Home > Africa > When in the Okavango Delta … do a mokoro ride!

When in the Okavango Delta … do a mokoro ride!

Scary and relaxing ... glide through the waters of the Okavango Delta in a local dug-out canoe or mokoro.

Before going to the Okavango Delta, I was asked what kind of activities I wanted to do. I saw a picture of two people sitting in a dug-out canoe, less than 20 centimeters above the waters of the crocodile- and hippo-infested waters of the Okavango Delta, 100 meters away from a massive male elephant, with an unarmed oarsman balancing precariously at the back of the canoe and said “Wow, look at that. Scary. There’s no way I would ever get into one of those things.”

Fast forward two months and I am gliding along a tranquil reed-lined waterway, passing crocodiles sleeping with one eye open on the banks, watching birds glide overhead with no sound apart from the swish-swish of the pole as our guide expertly navigates the shallow waters of the Delta.

Just in front of us, his colleague is on the look-out for “danger” – meaning wide awake crocodiles, hippos, elephants, anything we shouldn’t get too close to. After the initial minutes of being too scared to move in case I unbalanced this wobbly looking boat, I relax and start to enjoy the ride.

The mokoro (also confusingly spelt makoro or mekoro) is a common type of canoe used to get around in the shallow waters of the Okavango Delta. The oarsman stands in the stern and pushes it with the pole. Traditional mokoros are made from the trunk of a large straight tree, like ebony, but today, they are more commonly made from fiber-glass. They’re popular at the water camps like Xigerato get tourists around, but they’re also, easily overturned by hippos. To an inexperienced tourist, this might seem like a death sentence, but Barobi, our guide, assures us that the waterways used for the mokoro rides are too shallow for hippos to bathe comfortably in and for crocodiles to hide in. “Hippos are highly territorial so just don’t go into their territory,” says Bairobi, our guide confidently.

A guide goes 150 meters ahead to make sure we don't disturb any sleeping beauties.

The idyllic wetlands Xigera Camp, where we spent two nights, is probably one of the best places to do a mokoro ride. Located in the heart of the exclusive Moremi Game Reserve, there are hidden waterways, deep lagoons, sandbars and deserted islands within a one-hour radius of the camp.

A mokoro ride in the Delta is an absolute “must do” even if it at first seems terrifying. Our guide, like many of the others, learned to handle a mokoro at the tender age of seven. It’s a careful balancing act – the simplest sudden turn or twist could land the passengers in the water.

... and the odd hiding or sleeping crocodile.

Was the mokoro ride scary? Yes, in the beginning. Am I glad I did it? Definitely. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Drifting along the tucked-away waterways of the Okavango Delta, past the large round water lilies, seeing the reflection of the clouds on the mirror-like water, watching colorful kingfishers, cranes and egrets, and topping it off with a sun-downer on the banks of a small sandy islet, it was one of the most relaxing, and memorable, experiences in my life.

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