Makgadikgadi Pans Budget Travel

Endless Land And Sky

The Makgadikgadi Pans in north-eastern Botswana consist of a complex of pans scattered across the sands of the desert - the Sowa, Ntwetwe and Nxai Pans.

This shimmering white landscape of flat saltpans was once covered by an immense super-lake, called the Magkadigkadi Lake. Although the pans are mostly dry, the occasional rains and precious waterholes in this striking area attract a multitude of wildlife and birds.

This is a place where both the landscape and the sky above seem to stretch to the end of the world.


  • Experience the sensation of being in the middle of nowhere - African bush at its best - silent, desolate, achingly beautiful
  • Explore the beauty of the enormous and mythical-looking Baobab tree
  • In the wet season: see the once-in-a-lifetime sight of thousands of flamingos doing their thing
  • Star-spotting has never been better, with no light pollution for thousands of kilometres
  • See the wildebeest, zebra and other migratory herds when the rains arrive


The Makgadikgadi Lake existed thousands of years ago and stretched over an area the size of Switzerland. As the lake shrank over thousands of years, it created numerous smaller lakes, which now form the pans of the Makgadikgadi complex, which covers over 15 000 km2.

Archaeological digs in the area have revealed that prehistoric man lived here, probably due to the availability of water in the ancient Makgadikgadi Lake.


The salt pans remain dry most of the time, creating beautiful flat landscapes that stretch to forever. Two ephemeral rivers discharge into the pans- the Boteti River and Nata River. During periods of good rainfall, they fill the pans, creating an incredible environment for birds and animals who flock to it. 


With the pans being salty, not much grows in the pans themselves except a layer of blue-green algae. Surrounding the pans, though, are muddy marshes and desert, each which have their own flora - grasslands and trees.

The trees that grow here are those synonymous with Africa - Acacias and the fanciful Baobab - both of which make spectacular photographic subjects.


Due to the hot and very dry nature of the area, wildlife is scarce. The animals that call the area home, though, are easy to find, for exactly the same reason. With open plains and the fact that the animals gather at the available water, tracking is simple.


Desert-adapted gemsbok and springbok share this arid home with reptiles such as tortoises and lizards during the dry season. Come the rains, and huge herds of migratory animals - wildebeest and zebra, to name just two - fill the area, followed by the big cats that hunt them - lion and cheetah.


During the dry season, the area plays host to birds like ostriches and plovers. When the rains come, the pans turn into lakes and become a visual spectacle like nothing you've seen before. Thousands of flamingos arrive in their pink finery, along with ducks, pelicans and other birds.

The pans are one of only two breeding grounds for greater flamingos in southern Africa.


While the climate has a profound effect on the area, turning the dry, cracked earth into shimmering lakes during the rainy season, Makgadikgadi offers visitors an incredible experience all year.

Temperatures are high, even in mid-winter, seldom dropping below the mid-20s (Celcius) in winter and reaching the high-30's to 40 (Celcius) mid-summer. Night-time temperatures, however, can drop to almost freezing mid-winter (July) and a far more temperate high-teens, in summer.

The rainy season, when it comes - some years are drier than others, this is the desert, remember, is between November and March.

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