A traveller’s guide to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

discoverafrica 10 January 2017
Part of the Botswana Safari Collection
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The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is a salt pan - with an area of 3,900 kilometers. Situated in the middle of the dry savanna of north-eastern Botswana. However, it is one of the largest salt flats in the world. Lying south-west of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari Desert.

makgadikgadi salt pans botswana safari landscape

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park comprises nutritious grasslands, attracting thousands of animals. It is, however, an area of low rainfall and the Boteti River rarely flows to capacity - but often has everlasting pools that attracts waterbuck, bushbuck and hippos.

Journeying into this magical land and across the desolate pans, you will somehow feel its ancient glamour. If you’re planning a Botswana safari - a traveler's guide to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is definitely what you need.

When to go

Makgadikgadi pans botswana safari zebra migration

The zebra migration in Botswana begins when the rains start to fall- usually around the end of November to early December.

The best time to visit the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, depends on the kind of experience you’re looking for. The pans itself is only accessible 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. This season includes peak winter days with sunny and warm daylight hours, but the nights are extremely cold. However, from August to November - windy weather sets in, with October being the hottest month - the wildebeest and herd of zebra migrates slowly towards the Boteti River in anticipation of the rains.

Meanwhile, the wet summer season of November to March. Road become impossible - but the Pans usually retain water into April or May. Which is great for birding and game watching.

What to see

flamingos over the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Flocks of flamingos can be observed from the air during a thrilling helicopter flight where you can experience the true size of this awesome spectacle. 

Games such as springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest and zebras move slowly from the pans in the South East of the park, to the Boteti River on the Western side of the park. Animals accumulate in their thousands during this migration - one can also see shy antelope such as duiker and bushbuck in heavily wooded areas beside the river.

The main objective in visiting the Makgadikgadi National Park is not to view games only, but to experience true remoteness and absolute isolation. However, the best way to view the pans during this season is to fly over the pans.  You will then also see the spectacular flamingo flocks.

The sheets of water that cover the northeastern section of the Makgadikgadi during the first few months of wetter years attract a phenomenal marvel of water birds. 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. From a helicopter, the flamingos appear as enormous pink clouds in a shimmering silver sky. Helicopter flights over the flamingos are run by Helicopter Horizons and can be organized through San Camp, Jacks Camp and other accommodation options in the area.

What to do

quad biking across the makgadikgadi pans

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

Among the many things to do in the Makgadikgadi Nationals Park are safari rides, game drives, birdwatching, tour of the Gweta as well as sight wildlife such as eland, lions, zebras, cheetah, gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest bushbuck, giraffe, steenbok, elephants and many more.  

However, experience the view of large herds of antelope converging on the great lakes to drink water and play. Encounter Bushmen trackers that will take you on guided walks to historical sites as well as you will learn about the connection between their ancient culture and the natural environment.

Places to stay

Elephant Sands

  • Elephant Sands is situated 53km north of Nata on the Nata - Kasane road on a 23000 ha private game reserve. Enjoy viewing the elephant drinking from the waterhole right in front of the lodge, or from the swimming pool.
  • Accommodation comes in the form of safari tents on stilts, family safari tents on stilts, chalets and family chalets, all with en-suite bathrooms. There is also a campsite offering outside (and inside) ablutions for those looking for a real African experience. A swimming pool allows you to cool off and relax in the midday sun.
  • A picturesque watering hole is the focus point at this camp, where animals such as impala, elephant and kudu come in their droves in the late afternoon for a drink. Enjoy a true bush experience at Elephant Sands on a game drive or bush walk in the private game reserve with a trained guides or relax and take in the view of our watering hole while enjoying a barbeque.
  • The best time to visit is during the dry months of May to November when animals congregate around pans and waterholes. Other activities that are seasonal and weather dependent includes a Makgadikgadi Pans sundowner or overnight. All activities at an additional cost with a min of four guests.

Jack's Camp

Jacks camp makgadikgadi botswana safari indoor pool

  • Jack’s Camp is an oasis of style and comfort in the middle of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. A beautiful authentic, 1940’s style tented safari camp, which includes a private museum, shop, drinks tent and a pool pavilion. Spectacular vistas, creative surprises, expert guiding, old-world safari styling and superb cuisine all come together to create an experience that is completely different to any other.
  • Jack's Camp features seventwin and three double tents with en-suite bathrooms featuring indoor and outdoor showers. Spacious and stylish – with an elegant atmosphere.
  • Activities are varied, and combine wildlife with culture, history, archaeology and geology. Most activities on offer all year round and include interacting with incredibly habituated meerkats; walking with Bushmen guides; day and night game drives , Chapman’s Baobab (one of the oldest and biggest trees in Africa) and birdwatching. 
  • During the dry season (16th April - 31st October) activities include quad biking across the saltpans.

Gweta Lodge 

  • Gweta Lodge holds 15 rooms accommodating 38 pax comfortably. There is a bar, swimming pool, and relaxed seating areas. The lodge is situated only a short distance from the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans where you can see the very entertaining meerkats, the impressive Baobab trees and the incredible biodiversity of the region. 

There are plenty of activities to enjoy and majestic landscapes to experience in the Makgadikgadi. This is the perfect destination for those who prefer something a little more off-the-beaten-track and an authentic Botswana safari with a variety of accommodations to suit your budget. We highly recommend Makgadikdagi- and would love to make it happen for you.

makgadikgadi pans botswana adventure


Our Recommended Itinerary

Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)

day 1

Welcome to Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)

day 2

Zebra everywhere

day 3

Moremi introduction in a mokoro
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)

day 4

Extraordinary game viewing

day 5

Island living
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)
  • Affordable Makgadikgadi Pans and Okavango Delta Safari (SA 7 days)

day 6

Power boat through the Okavango

day 7

Fly Home

View Full Itinerary

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