Part of the largest network of salt pans on the planet (the pans cover an area the size of Switzerland), Makgadikgadi Pans is a soulful, spectacular place.

Once the lakebed of a vast inland sea, at once wilderness and void, it’s home to some real Kalahari specials when it comes to wildlife.

Nata Bird sanctuary Makgadikgadi botswana

Flamingoes at Nata Bird Sanctuary, Makgadikgadi Pans

Makgadikgadi Pans highlights

The park itself occupies only part of the pan network, and apart from a couple of campsites, most accommodation consists of either exclusive tented camps just outside the park (including legendary Jack’s Camp) or in the nearby town of Gweta.

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park also includes the Boteti River, which also serves as the park boundary in the west. Often dry, the river is a wonderful place to watch elephant, zebra and other animals come to drink while keeping a nervous eye out for lions.

I’m not a huge fan of quad biking – the engine noise seems to be the antithesis of the pans’ wilderness silence – but being out on the pans at sunrise is an astonishing experience.

There are no water activities here (unless the Boteti River is unusually high) but several camps have resident bushmen who will fascinate you with their unique culture and way of life.

Makgadikgadi Pans wildlife

Makgadikgadi Pans is famous for hosting one of the largest zebra migrations in Africa. Every year, tens of thousands of zebra migrate east-west through the park, between the pans in the east and the Boteti River out west. From high on the riverbank at the latter, I’ve watched zebras swarm down to the water’s edge in a haze of raised dust, dizzying stripes and distinctive zebra barks.

I’ve also seen flamingos away on the eastern pans in flocks so vast that they seem to move as a single entity. And I’ve drawn near to habituated meerkats just outside the park, and seen brown hyenas and aardvarks close to sunset.

Makgadikgadi Pans lodges and camps

San Camp: an intimate and stylish camp with pristine white tents complementing the surreal vista looking out over the dazzling salt pans.

Planet Baobab: a budget-friendly option with self-drive access, offering all the activities of its more expensive sister camps on the edge of the pans.

Meno a Kwena: one of the few camps on the western side of the park, boasting a jaw-dropping cliff-top view of zebra herds clambering down to drink in the dry season.

About the authors

Safari in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

James Gifford

James is an award-winning photographer and journalist based in Botswana. His work on Botswana's wildlife, landscapes and culture has been published in numerous publications including The Times, The Guardian, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet, CNN Traveller, amongst many others.

Safari in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Anthony Ham

Anthony is a renowned travel journalist and guidebook author and is one of the world's leading authorities on Africa safari, wildlife and conservation. He has been travelling to Africa for more than two decades to research Africa safari guidebooks for Lonely Planet. He is widely published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Monthly, Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), National Geographic Traveler, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet Traveller, Africa Geographic, The Independent, Travel Africa, among many others.

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