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Makgadikgadi safari


... is an interesting and unusual experience, a mixture of desert, salt-pan, wildlife and cultural activities which really enhance a longer trip to the water-worlds of the Okavango Delta and Linyanti Waterfront areas.

Makgadikgadi is located in central Botswana. It is an enormous conservation area covering an area of around 17000 square kilometres, centred on the 4500 square kilometre Makgadikgadi National Park.

To the east of the main park lie the vast and remarkable Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, the vestiges of a network of vast lakes, a second Okavango Delta if you like, further downstream from the present wetland area, but whose water supply dried up many centuries ago.

The most interesting area is the Ntwetwe Concession, a private safari area which adjoins the national park to the east which contains a number of rather cool owner-run camps, led by the famous Jack's Camp.

The number one activity May/Nov is quad-biking out onto the pans, to visit various fascinating sites which little-by-little tell the story of this fossilised wetland. Standing out in the middle of these salt pans is as close as most of us will come to being on another planet. Indeed you can clearly see the curvature of the earth's surface.

An unexpected highlight are the palaeontological walks, which lead you out to sites where stone-age men worked their tools. Arrowheads, blades and hand-axes litter the ground. Additionally this is a great place for finding fossils and at Jack's Camp there are some good examples of the mega-fauna which once existed out here.

For half a century owners Jack and son Ralph have enjoyed and unique relationship with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and employ a number to act as walking guides. For guest the interaction with the Bushmen can be a real high, it is an honour and a privilege to share time with these remarkable people and gain an insight into the breadth and depth of their knowledge.

Makgadikgadi safari

But perhaps the experience that most people look forward to is the chance to meet with the colony of habituated meerkats, which have been under study for some years now. Everyone wants the picture of a meerkat standing on your head and using you as a lookout!

Another very interesting option is horse-back safari, which can last for anything from a couple of hours to multiple night camping trips out on the pans.

Time spent out here serves as a great contrast to the Okavango Delta during the May/Oct dry season, the famous 'desert and delta' experience.

During the converse Nov/Apr green season summer rains transform the landscape and vast herds of wildebeest and zebras congregate here, accompanied by a full complement of predators and other animals. The wildlife viewing and become exceptional.

The western border is defined by the Boteti River, an ephemeral overspill channel from the Okavango Delta and a critical source of water for non-migratory animals during the Jun/Oct dry season. The camps over here tend to be best during this period.

Unfortunately Makgadikgadi is an incomplete ecosystem, the cattle fences that were erected along the Boteti River and elsewhere during the second half of the twentieth century severed some important animal migration routes. Although this should have little tangible impact on the safari experience.

When to visit ...

It is important to note that Makgadikgadi has converse seasons to the main safari areas of the Okavango Delta and Linyanti Waterfront, largely because it does not contain any permanent rivers or waterholes, but relies completely on a network of seasonal rain-filled pans.

Jan/Apr ... is the summer green season, when the migratory herds tend to be in this area and, in contrast with the Okavango Delta and Linyanti Waterfront areas, wildlife viewing here should be at its strongest.

Jul/Sep ... is the winter dry season, when the migratory herds will have moved off, leaving the desert specialists to eke out a living in what becomes a very harsh environment. At this time of year the camps on the eastern side tend to concentrate on other activities such as quad-biking on the salt pans, meerkats and Bushman walks.

Read more about when to visit this area ...

Makgadikgadi safari

Where to stay ...

There are several lodges and camps in the area. The first four options here all operate in the private concessions to the east of the national park, the other two lie to the west ...

Jack's Camp ... is set on the Ntwetwe Concession to the east and is the original location, a famous and very stylish tented lodge. Also the most expensive.

San Camp ... is also set on the Ntwetwe Concession to the east and is a similarly stylish option, but slightly lower cost.

Camp Kalahari ... is the third lodge on the Ntwetwe Concession to the east and is a much lower cost option, but still with access to a very similar range of experiences.

Planet Baobab ... lies on the northern border of the Ntwetwe Concession to the east and is a funky roadside lodge which can be used as a lower cost base from which to access the same areas and undertake the same activities.

Leroo La Tau ... is set along the Boteti River on the western edge of Makgadikgadi, a very comfortable lodge which experiences its best wildlife viewing during the May/Oct dry season.

Meno A Kwena Camp ... is also set along the Boteti River on the western edge of Makgadikgadi, a rather cooler and more outdoorsy place which experiences the same surge in wildlife viewing during the May/Oct dry season.

How we like to include this area in trips ...

During the Nov/Apr green season, when the migratory herds should be out here, we usually try to include at least one of the Kalahari areas (Central Kalahari, Nxai and Makgadikgadi) into a safari. Which one of the three usually comes down to a combination of guest preference, cost and availability.

During the May/Oct dry season these desert areas tend to be more often overlooked in all but the longest safaris, Although there are plenty of interesting activities, the majority of guests are primarily focussed on animals and prefer to deploy their time in more productive areas such as the Okavango Delta.

Higher quality safaris usually access the area by light aircraft, with regular services connecting to the main hub airport at Maun, with onward connections to camps in other areas. However it is also possible to arrive by road, especially on lower cost trips.

Most visitors tend to stay in just one lodge for 3 to 4 nights.

A safari in Makgadikgadi is most commonly combined with further safari in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti Waterfront areas. It can also be combined with locations in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Connections to other countries are possible but can be relatively arduous.

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Lenny Franklin
Lenny Franklin, Senior Safari Consultant
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