The gateway to the Okavango

Maun is the known as ‘the gateway to the Okavango’ providing the closest access for travellers to the major safari destinations in the region and will usually feature at the start or end a Botswana itinerary. Most visitors will simply pass through Maun Airport on their way to the safari camps but increasingly this is a destination which is attracting longer stays. There are a number of accommodation options here which work well for a night or two for those who wish to recover from long journeys before starting their safari. Or perhaps to extent their trip with a few nights after their safari. Maun is a small and friendly town built around the safari industry with a strong sense of place, and this is often preferred to Johannesburg as a place to rest before your safari.

Maun International Airport is serviced by daily flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town. All onward charter flights to the Okavango safari camps will be scheduled to connect with the arrival of these daily fights. For those coming from Gaborone, the capitol, there are daily flights with Air Botswana too, but these are often scheduled too early or late to connect with the Okavango flights so please speak to us for more information on this.

Maun’s name means The Place of Short Reeds and stems from the Bayei for “short reeds”.  With two major river systems flowing here: the Boronyane from the Okavango Delta to the north east and the Thamalakane, from the north west, there are distinctly Delta qualities in Maun with mini floodplains and beautiful ancient riverine forests.  Maun is an oasis in this part of the Kalahari.

The Boronyane River (shortened locally to Boro) is fed by the Okavango’s floodwater on the west side of Chief’s Island and  connects with the Thamalakane River in Maun.  The Thamalakane River is fed by the Gomoti and Santantadibe channels on the east side of Chief’s Island and flows through Maun where it splits in two: the Boteti River and the Nhabe River.

The River systems here are mainly dependent on the floods of the Okavango flowing down from the north, though are also affected by local rainfall.  There are times when they are in permanent flow and also when they recede, with only pools remaining.  The dynamic phenomenon of the Okavango dictates the rise and fall in water levels all the way to Ngami Lake and through to the southerly Central District.  However, no matter how high the water levels or how strong the flow is, the Okavango-fed waters eventually drain into the Kalahari sands, never reaching an ocean.

Mobile safari itineraries and self-drive guests use Maun as a base with the connecting tar roads to Namibia in the west and Nata (for Kasane) to the East.  Travellers heading towards Moremi Game Reserve and further north to Savute or to The Central Kalahari or the Pans will need 4×4 transport and specialist planning due to the sandy – and sometimes flooded – terrain.

Most safari companies have their headquarters here and provisions are sent to remotely located camps and lodges.  All manner of enterprises have sprung into existence in Maun to support the safari tourism industry, creating vital employment and business opportunities for many Batswana (people of Botswana).  The logistics involved in operating in these isolated locations are as challenging as they are complex.  Weather, road conditions and floodwater levels are just some of the factors taken into consideration.   Increasingly, local produce from Botswana will feature in your meals with tremendous efforts placed on positive farming development.  No easy task when most of the country is arid desert!

Overview of Accommodation

There is accommodation to suit every budget and taste in Maun.  From the camper to the discerning traveller, there are plenty of options.  However, this is a popular and increasingly busy destination so advanced booking is essential.  Spending a night on arrival before starting your safari “proper” does allow for time to catch one’s breath and overcome any time differences.  Lodges on the rivers, as well as in town are easily accessed.  Most will offer transportation from and to Maun airport or can be booked in advance for you.

Overview of Activities

A wide range of Okavango-oriented activities are on the doorstep.  Taking an aerial, scenic flight over the southerly part of the Delta is a fantastic way to photograph Big Game and classic Botswana species.  By fixed wing aircraft or helicopter, the experience is thrilling and rewarding as pilots navigate you to areas where game concentrations are highest.  You may even see Rhino, who have been reintroduced to the Okavango region.

When water levels permit, activities on the rivers in Maun and closer to the Okavango include 1-2 hour boat cruises, day-long mokoro or motorboat cruises.  For those wanting to experience the wilderness on a very personal level, multi-day mokoro and boating safaris are an adventurous option.

Unique to Botswana are the mokoro activities.  These fibreglass, eco-friendly and strong replicas of the traditional local dug-out canoe provide a beautifully quiet way to observe the Delta and inhabitants.  Gliding along, with the aid of your poler, this is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the tranquillity of Delta’s ecosystem.  Tiny aquatic creatures including Dragonflies, Reed Frogs and lily-hopping beetles can be studied and photographed without disturbance to them or their habitat.  Watching close up the Pied Kingfisher hover, then dart into the water to fish, or the stunning and colourful Malachite Kingfisher, balancing on a reed stalk are fascinating to watch.  Hippo in deeper lagoons and channels may be viewed and other animals as they come to the water’s edge.  A mokoro activity is highly recommended as water levels permit.

On dry land, those short on time, but keen to view track and find the Big 5 from a vehicle, can take a day trip into Moremi Game Reserve.  This “mini safari” means an early departure from Maun (around 5am) and returning after dark in an open vehicle.  Despite Botswana’s mainly warm climate, early mornings and evenings can get chilly, so appropriate warm safari clothing is essential.

