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Often referred to as The Jewel of Africa, Botswana is renowned for its exceptional wildlife and the luscious Okavango Delta. It is also home to the earth’s most impressive salt pan, The Makgadikgadi, which is visible from the moon!

Sand and Stars: Botswana’s Haunting Makgadikgadi Pans

Often referred to as The Jewel of Africa, Botswana is renowned for its exceptional wildlife and the luscious Okavango Delta. The country is vast, with 38% (an area roughly the size of France) dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife areas, and much of it is so remote that the only way to get there is by bush plane, but only once the runways have been cleared of roaming giraffe and zebra…  


It is also home to the earth’s most impressive salt pan, The Makgadikgadi, which is visible from the moon! The salt pans of Makgadikgadi along with the Nxai Pans are believed to be the largest in the world, spanning over 16 000 km2. Once the centre of an enormous lake that evaporated many thousands of years ago, the pan now appears as a shimmering sea of white salt and sand that is home to one of Africa’s largest Zebra populations.

For most of the year, the pans are dry while the rains of the green season turn the flats into an oasis offering a welcome respite for migrating animals from the surrounding The Kalahari Desert.  The pans 

attract the largest Zebra Migration, second only to the Great Migration in Tanzania and Kenya. Large herds of zebras, oryx, wildebeests, impalas and springbuck roam the northern part of the Nxai Pan National Park and then trek south into the Makgadikgadi National Park where they feed on green pastures and make use of the many small water holes from June to November. Plenty of Predators follow closely behind. In December the animals move along the Boteti River back north into the Nxai National Park. Elephants can be found along the Boteti River and there are waterholes big enough for hippos to stay in. After the first rains a lot of aquatic birds, especially flamingos, breed along the pans and the area become a twitchers’ paradise. 


Kubu Island, a dry granite rock island, is one of the most mysterious places of the Makgadikgadi Pans. The San Bushmen believes it to be a holy place of ancient power and ritual and it is home to Africa’s largest tree – the Baobab, estimated to be over 5300 years old. 

The Makgadikgadi National Park is included in a Botswana safari, not only for its wildlife and the varied experiences on offer, but also for the solitude, remoteness, and its harsh beauty. 

With a seemingly endless horizon and a dramatic lunar scape that stretches as far as the eye can see, Makgadikgadi is home to some truly remarkable wildlife, making it a hidden destination well worth your while.

  • The second-largest terrestrial animal migration in Africa takes place between the months of January and April – vast herds of zebra, wildebeest and other herbivores. 
  • Vast flocks of flamingos, pelicans, and other waterbirds (green season)
  • Quad biking on the pans (July to September in dry season)
  • Watching the sunset or sleeping out on the pans (dry season)
  • Walk with the San Bushmen, one of the last remaining domains of these hunter-gatherers.
  • Unique sightings include meerkats and brown hyena.
  • Isolation
  • Sleep under the stars on the Salt Pans or on the Lost Island of Baobabs 

When to Visit:

The open nature of the park suits predators such as wild dog, cheetah and lion and there’s always a good range of Kalahari animals to be seen at any time of year.  The best time to travel is in June/July and September/October, as the pans are then dry and traversable. 


It is advisable to visit both the Makgadikgadi and the Nxai National Park during both seasons. The Dry Season offers hauntingly beautiful desolation with wildebeest and zebra observed in their thousands, with predators such as lion, cheetah and hyena close.  In Green Season the Pans fill with water and attract flamingos, pelicans and great herds of zebra and wildebeest.

  • Game Drives to experience unique desert wildlife such as brown hyena, bat eared foxes, lion and elephant. 
  • Walking with Meerkats allows you to get up close to habituated meerkats, enjoy their delightful antics and maybe one will pose on your head! 
  • Quad Bike across the lunar expanse of the Pans in dry season – a thrilling adventure. 
  • Cultural encounter as you walk with a group of Zu/’hoasi Bushmen for a glimpse into their ancient culture, understanding how they use the flora and fauna to survive in this sparse environment. 
  • Journey to the Lost Island of the Baobabs on Kubu Island and sleep under the stars for a spiritual experience.
  • Sleep out on the Salt Pans for a rare opportunity to experience the vastness of this extraordinary landscape (mid-July to end of October). 
  • Adventurous horseback ride across the Pans.

Best Combined With:

A Botswana Safari trip that combines both the Makgadikgadi Pans and the Okavango Delta offers a diverse experience of Botswana’s legendary wilderness regions.

In this article
  • Sand and Stars
  • Highlights
  • When to Visit
  • Where to stay
  • Activities
  • Best Combined With

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