This stunning landscape is nourished by the rain that falls on the Benguela plateau of Southern Angola, which feeds the Cubango River. The Cubango’s name changes to the Kavango River when it becomes the main border between Namibia and Angola for around 247 km (160 miles) before it crosses a thin strip of Namibia and flows south into Botswana, spreading out like a green hand across the Kalahari into the wide alluvial fan of the Okavango Delta.
The Okavango Delta and the region that supplies its water is home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal, such as the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, African wild dog and lion as well as globally threatened birds, including among others, six species of Vulture, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, Wattled Crane and Slaty Egret. This is also the only home of the largest surviving herd of elephants on Earth, now listed as endangered.
Sustainable tourism initiatives over the last few decades have been focusing on how to bring value and benefits directly to communities who are the custodians of this rich landscape and the biodiversity of this region. In Angola, a new initiative to create a series of National Parks to protect the landscape that feeds the Delta its life-giving waters is provisionally called Lisima Lwa Mwondo, “the source of life”. In Namibia there are new community conservancies, and in Botswana there are community trusts set up, all created to bring much-needed tourism revenue into the hands of local people.
There are so many different landscapes, people and places to visit and learn from in this fertile region. You can see more than four hundred species of birds here, as well as rare and threatened animals like the African wild dog or the elusive pangolin. Boat along the river or see elephants drinking up close during a sunset mokoro journey with boatmen from local communities who have grown up in the channels of the Delta itself.
This landscape is also the home of humanity’s oldest indigenous group the Sān. UNESCO has plans to award this unique group of people here a special World Heritage status, calling it The Sān Living Cultural Landscape. UNESCO explains that the Sān groups in this region are sub-divided into several distinct language groups and self-identifying communities that include the Hai||om, the Ju|’hoansi, the !Kung, the Naro, the Khwe and the !Xóõ. Learn more about the San Cultural Landscape through UNESCO.
Other than the Delta itself, another UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Site here is Tsodilo Hills, also called “The Louvre of the Desert”. Here ten thousand rock paintings made by the Sān decorate two huge granite mountains that rise from the sands of the Kalahari. In December 2020 the Botswana government removed the Tsodilo Hills from ReconAfrica’s drilling license area after the groups Frack Free Namibia and Botswana and Fridays For Future petitioned UNESCO at a protest march in Windheok, Namibia on 10 December 2020.
The following are a list of great ways to explore this dynamic region and do so in a way that supports the communities who call this place home. This is in no way a definitive list, but a few suggestions.
Camp in comfort near elephants in Namibia’s Muduva-Nyangana Conservancy. They have a brand new campsite and all of the proceeds go to support the community.
Visit the Okavango Delta’s panhandle in Botswana, and explore it with Nguma Island Lodge which works with the Jakotsha Community Trust to employ and train local people. The lodge helps maintain fibreglass makoro canoes which are easier to use and prevent the removal of the huge Jackalberry trees, the keystone tree species of the region that secure the islands of the Delta during the annual flood.
Discover the incredible National Parks on the Namibian side of the border: lion-rich Kaudom or Bwabwata, one of the last refuges of the Wild Dog. Mangetti National Park, explains Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, “is part of a new generation of parks aimed at reducing rural poverty through tourism development, joint management and benefit sharing with local communities.”
The Delta itself has hundreds of places to stay. You can find most of them here at the Botswana tourism website. You can also explore Namibia’s amazing flagship conservancy program and learn more about how communities are benefitting from the conservation of their natural resources.