Some travellers are on a permanent mission to tick off as many new destinations as they can in one lifetime, while others form deep connections with certain places and will happily return to a favourite spot, time and time again, to maintain that soulful bond.
Returning to the same country, and even the same region, can be an entirely different journey at different times of the year. Seasons change, and with them so too do the landscapes and the feelings they evoke. Crisp winter mornings energise and invigorate, while lazy summer days call for guilt-free rest and relaxation. In spring, new life and colourful blossoms abound, and the warm colours of autumn gently signal yet another changing of the season. Mother Nature certainly puts on a constant spectacle for those who take the time to appreciate it.
A reason to return
I love exploring new destinations and experiencing different cultures, but I’m all for returning to those countries and cities that hold a special place in my heart, to restore that emotional connection and to see the same place through new eyes. Back in March, I had the wonderful opportunity to revisit the picture perfect Okavango Delta in Botswana. This was my third time setting foot in beautiful Botswana and hopefully not my last.
I fell in love with the Okavango Delta for its expansive, unspoiled and unfenced landscapes; the rich variety of wildlife and the pleasure of viewing it in the absence of other vehicles; the overly dramatic sunrises and sunsets; the remoteness and tranquillity of our lodges; and the sheer wide open spaces that you seemingly have all to yourself. It is the perfect place to disconnect, get back to nature and settle down to that much-needed slower pace.
Officially declared UNESCO’s 1 000th World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, the Okavango Delta is undeniably Botswana’s crown jewel. World famous for its narrow, winding waterways, glassy lagoons and remote islands teeming with wildlife, it’s no surprise that most of the nature lovers that flock to the Delta do so during its flood season (typically May to September) when the floodwaters are in full swing. Pastel-coloured lilies float upon verdant lily pads, butterflies captivate with their iridescent wings and tiny painted frogs cling to the reeds as you take to the tranquil waterways in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe).
The Delta’s dry season (typically October to April) is just as remarkable, but in an entirely different way. The famous floodwaters recede and the channels, swamps and lagoons dry up completely leaving sand, dust and shells in their wake. The once watery wonderland is then miraculously converted into a vast, open grassland allowing for some incredible wildlife sightings. This was my first time exploring the Delta during its dry season, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
The low levels of water during the dry season allow far more flexibility and increased accessibility to really get out there and truly explore the thousands upon thousands of islands that often become completely inaccessible during the flood season. During the floods, you may spot a herd of elephants splashing in the distance or a leopard sleeping in a tree, but with the floodwaters in full spate, you may not always be able to get a close-up view. The glory of the dry season is that previously inaccessible traversing areas open up and you can seemingly go anywhere, anytime, without the fear of your safari vehicle getting stuck in the mud.
Another added bonus that everyone should experience in Botswana is a walking safari. Once the swamps and channels have dried up, a whole new world opens up that can be fully explored on foot. We enjoyed a fascinating morning walk with &Beyond Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp’s Guest Relations Manager and Head Guide Moses Lebitla, who revealed the smaller wonders and intricacies of the Delta.
We stood on termite mounds to admire the uninterrupted view. We quietly walked past curious herds of zebra and a lone giraffe (my favourite) in the distance. We identified several tracks, from mighty elephants down to tiny ant lions. We even observed how the predatory ant lion stalks its prey from behind a trap door at the bottom of its cleverly constructed, cone-shaped death trap.
A wildlife spectacle
Of course the improved land access applies to the wildlife as well, and species that are not frequently seen during the flood season can be located far more easily once the channels evaporate. This higher density of wildlife makes for some truly memorable game drives.
Big prides of lion move into the area during the drier months and in addition to the relaxed prides that we observed for ages, we were also fortunate to witness a large and highly active pack of endangered African wild dogs on the hunt, not once, but twice. We also located two different and equally magnificent male leopards — on the same day, might I add — which was a definite highlight and something I’d never experienced in the Delta before.
Ever the drama queen
The tides may change (or more accurately the floodwaters in this case), but one thing remains absolutely constant. No matter what the season, the Delta will always captivate with its overly dramatic, “stop and look at me” sunrises and sunsets that are well worth waking up (and staying up) for. The reflections in the flood season will have you seeing double and the eerie mist and cloud formations of the dry season will have you falling in love with Botswana all over again.
Beyond the expected
Even with the extraordinary landscape and wildlife playing their part, those signature &Beyond touches don’t go unnoticed. Our brand new fleet of customised and redesigned &Beyond safari vehicles in Botswana provide the ultimate in game drive comfort, complete with bucket seats, camera bean bags on clamps and convenient charge points. Guests also enjoy the exclusive use of a complimentary pair of Swarovski Optik CL Companion 8×30 binoculars (and the Swarovski Optik EL Range 10×42 at &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge) for the entire duration of their stay (one pair is allocated to each room). And perhaps the greatest of all spoils is the theatre of safari. From bush cappuccinos made in the middle of the Delta to the most jaw-droppingly beautiful sundowner stops, &Beyond makes sure it’s a journey to remember.
I shall return
The freedom to explore otherwise restricted areas, by vehicle and by foot, made this Delta safari a very different one compared to my prior visits. The landscape takes on such a vastly different perspective and the experience was so different on so many levels, from the greener than green vistas, the enchanting sunsets (and sunrises) that took everyone’s breath away, and the unsurpassed game viewing that was never interrupted by other vehicles.
One of Africa’s last remaining untouched wilderness areas, the Okavango Delta, no matter the season, is a true haven for biodiversity. If you have the means and the time, try and experience it during the flood season and the dry season. Its beauty will captivate you, its wildlife will entertain you, its landscapes will ground you and its people will touch your heart.