we entertained it enough. Maybe we were far away or it got bored. After a few more moments of trashing the reeds, he simply turned around for real this time and walked away.
Our ordeal was finally over. I met up with SY only to find out she was barefooted. SY had lost her sandals when she ran onto the land. We walked around for an hour, looking through the grass and mud for it. We could still see our footprints in the mud and found 1 side of the sandal, but somehow we couldn’t find her the other side. It was weird because we were contained within a small area.
Ah mysterious Botswana, I guess maybe that was the sacrifice or offering to the Okavango Delta Gods.
The best statement of the day goes to SY.
SY: “I thought elephants were cute, but now they are scary”
We got back into our all “reliable” mokoro. How I miss the moments of floating on it without a care in the world!
The misadventure of the elephant delayed us. There was still a bush walk as part of the day tour. It was nice to finally be on land, but with the relentless sun, I was too mentally and emotionally exhausted to stay interested. It was still cool to walk around in the wild if you think about it.
We saw Zebras and Wild Hogs. The animals somehow had a mental distance to us. They could clearly smell or sense us from very far away even if they looked like they were idyllically grazing and clueless,
At a certain boundary (animal’s length?), every time we moved closer, they would move further to maintain the distance. We could not move closer so we stopped and just observed them for awhile. We had seen our fair share of Zebras and Wild Hogs in Nelspruit so we didn’t spend a long time there.
It was a u-turn and we were just heading back to the start point. I was glad, totally done with the tour.
It was 37 degrees and I was baking! The good thing was that I could dry my wet shoes and socks from the elephant encounter, but still I felt like a microwaved hamburger. The mokoro was moving as fast as the spinning dish in a microwave.
The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful.
On the way back, we didn’t see any elephants or hippos. But we did see reeds being burnt and this time we were like “YEAH BURN THEM! CHASE THEM ELEPHANTS AWAY!”
The tour ended at the village but purchasing any village souvenirs was never our thing. One thing which did caught my eye was the usage of solar panels in the village. We gave a tip to the guide before meeting our driver to head back to Maun.
Maun is an interesting town/city. It isn’t very big and the buildings are all strung out along the highway with no discernible central or administrative point with the exception of the bus station. There is a Maun Mall with nearby fast-food restaurants and supermarkets.
In fact, that was what Botswana felt like in general with the exception of Gaberone (the capital). This reminded me a lot of Dambulla in Sri Lanka, but with a lot less vehicles and crowd. Maun is primarily used as a transit point and gateway to Okavango Delta but the lodges and hostels are situated away from the centre of Maun. Maun is basically a functional village with access to more amenities.
We were not particularly interested in exploring Maun as we were couchsurfing. We stayed with Jackie, our host who was a student and sharing her place with 1 flat mate.
We had a great time interacting with her and hearing about the white vs black dynamics in Maun. That is the great thing about Couchsurfing, the interaction with locals. I can’t imagine what we would be doing in Maun without Couchsurfing. Most likely eating bread and then sleeping.
Maun isn’t friendly for pedestrians and can be quite unaccessible. It was not nice to walk as there were no pavements and buildings were sparsely located. People mostly drove everywhere or took shared taxis.
The shared taxi system in Maun was a fascinating case study. They had a fixed-priced system, like 4 Botswana Pula for any ride in Maun. They have a codeword, “special”. “Special” meant private vehicle. We were wondering why the taxis were always asking us “special”. Initially, I thought it was dodgy, like when you enter Thailand taxis and they asked if you want to go to a “special” place.
However, as we were tourists, the drivers will most likely try to overcharge us. Just say “No special” and give them 4 pula, the drivers will understand you know the system and not try anymore.
Moreover, it doesn’t mean they will wait on the spot until it is full before moving. It is like grab-hitch without the app. As long as you are “no special”, it means you are okay with sharing the taxi. All along the route they are driving, they could be picking up or dropping off passengers.
This shared taxi system made it reliable and easy for us. It was extremely safe because it was such a norm for the locals. Thus, travellers will not need to worry about haggling or being “overcharged”, provided they know the system (which you should now). I hope it stays the same!
We headed to Gweta the next day for Makgadikgadi and to see the Baobab trees!
The only reason to travel all the way to Maun is for the amazing Okavango Delta. Honestly, when I was doing the Okavango Delta Mokoro tour, I didn’t enjoy it that much. It was static tour (not my kind of thing to just sit and sightsee), 5 hours of unrelenting direct sun and few animal sightings as compared to a Safari visit. These factors, combined with the fatigue of long distance travel from Livingstone to Maun, made me question whether this 1 day Okovango Delta Mokoro tour was worth it.
On hindsight, I wished I had read up more on the Okavango Delta. I would have anticipated and cherished the experience more. Doing this post made me appreciate a lot more about the tour. Looking back, I think my mindset wasn’t right due to the travelling factors.
So I would say YES YOU SHOULD STILL DO IT! It can be costly, but it isn’t a man-made attraction. The Okavango Delta isn’t something that one can replicate. Nature has taken millions of years to create something like this. The shortest is a 1 day tour and it will still makes sense to travel all the way there.
Despite our experience with the “Elephant”, SY still thinks the Okavango Delta was the best experience out of our whole itinerary. Well what I can say is at least it wasn’t a hippo, and we survived!
So please make the Okavango Delta a stop in your itinerary!