Lying within the Kalahari region of Botswana, the Makgadikgadi Pans are an otherworldly landscape of seemingly never-ending salt pans and home to some of Africa’s most stirring wildlife scenes and fascinating stories. Remnants of an ancient lake, Makgadikgadi’s salt pans are the largest in the world and are a favoured stomping ground for desert-adapted species such as aardwolf and brown hyena, rarely seen elsewhere.
Arid and desolate, few places on the earth are as unique or as memorable as Makgadikgadi. Baobabs claw at heated skies and rock formations dot the landscape, breaking the earth’s profile. And when the summer rains come, the mineral-rich grasslands are transformed – sparking the second-biggest zebra migration in the world. The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans’ claims to fame are so numerous and diverse that it’s best to list them for you.
The pans are best explored during the dry season – from March to October – when the glaring white surface spreads so far that you can see the curvature of the earth and they appear hauntingly beautiful in their desolation. Massive herds migrate to the western boundary of the Makgadikgadi, the Boteti River, for sustenance – their presence producing a frantic cacophony of sound, kicked-up dust and activity. This season includes peak winter days with sunny and warm daylight hours, but the nights are extremely cold.
The shoulder season from August to November is when the windy weather sets in, with October being the hottest month. The wildebeest and zebra herds migrate slowly toward the Boteti River in anticipation of the rains.
The zebra migration in Botswana begins when the rains start to fall – usually around the end of November to early December. The wet season runs until March, but the pans usually retain water into April or May. This is great for birding and game-watching. During the wet season, the pans fill with water and attract a myriad of flamingos, pelicans, ducks and geese together with large herds of zebra, wildebeest and game.
The main draw of the Makgadikgadi is its potential to provide sightings and experiences that are not available elsewhere. Desert-adapted species such as aardwolf and brown hyena are numerous here, and the chances of coming across one during a night drive are high. Game drives are available all year round, however, it’s important to take the weather into consideration. During the wet summer months, rainfall gradually covers the salt pans forming a huge shallow lake making them inaccessible to vehicles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The best time to explore the salt pans is during the winter months when the pans are dry.
Immerse yourself in the complete isolation of the pans and admire one of the brightest night skies you’re ever likely to find on a sleep-out in a salt pan star bed.
Another incredible option is to stay on the desert’s edge at Jack’s Camp, an oasis of style and comfort that lies on an island of palm trees and commands spectacular panoramas over the harsh and breathtaking landscape.
Experienced Bushmen trackers will take you on guided walks to historical sites and you will learn about the connection between their ancient culture and the natural environment, and how they have survived in this harsh desert environment for centuries.
Quad biking across the vast expanse of dry salt pans is one of the highlights of visiting the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
Helicopter flights give a great sense of the remoteness and absolute isolation of the pans. From a helicopter, the flamingos appear as enormous pink clouds in a shimmering silver sky.
The ancient Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana is a truly remarkable destination that offers a one-of-a-kind experience for travelers seeking adventure and natural beauty. From the largest salt pans in the world and their fascinating geological history to the unique wildlife that call this harsh environment home, there is so much to explore and discover. Get in touch with one of our expert Scintilla Travel Curators to find out more about visiting this incredible area.