2WD/4WD. Entrance fees: N$10 per person and N$10 per vehicle. If you're going straight through on the main road, there is no charge.
This small reserve is tucked away in a corner of the Caprivi Strip, bounded by the Botswana border. It is bisected by one of the main roads between Namibia and Botswana, a wide gravel artery from which two game drives explore the area.
Though forming its eastern boundary, the Okavango River is also the focus of this reserve. The eastern loop road passes beside the river and is normally the better one for game. Here the river forms channels between huge, permanent papyrus reedbeds. Adjacent are extensive floodplain areas, where you're quite likely to spot red lechwe or sable, relatively scarce but beautiful antelope which seem to thrive here.
Beside these, on the higher and drier land of the bank, are wide belts of wild date palm-forest, as well as the lush riverine vegetation that you'd expect. Further from the river are dry woodlands and acacia thickets, dotted with a few large baobabs. This rich variety of greenery attracts an impressive range of animals including the water-loving buffalo, elephant, sable, reedbuck, bushbuck, waterbuck and the more specialist red lechwe and sitatunga. Good numbers of hippo and crocodile are also present.
Mahango is a great favourite with birdwatchers; more species can be found here than in any other park in Namibia. This variation should come as no surprise, as the reserve has one of Namibia's few wetland habitats, adjacent to large stretches of pristine Kalahari sandveld. Thus many water-loving ducks, geese, herons, plovers, egrets, kingfishers, and various waders occur here, along with the dry-country birds that you'll find in the rest of Namibia. Okavango specialities like the slaty egret can sometimes be spotted, and for many birds – including the lesser jacana, coppery-tailed coucal, and racket-tailed roller – Mahango marks the western limit of their distributions.
Amongst the larger species, the uncommon western-banded snake eagles occur, though black-breasted and brown snake eagles are more frequently seen. Similarly, the park's Pel's fishing owls are rare compared with its marsh, giant eagle, and spotted owls.
When to visit
As with most parks, the game varies with the season. The dry season, July to October, tends to be better as the riverfront is at its busiest with animals drinking. Sometimes the park is inundated with elephants and buffalo. During the summer rains (from November to April) the big game here can be disappointing. Visiting in early March in 1990, the highlight of my day's game viewing was a distant kudu, and a snatched glimpse of fleeing sable. Whilst game densities have improved since then, the vegetation is still thick and the animals elusive. However, summer migrants like the exquisite carmine bee-eaters are then in residence, making this the perfect time for birdwatching here.
Where to stay
There are no facilities in Mahango, so most people stay in one of the lodges or restcamps between the park and Popa.
What to see and doGame drives
There are two game drives to explore, both branching from the main road about 800m south of the northern entrance to the park. The better, eastern road, which is good gravel, soon overlooks the floodplain, passing a picnic spot before returning to the main road farther south. The western course, suitable for high-clearance 4WDs only, follows a sandy omuramba away from the river, before splitting after about 10.7km. The right fork continues along the omuramba, terminating at a waterhole, while the left rejoins the main road again 19km later.Bush walking
One real bonus is that walking in the park is officially encouraged. However beware – the summer's lush growth is far too thick to walk safely in, so better to visit when the plants and shrubs have died down during the winter and you are able to see for a good distance around you. Then you can get out of the car and go for it, but watch for the elephants, buffalo and occasional lion.