Botswana : Makgadikgadi Pans NP
Situated in the Kalahari Desert, home to the San people, lies the world's biggest salt pan, the Makgadikgadi Pan, which is all that remains of an ancient inland sea. Over the years it has become lots of smaller pans, some huge, some just the size of a garden pond, all glistening with salt. During the rains water lies on the pans attracting huge numbers of flamingos and other migratory birds and it is the only place in Southern Africa that you find the migration of thousands of wildebeest and zebra and, as always, their predators close behind. The dry season is a complete contrast and only the animals and birds which have adapted to these harsh conditions can survive here. A fun way to explore the pans is on quad bikes (dry season only), where relics of ancient man can be found at archaeological sites, and you camp out under the stars with a 360-degree vista of emptiness.
Planet Baobab is a funky little place on the road between Maun and Francistown offering an affordable, family-friendly option for experiencing the Makgadikgadi Pans. Originally an overland staging post, it has developed over the years to offer very comfortable low-cost accommodation, with eight quirky and colourful traditional-style Bakalanga huts (en-suite) and seven Baobab huts which have shared ablutions. There is also camping available for self-drive guests. It offers a great range of interesting activities. Take guided walks or quad bike trips across the lunar landscape of the pans (with the option of staying overnight under the stars), learn about the geology and find 1,000 year old flint spear heads, meet the intriguing meerkats as well as the local Batswana and learn about their way of life.
Jack's Camp and its more recent sister camp, San Camp, are the first permanent camps in the Makgadikgadi Pans. Jack's Camp is an elegant and eccentric safari camp with 10 canvas tents fashioned in a classical 1940s style. Set on a palm-tree island, the guest tents are each unique and have four-poster Zanzibari beds, Persian carpets and paraffin lamps that all add to the overwhelming charm of this camp. The unusual en-suite bathroom has a teak throne-style flushing toilet, copper wash basin and indoor and outdoor showers. The camp has lots of unique touches, like the Persian-style tea tent furnished with rugs and cushions where you enjoy freshly-baked afternoon tea. There is some game viewing but activities are largely focused on the Bushmen history and the area's geology and archaeology, with nature drives and walks and visits to local sites of archaeological interest. In the dry season you can explore the Pans on 4WD quad bikes.
The smaller San camp is sited right on the edge of the pans and has a lovely remote and romantic feel to it. The camp has six large walk-in white canvas tents in a similar style to that of Jack's Camp, with high beds and views over the pans. The private bathrooms have bucket showers, copper water jugs and paraffin lamps that provide a rustic but comfortable touch in keeping with the stark environment of the surrounding area. There is an incredible 360 degree horizon, and, like Jack's Camp, the activities are aimed at teaching you about the archaeology and anthropology with walks and drives with a Bushman tracker, and visits to historical baobab trees used by Livingstone and Selous. (Camp currently closed but expected to re-open in 2011).
Leroo-La-Tau Safari Lodge is set on cliffs 15m above the Boteti Riverbed, which borders with the Makgadikgadi National Park. It sleeps up to 24 people in seven raised en-suite chalets, each with their own viewing deck. The largely glass front of the main thatched lodge overlooks the swimming pool and Boteti Riverbed. Summertime on the Boteti is a birders' paradise and the bush is green and verdant, while the winter months see large-scale migration of wildebeest and zebra into the area with the attendant predators such as lion and cheetah. Activities include game drives during the day and night and walking safaris, and visits to Nxai Pan, Baine's baobabs and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve can also be arranged.