‘What’s a typical day on safari in Africa?’ is a question we often get asked by readers intrigued by safari holidays or planning their first safari trip.
Having just returned from a two camp Wilderness Safaris adventure in the Okavango Delta we wanted to share how a typical day in the Delta pans out. From 5am wake up calls to safari game drives and water activities every moment in the Okavango is a memorable affair. So for all you lovers of safari or those planning a trip here’s our guide to a typical day in the Okavango Delta!
Dawn wake up calls and breakfast
5:00am: time to rise!
‘Elaine, David… are you awake? Hurry, hurry, you never know what we’ll find today!’ In the darkness of the Okavango morning we bounded out of bed ready to join our guide K for a day in the Delta. Despite the early start we made sure to set aside some time to appreciate the stunning sunrises which filled the Botswana sky with an incredible mix of purple, orange and red hues and marked the start of a new dawn in the Okavango Delta.
From lions roaring across the plain to hippos splashing underneath our bedroom windows, tales of the previous nights exploits filled the easy breakfast chatter between guests and the camp crew and we planned the day ahead with K. ‘A Mokoro ride’, ‘wild dogs’, ‘lions’, ‘fishing’, ‘elephants’… everyone had something different which drew them to the Delta. Calls of good luck ran through camp as we set off on our respective game drives, fishing trips, Mokoro rides and bird spotting adventures.
The Morning Safari
6:00am: safari time!
‘Do you know what these prints are Elaine?’ I eagerly tried to identify the fresh footprints in the sand below but my hopeful reply of hippo was met with giggles from K and our community escort, Dish, a member of the village close to the camp and whose job it was to ensure the activities of visitors don’t impact on the Delta.
As the inhabitants of the Okavango sprang to life we were rewarded with many close encounters with its wildlife. On our first morning it became apparent that a female leopard had passed by very recently and the excitement in the truck was palatable as we tracked the footprints hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful wild cat. A sudden movement in the bushes alerted us to her presence and we watched fascinated as she stalked the plains in between climbing trees and calling out for a mate before eventually giving up and taking a nap! 10 minutes from camp and we’d already spotted one of the most beautiful animals in the world: our luck was set for the trip!
9:00am: coffee break
After a 5am wake up the prospect of stretching our legs and reviving our tired souls on the morning coffee stop brought great excitement and the locations were magical: a wide open plain filled with hundreds of impalas, red lechwe, storks and zebra and a scenic riverside spot were our highlights!
Either side of our coffee stops the morning game drives brought us fantastic sightings: buffalo watched us from the bushes and a majestic cheetah made moves to find her next meal. Impalas, ostrich, baboons, elephants, antelope…wildlife of every description filled the plains at every turn of the safari truck. Storks and eagles dominated the sky as birds in a rainbow of colours lined our route.
Brunch and relax or transfer time!
We returned to camp in the late morning just in time for a delicious brunch and a catch up on the morning’s exploits. K joined us for lunch and regaled us with tales of his early days in the bush and filled us with stories of wild animals, close encounters and his favourite Okavango inhabitants.
Brunch is closely followed by some rest and relaxation to offset the 5am starts. Our afternoons were spent sitting on our terrace taking in the beautiful views, reading a book or enjoying a swift nap to prepare us for the evening ahead. The afternoon rains are a peaceful time in the Delta and we enjoyed some spectacular thunder and lightning storms while curled up on our sun deck. Bliss!
1:00pm: flight time!
Although it broke our heart to leave our first camp, Little Vumbura, switching between camps is an exciting time. A ride to the airstrip usually includes some bonus safari and water time and it was en route to the strip that we encountered our classic Okavango moment with red lewche skipping across the flood plains leaving a trail of water in their wake.
Flying in the Delta is a bucket list adventure: it starts with waiting for the animals to move off the runway so the plane can land then continues with getting dropped at the door of the tiny Wilderness Air planes which we often had to ourselves (private jet anyone?!) closely followed by spotting giant herds of elephant and buffalo in the plains below and flying over the iconic winding Okavango River. Our flights are some of our favourite memories from the Delta and we would 100% recommend incorporating some airtime into an Okavango trip.
4:00pm: afternoon treats
I always get a little panicked that I’m going to starve when I’m on safari but alas the safari camps only leave a few hours in between the food offerings! 4pm was afternoon tea time where we were served delicious pre safari cakes and tapas which we often accompanied with a cheeky gin and tonic or cold beer. We were on our holidays after all!
5:00pm: evening safari
Evening safaris are a treat for two reasons: it’s at this time that the Delta awakens following the afternoon rains and, secondly, sundowners. Our evening safari’s were a mix of water and land based activities.
Mokoro rides are an Okavango staple. A poler navigates the Mokoro, a dug out canoe, through the shallow waters of the Okavango Delta and, from frogs to birds to beautiful water lilies, being on the river allowed us to see a different side of the Okavango and made us feel at one with the Delta.
The Okavango inhabitants are quite similar to me in some respects, mainly in their tendency to retreat to the shady undergrowth when the rain threatens! Our favourite evening sightings included lions lazing in the evening sun, a cheetah frolicking in the long grass, a hippo peeking out from a puddle in the road and our almost sighting of the elusive wild dogs alongside the air strip.
‘Wild dogs were here last night Elaine, see how their footprints are going up and down the airstrip? They were playing’. Our hearts beat faster but, as the footprints trailed off, we knew it wasn’t to be on this drive. ‘Hakuna matata Elaine, David’. K reassured us with the African phrase meaning no worries ‘that’s the beauty of the African bush, you never know what you’ll see tomorrow’.
Sundowners in the bush are the highlight of any safari day: sipping a gin and tonic as the sun sets over an Okavango day is a truly magical experience and one we will never ever forget. Sipping our G&Ts in the middle of the Vumbura Plains on our first night in the Delta we heard the distinct roar of the king of the jungle and we had goosebumps listening to the two lions conversing across us!
Dinner and drinks!
8:00pm: dinner and drinks
As darkness falls guests are returned to camp for the day’s finale: dinner and drinks. Safari dinners tend to be communal affairs and it’s an amazing opportunity to share chats with other guests and camp staff. Dinner chatter is easy and filled with funny stories, tales from our respective home countries and a comparison of the safari highlights of the day. Our meals were buffet style with plentiful meat, fish and vegetarian dishes, accompanied by a delicious glass of African wine and served under the backdrop of the African sky.
Usually one of the evenings will involve the Boma, an outdoor dining area with a blazing fire that is an African tradition and is found in most camps. It was here that on one of the evenings the Little Vumbura staff treated us to an African song and dance extravaganza and it was so much fun that the entire camp danced and sang their way to dinner!
Safari days come to a close relatively early in anticipation of the 5am starts and, as the days drew to a close, the camp staff returned us to our rooms under their watchful eye. While it might seem excessive the camps are unfenced and, after awakening to fresh leopard prints on our first morning in Xigera camp, we were eager participants in the escorted trips from that moment!
Where we Stayed
We opted to split our stay between a land based camp, Little Vumbura in the Vumbura plains, and a water based camp, Xigera (this is dependent on time of year so be sure to check the best options) in the Moremi Game Reserve.