Botswana by Canoe and Horseback

  • Activity Rating: Moderate

Trip Details


Botswana is a land of sweeping spaces where wetlands thrive in the midst of the desert, palms sprout from glittering salt pans, and wildlife of every sort abounds. Experience Botswana’s fascinating opposites on an adventure by canoe, foot, and horseback designed with the help of National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Beverly and Dereck Joubert. In the lush heart of the Okavango Delta, discover a rare combination of desert and wetland species on walking safaris and excursions by dugout canoe. Spend three days canoeing the Selinda Spillway, viewing elephants, buffalo, and antelope on the river’s edge. Then immerse yourself in one of Africa’s most astonishing places: the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Exploring on horseback, get up close to meerkats, spot desert wildlife, and find hidden water holes where zebras and ostriches come to drink.

Trip Highlights

    • Get up close to wildlife as you paddle the Selinda Spillway and sleep under the stars at private campsites on the water’s edge.
    • Ride horseback across the sparkling salt flats of Makgadikgadi and discover its “islands” of sand and palms.
    • By special arrangement, set out with Ju/’hoansi Bushmen to track wildlife in the Kalahari using ancient methods.
    • Stay in a remote camp in the Okavango Delta and venture into its rich wetlands in a traditional dugout canoe, or mokoro.

Itinerary - 11 Days

Day 1 — Maun, Botswana/Okavango Delta

Fly into Maun, where our trip leader will meet us for a short charter flight to the Okavango Delta. Our home here is Oddballs camp, a comfortable tented camp set on the edge of Chief’s Island in the heart of the delta. Settle into your elevated tent and take in the sunset from the camp’s raised viewing deck before our welcome dinner.
Oddballs Camp (D)

Days 2 & 3 — Okavango Delta

A sea of lush green abutting the endless Kalahari sands, the Okavango Delta is a unique waterscape of palm-fringed lagoons, reed-choked marshes, and crystal clear rivers that meander through thick forests. This inland floodplain—stretching across some 6,000 square miles—fills with water annually, attracting a variety of desert and water life. Lions, leopards, and elephants coexist with tiny chameleons, tortoises, and rare species like the lechwe and the sitatunga. The treetops and mudflats attract more than 450 species of birds, making the delta a premier spot for birders. Delve deep into this wetland wilderness on daily adventures with a local guide, exploring by mokoro (dugout canoe) and on walking safaris (depending on water levels). (2-3 miles walking each day, 2-3 hours)
Oddballs Camp (B,L,D Daily)

Day 4 — Okavango Delta/Selinda

Fly to the Selinda Reserve, north of the Okavango Delta, and travel overland in safari vehicles to the Selinda Spillway and the start of our canoe trail. A short, late afternoon paddle brings us to our first camp, set up on the riverbank prior to our arrival. Gather around the campfire for a sundowner before dinner. (1-2 miles canoeing, 1 hour)
Camping (B,L,D)

Days 5 & 6 — Selinda Canoe Trail

Over these next two days, we’ll navigate 28 miles along the Selinda Spillway, a seasonal waterway that links the Okavango with the Linyanti swamps. In stable Canadian-style canoes with cushioned seats, we’ll make our way east along the spillway, spotting wildlife along the water’s edge and stopping for bushwalks with our guides. More than 300 bird species can be found in Selinda, as well as sable antelope, roan antelope, elephant, buffalo, wild dog, and occasionally cheetah and lion. After each full day of paddling, relax at our riverside camp and enjoy dinner under the stars. (11-12 miles of canoeing each day, 5-6 hours)
Camping (B,L,D Daily)

Day 7 — Selinda/Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Rise early for the final leg of our canoe safari, arriving at our take-out point in midmorning. Transfer to the Selinda airstrip and board a plane to the Makgadikgadi Pans, an otherworldly expanse of glistening white salt flats that extends over thousands of square miles. Arrive at Camp Kalahari—our headquarters during our horse trek—tucked into the acacias and palms of Brown Hyena Island at the edge of the salt pan. Gather for afternoon tea in the cool shade of the thatched main camp. Then get matched up with your horse and head out for an introductory ride. (2-3 miles horse riding, 1-2 hours)
Camp Kalahari (B,L,D)

Days 8, 9, & 10 — Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Get up with the dawn each day and, after a light breakfast, take a long horseback ride across the soft, salt-encrusted pans to discover the unexpected treasures of this harsh ecosystem. Explore the “land of a thousand islands,” where sand dunes thick with palms crop out of the ancient lake bed, creating oases for migrating zebras and wildebeest during the wet season. Get up close to Botswana’s legendary meerkats and spend time observing their sophisticated social behavior. Seek out hidden water holes where resident zebras and ostriches congregate. During the heat of the day, enjoy lunch in the shade of the camp and take a dip in the pool. Saddle up in the afternoons and search for springbok, gemsbok, red hartebeest, and the elusive brown hyena—creatures that have carved out an existence in areas where food and water are scarce. On a night game drive back to camp, experience the nocturnal life of the desert, when aardvarks, bat-eared foxes, aardwolves, porcupines, honey badgers, and perhaps even black-maned Kalahari lions can be seen with the aid of a spotlight. On our final day, set out on a full-day horseback excursion through the nearby savanna and woodlands. Keep your eye out for rare birds of prey as well as kudu and elephants. Stand beneath Chapman’s Baobab, a prehistoric-looking giant measuring 82 feet in circumference that was a landmark for early European explorers. Decipher the etched initials of legendary explorers on Green’s Baobab, and look for Stone Age artifacts and hunting blinds used by Bushmen over thousands of years. (Day 8: 9 miles horse riding, 4 hours; Day 9: 6 miles horse riding, 2-3 hours; Day 10: 14-16 miles horse riding, 6-7 hours)
Camp Kalahari (B,L,D Daily)

Day 11 — Western Kalahari/Maun

The day begins with a special treat: an early morning walk with Ju/’hoansi Bushmen trackers. Get to know the culture of these hardy and fascinating people, and learn how they use their vast and ancient knowledge of local flora and fauna to survive the desert’s inhospitable conditions. After lunch, bid farewell to Camp Kalahari and fly back to Maun. (1-2 miles walking, 2 hours)

National Geographic Active Expeditions are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.


This expedition is not currently being offered.

Activity Level


This walking, canoeing, and horse riding adventure is suitable for beginners and experts alike; no previous experience is necessary. We will walk 2 to 3 hours per day (2 to 3 miles) while in the Okavango Delta, and canoe 1 to 6 hours per day (1 to 12 miles) while on the Selinda Spillway. Our horse-riding excursions vary with the level of rider experience, but generally last from 1 to 7 hours per day (2 to 16 miles) with options for more, or less, riding on most days. In the Okavango Delta, we stay three nights in a comfortable tented camp powered by solar energy, with elevated dome tents, private bathrooms, and a bar and lounge with a raised deck for wildlife viewing. During the Selinda canoe trip, we stay in dome tents set up nightly by our staff and eat around the campfire. Camp Kalahari is an exclusive luxury tented camp with spacious common areas and a dipping pool.

Click here for a description of all activity levels.

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