The Okavango Delta – One Month Road Trip around NW Botswana

A one month looped road trip of Ngamiland known as the Okavango region. This highlights the best features of Ngamiland ncluding hills, caves, rivers, game parks, private reserves, UNESCO sites, bush camps, glamping sites, boat rides, game drives, hikes, and other activities to keep you in awe.

This is a one month looped road trip of Ngamiland also referred to as the Okavango region, the Maun district, or the Northwest district of Botswana. This itinerary can be completed in roughly 2 weeks if you are pressed for time. I believe this highlights the best features of the Ngamiland region including hills, caves, rivers, game parks, private reserves, UNESCO sites, bush camps, glamping sites, boat rides, game drives, hikes, and other activities to keep you in awe.

My husband and I originally crossed into Botswana in early 2020 and had no intention of staying for 7.5 months, but that’s just how things worked out. We hatched a plan to travel a large loop around the entire country, instead what we ended up doing were loops around each district.  We made an effort to discover everything Botswana had to offer in each region.

Maun:

stocking up on ESSENTIALS

FRUIT, VEGETABLES, SPICES

Mr. Veg, street markets, Ngami Farms (now GoFresh!) for locally grown produce on the Thamalakane.

Our Mr. Veg shopping trip. All of this produce can handle the warmer temperatures and can last outside the fridge in our car for several weeks.
GROCERIES & BOOZE

Shoprite, Spar, Choppies and a small Woolworths Grocery. Liquorama, Sefalana, Okavango Craft Brewery (Botswana’s first Microbrewery)

BUTCHERS

Delta Meat Deli, Beef Boys

CAR & CAMPING

Riley’s Garage, Midas, Motozone, Landmark

Maun Attractions

Maun is great fun in good company. We had an incredible time in this dusty town, entirely due to the wonderful friends we made there. Singing, dancing, drinking, cooking, eating, braaing, 4-wheeling, fishing. As for entertainment in Maun- you make your own.

The Thamalakane River.

Boating, fishing, and picnicking as well as a handful of bars, restaurants and camps situated along the River.

When we initially arrived in March of 2020, Maun had suffered a 7-year draught. By May, the waters from Angola arrived, flowing two kilometers per day.  We watched in amazement, as the water trickled into the dry riverbed no faster than a garden hose. The next morning it was deep enough for small motorboats and mokoros (hollowed out wooden canoes).

https://youtu.be/DWniPqw9KDw
Visit the Old Matlapana Bridge and Old Bridge Backpackers.

Originally built in the 1960’s, the bridge was restored in 2019. Old Bridge Backpackers has a lively bar and restaurant and affordable accommodations.

Motsana

The dark and brooding edifice on the outskirts of town towards Serowe.  This center offers everything from yoga classes to art and films exhibits, as well as a café, and a monthly farmers market.

Tandurie Restaurant

Delicious, flavorful Indian food with a cool ambiance.

Flights over the Delta. 

Chartered flights over the Okavango Delta means there is no set time or day when they are running. They are solely dependent on when you, the customer books it. Scenic flights are usually offered in the mornings and evenings when the animals are most active.

Rates vary per company and are based on the cost of the flight. For example, a flight is $400, which means if only two people go, it will cost $200 per person. Fill the plane with 5 other friends and your rate has gone down to $57. The Cessna planes can carry 5-7 passengers. Booking directly with the airline will get you the best rate. If you don’t have 5 or 6 other friends yet, don’t worry. Ask the charter company to open your tour to other tourists and make some.

The flights are one-hour in duration meaning: 10-15 minutes from Maun to the Okavango, 30-40 minutes above the waterway for game viewing than 10-15 minutes back to the airstrip.  Negotiate ahead of time, if you want a longer flight.

Basecamp

Maun is the base camp for most trips and tours in the region. Moremi, Khwai, Chobe, Makalakadi, Nxai, and Central Kalahari Game Reserves are most often originating from Maun. You can find and organize with many tour operators in town and will hear plenty of stories from the bush.

