The Pans are a collection of huge salt pans that make up the northern reaches of the Kalahari Desert. They’re some of the largest salt pans on the planet and one of the last remaining homes of the San Bushmen. The most famous pans are the Makgadikgadi, consisting primarily of the vast Sua and Ntwetwe pans. Makgadikgadi is a truly unique destination that can be visited at any time of year, with guests exploring the unique lunar landscape and spending time with the San Bushmen. Over the last few years, the meerkat community here has also received much publicity. Nearby Nxai Pan is a wet-season reserve that’s superb from December through to May, but one that has little game viewing on offer throughout the dry season.
The huge, flat Makgadikgadi Salt Pans cover an area of several thousand square kilometres and are located in the northeastern part of the Kalahari Desert, within the national park in Botswana that bears their name. They are all that remains of a huge inland super-lake that existed thousands of years ago but slowly evaporated over time, leaving the pristine, salty-white landscapes of today.
What you really need to know
If you are travelling to Botswana to view big game, the pans are not for you – the Okavango, Linyanti and Chobe are much livelier regions. The only exception to this rule is the wet season, from December through to early May, when the herds really do bring the area to life. The zebra migration during the early part of the year is a truly beautiful sight- see the Makgadikgadi Migration below.
Game driving at day and night, as well as walking. Fly camping trips are also available from certain camps as is horse riding and quad biking.
Time of year to travel
From January through to May, the pans are full of life as the migratory herds pass through. At this time of year the pans are definitely worth visiting for game viewing alone. However the remainder of the year, from June through to November, sees a dramatic exodus of all game and any areas away from the Boteti river should not be viewed as a big game destination. It is at this time of year however, that the pans are arguably at their most magical and the huge expanse of nothingness is easiest to explore. Quad biking at this time is a great way to explore the pans, and an activity you cannot do throughout the beginning of the year.
The Makgadikgadi migration
The Makgadikgadi Migration is the second-largest migration of African ungulates. This consists of an estimated 30,000 animals, the majority being zebra, making the 35km round trip from the Boteti River to the Makgadikgadi salt pans in northeastern Botswana. The migration arrives in the Makgadikgadi pans as soon as the rains begin, when thousands of Burchell’s zebra and blue wildebeest make their way there to feed on the sweet summer grasses and take advantage of the high mineral content found in the salt pans. We would advise the first two weeks of March as the best chance to see the largest herds. This is because, provided the rains have not been really poor, the majority of the migration will still be in the area and the roads will have begun to dry out, thus making getting around much easier.
You really have to think about why you are visiting the pans. The camps and the activities they offer are very different to each other. Overall, the pans work very well as a contrast to the wet, lush areas that house Botswana’s best game. We recommend that clients try to visit the area if they intend to spend over a week in the country; however, speaking to a knowledgeable consultant and discussing the benefits of the different times of year is incredibly important.