Safaris in Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pan National Parks (Botswana)
Makgadikgadi Pan and Nxai Pan, the largest salt pans in the world offer unique safari experiences, with great game viewing and bird watching challenged by spectacular scenic views and natural isolation. Open all-year round, these parks offer rare safari opportunities during the green season.
The lesser-known Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is situated roughly halfway between Maun and Nata on the Francistown road in northern Botswana. A modest looking turnoff to the park’s main entrance can be found 160 kilometres east of Maun and 45 kilometres west of the small village of Gweta. The park covers some 4,900 square kilometres.
Ecosystem & wildlife
More than five million years ago, a superlake formed almost 30 metres deep over 80,000 square kilometers. The area dried up about 10,000 years ago leaving huge salt-encrusted pans. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park (4,900 sq. km) includes a little more than a third of these enormous Makgadikgadi Pans.
But Makgadikgadi is not always dry. The pans, which are situated in half the south, east and northeastern areas of the park, fill with water during the rains from mid-November and mostly retain their water into April or May. The “thirstlands” are then transformed into great sheets of water, which attract a spectacular array of waterbirds and trigger dramatic migrations of wildebeest and zebra.
A land of legends
Makgadikgadi, the name of which implies a vast open lifeless land, is not without its folklore. There are stories of people setting out from Gweta to explore the land that lay between them and the Boteti River to seek a favourable environment in which to settle. They entered these great thirstlands at the driest time of year, drawn by what they perceived as large lakes of sparkling water on the horizon. Suffering badly from thirst, the lakes kept drawing them hurriedly on in their attempts to reach the life-giving water that always remained just ahead of them. Gradually, one by one, they fell and died.
During the wet season (from mid-November to March), dramatic migrations of wildebeest, springbok, gemsbok and zebra take place. They are followed by lions, cheetah and hyenas. If the rains are strong enough, the pans fill with waters of incredible scenic beauty, with up to 30,000 flamingos turning them into deep pink. It is unfortunate that this huge water spectacle becomes practically inaccessible by road at this time, but anyone fortunate enough to fly over the area during the wet season sees a water wonderland of incredible scenic beauty.
The dry season (March to September) has its wonders too, for it provides a unique experience of total isolation, grandiloque silence, and mystical feelings across the desolate pans. Game viewing is best from April to June, before it moves to inaccessible areas.
A sister to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and located close by, is the 2,578 square kilometre Nxai Pan National Park, Nxai Pan, the name of which is claimed by some to be that of a hooked metal rod used to remove springhares from their holes, and by others to simply mean a pan.
Wildlife & interests
Perhaps the focal point of Nxai Pan is the water hole, situated only two kilometres from the entrance gate, in the midst of a large grassy plain which is dotted with a few clumps of short umbrella thorn trees. Here, and within the mopane woodland, lion, giraffe, kudu, impala, ostrich, fascinating birdlife and large numbers of springbok, together with a good population of jackal, bat-eared fox and numerous smaller creatures, are permanent residents. Once the rains have started, gemsbok, elephant and zebra migrate to the area. At that time, zebra are present in thousands and drop their young at Nxai Pan, rivalling the spectacle of the multitude of young springbok, to further enhance game-viewing opportunities.Within the park there are points of interest worthy of mention. One is the “old trek route”, a trail pioneered in the 1950s and used until 1963, as a short cut through Ngamiland to Kazungula via Pandamatenga, along which cattle were driven before the advent of the modern veterinary control fences. Also, to the south of the reserve lies Baines Baobabs area, overlooking the Kudiakam Pans: Impressive 1000 years old baobab trees, which have been celebrated by Victorian explorer and painter Thomas Baines in 1862.
Nxai Pan is open to visitors throughout the year, although road conditions can become difficult during times of heavy rain. Whilst many other parks and reserves are not considered to be at their best during the rains, (from mid-November to March) Nxai Pan becomes a veritable Garden of Eden.
Be our guest
Experience incredible game viewing at Nxai Pan Migration Camp during the Green Season (November to April). Explore the Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pans National Park with our Mobile Tented Safari all-year round, or contact us to include it within your safari itinerary.