Kalahari's Salt Pans: in detail
The Kalahari Salt Pans: the full story
Despite what is said, the Kalahari isn't a true desert at all. In fact it's a vast sand-sheet, a fossil desert, now largely covered in bushes, trees and grasses. Fortunately all this sand has always seemed of little use, so most of the Kalahari remains arid and untouched, as it has been for about 65 million years. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, you'll be struck by the feeling that you're light years away from modern life.
In the middle of the northern Kalahari, lies a complex of huge, flat salt pans. It's a harsh, sparse landscape, not to everyone's taste, but it offers an isolation as complete as anywhere in Southern Africa, and a wealth of hidden treasures for those prepared to make the effort. Their geology and history are fascinating, they play a vital role in the area's ecosystems… and they're very photogenic.
Makgadikgadi PansThe great Makgadikgadi Pans, covering about 10,000km² of the Kalahari, are nothing but salt: vestiges of a superlake that once covered much of central Botswana. Some are enormous; others are the size of a small duck-pond. Around these are rolling grasslands and the occasional picturesque palm-tree island.
The western fringes of the pans are protected within Makgadikgadi National Park, which is flanked by two contrasting areas: the Central Pans and the Boteti River area.
Central PansThree sister-camps stand on palm islands just outside Makgadikgadi National Park; all are very different in style, although they offer similar activities which are unique for Botswana! If you visit any of these camps, then we suggest that you stay for at least three nights.
Jack's CampJack's Camp is beautifully constructed in a classical safari style. It has ten spacious, walk-in tents, a plunge pool, a dining tent and a Persian-style "tea tent". (Read more about Jack's Camp ... )
San CampThe smaller San Camp only opens from mid-April to October. With its seven tents, San's creates a relaxed atmosphere and an incredible feeling of space. (Read more about San Camp ... )
Camp KalahariCamp Kalahari is the most basic of the three, and the most affordable. It has a traditional thatched living/dining area with earth floors and 11 twin-bedded Meru tents, each with an open-air bathroom, hot/cold running water and a flush toilet. (Read more about Camp Kalahari ... )
Boteti River AreaThe Boteti River forms the western boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. From July to around November or December, this reduces to a string of permanent pools that attract enormous herds of jostling zebra and wildebeest – often numbering thousands – together with elephants, giraffe, many predators and even (bizarrely) the odd white rhino. During this time it's an exciting area full of animal interaction. There are two safari camps here:
Meno A Kwena Tented CampMeno A Kwena Tented Camp is a great old-style safari camp, run by an experienced expert with a real passion for Botswana's bush, David Dugmore. (Read more about Meno A Kwena Tented Camp ... )
Leroo La TauFurther south, Leroo La Tau is a much more luxurious lodge, with 12 en-suite thatched chalets, on raised decks beside the river. Activities are more structured, focusing on morning and evening game drives. (Read more about Leroo La Tau … )
Nxai PanNorth of Makgadikgadi, Nxai Pan National Park is a fascinating park, often underrated because of the unpredictability of its game. The fossil pans here are covered with grasses, on which it is easy to spot wildlife. During the dry season there is a good population of springbok, giraffe and gemsbok, though this often increases between around December and April when the rains can turn the park into a veritable salad bowl for herbivores. You'll also find hartebeest here, along with lion, cheetah, and both brown and spotted hyena. Don't leave without seeing Kudiakam Pan, and the famous Baines' Baobabs. There is one safari camp here:
Nxai Pan CampThe park's first and only permanent lodge, Nxai Pan Camp, opened in 2009. It stands to the south-west of the park and offers seven luxury en-suite chalets. (Read more about Nxai Pan Camp …)
Nxai Pan National Park can also be visited with a mobile safari. Talk to the Expert Africa team for more details of the options here, and see Botswana mobile safaris on the Wild About Africa website.
The Pans in the wet seasonThere are many special sights within the Kalahari, magical places where you can pick up tools last handled in the Stone Age, or examine the world's first paintings, or look around you and see nothing but the earth's curvature. At other times you may see vast herds of animals following ancient migration routes, or drive over enormous open plains dotted with endless game.
Around January to March, if the rains have been good, the pans flood. When this happens, grasses spring to life, flamingos arrive to nest, and a huge migration of zebra and wildebeest arrives. This is one of Africa's great, unpredictable wildlife spectacles.
It's a fascinating place, but above all it's a wilderness. That's what captivates us about it.
Where to stay in this part of the Kalahari
Our suggestions for safari camps in Kalahari's Salt Pans
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings in Kalahari Salt Pans
This is their success for sightings in Kalahari's Salt Pans.
Click on a species for more detail. How we work this out.