As a big game wildlife destination, the best time to visit the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, is in the dry winter months from May to October, but there's certainly more to it than that...
The spectacular Okavango Delta can be visited all year round, so it depends on which of her many faces you would prefer to see, as to the timing of your trip. There are two distinct seasons, that being wet and dry, each transforming the landscape and animal life tremendously.
The dry winter season, from May to October, is the best time for wildlife viewing. It is "dry" because there is very little rain, but this is when the floodwaters have made their way from the highlands in central Angola thousands of kilometres away, swelling the Delta to double or triple its size. The water generally reaches its highest mark between July and September.
The large numbers of wildlife make their way in the cooler weather from the dry interior and the Kalahari Desert to the water, and you can see huge herds of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra around the water sources in concentrated numbers, which also attracts many predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and jackal. There can be sightings of African wild dogs as they go in search of dens for their pups. Giraffe, warthog and baboon can be seen everywhere.
The trees are also bare at this time of year making for excellent visibility, and the weather is cool and dry to travel in with brilliantly sunny and clear days. The dry roads are usually easily passable at this time of year as well.
The mid-winter temperatures can reach up to 25 degrees Celsius during the day and then drop sharply at night, sometimes to as low as 2 degrees Celsius. The weather starts warming up quite considerably from October and temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius during mid-summer.
In the wet season, from November to April, the floodwaters recede and the rains have begun in earnest. The delta shrinks substantially and often the boating and mokoro (dugout canoe) trips are suspended. Most of the wildlife make their way back into the cooler and now lush green interior, some of the roads become impassable, and there are more mosquitoes and bugs around.
However, there is still a high concentration of animals - this is the time when the Delta becomes a birdwatcher's paradise. Many different species of migrant birds arrive which means a lot of activity with birds breeding and nesting - January being peak breeding time.
The sheer number of birdlife is quite remarkable – bee-eaters, malachite and giant kingfishers, slaty and black egrets, lesser and purple galinules and wattled cranes, Meyer's parrots, fierynecked nightjars, Hueglin's robin, and secretary birds.
There is spectacular new growth, and it is the birthing season of the tsessebe, impala and lechwe. There are many predators around watching for opportunities - being well hidden in the now more lush bushes and grasses. Elephants can be seen enjoying the fruits of the Marula trees, while it's the smaller creatures which bring the Delta to life, with fruit bats, butterflies, frogs and more.
Some of the lodges are better placed than others for good game viewing, and there are lots of activities on offer such as boat cruises, mokoro trips, 4x4 game drives and game walks.
In general, there is a plethora of game viewing to be had at all times of the year in the Okavango Delta, with some of the "slower" months providing better game viewing than the "peak" months of other safari locations. There are animals which are resident in the Delta at all times such as crocodile, hippo and antelope – not to mention the ever-present predators. Black and white rhino can also be seen, thanks to a reintroduction programme.
The seasonal changes can vary from year to year with the timing of the floodwaters and the rains arriving earlier or later than usually expected. The timing of your trip will come down to your personal preference, but you won't be disappointed no matter which period you decide to visit in.