The architects of the Okavango Delta

May 17, 2024
Elephant in the Delta

With summer fast approaching, I am longing to escape the crowds and descend into Africa’s vast, untouched and uncrowded wild spaces. Of all the destinations I know and love on my home continent, the landscape that lures me most this time of year is Botswana’s Okavango Delta. 

This is the season where the miracle of the annual flood comes into full effect. Water starts to trickle and then gush from the Angolan highlands into the 5790 square miles of this protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is paradise, offering a glimpse into the world as it once was – green, pristine and alive with wildlife.  Thus, sharing this special slice of Africa, the second stop on The Greatest Safari on Earth and the site of next year’s sold-out Women’s Empowerment Retreat with guests and friends is a real thrill.

The beauty of this landscape is a true feat of nature’s ancient intelligence. The unique architecture of the Okavango Delta is built not by humans but by animals – elephants, hippos and termite mounds in particular – who sculpt the arid sands into an extraordinary mosaic of islands, marshlands, wetlands and riverine channels spanning thousands of square miles. As you fly over this alluvial plain, your breath stills at the sea of totally untouched landscape stretching out beneath you, unspoiled by power lines, pools, structures and even roads – instead it's all pure, green earth studded with trees, waterways and slow-moving herds of elephants and buffalo. In fact, this wild landscape is so vast, so unpolluted and so topographically distinct, you can see it from space – a surviving Eden on Earth.

Today, I wish to pay homage to the miracle of the Okavango Delta and translate the beauty and wonder of this landscape into words that I hope will inspire you to see this natural spectacle. There is no place quite like it on this planet. 

Animals in the Okavango Delta

The true architects of the Delta

In nature, nothing is an accident. Every organism is part of a chain reaction. This is especially true for the fragile ecosystem of the Delta. Life builds the landscape here versus the other way around. Aside from the flood itself, a series of events need to take place for this lush oasis in the heart of the Kalahari to be reborn as we know it year after year. The leaders of this process, at the top of the chain, are the elephants. 

Botswana is home to Africa’s largest elephant population, and a staggering 200,000 of these gentle giants migrate in matriarch-led herds between the Chobe River in the north and the Okavango further south. This mass movement has a gardening effect on the landscape - pruning, uprooting trees, creating waterholes and channels for smaller creatures to drink from during the dry season, spreading seeds and ultimately shaping the Delta’s vegetation. Hippos act as backup. Their large size and habits – submerging their sunburn-prone skin in the water by day and grazing by night – deepen the channels the elephants created, and their nutrient-rich dung acts as fertilizer and food for aquatic life. Most surprising of these animal architects are termites. As the resident engineers of the Delta, termites are blind, communicating entirely through pheromones. The mounds they build are the first frontier of conservation. Each created over thousands of years and climbing up to 3 meters high, anchors for plant life and producers of oxygen for the world. The mounds self-regulate in temperature and are so adaptable to climate change that architects and scientists are studying them in hopes of mimicking their energy efficiency in the buildings of the future. 

Xigera in Botswana

Xigera, a haven in the wild

To experience this pristine landscape my ultimate choice is Xigera lodge. It never fails to astonish me that in this remote, gloriously wild landscape, tucked away from the rest of the world, lies some of the most future-proof, aesthetically beautiful and thoroughly sustainable human-made architecture in the world. Architected by my dear friend Anton de Kock, this bold, authentic, ultra-luxurious property is the realized dream of the Tollman family, and its crowning glory lies in its specialized eco-approach and unique interior design. Akin to a living art gallery and a true homage to Africa, the property sits on stilts on the aptly named “Paradise Island” deep within the Moremi Game Reserve. A commitment to celebrating Africa’s rich cultural heritage and the natural beauty of the Delta landscape inspired and curated by Southern Guild. 

An untouched utopia

An untouched utopia

The miracle of the Okavango landscape is one you never tire of. With so many untouched areas to explore, from Moremi to Chobe to Linyanti and all the diverse environments in between, it’s a place to discover slowly and thoughtfully over time, guided by experts who will reveal the Delta’s secrets as only insiders can. Opportunities for transcendent wildlife encounters and adventure from the air in helicopters, the water in mokoros and boats and land by jeeps, foot, or even horseback abound. By traveling responsibly with ROAR AFRICA, you become a key player in the conservation success story of this precious wilderness.

To explore the Okavango Delta, one of our world’s last truly wild spaces with the insider access and seamless expertise we guarantee, contact

Book your Botswana safari


Subscribe to receive the latest updates