The early start will be most rewarding with opportunities of seeing Moremi’s great array of animal and birdlife.  Elephant, Giraffe, Impala, Kudu, Zebra, Warthog, Red Lechwe, Buffalo and Wildebeest are very likely to be seen and pools with honking Hippo and cruising Crocodile will provide a lovely backdrop to your picnic lunch.  Aquatic and land-based birds typical of the Delta environment abound: Goliath Herons, Wattled Cranes, Open-Billed Storks, Bee-eaters, Kgori Bustards and possibly even Ostrich in the drier backcountry are resident year round.  Summer (Oct-April) will bring migratory species including Yellow-Billed Kites, Woodland Kingfishers and Paradise Fly-Catchers.  All types of other African animals could be seen: Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Wild Dog, African Wild Cat, Spotted Hyena and perhaps even Aardwolf will show themselves.  Here, the animals have absolute “right of way”.  Anything can happen at any time – and it does!

Horse-riding enthusiasts are treated to a fabulous option – exploring Maun’s rural cattle posts and game reserve, just 12kms from the town’s centre.  The riding is suitable for every level of rider from complete beginner to the experienced jockey.  Rides are tailored to your ability, from a one hour reserve ride to full day picnic lunch ride.  A rare opportunity to get close to some of Africa’s larger, but gentle animals including Giraffe, Eland, Kudu, Springbok, Impala and Zebra.

Meals & Dining

If staying in Maun, or even if passing through, you will be pleasantly surprised by the variety of restaurants, bars and lodges.  Asian tastes are catered to with three Indian/Chinese restaurants in the town centre.  Supporters of the Continent can enjoy French or Italian cuisine.  For those looking for some Botswana beef, local produce is available in most of the Lodges in town or along the riverside, where pub-style fayre, vegetarian and even vegan dishes feature.  A vibey café scene in and around Maun offers fresh salads, homemade breads, organic and healthy fruit juices, cocktails and coffee in hip surroundings.  Local stallholders serve up delicious traditional foods: bream from the Okavango, beef and oxtail stews with “fat cakes”, dumplings, rice or mealie pap.  There is even a flavour of Central America with a roadside Mexican foodstall.  The food scene here is booming!

Accommodation in this Area

From $ per person

Grays Eden

Gray’s Eden is a new luxury boutique hotel in Maun offering the perfect beginning or end to any safari itinerary. Located on the seasonal Thamalakane River just 10 minutes from Maun Airport, the hotel offers a quiet and intimate retreat with a focus on impeccable service. Set to open in July 2024, Grays Eden will feature Maun's first wine cellar and promises to showcase food and beverage as a key component of its appeal.

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From $120 per person

The Sedia Hotel

Immersed in mature gardens on the banks of the Thamalakane River, the Sedia Hotel offers a comfortable and affordable base in Maun before or after your safari. Simple but comfortable rooms look out on to beautiful gardens. The hotel has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and is pleasant terrace restaurant and pool are popular with locals and visitors alike. The hotel is located just 20 minutes from the Airport with a number of nice dining options nearby.

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From $155 per person

Thamalakane River Lodge

Thamalakane River Lodge has a lovely setting on the river, just 20 kms from Maun, is a peaceful spot for an overnight before or after your safari. The Lodge truly embraces its riverside setting. Tranquil riverfront gardens are rich in succulents and a sculpted waterfall feature built into the bankside. With a range of comfortable room options, a restaurant and swimming pool, Thamalakane River Lodge is a good option for a night or two in Maun.

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From $430 per person

Little Pan Camp

Little Pan Camp is situated on an island in the Thamalakane River, just on the outskirts of Maun, the gateway to the Okavango. Declared as Okavango’s first botanical garden, this little gem of a tented camp is full of character and a tranquil start or end to any safari. A friendly atmosphere with great focus on hospitality, privacy and remarkable food.

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From $1500 per person

Bush Ways Safaris

The long established Bush Ways Safaris provide a variety of mobile safari adventures across northern Botswana and the Okavango Delta. Bushways offer three mobile safari types, semi participation, fully serviced and accommodated safaris, covering a variety of itineraries and provide a cost effective way of visiting northern Botswana. Bush Ways Safaris also offer private and tailored safaris.

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From $ per person

Letaka Fully Serviced Tented Safari

Providing the Okavango Delta’s premier mobile safaris, Letaka Safaris provides trips right across the region. Operating since 2000, this excellent outfit has established itself as a market leader in mobile safaris in Botswana, offering a full range of itineraries on a scheduled departure basis. Letaka stand out for the excellent levels of guiding, comfortable camps and service. In addition to their excellent standard itineraries they also offer specialist birding safaris.

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From $425 per person

Thamo Telele

One of the loveliest places to stay in Maun, Thamo Telele lies on the Thamalakane River and has the distinction of being Maun’s only private game reserve. Though only 12 kms from the Airport, Thamo Telele is a haven of peace in the wilderness, the perfect stop-over before or after your safari. Close encounters with the resident giraffe herd are a highlight, as well as game drives, bush walks and horse riding.

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From $550 per person

Pride of Africa – Mobile Safaris

With over 16 year of experience, Pride of Africa - Mobile Safaris offer a wide variety of safaris both in Botswana and Namibia. As well as mobile and lodge-based safaris, they also offer innovative boating safaris in the Okavango Delta, from north to south, staying on uninhabited islands along the way.

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From $215 per person

Maun Lodge

Maun Lodge is centrally located and overlooks the Thamalakane River. Just 5 minutes from the airport it makes an extremely convenient and affordable stop for an overnight in Maun before or after a safari. The Lodge caters to a wide audience, from safari traveller to business and conference delegates. Despite its large size, Maun Lodge is a relaxed and friendly option. It is well equipped with a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and gym.

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