Getting Lost in Botswana's Wilderness Tour: Makgadikgadi, Kalahari & Nxai Pan

A 10 day trip to Botswana 

Botswana's immense wilderness seems to stretch on forever. There are no roads, no people, and no settlements. There are just untamed landscapes and abundant wildlife, evocative paintings and the calls of the wild. Lose yourself in Botswana's beauty and gently slip into its inimitable rhythm. Suitably relaxed? Now watch as nature's beguiling spell slowly unfolds before your eyes. 

Customize This Trip For Me
Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Maun, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Nxai Pan, Kalahari, Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Makgadikgadi – Welcome to the Wilderness

Botswana isn't a place where you'll find many roads or towns. Even a main highway sees more elephants than vehicles. It's a vast country, and short hopper flights are sometimes the only way to get around. After landing at the international airport in Maun, you will transfer to a light aircraft and admire the dry savannahs from the air. You're heading to Makgadikgadi, an immense salt pan that covers an area bigger than some European countries. Touch down and get your first glimpse of the mirage; a hazy layer of white seems to hang above the salt, hypnotically extending beyond the horizon. Settle into your rustic camp and gaze out from your private verandah. The nearest settlement is hundreds of miles away, and so is the nearest main road, but you've only arrived at the edge of Makgadikgadi.

What's Included: airport transfer, accommodation, dinner

Day 2: Makgadikgadi – Quad Bike Adventures Through the Salt Pans

How do you comprehend a white wonderland that's as big as Switzerland? As you flick your wrist and accelerate away on a quad bike, it's easy to get discombobulated. In front of you is an endless white expanse. Behind you is the continually shimmering mirage. So which direction are you traveling? Appreciating the raw beauty of Makgadikgadi requires a full day of roaming across the landscape. At first glance, it all looks the same, but look closely and discover aimless elephant tracks and tiny nocturnal burrows. Baobab trees occasionally punctuate the whiteness, standing proud and desolate beneath the burning sun. Suddenly an ostrich wanders past. Where did that come from? And what's that? A whole colony of meerkats! Carefully follow the trails, and you'll see that this isn't a deserted landscape. During the wet season, the salt pans become a wet mirror and thousands of zebra migrate across them, followed by a smorgasbord of predators. Those animals are still somewhere nearby, so follow your guide's trail and see what wildlife is surviving the dry season.

As the sun falls it casts evocative patterns onto Makgadikgadi, the salt gently reflecting the burning reds and soothing oranges. Settle into your camp and listen. Do you hear anything? Didn't think so. You're nestled in the wilderness, and a starry sky accompanies your alfresco dining. Western beliefs say that you should make a wish when you see a shooting star. You'll quickly run out of wishes as dozens of burning lights fly across the sky. Sometimes it's not even possible to make out the constellations as the abundance of stars takes the breath away.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Makgadikgadi – Intimate Experiences with San Bushmen

Wake this morning and gaze out onto the salt pans. Even after two days, it's still a bewildering sight. This wilderness exploration will probably be a change for you. But this is everyday life for the indigenous Bushmen. Today you'll head into the bush on foot, picking a path with a Bushman guide. These indigenous hunter-gatherers have harmoniously survived in this environment for millennia, and their skills continue to be passed down through the generations. There are clues everywhere. But you have to stop and look in order to follow the scent. In comparison, the Bushmen can nimbly follow a trail without ever breaking stride. This is a very rare opportunity to spend a day with a small tribe who are as culturally different from you as it's possible to be. Check out their fur and hide clothes, see their semi-nomadic huts, and admire their ability to survive in this harsh environment. It's an intimate and poignant experience, and it's impossible not to smile at the different reasons why people want to get lost in Botswana's landscapes.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4: Central Kalahari – Welcome to the Lions' Kingdom

The private flight over to the Central Kalahari helps to reveal the scale of Botswana. Gaze down, and there are no settlements to find and no busy roads to spot. In fact, you're far more likely to see an elephant herd than a town. The plane touches down on a tiny airstrip deep within the enchantment of lion country. Majestic black-maned cats rule this land, each pride controlling their area and feeding off anything that wanders past. Cheetahs and hyenas join them on the dusty plains, but they know their role is secondary.

