Maun is known as Botswana’s tourism capital, and for good reason. This small town, officially still a village, is a popular take-off point for a number of wildlife experiences, including safaris to some of the world’s most remarkable game reserves, scenic flights, 4×4 trails and, of course, its proximity to the spectacular Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta and home to a huge number and diversity of animals and birds.
Maun is the administrative centre of Ngamiland District and the seat of power of the Batawana people. It is situated along the Thamalakane River and its name – meaning ‘place of reeds’ – is derived from the plants growing near the river.
The village is slowly spreading along this river, and has become a major shopping hub in the area, as well as home to many new industries. Its growth has urged the North West District Council (NWDC) that administers the region to consider giving Maun official town status.
The story of Maun started in the late 1800s when Kgosi (Chief) Tawana and his people left Serowe – south-east of Maun – and settled in Ngamiland, establishing Maun as their capital in 1915. One of the earliest Europeans to settle here was Charles Riley, a trader in the protectorate, in about 1882. He opened liquor stores and hotels, including what is today known as Cresta Riley’s Hotel in the centre of the town. In 1938, Charles’s son, the legendary Harry Riley, set up a camping ground and bar for hunters travelling from Francistown. It was a rough, 35-hour trip between the towns, and the tired travellers arrived in Maun exhausted and thirsty, an opportunity that Harry seized.
The establishment gradually grew from a rowdy drinking spot to a small hotel – the first in Maun – to the sizable and modern tourist destination it is now.
Although the village of Maun has transformed over the years from a dusty frontier settlement to a lively tourism district, it has retained a somewhat rough-and-ready atmosphere, making for an authentic African safari experience.
It is known as the ‘gateway to the Okavango Delta’ with numerous safari and air charter companies based in the village, offering activities ranging from sunset cruises on the Okavango, fishing, birdwatching, and safari tours to scenic flights over the Delta.
Whatever your personality, or wherever your passion lies, there is a safari on the Okavango to satisfy your needs. There are selfdrive safaris for the budget-conscious traveller, but you will need a 4×4 for this, which you can rent in Maun if you don’t have your own. There are vehicles available with rooftop tents and fridge/ freezers for an exciting but comfortable camping experience.
For the more adventurous, there are camping safaris and walking tours on offer that allow you to get up close and personal with the African wild. Camping trips need to be organised in advance, preferably with a local tour operator, as the privatisation of many of the campsites in the area means camping holidays are quite difficult to arrange. Walking safaris are conducted from a base camp in small groups with an armed, professional guide. Horse lovers will be delighted with the riding safaris, usually lasting from five to ten days, with about four to six hours per day spent on horseback. This is ideally suited to fairly experienced riders, although non-riders can be accommodated with other activities.
Only 100km outside of Maun is one of Botswana’s top tourist destinations, Moremi Game Reserve, situated in the eastern Okavango Delta, and covering almost one-third of the Delta. The Reserve is home to a variety of rare and endangered animals and is said to be one of Africa’s most beautiful and unspoiled wildlife sanctuaries. Moremi can either be accessed by air or by road via Maun in a 4×4 in the dry months. The summer rains can make some of Moremi inaccessible.
For an unforgettable experience, a trip to the Makgadikgadi Pans, less than 200 km east of Maun, is recommended – one of the largest salt pans in the world. During the dry season, the landscape is arid, though some wildlife can be seen grazing on the grass fringing the dry pans. The rainy season transforms the area into a series of lakes, which attracts loads of migratory birds. Either season makes for a magnificent viewing experience.
Those interested in history will enjoy a trip to the Sexaxa Cultural Village, situated on the banks of the Thamalakane River, about 20 km outside of Maun.
Sexaxa Village was founded over 100 years ago by the Bayeyi Tribe, but is now inhabited by a mixture of tribes. In this preserved village, you can go on a tour to see the Bayeyi culture as it was over a century ago and as it is now.