Gliding in a Mokoro Through the Okavango Delta, Botswana

The source of the Okavango Delta starts in the highlands of Angola, flows through Namibia and enters northwestern Botswana as the Okavango River which empties into the sands of the Kalahari Desert creating a 15,000 sq km maze of lakes, channels, marsh and islands that make up the largest inland delta in the world.

A hand dug Mokoro - the main method of
transport in the Okavango Delta
The water in the delta is so clear that you can see to the bottom of the channels and clean enough that you can drink straight from the delta without filtration.

The delta is home to lions, elephants, hyenas, wild dog, buffalo, crocodiles, red lechwe and numerous other animals, but because the main mode of transportation within the delta is via small hand carved wood canoes (mekoro) pushed by a pole, the hippos are the most feared and respected animals of the delta. During the day the hippos stay in the deeper channels of the delta, making the shallow papyrus reed marsh area safer to navigate by mokoro.

A view of the Okavango Delta from
The water level in the delta area fluctuates significantly throughout the year. Only a few of the camps within the delta can be reached by vehicles in the dry season leaving planes and mekoro as the only reliable method of getting deep inside the delta. Because it would take a number of days to get into the middle of the delta by mekoro the vast majority of visitors in the central delta area arrive my small plane.

A hut wall built with Coke cans in a delta
We flew into an area of the delta near Chief's Island and spent majority of our days gliding through the delta marsh by mekoro. Each time we would cross a channel the poler would stop and check for hippos, which would be within sight most of the time. Sometimes the hippos would be far away enough that we could safely cross the channel. One morning we saw hippos at a fair distance and crossed the channel only to run into thick reeds on the other side of the channel. Unable to push forward through the thick reeds with most of the boat still sticking out in the main channel a hippo charged the mokoro making a sizable wake as he rose to the surface and moved toward us. I wish I would have captured the moment with my camera but as soon as it was clear we were stuck in the channel and couldn't move forward I looked back at the poler and he was visibly scared so I quickly put down my camera and slipped on my shoes. As the hippo continued to advance the poler smacked his poling stick into the water and stopped the hippo about 15 meters from the boat.

A Zebra in the delta marsh
In addition to riding the mekoro through the delta we spent an afternoon walking through one of the few remaining delta villages and the rest of our time walking on the islands watching giraffes, zebras, elephants and red lechwe running through the marsh.

>> Check out more photos from the Okavango Delta

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John, that delta looks like it could hold some Black Mamba Snakes? be careful....great pictures...snow about ready to arrive here in Wi.

Tom & Linda,

I have been in southern Africa for almost six months now and have spent a decent amount of time in environments populated by snakes but have yet to see any. I did a google search and found this (dated) document that says Black Mamba's are widespread throughout the Okavango Delta.

Hi John,

My dad (a judge) was talking to your mom (also a judge) and she told him all about her time in Botswana. I'm leaving for S. Africa and Mozambique on Saturday. Any must-sees?


Hi Cate,

I am not sure how much time you will have in South Africa, but other than Cape Town and the coast two of my favorite spots have been Soweto (just outside of Johannesburg) and the northern part of Mpumalanga (Sabie, Graskop & the Blyde River Canyon).

If you happen to be in the Johannesburg area in the next week and have some free time, let me know. I will be bouncing between Johannesburg and Pretoria for the next week.

Hope you enjoy the trip!


Good for you. I look forward to following your progress through the continent.

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wow! this seems to be a nice place. Africa is very rich in its culture and nature. Hope to read more travle blogs from you!

krish from isolation maison 

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Taking off to some unidentified place in the heart of Africa – somewhere with no electricity, no running water and at least one week’s journey from anything resembling a city has been a long time dream of mine.

My name is John Bradley and in May 2009, I left my job in Chicago, sold my car, moved everything else I owned into my grandma’s basement and flew to Africa. I plan to take roughly one year to overland on a budget from Cape Town to Cairo. I do not have an itinerary; I have no idea where I will be five days from now. My path is guided by the attempt to balance the urge to see and experience as much as I can with the desire to travel slowly and close to the ground.

This is where I will post my stories, photos, and videos as I move along on my journey. Feel free to post comments or send me an email with any thoughts or suggestions.

Current location: Coffee Bay, South Africa

Distance traveled: 42,790 km

Days on the road: 366

(last updated 5/16/10)

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