Makgadikgadi National Park
Makgadikgadi National Park offers endless vistas of rolling golden grasslands and its huge saltpans … with desert palms lining the horizon. This 4500 square mile park is directly south of Chobe National Park. It consists mainly of fossil pans and the famous Baines baobabs. The floor of some of the pans is vegetated with palatable grass species – an important source of grazing to animals such as zebra, springbok and impala. The southern section of the park consists of saltpans and grass plains (which are) believed to be the remains of an ancient lake. The pans, situated in half the south, east and northeastern areas of the park, fill with water during the rains from mid-November and mostly retain their water into April or May.
During the rainy season these “thirstlands” are transformed into great sheets of water that attract a spectacular array of waterbirds and trigger dramatic migrations of wildebeest and zebra. The Makgadikgadi remains a spectacle to visitors both when dry and wet. For a truly unique safari adventure during the dry season, (four-wheel drive) quad bikes are used to venture far into the middle of the Pans to explore remote archaeological sites. In the wet season, the water attracts flamingos, pelicans, ducks, geese and many other migratory water birds in their thousands. Herds of wildebeest and zebra are common during the wet season, but spread out in the grasslands of the Makgadikgadi and move to the Boteti River for water during the dry months.
Makgadikgadi Pans has a desert climate with two distinct seasons. The Wet season (November to March) is consistently warm, with the average daytime temperature hovering around 32°C/90°F. Temperatures in the Dry season (April to October) are anything but consistent. They start off warm, drop to cool in the middle of the year, then crank up to very hot in October.
Most visitors on safari will enter Botswana through either Maun Airport (MUB) or Kasane Airport (BBK). Makgadikgadi Pans NP is located 162km/100mi east of Maun. The park can be reached on a self-drive safari, an organized mobile safari, or a fly-in safari. The easiest way to get to the park is to fly by chartered plane to the airstrip at one of the lodges on the western boundary of the park. Both lodges are quite far from the actual pans, but there are some campsites for mobile safaris closer to the pans.
Most wildlife activity in the park is at the Boteti River, and this is where the lodges are situated. This area gets jam-packed with grazers in the Dry season. Burchell's zebra, blue wildebeest, giraffe and greater kudu all gather here. Lion, leopard and spotted hyena are regulars as well. When the grass starts to grow in the Wet season, these animals migrate east to the pans.
Makgadikgadi Pans is more a birding destination than a general wildlife destination. Birding is phenomenal in the wet summer months, especially if the pans fill up and flocks of lesser and greater flamingo, accompanied by pelican, come feeding in the shallows. The location of the flamingo varies depending on rain and algae, but the best place to see them is outside the park in the Nata Bird Sanctuary. The flamingo breed on the pans when the water is high enough to protect their nests from predators.
Best Time to Visit
The Makgadikgadi Pans can be visited throughout the year. It’s a seasonal park and wildlife migrates through it with the seasons. The actual pans attract wildlife in the wet summer months, from December to about May. This is also the best time for birding and seeing the flamingos on the pans. However, most of the park and lodges are concentrated around the Boteti river area – which is best visited for wildlife viewing in the Dry season – from June to December. The Dry season is best for viewing the pans, as you can drive onto them.