Makgadikgadi Pans National Park Botswana

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Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is situated south of the Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana and forms with its huge salt pans an impressive surreal landscape.

The name Makgadikgadi means „vast, lifeless land”. For those who prefer solitude and silence, this is paradise, as even during the high season people are scarce here.

The national park forms a unity with the Nxai Pan National Park only separated by the Maun – Nata tar road from each other.  In the southwest its border crosses the Ntwetwe Pan; in the west, the Boteti River forms the border.

The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the Nxai Pan National Park are situated on the western border of the large Makgadikgadi salt pans, southeast of the Okavango Delta.  The Makgadikgadi Pans are one of the biggest salt pans worldwide. They are formed by two large and thousands of small pans with an area of more than 8400 km². The complete area of pan systems covers an area of more than 16000 km².

The formation of the salt pans started with the evaporation of a huge inland lake in central Botswana, which covered an area of about 60000 km². As a result of plate tectonics, the feeding rivers were cut off.  As Makgadikgadi forms the lowest point, salt concentrated here and formed layers up to five meters deep.

Due to the absence of water, the area of the national park has never been inhabited. The surrounding villages had the state’s permission to graze their herds on the fringes of the area.

In 1970 parts of today’s national park were declared as a game reserve, which was then extended to the north up to the Maun-Nata tar road in 1992 to cover an area of 4877 square kilometers and proclaimed National Park.

The National Park is open throughout the year. As in most of Botswana’s national parks, the infrastructure is very basic. Some of the tracks in the park are only accessible by 4×4 – there are no real roads. One can book guided tours, but when self-driving all supplies have to be taken along (food, water, firewood, fuel, etc.). A GPS is very helpful and it is advisable to travel in at least two vehicles.

Size of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park Botswana

Makgadikgadi Pans are the largest salt pans in the world covering an area of over 30 000 km2. Its sheer massive size surpasses the Bolivian Salar de Uyuni salt pan which is the largest continuous pan in the world.

Location of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park Botswana

The Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve, a salt pan– with an area of 3 900 sq. km is situated in the middle of the dry Savannah of north-eastern Botswana. It is one of the largest salt flats in the world. The pan is all that remains of the formerly enormous Lake Makgadikgadi.

How to get to Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Makgadikgadi Pans can be reached by 4×4 vehicle from Maun – the main entrance to the national park is roughly halfway to the small town of Nata, and 45km west of Gweta. There is a second entrance to the national park at Xhumaga, about 48km to the south-west.

As with all journeys in the remoter parts of northern Botswana, we would advise you to carry spare fuel and water and to use a GPS device in addition to maps. Always let someone know where you are heading, and when you expect to arrive.

The easiest way to get to the park is to fly by chartered plane to the airstrip at one of the lodges on the western boundary of the park.

Areas of interest in Makgadikgadi pans national park Botswana

Chapman’s Baobab

Chapman’s Baobab lies with its roots deeply planted short distance south-east of the rural village of Gweta and is a well-known landmark in Botswana. The massive tree is considered one of the oldest Baobab’s in Africa and a famous attraction in Makgadikgadi Pans.

Nxai Pans National Park

Situated just north of the Maun Nata main road, Nxai Pans National park is an ideal spot in Botswana to spend your day. The pans are the largest salt pans in the world – offering a unique safari experience, with great game viewing.

Nata Bird Sanctuary

The Nata Bird Sanctuary was developed at the mouth of the Nata River in the extreme northeast of Sua Pan. It is home to many species of African mammal wildlife and most importantly the African birds. From flamingos, Pelicans, Ducks, Geese, Ostriches to Kingfisher Eagles, Spoon Bills, this bird sanctuary in Botswana has everything to offer to its visitors.

Gabatsadi Island

Gabatsadi Island lies west of the Gweta-Orapa track, 54 km south of Gweta. This enormous island doesn’t attract many visitors but has garnered attention from Prince Charles who went to capture the indescribably lovely scene in watercolor.

Baines’ Baobabs

Baines Baobabs are seven immense baobab trees on an island that overlooks the white, crusted Kudiakam Pan. These Baobabs were named after the 19th Century explorer, Thomas Baines whose accounts, drawings, and maps of most of Africa were in appreciation of the beauty of the continent.

Kubu Island

Tour around Kubu Island can be fun as it allows you to explore more about the history of the island. This rocky island Sowa pan is full of prehistoric evidence of a lake as well as human inhabitation. You can see uniquely shaped baobabs on the crescent island that is surrounded by the white surface of the pan.

Things to do in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Bird Watching

Makgadikgadi Pans are a famous birding destination and travelers choose to visit this famous attraction in Botswana throughout the year. The greatest number of birds can be seen during the months of October to march as it is their migration period.

Game Drives

Featuring wild open plains and mesmerizing view of the pan, a game drive is one of the exciting things to do in Makgadikgadi Pans. Experience the view of large herds of antelope converging on the great lakes to drink and play.

Historic Trails

During your visit to Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the most knowledgeable things you can achieve is the historic trails. Experienced Bushmen guide will take you on historic trails and you will learn about their ancient culture and natural environment.

Quad Bike Excursion

Quad biking excursion in Makgadikgadi Pans should not be missed as it is one of the top things to do in Botswana. Enjoy an afternoon tea session and get ready to explore the fun side of you. Mount on the quad bike to discover the vast and endless plains of the Makgadikgadi Pans.

When to visit Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

The Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana is a year-round destination and can be visited at any time of the year. The national park in the pans is open for visitors all throughout the year. The best time to visit the Makgadikgadi Pans is during the rainy season that is from November to March. During this time, the pans fill up the area with water-attracting wildlife of that area. Thousands of flamingos also crowd the pans as they are filled with water making the scenic view breath-taking.

Where to stay in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Apart from the two campsites, there are no accommodation facilities inside the park. Njuca Hills Campsite is situated 26 km south of the park entrance and Kumaga Camp where water is found (not for human consumption though) is situated at the Boteti, 48 km southwest of the park entrance. Camping is also allowed on Kubu Island, a rocky island at the edge of the Sowa Pan. Apart from a long-drop toilet, there is no infrastructure.

Size & Location
How to get there
Areas of interest
When to visit
Where to stay