Although I had been to Maun – pronounced [mau-uunn] – a few times growing up or for work, I only became curious about this quaint town last year when I would visit the Okavango Delta. With 3 to 5 hours before my bush flight and a mild case of sleep deprivation (blame trying to schedule in 4 days of work in a few hours and the obvious last minute packing), I never really had much time to explore Maun until recently. Located in northern Botswana, Maun lies along a stretch of the Thamalakane River. The flourishing tourism capital of Botswana is the main gateway to the Okavango Delta and its charm lies in its wake of opportunity. While some travellers choose to bypass spending much time here in favour for the Delta’s extraordinary spectacle of lush flood lands and abundance of wildlife, I highly recommend a day or two in this sandy town. Don’t be surprised if you bump into Prince Harry walking roadside without a care in the world.
There are quite a few ways to get to Maun. Take a direct flight from the busy O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa or fly in from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone, Botswana. For those who don’t mind the road, you can endure an 8 to 10-hour trip from Gaborone or 5-hours from Francistown. While it is certainly a long drive, I highly recommend taking the overnight bus (if you’re using public transport) from Gaborone to avoid the day’s heat and sleep through most of the journey.
When there, you can either rent a car or use the reliable taxis everywhere.
Stick to bottled water.
Languages spoken are most English and Setswana.
Be sure to apply sunscreen throughout the day. The sun can be very unforgiving in the summer, so apply and reapply.
Carry insect or mosquito repellent everywhere you go. While many places offer repellent, it’s always great to have your own.
Card or cash? Many establishments will accept VISA cards without an issue but as with many developing countries, cash is always the safest bet. There are several ATMs throughout Maun and some restaurants allow you to swipe in exchange for cash.
WHERE TO STAY
Cresta Maun If you love hotel living and don’t want to compromise, this sharply modern and very new hotel is a great option. Expect great customer service, beautiful rooms, reliable Wi-Fi, and delicious food (possibly the best hotel food I’ve ever eaten in Botswana). What I love most about the property (more than the lovely interiors), is its riverfront positioning where you can enjoy an early morning or late afternoon stroll.
Old Bridge Backpackers Budget-friendly and located a stone throw away from the Old Bridge landmark (the first bridge to be constructed in Maun to help commuters cross the Thamalakane River). This is where the vibe of Maun is; guests from different walks of life, snooker table, easy river access. Insider tip: Book the en-suite tents (they come with the river view and private shower and toilet).
Thamalakane River Lodge Perfectly sited 20km out of town, its quality makes up for the distance with abundant relaxing areas outdoor, sound of nature and great greenery. Get ready to spot some hippos from your room or eating area. Keep in mind it’ll be costly to get to town and back if you don’t have your own car.
WHERE TO EAT
Tshilli Located within a 5minute walk from the airport and right opposite the Nhabe Musuem, Tshilli is not only conveniently situated but offers a wide menu boosting creative combinations that won’t let you down. I love this place so much that I try to grab a bite or drink from there every time I’m in Maun.
Miguel’s is just a short drive from the airport. Their small menu presents traditional Mexican food with a modern twist. You can expect big flavours and generous portions. Enjoy their nachos great for sharing while your toes are planted in the sand. Insider tip: sit at the first table under the shaded area – you can watch planes just after they’ve taken off.
Kana Jang The vibrant and warm-hearted restaurants serves some of the best traditional food I’ve had in Botswana. Locals and travellers eat here casually. Owned and run by the energetic Malebogo Busang, who is such a delight, be sure to have a chat with her for a local insight.
Marc’s Eatery A pleasant eatery that serves everything, Marc’s Eatery is a great place to take a break from exploring the town and absorb their metal framed glass doors against white walls. Be sure to check out their pantry – they have everything from homemade soups to jams to raw dehydrated crackers and so much more.
WHAT TO DO
Boat cruise Many accommodation places offer cruises either in-house or operated by third parties. You can also go to popular hang out areas (we went behind River Lodge) where you can ask one of the boatmen to take you on a cruise. Insider tip: the latter is cheaper and it’s always easier to negotiate stops and distance. Depending on the time you visit Maun, the water levels could be too low to do cruises, so be weary of that.
Scenic flight Fly over the Okavango Delta and enjoy the stunning views of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The small crafts used (usually 6 seater) don’t fly too high and present the perfect opportunity to spot wildlife from above. I would highly recommend booking your flight for first thing in the morning or end of day to avoid the heat and bumps caused by winds (thank me later).
Road trip to Moremi Take a drive up to the Moremi Game Reserve about 60 minutes outside of Maun and experience a game drive. Named after Chief Moremi of the BaTawana tribe, the reserve is filled with wildlife and various species of birds. You can expect sightings of buffalo, giraffe, antelope, elephants, lions, and more.
Explore villages west of Maun in search for the Herero people. An ethnic group hailing from Namibia, their traditional brightly coloured voluminous Victorian style dresses and unique headwraps make for beautiful photo ops. Be sure to ask for their permission before photographing them.
Photography by Uyapo Ketogetswe
Contributing photography by Jordan Isaac, Tjedu Moseki, Tebogo Baker