7 reasons to visit the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana
Looking for a wildlife safari destination with a difference - look no further than the astounding salt pans of Makgadikgadi
22 Feb 2021
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The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans are the largest in the world, covering an area almost the size of Portugal and are well worth including in any Botswana safari. In the dry months, they are a breath-taking sight of never-ending stretches of white salt as far as you can see and are home to desert adapted wildlife and meerkats. In the wet months, the rains fill the salt pan with water and turn it into an incredible shallow lake which attracts large numbers of zebra, springbok and wildebeest (the second largest migration after that in the Serengeti), as well as breeding flamingos. The vast, uninhabited spaces and nothingness provide an incredible atmosphere and make it somewhere you won’t forget.
From a personal perspective, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans are an area very close to my heart having spent nearly 3 years here guiding from Jacks and San Camp which are based here. Every time I venture back it feels like home and I remember just how special this place is.
What to see and do
1. Spot desert adapted wildlife
The main draw of the Makgadikgadi is its potential to provide sightings and experiences which are not available elsewhere. Desert adapted species such as aardwolf and brown hyena that are seldom seen elsewhere are numerous here, and the chances of coming across one during a night drive are high. The open expanses of grassland blending into the flat saltpans provide little cover against a search spotlight making nights drives a must.
2. Watch the Zebra migration
During the wetter months (December – March) the rains completely change the habitat. Lush grasses absorb the nutrients around the pans inviting Africa’s second largest Zebra migration to head west from the Boteti River and graze, followed closely by predators such as cheetah and lion.
3. Flamingo breeding
From a birders point of view, the winter, wetter months are also a great time to see flamingos with both the greater and lesser flamingo migrating to the pans to feed, mate and lay their eggs. The bright pink flamingos provide a stunning contrast to the salt water lake and this is one of the most important flamingo breeding grounds in Africa.
4. Spend time with meerkats
Many of you may have seen photos of meerkats using photographers’ cameras and people’s heads as a vantage point, there is a good chance that those photos were taken in the Makgadikgadi.
For a long time now there has been 3 camps located on the edge of Ntwetwe Pan which have been following different families of meerkats for many years, this has resulted in them being habituated and used to human presence, without impacting their natural behaviour. Staying at Jacks Camp, San Camp and Camp Kalahari will allow you to spend time with these fascinating creatures watching them hunt and socialise, if you can keep up with them that is. They may even come up close to you and use you as a vantage point, a highlight for many visitors and something you can do with children or teenagers if you are on a Botswana family safari.
5. Walk with Zu/’hoasi Bushmen
Another big drawer is also discovering the skills and knowledge of the Zu/’hoasi Bushmen, learning how they have survived in this harsh desert environment for centuries. Their knowledge is incredible and to have the opportunity to get out of the game drive vehicle and explore on foot with these masters of the bush is a real honour. It also provides a welcome stretch of the legs and chance to spend time looking at the smaller animals often missed on a game drive.
6. Quadbike across the pans
Game drives are also available all year round, however it is 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 ATVs. The best time to explore the salt pans is during the winter months, the pans are dry and an exhilarating time way to get around them is on a quadbike. With little impact on the pans, this exciting activity is available to all guests as part of their stay at Jacks Camp, San Camp and Camp Kalahari.
7. Marvel at the stunning landscapes
The Makgadikgadi salt pan is the largest in the world and incredibly remote. Mile upon mile of shimmering white salt stretches to the horizon, a truly incredible site and the lack of light pollution provides some incredible star gazing at night as the stars pop out against the pitch-black sky.
My favourite trip
The majority of guests I guided in the Makgadikgadi made it their last stop, and most of the time this was the highlight of the trip. I think guests turned up expecting a vast expanse of nothing with little wildlife, however after the first game drive they realised the huge diversity of species that could be found.
Combining the wet Kalahari (Okavango Delta) and the dry Kalahari (Makgadikgadi Salt Pans) works really well. The high density of game in the Okavango Delta followed by the incredible terrain and desert adapted species found in the desert make a great combination and provides an interesting contrast.
The delta to desert trip is a 9 night trip combining 3 camps. Start off in the Northern parts of the Okavango Delta staying at Duba Expedition camp. After 3 nights here fly south deep into the heart of the Okavango delta for 3 nights at Gomoti Plains on the bank of the Gomoti River, one of the main rivers to flow through the Okavango Delta. From here leave the lush delta environment and fly south to the Makgadikgadi Desert for 3 nights at the newly renovated Jacks Camp. Explore the salt pans, spend time with the meerkats and learn from the incredible San bushmen.
The Makgadikgadi has some fantastic accommodation options. San Camp, Jack's Camp and Camp Kalahari are all run by the same operator and hold prime position on the edges one of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. These well renowned, high end camps are perfect for a luxury Botswana safari or Botswana honeymoon: the game viewing here is incredible and they offer plenty of activities to keep you busy.
Further north you have Nxai Pan National Park which shares a border with the Makgadikgadi, staying at Nxai Pan lodges you can make the most of the incredible game viewing which can be found slightly further North but also take game drives and day trips down into the Makgadikgadi.
Leroo La Tau is situated on the banks of the Boteti River further to the West. During the winter months when the migration is back by the river the game viewing here is brilliant, this is a great base to take excursions into the salt pans.
All the camps can be reached by charter flights from both Maun and Kasane, these can be arrange by us and built into your itinerary so they work with your international flight.
Our experts know all the areas and camps around the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, as well as the rest of Botswana and would be happy to help put together your Safari. It can be a daunting task researching which areas and camps to visit and the time of year you want to travel, however we can assist in creating a seamless adventure. Call us today on 01768 603 715 to find out more.