The Makgadikgadi Pans are huge open spaces interspersed with palm islands which offer dramatic scenery and game, changing with the seasons: in the “Green” season (a short heavy shower every few days), the pans team with huge herds of big game, all following the water and lush grazing. The zebra migration in the Pans is the largest on the planet. In the “Dry” season the pans are endless and blindingly white, with smaller herds of game retreating to the palm islands and permanent waterholes. It feels like riding straight into the middle of nowhere, an overwhelming experience.
The 6 day Makgadikgadi Pan section combines 3 nights in the luxurious Camp Kalahari with 2 nights camping out in the pans amongst the game and stars. Highlights include seeing the biggest and most famous baobabs in Africa, interacting with meerkats habituated to humans and a day tracking with the local San people.
Suggested extensions include 2 nights on the Thamalakane River ride to see riverine game as detailed in the itinerary below and/or a 3 day canoeing safari in the heart of the Okavango Delta (see Makgadikagadi and Okavango Canoe safari) or combine with riding in the Okavango Delta (Macatoo camp or Kujwana camp) for the ultimate safari. Green season: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, Dec. Dry season: May, Jun, Jul, Aug
WINNER of the 2014 BEST RIDING SAFARI in the GOOD SAFARI GUIDE AWARDS!
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from SS of on 17/09/2015
On arrival by air or road, you will be greeted by your host and guide and settled into Camp Kalahari, nestled amongst the acacias and Mokolwane palms of Brown Hyaena Island, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, adjacent to the Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans National Park, Botswana.
The camp is refreshingly simple, yet comfortable, with a traditionally built thatch library, living/dining area and a swimming pool for those hot Kalahari days. Head off after tea in the beautiful afternoon light, for an introductory ride – primarily to match horse and rider but also your first opportunity to experience the beauty of this magical area. Return to the camp for sundowners followed by dinner and to kraal the horses close by, before the lions of the Kalahari commence their nightly prowling.
Just after dawn, a light breakfast is followed by a long morning ride through the “land of a thousand islands”. Stranded on the ancient lakebed, these sand dunes, covered in palm trees are one of the most beautiful and fascinating areas of the Botswana wilderness. At the height of the wildlife migration season, the islands and adjoining grasslands are awash with zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest and ostrich - and of course the attendant predators!
The white encrusted pans between the islands provides excellent going for the horses. Returning to the camp for lunch, rest through the heat of the day in the welcome shade of the camel thorn trees or cool off in the camp swimming pool.
After tea, you will set off by vehicle to see some unique desert species such as springbok, gemsbok, red hartebeest and the elusive brown hyaena: these consummate desert specialists survive in arid areas where both food and water are scarce. The brown hyaena is a timid nocturnal, solitary forager, rarely seen by humans, but in spite of this, are very social animals, living in clans of up to 10-12 hyaenas.
Enjoy a night game drive back to camp, and with the aid of a spot light, look for nocturnal desert inhabitants such as aardvark, bat eared foxes, aardwolves, porcupine, honey badgers and perhaps even a black maned Kalahari Lion. Arrive at Camp Kalahari in time for dinner.
Today is a long ride eastwards to Xau Xai Fly Camp, so an early start is imperative. Be sure to pack a few essentials for the next two days of adventure. The journey takes you away from the edge of the Pans and through the mopane and acacia woodlands interspersed with short grasslands allowing for lovely long, relaxed canters. Whilst the area is rich in birds of prey, bustards, korhaans and numerous other unusual dry woodland bird species, there is also a chance that you will spot kudu and the odd elephant bull.
By lunchtime you will reach the famous Greens Baobab, proudly positioned alongside the well-travelled Missionary Road, traversed by David Livingstone on his journeys northwards. The magnificent trunk of this ancient tree is scarred with the initials of early travellers dating back some 150 years thus providing a living testimony to the rich history of this area. Break for lunch at the adjacent Gutsa Pan under a stand of palm trees where we may find Stone Age artifacts and the hunting blinds used over millennium by the Bushmen.