Maun to Lake Ngami (85km) to bush camp (+/-100km)

Lake Ngami is a shallow marshy lake filled from the Tauge River from the Okavango.  At the time, the lake was completely dry and empty (the water was still traveling 2km/day and had not yet arrived).  It was impressive to see the vast landscape filled with skeletal trees that would soon be under water.  There are wild camping options here, we continued en route towards Gcwihaba Caves. Once on the A35 turn left onto a dirt track past Tsau. We made camp off the dirt road in high bush.

Lake Ngami as seen in May while it was dry and waiting for the waters from Angola to arrive.

Dirt road to Gcwihaba Caves UNESCO (+/-100km)

Gchihaba Caves UNESCO site.  The Botswana National Museum has erected these informational signs at various important locations across the country.

Gcwihaba Caves is a series of six caves offering stalactites, stalagmites, dripstones, and pillars.  You climb down into a large open-air pit and the caves continue to weave further back. It is easy to walk through, but be prepared with something warm and a head torch.  There is a large population of different species bats residing in the caves. As you approach, they can become restless. If you are anything like me, I get spooked by a mass exodus of bats.

Gcwihaba Caves made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its unique cave system in the Kalahari Desert. Researchers have studied these rock formations, tracking the climatic evolution of the region.  The area surrounding and above this labyrinth are lovely red clay hills, a nice break from the Mopani bush.

The Natural History Division of the Botswana National Museum does not have a list of Museum sites such as the one seen in Gchwibaba Caves. We stumbled upon them all over the country and I will be including them in future guides, but I have not found a single source with all of them listed at the time. Museum employees told us they didn’t have one.

Gchwihaba Caves to Aha Hills (44km)

This was one of our most spectacular drives.  There is nothing particularly special about this overgrown and corrugated sandy track, but we did get to observe two black mambas mating in the road for about 5 minutes, then came across a site where a porcupine had died and stopped to observe a dung beetle at work. The grass was particularly high and dry during this time of year and we started to get grass seeds lodged in the radiator (a good place for that mesh fly net I mentioned). Upon arrival in Aha Hills, we had a fair amount of knocked over and overgrown bush to clear off the road.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9GwTJxsp7c
the crime scene of a porcupines death on the way to Aha Hills, Botswana
https://youtu.be/L0g_29jhjlE
https://youtu.be/I-OWMIhjUrM

Aha Hills

The Aha Hills cover 245 sq. km and straddles over the border of Botswana and Namibia. They are not “mountains” per say, but they are 100 meters higher than the flat plans surrounding them in the rest of the region.  Mid-May offered beautiful autumnal colors and cooler nights. We spent several days bush camping here and hiked around the area.  There is no water access, so we felt extremely comfortable with the lack of wildlife in this area.  We read about some sink holes, searched for them, but never found them.

Cookign dinner at our bush camp in Aha Hills, Botswana

Aha Hills to Gumare (+/-181km)

We drove North toward the Dobe border post into Namibia and then turned east.  There is a sand track we planned to take northeast to Gumare, unfortunately, it was heavily corrugated and we were too hungover to drive that long on such exhausting road conditions.  Instead, we took the 6201, picked up a Herero man and a young woman studying IT and had a lovely conversation about the Herero culture, a tribe in Namibia, Botswana, and Angola.

We drove the wide, straight road, through thousands of small birds swarming like dense, dark clouds, huddling in bushes, then eagerly passing back and forth across the road. We later found out it was the migration of the red-billed quelea also known as the African feathered locusts. The quelea devastate farming communities eating seeds and ruining crops.  That being said, it was unfortunate, several met their demise with our windshield.

Gumare is a developed village with a number of hotels and guesthouses.  No camping options, but a good place for a hot shower, patrol and diesel, clean water access, a small Shoprite, ATM, and a hospital. We hadn’t planned to stay in Gumare, but felt it was too late in the afternoon to continue on to Guma Lagoon. It ended up being the right decision as the camp would only open the following day after the initial COVID lockdown.

