Okavenga Delta, Botswana
By Seb Schleicher , Tyson Carroll
First off, flying into Johannesburg—or Joburg as it is called in South Africa—is generally the least expensive route into South Africa from the US. It’s wise to spend a couple of days in Joburg recovering before you begin the journey north to Botswana. While recouping in Joburg visit some of the local attractions such as the Apartheid Museum or the township of Soweto—each offering glimpses of the country’s tumultuous past as well as its promising future. Budget accommodations in South Africa are easy to find and rather plentiful. Expect to pay around from $12 to $20 dollars for dorm accommodations. During the busier times of the year (June–Oct) it may be necessary to make reservations in advance; otherwise arranging accommodations upon your arrival will generally not be a problem. To avoid any complications the safe bet is to always make reservations in advance.
During our time in Joburg we stayed at Diamond Diggers Hostel, which is situated a few blocks from downtown. They have free airport pickup, several kitchens, high-speed Internet, a bar with pool tables and a hot tub, along with many other great amenities. For a couple of extra rands (South Africa currency) you can have the staff cooked dinner, which will likely be the best meal you will have on your way to the Delta. Arrange a drop-off at the bus station through the staff at Diamond Diggers at 7:00AM to begin your trip north. It will cost you a few extra rands but it’s cheaper than a cabby and—as the staff will tell you—Joburg is not a safe place to be wandering around in.
When using public transportation in Africa leave any and all ideas of organization, timetables and departure/arrival time at home. This is to protect your sanity. The general path to Botswana must be taken in several stages, with your final destination in Botswana being the city of Maun. The first bus ride is from Joburg to Francistown with a changeover in Gaborone, which is the capital of Botswana. The price of the ticket was about $16 USD and the total bus time clocks in around ten hours.
Once you arrive in Gaborone you will need to take a cab to the other bus station in town to catch your next one. You’ll get into Francistown at night, and when you do you’ll notice that it doesn’t have any cheap hostels to stay at. The most inexpensive place we found close to town was the Marang Hotel with rooms for 335 pula (the currency in Botswana) a night for one person. So, once you arrive into Francistown catch a cabby from the station to the Marang. Some of the cabbies—not all—will try and rip you off. The cost of the fair should be around ten pula . . . not the 60 we paid. Barter early and often. The earliest bus going north to Maun from Francistown via Nata leaves at 8:00AM the following morning. In some towns there aren’t any bus stations, so the local gas stations become the transit hubs in these smaller cities. It’s generally a good idea to get to the bus station at least a half hour before departure since seats are on a first come, first serve basis and will run you around 70 pula.
Maun is the gateway city to the Delta. It’s a very good idea to book your room at least a day in advance, unless you bring your own tent—and in this part of Africa it is always a good idea to bring your own tent, since most places have campsites available at a significantly lower cost. The two places we stayed at before and after our Safari were Audi Camp and Maun Rest Camp. Maun Rest Camp is the least expensive place (325 pula). The owners Simon and Joyce will go out of their way to help you with almost anything. Audi Camp is a little pricier than Maun, but they have a few more amenities such as a pool and bar/restaurant. If you do decide to stay at Audi you cannot leave without having their house hamburger. I have eaten at restaurants all over the world and this by far is the best hamburger I have ever eaten. In-N-Out has got nothing on this one!
Based on your budget and how you would like to go on Safari, Maun has an outfit suited for you. Nearly every Hotel or Hostel has their own Safari Company. We went with Audi Camp since it was the most affordable for a three-day/two-night trip for 1,100 pula (approx. $200 USD), but you get an all-inclusive trip for double that. Just to emphasize the point, if you’re on a budget we definitely recommend bringing your own tent. That and stocking up on food from the local market prior to your departure are musts. The Safari leaves from Audi Camp at 8:00AM and takes about three hours to arrive at the doorstep of the Delta. Along the way you will see a wide variety of wild life including impalas, elephants, hippopotami, wildebeest, zebras, baboons and giraffes. If you’re lucky you can see hyenas, lions, cheetahs or leopards. Once you arrive at the Delta you will be assigned a local guide who will load your gear into his makoro (a traditional wooden canoe) and take you into the Delta where you will make camp. Our guide Jet—a.k.a. Yoda—took us around over the next three days and two nights getting us near every kind of animal from hippos to giraffes. As we were cooking dinner on our final night around dusk at our riverside campsite, a herd of five elephants migrated across the delta no more than 100 feet from where we were standing.
You could not have asked for a more perfect way to end a trip.
The Okavenga Delta is one of Southern Africa’s most pristine and beautiful places, and if you really want to experience one of Africa’s true treasures, set your sights on the Delta.