Extending from the northeast corner of Namibia like an alien limb, the Caprivi Strip feels as far removed from the rest of the country as it looks on the map. It is bordered by Angola and Zambia to the north; and by Botswana to the south. At the Strip's western end lies the bustling town of Rundu, while the largest town in the east is Katima Mulilo. Four of Southern Africa’s most impressive rivers (the Kavango, the Chobe, the Zambezi and the Cuando) run through the region at various points, transforming the Caprivi into a lush green oasis.
An Unstable History
Conflict, both during colonial times and more recently, defines the region’s history, thanks to its strategic importance in providing access from Namibia to the mighty Zambezi River. From 1994 to 1999, the region saw clashes between the Namibian government and the Caprivi Liberation Army, with the latter fighting unsuccessfully for self-rule in the Caprivi. Between 2000 and 2002, unrest in bordering Angola meant that tourists could only traverse the Caprivi as part of a military convoy. Today, the region is considered stable, and a sense of peace has descended upon its idyllic waterways.
Namibia may be most famous for the ocher dunes of Sossusvlei, or for the arid plains of Damaraland, but it is in the verdant heart of the Caprivi that the country’s beauty is most obvious. Above all, the Caprivi is worth visiting for its innate sense of adventure. It’s a feeling that starts to seep into the bloodstream as soon as the tourist vehicles that overrun southern Namibia are replaced by local taxis on the road northwards. It’s the expansion of the soul that comes with the soft glimmer of sunset on the still waters of the Kavango River; or with an explosion of stars across a sky untainted by light pollution.
Things to Do
An abundance of water in a country otherwise plagued by drought makes the Caprivi a hotspot for eco-tourists. River safaris and birding excursions are the most popular pastimes, while game parks like Mahango Game Reserve offer a greener alternative to the dry landscapes of more southerly Etosha National Park. Fishing is another top activity in the Caprivi, with anglers trying their luck for catfish, tilapia – and, most sought-after of all, the ferocious tigerfish. Several lodges run tours that take visitors into the local settlements, allowing them to experience Caprivian culture for themselves.
Parks like Mahango provide a refuge for water-loving species that can't survive in other areas of Namibia. Here, it is possible to spot unusual antelopes including the red lechwe, the tsessebe, and the sitatunga. Great herds of elephant play frivolously in the shallows, transforming water into curtains of falling diamonds as they spray it into the air and across their dark gray backs. In the open expanse of deeper water, floating logs metamorphose into the sinister shapes of Nile crocodiles, while herds of hippo serenade the oncoming evening with a cacophony of harrumphing snorts.
A Birder's Paradise
In particular, the Caprivi is known for its birdlife. Its riverine habitats support over 500 resident and migratory species, including some area specials that are typically found only in the Caprivi and Okavango regions. Amongst these are the coppery-tailed coucal, the slaty egret, and the brown firefinch; while river safaris offer the opportunity to see the magnificent African skimmer up close. Although less rare, bee-eaters are a highlight of any Caprivi river trip. The ruby-colored carmine bee-eater is particularly impressive, and nests in great colonies along the chalky riverbanks.
Where to Stay
The best accommodation in the Caprivi is located on the water and ranges from backpacker hostels to well-equipped campsites and luxury 5-star lodges. At Hakusembe River Lodge, one can watch from the restaurant’s sun-drenched deck as residents of the Angolan villages on the opposite bank come down to the water to fish, bathe and water their multi-colored Nguni cattle. Further east, Nunda River Lodge offers excellent river safaris and fishing trips for campers and lodge guests; while Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge puts you on the banks of the Zambezi near Katima Mulilo.
Despite the Caprivi’s wildness, it remains surprisingly accessible. Several tour companies offer excursions into the region; while self-drive itineraries are perfect for the more adventurous. Getting lost is almost impossible, as there's just one main road that traverses the length of the Strip from Rundu to Katima Mulilo: the B8. It's in relatively good condition (although often busy with both people and animals). If you're planning an overland trip through Southern Africa, the Caprivi has no fewer than three international border posts:
- Wenela Border Control (near Katima Mulilo, entry into Zambia)
- Mohembo Border Control (near Divundu, entry into Botswana)
- Ngoma Bridge Border Control (near Ngoma, entry into Botswana)
When to Visit
The best time to visit depends on what you want from your time in the Caprivi. Weather-wise, the southern hemisphere winter (June - August) offers cooler temperatures and drier days, while the rainy summer months (November - January) are best for birding. Game-viewing is at its best in September and October, when the lack of water elsewhere forces wildlife to flock to the rivers for survival. Chances for successful tiger fishing improve during the dry months when the water is low. It is important to note that malaria is especially prevalent during the summer months; make sure to take prophylactics.