Gumare to Etscha 13 Guma Lagoon Camp (+/- 56km)

The A35 tar road starts getting pretty bad around Gumare with an endless number of “fuck your car up” potholes. Once you turn right onto the dust road towards Etscha 13, it is much easier to drive.  There is decent signage pointing you towards Guma Lagoon Camp although we had some difficulty once we turned off after Etscha 13.

We struggled to find the track in some areas since we are driving through a swamp. There was signage, but we somehow missed some of them and a young local boy pointed us in the right direction. The water was fairly deep, and we spent some time correcting turns in deep sand.  A 4×4 is required and a confident driver recommended. Reaching this camp in those conditions is not easy and it’s worth spending a few days there.

*Guma Lagoon offers transfer and escort services from Etscha 13 that can be arranged ahead of time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcHPdCWyG_A

After the drive, we were in no rush to leave. We were comforted by our decision to not drive this track in the dark. The camp is extremely large with cabins, safari tents, campsites, and an entire area for large overlanding groups. Fortunately for us, we were their first guests after nearly 2 months. The sites are beautiful and flat with potable water, electricity, showers, set in a tropical and lush landscape skirting the Delta.  They have a nice bar and restaurant with a gorgeous deck overlooking the lagoon, a pool, and a large communal kitchen. They offer various boating trips including fishing charters and overnight Mokoro trips.

We did a boat ride through the lagoon and tucked into small alcoves lined with papyrus. The locals turn the papyrus into paper products and use it in their daily lives.

Beware of naughty little monkeys with sneaky paws. We had several in cahoots that stole a loaf of bread (they didn’t like it though since it had chili in it) and were jumping on the car.  

Guma Lagoon Camp to Tsodilo Hills (115km)

We were much more confident leaving Guma Lagoon, than finding it. The water levels had dropped a bit, and the signage was clearer on our exit. We came across a long wooden bridge about 300 meters left of our originally driven track with the GPS.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7JtnHcyoYo

We suspect driving through the water or over a root or branch tore our brake pipe around here. We were not aware of this at the time causing us to leak brake fluid. Back on the A35, we faced frustrating driving with severe and frequent potholes. When you turn west towards Tsodilo Hills, you will witness an impressive mound rising dramatically out of the flat, flat plains.

Tsodilo Hills UNESCO

Tsodilo Hills is the second UNESCO site on this tour. It is made of three hills the male, female, and child hills rising abruptly from the plains. Anthropologists believe there have been inhabitants including the San for the past 100,000 years. The Batswanans believe the hills have strong spiritual and healing powers.  The male hill has hiking paths and claims to be the highest point in Botswana at 1400 meters above sea level.  We were the first visitors in several months and it took a little more than an hour to clear the overhanging bush on the hiking trail to the top with the guide.

There are over 4,500 rock paintings of the San people found primarily on the female hill.  They have an on-site museum that is one of the better ones in Botswana. The entire area is 10 sq. km and the perimeter is fenced off. One of the most disappointing aspects and a common issue in Botswana are the visitation prices.  They were charging almost $30 per hill with a required guide. For that price, we would have liked to explore the entire area. There was an on-site campsite, but it wasn’t in a condition to stay on (again for the price they were asking).

Tsodilo Hills to Shakawe (81km)

We left our bush camp around 8am before the heat of the day, knowing there was a shower in our foreseeable future, we decided to get in some additional exercise. The road from Tsodilo Hills back to the A35 is a wide flat dirt road, no deep sand, no mud, no water, perfect running conditions for Botswana. First, I drove 10 km ahead and Uwe ran and caught up with the car. When it was my turn, he drove ahead and I ran…

Two very kind and (too drunk for 9am) men asked what I was up to and if I needed a ride. I was in my running clothes, I had my headphones and told them I was exercising. They were baffled and proclaimed they were a lazy culture. I had a laugh and said “no thank you, thanks for the offer” and they went on their way. After about 400 meters, I started to follow leopard spoor that was stamped over our Land Rover’s tread. I am not much of a runner, but I was on full adrenalin mode after that. I got a proper sweat going by the time I met up with Uwe at the car.