Siesta through the midday heat and after tea, continue the journey on to Xau Xai Fly Camp. Camp will be made up of comfortable dome tents, a central mess tent, loos and bucket showers. Enjoy a long, cool drink as you watch the sunset followed by dinner out under the magnificent Kalahari sky.
Wake up to a steaming hot cup of coffee and a light breakfast, before heading off on your horses in search of some of the Kalahari’s most fascinating inhabitants, the meerkats.
The horses will be tethered nearby, and you will move on foot into the midst of the group. Due to an ongoing habituation programme by Uncharted Africa Safari Co. it’s possible for us to get up close and personal with these captivating creatures. Remember, they are not tame – just used to a non-threatening presence. On chilly mornings, you might well find a meerkat snuggling up to you for warmth, or, in the absence of a termite mound or tree, using your head as a sentry lookout post…
By spending quality time with these incredibly social, superbly adapted animals, you will be able to see how they interact with each other and their environment. You also get the chance to see the desert through the eyes of a meerkat – which, despite the fact that it’s only a foot off the ground, is a pretty spectacular vantage point, and definitely one of the most special and memorable game experiences you will encounter in Botswana. As the day warms up, you will leave the meerkats foraging and mount up to follow the well-worn trails that lead to the resident herds of zebra and large congregations of ostriches attracted to the area by permanent freshwater in hidden waterholes. Return to Xau Xai for lunch and a refreshing shower.
Late afternoon you will have one of the greatest adventures imaginable - a ride straight out into the middle of the ancient lakebed! Eventually all that can be seen is the vast flatness stretching in every direction. Watch the sun set and the stars rise and, if the phase of the moon is right, continue riding in the moonlight.
This is one of the only places in the world where the silence is so complete you can hear the blood circulating through your ears. There is not one visual landmark to be seen and one swiftly loses one’s sense of perspective
- 16,000 square kilometres of baking soda void, inhabited only by you and a few gazillion invisible brine shrimp! Here, you will make camp, sleeping on bedrolls, under the silence of a star studded sky...
Wake up on the moon! As the dawn greets this extraordinary landscape and the last of the stars disappear, mount up and head homewards at a fast pace back to Camp Kalahari.
You may be lucky enough to see the extraordinary sight of ostrich deep in the middle of the Pans and then from a great distance the famous Chapman’s Baobab. Also known as the Seven Sisters, it is acknowledged to be one of the largest trees in Africa, measuring 25metres around its girth and was the campsite of early explorers like Livingstone and Selous when they pioneered the area.
It is near here that you will break for lunch before riding back across the grasslands and into camp.
The horses are loaded early and trucked to their home base in Maun. A non-riding day commences with an early morning walk with Zu/’hoasi Bushmen trackers. Uncharted Africa has pioneered and passionately supported cultural tourism in Botswana since the company’s inception. They have been working closely with the Zu/’hoasi people of the Western Kalahari for many years and are privileged to have a small group of these extraordinary men to guide us on a morning’s walking safari.
Offering a window into the past, they teach their techniques in this harshest of environments, using their
vast and ancient knowledge of plants, animal behaviour and survival skills. Time for one more Camp Kalahari lunch before you bid farewell to Camp Kalahari and fly back to Maun.
Please note: This itinerary only serves as a guide; all scenarios are dependent on the season and local conditions. At times it may not be possible to go on fly camps and during cooler months one longer ride may replace the normal morning and evening rides. Local weather conditions may also affect game movements.
Why not spoil yourself with a few days on a tropical beach after your safari? We recommend one of our Mozambiquan Beach Extensions as an ideal way to round off a safari.
