For most, the highlight of a trip to southern Africa is a sojourn in the world's largest inland delta. Originating in Angola, the Okavango River flows southward for 1,300km (806 miles), finally spilling into the northwestern corner of Botswana and turning it into an aquatic paradise. Thanks to the same geological activity that caused the Great African Rift Valley, the delta is more or less contained by fault lines between which the crust has sunk and filled up with sediment. It is into this bowl that the Okavango River seeps and finally evaporates into the Kalahari Desert, rather than making its rightful way to the sea. The annual southward flow of water is precipitated by the rainy season in the north, which begins in the Angolan uplands between January and March, and usually arrives at its southernmost point -- the delta -- around June or July, when the water spreads out to form innumerable pools, channels, and lagoons, and the temperatures are ideal.

Moving through Maun -- The small but sprawling town of Maun is the regional center of Ngamiland (northwestern Botswana) and the gateway to the Okavango Delta. As the starting point for most trips into the delta, Maun has an airport, a few shopping areas, banks, a number of hotels and lodges, and a plethora of safari tour operators, most of which are based or represented here. Maun operates principally as a service center for the safari industry and not as a tourist attraction in its own right, so there isn't much to do or see, and ideally you'll be transferred directly to your wilderness camp. If for some unforeseen reason you do have to spend the night in Maun, head out of town and book into the pleasant Motsentsela Tree Lodge (tel. 267/686-0353 or 267-680-0757;; from $230 per person): a small lodge (nine units) situated on a private game farm about 15 minutes from the center of Maun, and the best option for miles.