We continued on the dirt road (no more running after that) and turned left on the A35. This is certainly the worst stretch of this highway. We noticed that our brakes were acting up when the pedal touched the floor and we were still moving. The brake fluid had leaked out during our time in Tsodilo Hills and our brakes were shot. The the last 50+ km drive to Shakawe we had no brakes, driving next to the road to avoid the cavernous potholes. This is the norm on this highway. We rolled into town and guided the Landy to a halt at first petrol station we saw.

The kindness of the Motswanans is unlike any other country we have experienced. They are incredibly helpful and hospitable. This was all over Botswana and evident in the thorough help we received with our torn brake pipe by a local bush mechanic.

Shakawe has two new malls with grocery stores, liquor stores, Ackermans, and possibly a Pep by now. There is clean water access, there are several restaurants, and several camping options.

Drotskys Cabin and Campsite

This stunning property is situated right on the Okavango. We were planning on camping and instead were offered one of the cabins for four days. The owners were extremely welcoming and friendly.  If the name sounds familiar, Eileen Drotsky is a descendent of Martinus Drotsky of Drotsky’s Cavern in the Gcwihaba Caves. Boat rides are available and our cabin was frequented by monkeys and bushbucks, and beware of crocodiles roaming around the property.    The campsites have potable water, electric points and there is working wifi at the lodge. This is a great destination to rest and regroup. 

Krokovango Crocodile Farm

Krokovango is an attraction in the area raising crocodiles in captive for meat and their hides. They offer guided tours, feeding days are Tuesday and Friday and there is a shop on site. We did not go here, so no personal recommendations.

Dijo Deli

A cool coffee shop and restaurant with a small book exchange.*

*Bookstores and book exchanges are a rare find in Botswana. There are several bookstores in Gaborone. Rupert at Eselbe Camp near Nata had a good collection to swop with.

Shakawe to Ngarange (28km)

When crossing the Cubango river, it is best to arrive at the crossing first thing in the morning.   In 2020, the ferry that held six vehicles at a time with one side functioning as the drive on drive off ramp. Have patience, there is a toilet in a small hut, a 5-minute walk from the ferry crossing.  There are people selling sweets, drinks, and Magwinya (fat cakes). They were building the Mohembo Bridge at the time.  The design features four large elephant “tusks” as the bridges support anchors.

Narangi

We spent several days hanging out on this small, secluded beach property owned by a friend near Narangi.  Stunning sunsets and citrus trees on the property, no crocodile spotings but we were very wary.

Enjoying the golden hour on the Okavango.

Narangi to Seronga (62km)

This is appropriately named the Elephant Corridor.  We did not have any elephant sightings, but witnessed the decimated and picked over trees that is a clear sign of elephant destruction.  It is a depressing dirt road scattered with populated villages.  Bush camping does not feel like a viable option with the crowds.

Jumbo Junction Camp

Jumbo Junction was originally intended as a reconnaissance mission. Up to this point we had not met anyone that had driven the track we planned to drive further than Gudingwa. Jumbo Junction was the last established camp before forging ahead into the unknown and our last chance to gather intel. On arrival, we were greeted by the managers who immediately invited us to sit and chat over tea, coffee, and a double layered chocolate cake.

After chatting for a few hours, we acknowledged that it was bit late for us to find a bush camp so they made us an generous offer to stay. Keep in mind, this was during lockdown, the country was closed to tourists and we were tourists trapped inside. I don’t believe we would have been able to afford to stay otherwise. We stayed four days.