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
There are 22 horses to choose from - A suitable well cared for horse will be chosen from a stable of some 20 horses made up of cross breeds which include Shire/TB, Boerperd/TB, Friesian/BP, Arab crosses, Quarter horse crosses. They range in size from 14.3h to 16.2h. There is a choice of well fitted English (Wintec) saddles and trail saddles. Each saddle has specially designed holders to carry 2 water bottles per rider. Guests are welcome to bring their own personal seat saver of choice. When the pans are dry the surface is firm and ideal for long fast canters. When the pans are wet the extensive adjoining grasslands with their network of wildlife paths offer wonderful ground for great riding. Ride through the “land of a thousand islands”, stranded on the ancient lakebed, these sand dunes covered in palm trees are one of the most beautiful and fascinating areas of the Botswana wilderness. Take a long ride to Xau Xai Fly Camp, the journey takes us away from the edge of the Pans and through the mopane and acacia woodlands interspersed with short grasslands allowing for lovely long, relaxed canters. Whilst the area is rich in birds of prey, bustards, korhaans and numerous other unusual dry woodland bird species. The last leg of the safari takes us straight out into the middle of the Salt Pans, and eventually all that can be seen is the vast flatness stretching in every direction. There is not one visual landmark to be seen and one swiftly loses one’s sense of perspective. Incredible scenery, memorable wildlife encounters and above all superb riding! Light weight riding helmets are compulsory for all children. Adults must adhere to the requirements of their insurance cover.
Guests should have some riding experience and feel competent at all paces and confident of keeping up with the pace of the group. You should be riding fit and in good health in order to enjoy the experience as long days (up to 7 hours) are spent in the saddle.
You may be required to gallop out of trouble. Children must be 12 years and older unless younger children are extremely confident and competent riders.
The weight limit for this ride is 15 st/209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Camp Kalahari has 10 spacious Meru tents: 7 Twin tents, 2 Double tents and 1 Family tent consisting of 2 adjacent tents, accommodating 2 Guests in each with an inter-leading bathroom. All tents have en-suite outdoor bathrooms, flush loos, hot and cold running water, along with comfy beds, crunchy cotton sheets, stripy African blankets and hot water bottles in winter. Uncharted Africa is renowned for menus that emphasize fresh tastes and originality. The meals at Camp Kalahari are plated, not buffet style, and are comprised of interesting and delicious dishes from all over Africa. Please inform Reservations of any dietary requirements prior to travel – and confirm upon arrival.
The 2 nights camping out in the pans are fly camp style. The camp is be made up of comfortable dome tents, a central mess tent, loos and bucket showers.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Climate: The flood waters normally arrive in May or June and recede in early October. See our website for a more detailed breakdown of what to expect in the various seasons.
You should commence anti - malarial precautions before arrival, please see your doctor for details.
There is a generator in camp which is switched on for a few hours while the guests are riding. You may be able to leave your camera equipment to charge in that time. Otherwise please take all batteries and and film you may need with you.
There is no mobile phone reception in the Pans.
We recommend a light-weight riding hat.
A shade hat with strap.
Two pairs of light-weight riding shoes or 1 pair and 1 pair of long rubber boots for the flood season (May to end of August).
Sunglasses on string, riding gloves and bandana.
Bush colour riding clothes (not white which scares game or black which attracts insects):
* 2 pairs of cotton riding trousers.
* 2 long sleeved shirts.
* 1 jersey, fleece or multi- pocketed waistcoat.
* 1 light weight waterproof windbreaker jacket.
Shorts, T shirts, sarong, bathing costume and sandals.
Sun block, lip salve, insect repellant, talcum powder and malaria pills (consult your doctor).
Torch and binoculars.
Film and a camera on a strong shoulder strap, preferably in a waterproof pouch to be secured to your belt. Otherwise a strong zip lock plastic bag.
We recommend that you wear your riding clothes and boots on the plane to Maun and bring your hat and wash bag as hand luggage as luggage sometimes gets delayed. They can lend you half chaps – long leather boots are impractical. They do not have riding hats to lend to riders so you must bring your own.
Luggage is limited to 13kgs (26lbs) per person in soft bags on the light aircraft. Extra luggage can be stored in their Maun office. There is a daily laundry service in the camp.
Saddlebags and water bottles are provided.
This is a 6 day/5 night programme available on set dates throughout the year.