Settle into a luxury camp and gaze out from your verandah, picking out the wildlife that is silhouetted against the horizon. You might be hundreds of miles from civilization, but Botswana excels in providing luxury accommodation in the bush. Expect hot showers, sumptuous en-suite bathrooms, elegant outdoor dining areas, and lots of space. There's no need to pack tents and no cottages close to each other. So revel in your private piece of the landscape and watch nature cast its unforgettable spell.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 5 – 7: Central Kalahari – Getting Lost in the Kalahari

All is quiet out on the Central Kalahari plains. From the safari vehicle, it seems that there is nothing but the dusty ground and a few rocks. The wind whips past, and then something emerges on the horizon. It's a small elephant herd, slowly migrating in search of water. Follow their journey from a safe distance, and more wildlife appears. Kudu and springbok skip past, also seeking out a life-giving drink. It's serene and peaceful right now. But drama lies ahead. The dozing lion pride isn't thirsty. But they sniff an opportunity. At first, they watch and wait, their keen eyes the only sign that a hunt is on the cards. Get closer, and it almost looks like they're still sleeping, but the lionesses gently rise and stare out at the wandering nomads. It's an everyday Kalahari scene, particularly in the dry season when the daily life and death struggle consumes the landscape. So sit back and take it all in. There's a good chance that the lions won't be successful. But the coming together of species is what safari is all about, and the scenes that unfold here are difficult to find anywhere else in the world.

Some national parks are restrictive about how you can explore them. Not the Kalahari. Head out on a game drive, and the park is ripe for exploration. Meet with a Bushman guide and walk into lion country. Or explore under moonlight and discover a weird nocturnal world. With these three days, you can tailor your trip to include these different experiences. On some days you might want to leave before sunrise to catch the predators out on a hunt. Other days can include a lazy three-hour picnic beside a popular waterhole. Take a late afternoon walk through the bush before being picked up by the safari truck. Your guide will use detailed local knowledge to help plan a program that reflects exactly what you want to do.

Of course, the big cats are the main attraction. But there is much more to discover on these evocative plains. Large ostrich flocks dance around, comically increasing their pace when something puts them on red alert. Gaze up and find the world's largest birds, like the kori bustard and some migratory eagles. Look around and see wildebeest and hartebeest; one is bearded and bizarre, the other has a beautiful elegance. Jackals and wild dogs cover immense ground in search of food, often seeking out the nocturnal animals that hide beneath the ground. Then as you're slowly driving back to camp, three telltale necks stand on the horizon, the giraffes are as hypnotic from a distance as they are up close. The Central Kalahari has pretty much everything; after all, it's the world's second largest game reserve. One thing it lacks is other tourists. With such a huge area to explore you could be driving and walking through land that hasn't seen people for months.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 8: Nxai Pan – Watching the Wildlife go by in Nxai Pan

While the Kalahari offers adventure, the Nxai Pan completes your itinerary with absolute relaxation. Salt and grass merge on these flat plains, the abundance of each depending on the season. Come during the wet season, and the dramatic floodplains become mirrors that reflect the sky. During the dry season, each blade of grass is slowly taken away by a myriad of ungulates. The experience here is about settling on your verandah and watching the world go by. Zebras migrate across these plains, elephants are constantly on the move, impalas nibble at the grass, and there's always an assortment of predators following the action.

You'll fly over to Nxai Pan, the plane window offering stunning views over the salt pans. Admire the changes in color; dusty savannah suddenly becomes white, and then somewhere in the distance you can spot the blue water of Okavango starting to spread. Your camp gazes east over the grasslands. There's no need to go searching for wildlife because it's all searching for you. Well, not exactly for you, but certainly for the permanent waterhole in front of your verandah. Watch a cheetah approach from a distance, first using the binoculars to work out what's coming your way. Then sit back and admire its beauty as it stops for a drink. Then nothing happens. Five minutes pass. Fifteen minutes pass. You head to your en-suite bathroom and when you return a herd of elephants has somehow appeared. How did that happen? Nighttime is more dramatic. As you lie in bed, you can hear something by the water. Do you get up? Or stay beneath the sheets? A loud cry convinces you to grab the camera, and you emerge to see a herd of kudu sprinting away beneath the moonlight.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9: Nxai Pan – Exploring the Nxai Pan

As idyllic as it is, you didn't just come here to sit on a balcony. Head off and gaze at the giant baobab trees, admiring their bizarre prehistoric shape as they dominate the salt pan. Wait beside a rocky outcrop for the lion pride to wake from its slumber. They approach the safari truck and stand beside the front wheel. It's shaded here, so the three lions decide to lie down just a meter from your quivering camera. The big cats bring drama, and the antelopes offer charm, dozens of herds slowly grazing on the grassland. By now you'll know all about the differences between oryx, kudu, and hartebeest. But that doesn't stop them from being enchanting. You can also choose to track the animals with San Bushmen, continuing your experience from the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Go slow, observe, pick up on the clues, and a herd of zebra suddenly stands in front of you. Like everything on this itinerary, it's wonderfully authentic and intimate.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Maun – Returning to Civilization

Fly to Maun International Airport and slowly make your way back to civilization. You'll see crowds of people for the first time in days, and return to a world of mobile phones and television screens. Connect with your international flight and leave Botswana with a lifetime of memories. 

What's Included: airport transfer, breakfast

If you are not ready to leave Botswana, think about adding on to your trip. Browse the Botswana travel reviews to read what travelers experienced on their customized tours.

Price

Starting Price 

$5,995
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.