The first evening we sat down to a three course meal with a beautiful woman from Maun and two researchers that work at Delta Research Center based at Jumbo Junction in a program focused on reducing human and livestock conflict with predators. The managers arranged a Mokoro trip for the following morning.

Mokoro boat excursions are offered throughout the Delta. Mokoros were originally made from hollowed out tree trunks of ebony or sausage trees and are now made from fiberglass. These narrow canoes are pushed through the high grasses by a man with a long stick, similar to punting. This was one of our highlights and I would recommend adding a Mokoro experience to your hit list. We were pushed through the high grasses along the Hippo Highway. With a large number of hippo and crocodile sightings. After doing so many safaris through Africa, this is such a wonderful way to see these prehistoric creatures.

The following day, the three of us took a motorboat to an island on a private game reserve. Jumbo Junction keeps a safari car on the island during the wet season and we set off on a game drive with their onsite guide, Two Boy. We had elephants, zebra and giraffe, but the lucky sighting was a pregnant wild dog.

I have recently seen on their site that they offer hot air balloon rides. This must be a very cool experience and unique for this region. We were here at the beginning of June and experienced the coldest weather during our time in Botswana. A cold front had come from the south and the temperature at night dropped to freezing and also the days were chilly and windy.

Jumbo Junction Camp to Gudingwa to Selinda River Crossing (70km – 45km)

The managers and lion researchers were able to dig up some valuable information from a Dutch couple who had driven the same track months prior. This information was very helpful, giving us an idea of what we could expect.

When we reached Gundingwa, we asked a local guy about the height of the river and “road” conditions but he could not provide much information, instead tried to persuade us to camp. No electricity, no water, no place to make fire, and possibly a long drop for 250 Pula per person per night.  At some point, someone has paid this.  I am all about supporting local businesses, but they have to offer more than just a plot of dirt.  

We followed the dirt tracks past Gudingwa and came to a Botswana Defense Force outpost. We were expecting them to stop us, however it was unmanned, so we continued.

When we reached the Selinda river, we took the time to survey and find the shallowest crossing. Grateful there were no crocs in sight. The water level was still rising and I do not think it would have been passable several days later.  We originally planned to bush camp next to the river but found it so heavily trafficked with animal spoor that we opted to move a bit further and off their tracks.

Uwe surveying and find the shallowest river crossing at the Selinda River.

Selinda River to Khwai (114 – 125km)

We took about 3 days to get to Khwai, the Dutch couple did it in 10 hours, but we weren’t driving more than a few hours each day. The driving was not particular difficult, we heard one car pass on a nearby cutline during that time.  

The road was deeply rutted soft sand with the occasional detour where people tried to avoid getting stuck in even deeper sands. We started playing a guessing game about who would choose the better lane. There were a number of areas with splintered sticks jetting out, where people had been stuck prior using the sticks to gain more traction.  

There was one gorgeous stretch where the leaves on the Empire Mopane trees were transitioning to a rich golden yellow lining the road. The rest of this area is filled with tall thick Mopane bush making animal sightings difficult and rare.

While planning, many people speculated that this area would be chock full of animals, a remote land wedged between Chobe and Moremi Game Reserves with no human interference such as traffic, villages or cattle posts. We saw one or two impalas, several hornbills, and cleared the path after some elephant destruction.

https://youtu.be/NHRRN7xmlc0

Khwai River & Moremi Game Reserve

We spent 4 days camping in the Khwai river area. One day was spent in Moremi Game Reserve and the 2 days driving along the Khwai river.  Moremi was not that spectacular that day. We saw a fair amount of impalas, a few zebras, elephant and giraffe. There were a number of hippos at the waterholes, and nice views from the viewing tower. Another couple had visited the park two weeks earlier (we would meet and travel with them later), but besides that there had been no other traffic in the park for two months. 

