As we mentioned in the article about Makgadikgadi Pans, the northeast of Botswana consists of multiple pans with various sizes. Nxai Pan, among others, is so large that it has a separate national park. Although the fossilized lakebed is dry most of the time, it turns green with the arrival of annual rains and attracts thousands of animals from the surrounding national parks. Besides the animals, the pan is home to picturesque vegetation such as the famous Baines Baobabs.
Despite its small size, Nxai Pan National Park is one of the most postcard-worthy parks in Africa.
Nxai Pan’s formation is thought to have started five million years ago. Initially, it was a lake that received streams from the surrounding rivers Chobe, Okavango, and Zambezi.
The area was state-owned between the 18th and the 20th centuries. It was only declared a game reserve in 1970 and a national park in 1992.
There are two main sections in the park. The first one is the lakebed of Nxai Pan with 40 square km. This part is mainly characterized by grass, mopane woodland and occasional acacia trees. The permanent waterhole at the center of the grassland is critical for the survival of the wildlife. It also enables the growth of diverse vegetation such as umbrella thorn trees.
The south of Nxai Pan has a high concentration of Baines’ Baobabs, which were discovered and painted by the famous artist Thomas Baines.
The wildlife-viewing in Nxai Pans is seasonal similarly to Makgadikgadi Pan National Park; however, there are permanent species in the pan as well. The mopane woodland provides a pleasant habitat all year round for giraffe, kudu, springbok, as well as predators like lion, jackal, and bat-eared fox.
During the rainy season between November and March, large herds of herbivores migrate near the center of the pan to benefit from the nutritious grassland and the waterhole. The most frequent visitors are wildebeest, zebra, springbok, and gemsbok, which can be found in groups of thousands. The other visitors of the park are giraffe, kudu, impala and African bush elephant. Many herds contain a large number of baby animals.
Lion, cheetah and hyena species will track down the herbivores during the migration. Leopards are also present, although much rarer than the other big cats.
Some endangered species like wild dogs, aardwolves, and honey badgers can also be spotted.
Some parts of the pan form puddles after weeks of rain, which draws a great variety of birds such as red-necked falcons and flamingo.
One of the most popular activities in Nxai Pan National Park is to visit the Baines’ Baobabs. There are seven ginormous baobabs in the area that inspired the famous adventurer Thomas Baines for his stories and paintings. The day trips to the Baines’ Baobabs include a picnic lunch, so you can have an opportunity to relax in the shadows of these massive trees.
Another popular activity is a nature walk with a San bushmen tracker. Learning about the nomadic lifestyle of the first human inhabitants of Botswana, you can enrich your Botswana safari experience. The trackers will mention every aspect of San lifestyle from their use of herbs as medicine to their hunting methods.
What about safari drives? Nxai Pan has some advantages that make game drives much more straightforward and entertaining. Because the flat terrain exposes the wildlife even during the rainy season, animal sightings are almost always guaranteed. Nxai Pan is especially known for cheetah sightings, whose running and hunting skills can be observed at its best on the flat surface.
Once the darkness rolls in, the park invites visitors to a new range of activities. Because the area is far from every source of light pollution, stargazing is a must in Nxai Pan. Alternatively, you can join the night safaris and witness a leopard eating its prey on top of a tree.
Climate – Best Time To Visit
The pans in Botswana have a timeline opposite to many other safari parks. Unlike the other parks in Botswana, the rainy season between November and March is the most festive time of the year for Nxai Pan. This is the best time for not only witnessing one of the biggest wildlife migrations in Southern Africa but also seeing baby animals. The only problem with the wet season is the road conditions, especially the sticky mud. So, be sure to get on a 4X4.
The dry season is much quieter both in terms of visitors and animals. There is still decent wildlife congregated around the waterhole and the woodland, but its variety will not be as great as that of the wet season. Nevertheless, the dry season creates perfect photographic opportunities with mostly sunny days and uninterrupted views.
You should keep in mind that it gets extremely cold at night between June and August. On the other hand, the temperature peaks in October up to 35 degrees during the day. If you are visiting during these months, you must pack the appropriate clothing to prepare for the extreme weather conditions.
The two closest airports to Nxai Pan are Maun and Kasane. Maun is only 162 km to the west of the park.
Once you are at one of the airports, you can either hire a car from one of the rental companies or arrange airport pickup. Alternatively, you can book a ticket for an air-charter. These small air shuttles take the passengers to the airstrip owned by the lodge in the park.
Tips &Things you Need To Know
There are two main campsites in Nxai Pan divided as north and south. Besides, the park offers a more luxurious lodge stay. Although it is much more expensive, it offers wildlife viewing from lookout points facing the waterhole. The other facilities include a swimming pool, restaurant, curio shop, bar, and laundry service.
It is worth noting that the two campsites are unfenced, providing unlimited entry for wildlife. You should never wander off alone at night, as elephants can get aggressive if they perceive you as a threat.
The campsites that are close to the Baines’ Baobabs can be noisy during the day because of the day visitors.
The South Camp is close to the waterhole, making it easy to spot elephants throughout the day.
The closest petrol station to Nxai Pan is in Gweta, but they sometimes run out of fuel. Make sure to fill up in Maun or Kasane if you are self-driving.
Nxai Pans National Park is in a high-risk malaria zone, so you must consult your doctor to find out about the medication needed.