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.

Makgadikgadi Pans

Here are the top 10 facts about the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

  1. They’re the largest salt pans in the world, spanning over 16,000 km² (9,942 m²).
  2. The mighty Zambezi River once flowed into an ancient “super lake” here, which covered an area larger than Switzerland and dried up many millions of years ago, leaving behind a beach full of smooth pebbles.
  3. They’re so big, the pans can be seen from the moon.
  4. The lack of light pollution provides some incredible stargazing opportunities, showcasing Africa’s vast night sky filled with billions of stars. (The salt pan star beds are not to be missed.)
  5. The pans are a vast and complex network of shimmering white flats during the dry season. During the wet season, however, they morph into a system of bountiful watering holes for wildlife – attracting large numbers of zebra, springbok and wildebeest, followed closely by predators such as lions and hyenas.
  6. During the wetter months, Africa’s second-largest zebra migration heads west from the Boteti River in search of the sumptuous green grass.
  7. The arrival of this water stimulates the birth of millions of tiny shrimps and other crustaceans otherwise lying dormant below the white salt crust. Greater and Lesser flamingos arrive, even journeying from as far off as the Great Rift Valley in East Africa to partake in one of Africa’s largest avian feasts.
  8. A thin layer of blue-green algae is the only plant life that can exist here. Salt marshes that fringe the pans, however, host grasslands, shrubby savanna, and baobab trees.
  9. The entire, mysterious Kubu Island, an isolated granite outcrop in the Sua Pan, is a national monument and is considered a sacred site by the area’s Indigenous people. It’s famous for gigantic baobab trees atop white rocks, prehistoric artefacts, and stone ruins.
  10. The prominent baobab trees found in the area function as local landmarks. One of them, named after James Chapman, served as an unofficial post office for 19th-century explorers.

When to visit the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

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.

Stary sky

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.

Zebra herd

Things to do at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Bird Watching & Game Viewing

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.

all-terrain vehicles

Sleep in a salt pan star bed

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.

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Historic Trails

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.

Historic trails

Quad-Bike Excursions

Quad biking across the vast expanse of dry salt pans is one of the highlights of visiting the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

quad biking

Helicopter trips

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.

helicopter view

A Unique and Captivating Destination

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.

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