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If you go: Visiting the Okavango Delta

By David Gurien, CNN
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Thu October 13, 2011
Game drives are likely to include elephant sightings.
Game drives are likely to include elephant sightings.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Okavango Delta is difficult to access; most tourists arrive by bush plane
  • Camp accommodations range from luxury suites to basic pup tents
  • For mid-range camps, plan on about $700-$950 per person, per night in high season

(CNN) -- The Okavango Delta is one of earth's remote places; it is not easy to get to, and it is quite wild. Independent travel there is not for the inexperienced or the faint-hearted.

There are few roads and those that exist are difficult to drive and navigate and subject to flooding and other hazards; communications are spotty at best and locations are distantly apart.

Winning and losing on Botswana's Okavango Delta

The vast majority of tourists fly into camps in the delta, many from the town of Maun, which is easily reached by scheduled airlines from Botswana's capital, Gaborone (Air Botswana), from Johannesburg, South Africa (South African Airways), from Windhoek, Namibia (Air Namibia), and from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. From Maun, a host of bush plane companies fly tourists to the camps and reserves, most of which, including Kwara, are privately owned and operated.

Most tourists make their arrangements through organized tour companies, and there is no shortage of tour operators in southern Africa who can arrange an all-inclusive visit. More resourceful travelers can save money by making their own arrangements using the Internet to identify individual camps, and arranging transportation and accommodations directly through them. The camps vary from luxury suites to basic pup tents, and prices reflect the differences.

Kwara Camp is mid- to upper range, offering heavy canvas tents on wood platforms with full beds and in-tent plumbed bathrooms, full board and a host of activities, including overland Jeep safaris, dugout canoe trips and motorboat journeys that are included in the basic price.

Less expensive camps, such as Oddballs Camp, feature simple pup tents on platforms, but can be hundreds of dollars less expensive. Some camps are fenced to keep animals out at night, while others such as Kwara are not (if the sound of a two-ton elephant or hippopotamus tramping through the bushes right outside your window unnerves you, you might want to opt for a fenced camp).

Botswana is deliberately expensive, as the government wishes to limit the number of tourists who visit Okavango to lessen environmental impact. Rates during high season (July-October) can be twice as high as during low season (November-June). Try going during low season, just before or after high season, to maximize wildlife viewing but minimize cost.

For most upscale camps, plan on US $900-$1,600 per person, per night in high season, and a low of about $700 in low season. For mid-range camps, plan on about $700-$950 in high season, as low as $350 in low season. For basic camps, looks for rates as low as $340 per person, per night in high season and $240 in low season. Most rates are all-inclusive, including lodging, food and all safaris and other activities. Tourists on tighter budgets might want to consider camps in South Africa, although they tend to be less wild and more tourist-populated.

Large animals including lion, zebra, hippopotamus, wildebeest, elephant and others are abundant in the Delta, and while it is thrilling to see them, tourists must always remember, this is not a zoo. The animals are wild. But as long as visitors follow a few simple rules, there is little danger.

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