The Makgadikgadi Pans

The Makgadikgadi pans are the remaining dry beds of an ancient Lake that covered most of northern Botswana.

They are the largest salt pans in the world and are made up of made up of two main pans.

These are ...

1. The Ntwetwe Pan (the largest)

2. Sowa Pan (also known as Sua)

There are many other smaller pans in the region, including the famous and game rich Nxai pan.

Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park

The Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park consists of two very different areas separated by the Francistown - Maun Road. When driving to Maun from Francistown you actually pass through the Park , with the Makgadikgadi side (Sowa and Ntwetwe pans) on your left and the Nxai side to your right.

Every time I travel to Maun i never fail to see elephants on the Nxai side. There is a very high chance that you'll see a few elephants too when you drive through the park on your way to or from Maun.

makgadikgadi pansSome elephants I saw along the road when passing through the Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park on one my trips to Maun...

What You'll See

Even though most of the Makgadikgadi pans are literally empty open space, ironically there is so much to see there. :-)


The most common reptiles found in the Makgadikgadi are snakes and lizards. You can expect to see the puff adder, cape cobra, black mamba and the horned adder.

Indigenous trees

The pans are rich in indigenous trees. You will see lots Baobabs and palm trees. When driving from Francistown to Nata, you'll notice a change in vegetation as you are approaching Nata.

This vegetation is unique to the pans.

makgadikgadi and nxai national parkEntrance to the Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park


A lot of the wildlife you will see in the Makgadikgadi and Nxai pans are migratory animals.

The most common animals that migrate are wildebeest and Zebra's. They migrate from the Boteti area to the Makgadikgadi pans..and back to Boteti.

As they migrate, they attract predators like lions and wild dogs.

However not all the animals in the pans migrate; Others like the springbok don’t leave the pans.

Another interesting fact you might like is that there are some antelope you'll never see in the pans and these include waterbuck, Roan antelope and also buffalo.


Some of the small birds you'll see include robins and oriols; larger birds include kori bustards, crown crane, secretary birds, ostriches and korhaans.

The Makgadikgadi however, is famous for its migratory water birds. The flamingoes are the ones people want to see more than any other bird.

The Makgadikgadi is the main breeding ground for flamingoes after which they migrate back to other African countries.


The great thing about the Makgadikgadi is it has more than just wildlife to offer.

Be sure to check out the following monuments...

  1. Baines' Baobabs - These Seven really huge Baobab trees are also known as the "Seven sisters". On these baobabs, you'll see signatures of explorers, hunters, traders and missionaries that date as far back as the 1800's. Apparently the signatures were used for communication purposes to indicate directions and time of travel.
  2. Green's Baobabs - These are also a set of very large baobabs with signatures (and dates) of the first explorers that used routes that passed through the pans.
  3. Kubu Island (aka Lekhubu island) - This is a rock island found in the Sowa Pan. The island has remains of ancient tools which indicate that there were people that once lived in the area many centuries ago.

Sunsets, the sky and stars

One the best kept secrets of the Makgadikgadi are the amazing sunsets they offer. The pans are also a great place to a clear view of the sky as well as the stars at night.

The best time for viewing starts is during winter when the sky is clear most of the time.

Travel tips to the Makgadikgadi Pans


It’s not advisable to drive to the Makgadikgadi pans during the rainy season because it’s very easy to get stuck. And since the pans are really large, it may take days for people to find you!

Dress Code

In winter it can get hot during the day and very cold at night. In summer the days are extremely hot and nights cool. Keep this in mind when packing.

To ensure you are comfortable throughout your safari, you need to pack accordingly.

What to Bring

Here are some the things you might need and might want to bring with you....

  • Binoculars
  • GPS
  • Telescope (to view the stars!)
  • Knife
  • Comfortable boots
  • Sunglasses to protect your eyes from the bright reflections from the white sand of the pans
  • Maps
  • Compass
  • Reference books on Botswana travel, birds and wildlife
  • Hat
  • Insect repellents
  • If you are driving then you should bring lots of extra petrol (you can get more at Nata village)
  • Also bring at least two spare tires (more if you can)
  • Some essential car parts and tools
  • Plenty of water and food
  • High lift jack

Keep in mind that the Makgadikgadi is very remote and large, so you have to take all the necessary precautions to make sure that you'll be able to get out of any trouble you might find yourself in..such as getting stuck or lost.

And remember that the Makgadikgadi is strictly four wheel drive territory! If you don’t have a four wheel drive truck then you can either rent one out or alternatively get one of the local tour operators to take you on a specialized safari in the Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Park.

Another alternative (a good one!) is to hire a guide from a safari company and use your own 4 wheel drive vehicle if you have one. This way you don’t have to rent a car and you also enjoy the piece of mind of having an experienced safari guide with you.

Safaris in the Makgadikgadi Pans

There are many types of Botswana safaris you can do in the Makgadikgadi pans, the most common ones are:

  • Quad bike safaris
  • Game drives
  • Walking safaris with the San
  • Visits to nearby villages like Gweta
  • Horse riding safaris
  • Meerkat safaris
  • Birding safaris at the Nata Sanctuary
  • Fly camp - here you get to learn about the stars and planets