It is difficult to determine when the best time to visit the Okavango Delta is, as this is a dynamic ecosystem and all visitors will have differing opinions on what the best time to visit actually is. If you are a birder the best time to visit might be in October when the heronries are full of birds breeding and nesting or perhaps the best time to visit might be in July or August when game numbers start to increase drawn by the drying hinterland.
In the Okavango Delta winter occurs from April to September. Days are generally dry, sunny, clear and cool to warm whilst in the evening temperatures can drop sharply. During the day temperatures generally reach 25 degrees Celsius and evening temperatures can be as low as 2 degrees Celsius and, in some dry areas, can plummet below freezing. Virtually no rainfall occurs during the winter months.
The Okavango Delta the summer starts in with temperatures building in October and ends in March with the onset of the dry season. In October the time before the coming of the rains are the hottest with dry temperatures soaring up to 40 degrees Celsius or more. Cloud cover, coinciding with the arrival of the first rains towards the end of November or in early December, reduce the temperature considerably, albeit only for a short period. During the rainy season, which lasts until the end of February or early March, the days are hot and sunny in the mornings with afternoon thunderstorms, usually in short, torrential downpours during the late afternoon. Temperatures during the day can rise to 38 degrees Celsius and night time temperatures can drop to around 20 degrees Celsuis. Rainfall is erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Heavy downpours may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground, as it is lost to evaporation and transpiration
When to go
In the Okavango Delta bird viewing is excellent during January as it is peak breeding time for many of the migrant bird species. This coincides with excellent wild flowers, brilliant green foliage and constant sounds day and night – from insects and birds. As January is in the middle of the rainy season it experiences spectacular afternoon thunderstorms, with high humidity and warm days (average 30 degrees Celsius plus) and nights (20 degrees Celsius plus). Game viewing is reasonable with predators chasing the fast developing young of their prey species, although the thick bush can make viewing a little harder. January is an ideal month for photography in the Okavango Delta due to the vivid colours, spectacular skies and excellent air clarity. The contrast of the predators natural winter camouflage with the summer colours makes for extremely dramatic photographs. More easily visible to their prey, the predators, such as lions, leopards and hyenas, have to work harder while the prey experience a time of plenty with lush bush and good grasses.
With the ripening of figs eaten by many species, including the fruit bats, make for interesting night sounds while these creatures feed. With the peak flowering of the water lilies the reed frogs are colourful and noisy, the whole Okavango Delta is brilliantly noisy and alive. Due to the rain plants grow rapidly with Butterflies, birds, frogs and all the smaller creatures experiencing a time of plenty. The rains will continue with mid to late afternoon thunderstorms leading to dramatic skies and sounds. In the Okavango February is hot, daytime temperatures averaging above 30 degrees Celsius and warm nights at 20 degrees Celsius plus. As the rains taper off there may be both wet and very dry spells within February. Resident game does not have go far for water and the rapidly growing young are almost as tall as the mature adults. Birding continues to be excellent.
Within the Okavango Delta bull elephants are attracted to the fruit of the Marula trees and wander from tree to tree in search of their favourite meal often moving into the camps and lodges in search of fruit. This is an ideal time to see elephants as they move from one Marula to another. The beginning of the rutting season sees sleek and fat impala males cavorting to attract suitable females. Temperatures remain warm both day and night but the air is drier and the rains less frequent. The bush is lush and green with a multitude of flowers.
The first signs of changing times in the Okavango Delta is when night temperatures drop to below 20 degrees Celsius on average in the Okavango Delta but day time temperatures continue to rise to 40 degrees Celsius on occasion. Temperatures are generally very pleasant with cooler mornings with high relative humidity leading to wonderful early morning mist over the water. Impala rutting is in full swing with dramatic clashes between rival males. Baboon and impala are often seen together as baboons act as sentries protecting the busy impala. Trees have completed their flowering and fruit is ripening, with massive sausages hanging from the Sausage trees. During April reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the dry season, which is beginning.