We spent the next few days along the Khwai River. This is a stunning area that we returned to in September. Herds of elephants, hippos, crocodiles, impala, and buffalo grazing in and along the river. We met a German couple that was overlanding as well and also “locked in” in Botswana. Over the excitement and the off-chance of meeting another German speaking rock-climber overlanding in the middle of nowhere we shared an early-morning-beer and planned a joint adventure into the pans weeks later.

Our last day on the Khwai River, posing with our fierce Land Rover.

Khwai to Maun (+/-143km)

A long wide road, heavily grooved with large mud holes. Watch for critters- there are elephant, zebras, giraffe and iguana sightings along this road. There are also several villages Khwai, Sankoyo, Sherobe so you will find people, donkeys, dogs, and chickens along the road. There is very little cell reception in this area, but we were able to send a few text messages to check in. Make sure to stop in Sankuyo for fat cakes or Magwinya, at the larger concession stand of the two. We found these were the best in the entire country.

Uwe assisting an iguana across the road on our way to Maun.

Maun

Back to civilization. Safe and sound and in dire need of a proper shower.

Before setting out there are a few things to note.

I would recommend a high clearance 4×4 vehicle for the trip. Much of our driving was in deep sand, deep water, heavily pitted dried mud, or the worst potholed tar you have ever driven. These tracks vary in difficulty and I would recommend having a backup plan or contact for a recovery company such as Delta 4×4 in Maun, ask for Louw.

Maps.me, tracks4Africa, a good paper map, and a GPS are useful in this region. Many of these tracks are marked with a bottle hanging from a tree or a painted tire.

We were carrying 60 liters of water and 150 liters of diesel, but potable water and diesel are available along the A35 between Maun and Shakawe. Once you pass Shakawe on the Selinda River side, your closest petrol/ diesel option will be back in Maun and potable water will be available at some camps in Kwhai.

Our Land Rover on our last day heading back into Maun.  We have wrapped a blue sheet around the bull bar to protect the radiator from overheating by the small seeds and high grasses.
Cleaning out the grass from the radiator for 3 weeks. We finally wrapped an old sheet around the bull bar and gave our Landy a big, blue diaper. She was pleased and got proper attention in Maun.

Many of these areas have little to no cell reception let alone data connectivity. The BTC network was stronger than Mascom or Orange in the more remote areas of Botswana. Wifi or Hotspots throughout Botswana are spotty at best with download speeds of 1-3 Mbps. We were carrying a SAT phone but chose not to load it on this trip.

Here are some items we found extremely useful:

  • Bush cutters to protect the windshield.
  • Some sort of saw or loppers to cut back branches that elephants have knocked over.
  • Mesh netting or fly screen to protect the radiator from bugs and tall grass seeds.

Be mindful of single track paths in high bush, the Botswana Defense Force are notorious speeders.

Leave no waste. Botswana is a beautiful country, don’t trash it. Make sure to pick up cigarette butts, bottle caps, toilet paper, and litter before leaving.

Be kind. If someone is hitching and you have space and time, offer them a lift. It may be awhile before the next car passes by.

Be aware of dry season and high grasses when making fire. Be aware of wet season as some of these roads are unpassable.

Wild camping in the National Game Reserves is a NO NO.

For more Botswana Guides check out:

5 Responses

  1. What a magnificent trip around Botswana! This has just made it to my bucket list. I would love to follow in your footsteps one day.

  2. What a great trip! I couldn’t get transport to the Okavango Delta when I was in Africa many years ago so I missed out. But your post has brought back some great memories of bushcamping and enjoying the wild beauty of Africa. I hope I’ll make it to Botswana one day!

  3. What a great trip! I couldn’t get transport to the Okavango Delta when I was in Africa many years ago so I missed out. But your post has brought back some great memories of bushcamping and enjoying the wild beauty of Africa. I hope I’ll make it to Namibia one day!

    1. Thanks for reading! That is wonderful. Writing it also brought back memories. I hope you make it to Namibia as well. Namibia was my first time overlanding like this (with what would now be my husband- we do well in touch places like this). Namibia is also incredible with all the wild camping and so few people.

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