2017 Low season: 9, 14 Jan; 8, 13 Feb; 9, 14 Mar; 9 Apr; 19, 24 Dec
2017 High Season: 14 Apr; 7, 21 May, 18, 25 June, 9, 16 Jul; 13, 27 Aug, 10, 24 Sept
2018 Low Season: 28 Jan; 4, 27 Feb; 6, 28 Mar.
2018 Mid Season: 4, 27 Apr; 8 May; 3, 17 June; 22, 29 Jul; 19; 23 Sept; 19, 24 Dec.
2018 High Season: 19, 26 Aug.
A single supplement is payable during mid and high season for those unwilling to share a room.
|Riding days||Product item description||£|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||2,695|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||685|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||2,819|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||679|
|2018 - Low Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||2,865|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,015|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||869|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,295|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||1,245|
|Riding days||Product item description||€|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||3,035|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||769|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||3,185|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||765|
|2018 - Low Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,245|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,415|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||985|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,735|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||1,409|
|Riding days||Product item description||$|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||3,599|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||909|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||3,789|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||909|
|2018 - Low Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,799|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||3,999|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||1,149|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||4,375|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||1,649|
|Riding days||Product item description||SEK|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||29,265|
|2017 - Low Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||7,399|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||double pp||30,809|
|2017 - High Season||6d/5n||6||single supplement||7,399|
|2018 - Low Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||30,889|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||32,515|
|2018 - Mid Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||9,349|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||double pp||35,565|
|2018 - High Season||6d/5n||5||single supplement||13,415|
Salt Pans - Very little wildlife can exist here during the harsh dry season of strong hot winds and only salt water, but following a rain the pan becomes an important habitat for migrating animals including wildebeest and one of Africa's biggest zebra populations, and the large predators that prey on them. The wet season also brings migratory birds such as ducks, geese and Great White Pelicans. The pan is home to the only breeding population of Greater Flamingos in southern Africa. The only birds here in the dry season are ostriches, Chestnut-banded Plover (Charadrius pallidus) and Kittlitz’s Plover (Charadrius pecuarius). The grasslands on the fringes of the pan are home to reptiles such as tortoises, rock monitor (Varanus albigularis), snakes and lizards including the endemic Makgadikgadi spiny agama (Agama hispida makgadikgadiensis)
Lying southeast of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari desert, Makgadikgadi is technically not a single pan but many pans with sandy desert in between, the largest being the Sua (Sowa), Nwetwe and Nxai Pans. The largest individual pan is about 1,900 sq mi (4,921.0 km2). In comparison, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a single salt flat of 4,100 sq mi (10,619.0 km2), rarely has much water, and is generally claimed to be the world's largest salt pan. A dry salty clay crust most of the year, the pans are seasonally covered with water and grass, and are then a refuge for birds and animals in this very arid part of the world. The climate is hot and dry but with regular annual rains.
The main water source is the Nata River, called Amanzanyama in Zimbabwe, where it rises at Sandown about 37 mi (59.5 km) from Bulawayo. A smaller amount of water is supplied by the Boteti River from the Okavango delta.
These salt pans cover 6,200 sq mi (16,057.9 km2) in the Kalahari basin and form the bed of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi, which evaporated many millennia ago. Archaeological recovery in the Makgadikgadi has revealed the presence of prehistoric man through abundant finds of stone tools; some of these tools have been dated sufficiently early to establish their origin as earlier than the era of Homo sapiens. Pastoralists herded grazing livestock here when water was more plentiful earlier in the Holocene.
The lowest place in the basin is Sua Pan with an elevation of 2,920 feet.
The Thamalakane River is a river located in Botswana, Africa, at the southern end of the Okavango Delta. It has no well defined beginning (spring) and no clear end (delta). It is the result of the Thamalakane fault - which began to form about two million years ago by the geological process of rifting that is currently splitting Africa apart along the Great Rift Valley.
Botswana is a landlocked country situated in southern Africa. The climate ranges from semi-arid to sub-tropical. The Kalahari Desert dominates southern and western Botswana; the extreme south-west experiences near desert conditions, while eastern Botswana, though prone to drought, has adequate rainfall to support arable farming.
Beyond the narrow eastern corridor where the majority of the population is concentrated, Botswana is a largely roadless wilderness of savannas, deserts, wetlands and salt pans. Wildlife and livestock can make driving hazardous so driving at night should be avioded.
Botswana is two hours ahead of GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The international dialling code for Botswana is +267.