This is a critical period for the Okavango Delta with the floodwaters from the Angolan highlands reaching the head of the Okavango Delta panhandle and to begin their slow progress through the Okavango Delta. Night temperatures have begun to drop with temperatures averaging 15 degrees Celsius. The rain has stopped and days are still warm with temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius. As seasonal pans begin to dry the Buffalo begin to group into large herds and visit the river areas more often. Breeding herds of elephant start to increase in density daily as they visit the permanent waters to drink. As the landscape starts to dry the once vivid green bush starts to fade to the duller dry seasonal colours and the predators begin to take advantage of their colours blending in with their surroundings once again. Migratory birds have started to leave the Okavango Delta and begin their flights to winter-feeding and breeding grounds in often as far away as Europe.
An excellent month to visist the Okavango Delta June sees the dry season start in earnest. Sightings of African wild dogs improve as they begin to search for dens for their puppies. Temperatures drop to their coldest by the end of June with night temperatures reaching as low as 2 degrees Celsius, this means that night drives are very cold due to wind chill factor. During the day temperatures rise up to a very comfortable 25 degres Celsius int eh Okavango Delta. Some green bushes and trees persist but leaf drop has started and non permanent pans dry up. The inner Okavango Delta begins to flood.
Within the Okavango Delta July represents the height of the flood, the waters of which have arrived after a slow journey from the wet Angolan highlands many thousands of kilometres away. The flood arrives when dust and dryness has started to pervade and the rains have gone. The leaves are falling off the trees, grasses are getting shorter every day and visibility is excellent. Nights remain cold but the days are slightly warmer and within the Okavango Delta are sunny and clear with brilliant blue skies. Water creeps into long dry areas and Mekoro (canoe) and boat trips become access more and more of the Okavango Delta. Soft early morning and evening light combined with dust provides the opportunity for many dramatic photo settings.
By August the floods have passed through the Okavango Delta and now reach Maun. There will be much speculation as to when it will peak and how high? The temperature continues to warm with daytime peaks averaging closer to 30 degrees Celsius and night time averages rising to around 10 degrees Celsius. The Okavango Delta experience its peak visitor period in August. Birding continues to evolve with the herons, storks and other birds start to congregate at the heronries.
The dramatic climatic change in the Okavango Delta continues with winter coming to an end. Temperatures at night rise rapidly and day temperatures start to soar well and will reach well into the thirties. The skies are clear and brilliant sun shine is experienced. Colours explode as the carmine bee-eaters return for the summer and the first migrants return and storks begin nesting. Water levels in the Okavango Delta have slowly started to drop.
October is very hot in the Okavango Delta with great game viewing. Day times temperatures rise regularly above 40 degrees Celsius and nights are warm with averages in twenties. Fishing frenzies, with the annual catfish (barbell) runs in the rivers. The heronries are full of activity with hundreds of birds breeding and nesting leading to excellent bird viewing.
Temperatures remain high both during the day and night until the day of the first rains normally around mid November. The rains arrive often with a dramatic thunderstorm leading the animals to disperse to eat on new vegetation and drink from the seasonal pans. This is the birthing season which begins with the tsessebe, followed by impala and Lechwe. Predators seek out these vulnerable young. With much action, great visibility and colour with big clusters of cloud, fresh sprouting grass and trees bursting into life – a wonderful time for the photographer.
Lambs and calves grow at astounding speed fed by their mothers rich milk. The rains have become more regular with thunderstorms every few days filling the remaining pans. While the grazers enjoy the plenty the rains have brought , predators are ever watching and stalking, their winter camouflage letting them down although the bush is dense allowing more hiding places for them to observe their prey. Migrant birds have all arrived and the birding is excellent. Temperatures have cooled on average but hot days still occur and nights are still warm and humidity can rise after rain. Great colours, dramatic skies make for excellent photography within the Okavango Delta.