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Safari by Horseback: Okavango Delta, Botswana

Safari by Horseback: Okavango Delta, Botswana

Giddy Up for the Ride of Your Life

Forget the idea of touring Africa by jeep. Imagine, instead, galloping on a horse alongside herds of wildebeest and zebras, cantering beside a cluster of giraffe, or trotting toward a group of buffalo or elephants. As the wind rustles through the long green and yellow blades of grass, the only other sounds you’ll hear are the animals’ hooves pounding against the ground amid a symphony of birdcalls. On a safari by horseback in Botswana, you’ll do more than just see the animal kingdom—you’ll become a part of it.

The famed Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world, covers more than 15,000 sq. km (5,800 sq. miles) of flood plains in the northwestern part of Botswana. This oasis of waterways, islands, and forests—surrounded by a sea of desert—attracts the most coveted game, including the Big Five: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros. As these mighty creatures wander freely through the wilderness here, you’ll roam along with them.

Okavango Horse Safaris, based on the banks of the Xudum River, takes no more than eight experienced riders at a time into the western Delta and a private area bordering the Moremi Game Reserve. You must be able to trot for at least 10 minutes at a time, and know how to gallop out of trouble if the need arises. You should also be prepared to spend 4 to 6 hours in the saddle per day. As you’re riding, you might get lucky and come upon a pride of lions, relaxing after their feast, or a leopard enjoying his recent kill. But if one of these powerful beasts seems hungry, you’ll need to get out of its way—and quickly. In addition to the Big Five, other creatures commonly spotted include giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, kudus, impalas, antelopes, duikers, foxes, jackals, wildcats, monkeys, badgers, hyenas, warthogs, tortoises, ostriches, hippos, and crocodiles. Countless birds fly above and around you, and your guides are well versed in the various species.

Itineraries last between 5 and 10 days, and include stays at the Kujwana Camp (with spacious, permanent tents that include en-suite bathrooms), the Moklowane Camp (which offers tree houses with private bathrooms), and the Qwaapo Camp (a “fly camp” with traditional safari tents and camping beds that can be easily moved, bucket showers, and bush toilets). The best time to ride is in the early morning or late afternoon, away from the hot midday sun. When you’re ready for a break, don’t miss taking a trip in a traditional mokoro, a narrow, canoe-like boat that allows you to quietly explore the delta’s shallow waterways.

After a full day, as the dark red sun sinks beneath the horizon, you can sit by a campfire, reminiscing about your adventurous ride. Perhaps you’ll hear a hyena’s laugh interrupt the other animals’ rhythmic chorus. As you sip a gin and tonic, waiting for dinner, you’ll easily feel right a home.

Botswana Tourism Board, Plot 50676, Fairgrounds Office Park, Gaborone ( 888/675-7660; www.botswanatourism.co.bw).
Tour: Okavango Horse Safaris, Okavango Delta ( 267/686-1671; www.okavangohorse.com).
When to Go: Apr–Oct.
Maun Airport.

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