Home > Africa > “Swimming” in the Okavango Delta

“Swimming” in the Okavango Delta

The pristine sandy "beaches" and clean thermal waters of the Delta.

When I talk about swimming in the Okavango Delta, I’m not just referring to the Land Rovers which plunge through bonnet-high water or the hippos who spend most their day submerged, but, yes, literally swimming in the Delta. Everybody swims in the Delta, even the water-loathing lions and sceptical tourists! Who would imagine that you can jump into these swampy waters filled with crocodiles and hippos and where lions, leopards, buffalos and elephants linger not far away. And, even more surprisingly, discover that the Delta’s water is much warmer, and its soft Kalahari sand even whiter, than in Asian or African coastal resorts.

From Land Rover to mokoro to speed boat. Each time, a new experience and a different view of the Delta.

After our adventurous mokoro ride, we opt the next day for a motorboat ride to a sandbar in a sheltered lagoon. These shallow metal boats – with their powerful engines – are perfect for zipping around the maze of waterways and channels in the Okavango Delta. Even though it’s “wet” season, the water’s not as deep as it usually is at this time of the year.  Every so often the engine gives a warning sound that we are getting too close to the underwater reeds or a hidden sandbar.  The cumulus clouds above are mirrored beautifully on the tranquil waters of the lagoon. Birds, especially cormorants and cute pygme geese, skim gracefully along the clean waters of the Delta. We get a lesson about the local plant life. If you ever thought that papyrus was just about ancient Egyptian manuscripts, think again. This reed-like plant is sweet inside and edible; elephants apparently have a sweet tooth as they’re often seen chewing on it.

Papyrus is versatile ... it's also sweet and edible.

Compared to the slow pace of the mokoro, the motorboat trip is more of a thrill ride. Barobi, our guide, seems to be enjoying his time behind the wheel of the boat, steering it around the bends like a Delta-style Schumacher. While the mokoro is slow, relaxing and quiet, this boat is louder, bigger and faster. I guess we’ve woken up every crocodile within a one-kilometer radius.

Finally, we reach our destination – a remote lagoon with crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches and not an animal in sight. We set up our picnic table and drinks and take a dip. The water is clean, warm and feels untouched by today’s industrialized world. It’s waist-high and you feel the soft Kalahari desert sand below your feet.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in the Delta, swim, like everyone else!

The perfect swimming pool - clean, warm and not too deep.

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