Written by Jenieen van den Heever
Head of Group Technology and Data at Ker & Downey® Africa, Jenieen van den Heever, shares one of her ultimate bucket list experiences in Botswana – visiting one of the largest salt pans on earth, Makgadikgadi Salt Pan with Natural Selection.
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Makgadikgadi Game Reserve is one of the top 5 reserves to visit in Botswana. Depending on the season, the reserve transforms from a salt-baked landscape to flooded pans alive with wildlife.
The reserve is a private concession that forms part of the larger Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana. Surrounded by the Kalahari Desert, the reserve stretches over 3900 square kilometers and is characterized by its expansive salt pan circled by baobab trees and grasslands. The wildlife here is something unique as you can witness not only lions, elephants, wildebeest, and zebra’s, but also more scarce animals like the brown hyena, bat-eared fox, aardvark, aardwolf, and my favorite of all – Meerkat.
There are two options to choose from to access the Makgadikgadi Game Reserve. You can either fly from Maun Airport to the local airstrip, a mere 45-minute flight, or you can opt to drive to the reserve which takes about 3 hours. I recommend flying to avoid the bumpy roads which can become quite uncomfortable. From the Airstrip, your guide will meet you and transfer you to your camp. This can be a 30min to an hour’s drive depending on the wildlife sightings you will spot along the way. Coming over a small hill, you witness this great vast landscape in front of you, which, in itself is a sight to behold.
What I love about Makgadikgadi is that you can enjoy morning, afternoon, and evening game drives. On your afternoon excursion, your guide will find the perfect spot for you to enjoy a refreshing drink as the sun dips below the pans. You will head back to camp for dinner and after dinner, if you’re up for it, you can venture out into the pans and try and capture some of the rare nocturnal animals like the aardvark and aardwolf.
Another incredible way to spot Makgadikgadi’s wildlife is on a horseback safari. This gives you the chance to get closer to the animals. If horse riding is not for you, you can enjoy a quad biking experiencing on the pans. This was a highlight for me and sparked such appreciation of this unique lunar landscape.
Go out and spend the day with the Meerkats. This was another experience that I absolutely loved. You do not touch or feed the meerkats however you will follow your guide to the meerkat Den and watch them as they go about their day. The habitual meerkats are not tame, but will gladly climb atop heads that are promptly used as viewing posts as they are on the hunt for food.
Enjoy starlight dinners, campfires, and interact with the staff. An incredible interaction I experienced was a guided walk with the local Bushmen. As you explore the wilderness alongside the bushmen, they will share their knowledge on sourcing water, food, and medicinal plants in the area. For an authentic cultural experience, this was one that I adored.
Prior to visiting Makgadikgadi, it is important to decide what you would like to see as this will influence the time of the year you visit.
If you are interested in witnessing the second largest wildebeest migration and seeing the salt pans come to life with colorful flamingoes, then I recommend visiting from November through to April. During this time, it is also the rainy season and temperatures can rise to 45C. Luckily, both Camp Kalahari and Jack’s Camp have a swimming pool.
If you prefer the drier months and would like to be able to go out and explore the salt pans, the dry period is from May to October.
I recommend spending at least 3 nights in this reserve in order to experience all the activities on offer. Always bring a hat no matter what season you come, swimsuit, sunblock, and drink lots of water to keep yourself cool and hydrated.
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and Makgadikgadi Game Reserve often go unnoticed by international travelers. However, it is one I would highly recommend you include in your Botswana itinerary. Get in touch with one of our luxury travel specialists to add Makgadikgadi Salt Pans to your Botswana itinerary today.