Maun, Botswana

Almost all tourists entering the Okavango do so through Maun, situated at the gateway to the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve. Maun is the tourism capital of Botswana and the administrative centre of Ngamiland. It is also the headquarters of countless safari and air-charter operations whose signs and offices dot almost every intersection, particularly towards the airport.

Since the town's establishment in 1915 as the tribal capital of the Batawana people, Maun has had a rough and ready reputation as a hard-living 'Wild West' town servicing the local cattle ranching and hunting operations. But with the growth of the tourism industry and the completion of the tar road from Nata in the early 1990s, Maun has developed rapidly, losing much of its old frontier town character. It is now home to over 30,000 people.

Regular supplies of almost everything can be bought in Maun, and the town boasts several good shopping centres, filling stations, a choice of hotels and lodges as well as car and four-wheel-drive vehicle hire. The Maun Airport, which was officially opened in 1996 after extensive renovations, is - if one counts the light aircraft charters to the various Delta camps - one of the busiest airports in Southern Africa.

The name Maun is derived from the San word 'maung', which means 'the place of short reeds'. The village began in 1915 as the capital for the Tawana people. The capital was moved from Toteng after glorious victory over Ndebele King Lobengula.

This metropolis is now spread out along the wide banks of the timeless Thamalakane River where red lechwe can still be seen grazing next to local donkeys, goats and cattle.

As one crosses the new causeway across the Thamalakane River to the main commercial centre, the Best Western Riley's Hotel is set on the riverbank to the left of the main traffic circle. This fine hotel is a very popular stopover with tourists travelling into and out of the Delta, and has been an important landmark in the town since the 1920s when Charles 'Harry' de Beauvoir Riley first arrived here. In those days it was a gruelling 35-hour haul from Francistown to Maun and when the men (mostly professional hunters) arrived, all they wanted was something cold to drink and a place to relax. Seeing the opportunity, Harry set up a little bar that was the scene of many wild parties.

Other areas of interest in and around Maun include the small Maun Game Reserve which covers just 8km2 of woodland. It follows the Thamalakane riverbank upstream from the Best Western Riley's Hotel and includes the original 'Place of Reeds' from which the town takes its name. The reserve is open every day and is traversed by numerous walking trails for which a small entrance fee is charged.