To the south-east of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari Desert is Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, one of Botswana’s lesser known tourist attractions. It is technically not a single pan as its name suggests, but many pans interrupted with sandy desert in between, the largest being the Sua (Sowa), Ntwetwe and Nxai Pans. (Baines’ Baobabs and Kudiakam Pan are also part of Makgadikgadi). The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park area covers some 16,058km².
The name Makgadikgadi implies of a ‘vast open lifeless land’. The pans are located in large areas to the south, east and north-eastern regions of the park. Widely believed to be one of the largest salt flats in the world, it is not always dry. Torrential rains fall from mid-November filling the dry, salty, clay crust with water and grass, which is retained until April or May. The ‘vast open lifeless land’ now becomes a fascinating refuge for birds and animals.
The national park is situated roughly halfway between the towns of Maun and Nata, on the Francistown road.
As the pans are nothing more than salty desert, plant life is restricted to a thin layer of blue-green algae. On the fringes of the pan, salt marshes appear and are surrounded further away by grassland and shrubby savannah.
Very little wildlife can exist at Makgadikgadi during an inhospitable dry season of strong hot winds and with only salt water available. Once the season changes, the dry lands are transformed into huge, flat sheets of water. This attracts a sensational variety of waterbirds and the pan becomes a major habitat for migrating animals. Wildebeest and a huge zebra population, journey from the Boteti River across to Ntwetwe Pan.
During the dry winter months, the migrations head westward to the Boteti River to scoop up any remaining water, but many desert-adapted creatures remain resident. These include aardwolf, African wildcat, caracal, genet, honey badger, spring hare, jackal, kudu, meerkats, yellow mongoose, porcupine, ground squirrel, steenbok and occasionally lion. The shy and elusive brown hyena, aardvarks and small bustard species also stay.
The Makgadikgadi can be included as part of any itinerary. To learn more about our itineraries, click on one of the sample itinerary links below:
Of course, we also create custom Botswana itineraries so you can create your own trip that best meets your needs.
Best Times to Go
The best time to go to the Makgadikgadi is between the months of December – March during the Green Season.