Though you can easily visit all year round, the best time to experience the Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana is between November and April. It’s green and lush and welcomes the largest African animal migration.
The Kalahari covers 80% of Botswana and the Makgadikgadi Pan, surrounded by the Kalahari, is one of the largest salt flats in the world - making both places excellent destinations to consider for your trip to Botswana no matter what time of year you travel.
Truly a year-round destination there is a best time to visit the Makgadikgadi Pans and the Kalahari however and that is during the wet (or green) season, which runs from November to April. This is when the parched landscape transforms into lush greenery and thousands of animals head to the pans from the south to enjoy abundant grazing on the grassy plains – gemsbok, wildebeest, giraffe, and of course their predators, including cheetah and the Kalahari's famous black-maned lions.
The Makgadikgadi Pans, visible from the moon, form the bed of an ancient super-lake which once covered an area larger than Switzerland (poor Switzerland: always being compared to Africa's great game parks) and dried up many millions of years ago. These pans form are a vast and complex network of shimmering white flats during the dry season, morphing into a system of bountiful watering holes for wildlife during the wet season.
The Kalahari is actually not a desert in the true sense of the word; it is an arid savannah wilderness – home to a great diversity of hardy and nomadic wildlife, which has adapted to the bone-dry environment. The green season from November to April sees the wildlife become more concentrated due to the availability of water, resulting in the second largest migration in the world and the largest in Africa.
The zebra migration was discovered by accident and since 2001 has been actively researched. Around 25,000 zebra follow the rains during their ancient migratory patterns, making their way across the Okavango Delta to the grasslands of the Makgadigkadi Pans, stopping at the numerous watering holes along the way, returning to the Okavango Delta again – a round trip of almost 600 kilometres. The zebra are also joined by Botswana's wildebeest population, as their migration coincides. A spectacular event.
The desert landscape transforms into lush greenery and thousands of animals head to the pans from the south to enjoy abundant grazing on the grassy plains – gemsbok, wildebeest, giraffe, and of course their predators, including cheetah and the Kalahari's famous black-maned lions. The rains form shallow lakes in the salt pans, which also attracts an abundance of birdlife including flamingos, pelicans and cranes.
The Makgadikgadi Pans is also one of the most important breeding sites for the greater and lesser flamingos, an endangered species. The algae that appears and spreads rapidly when the rains come provide food for the Lesser, while the Greater feed off aquatic invertebrates and brine fly.
Temperature fluctuations here are more extreme than in other parts of the country. In the summer months the heat can climb to well past 40 degrees Celsius during the day, but with very little humidity due to the dry desert air. Cold snaps in the dry winter months can drop the temperature to below freezing at times, although the camps are well equipped for this.
In the dry season of May to October, when the grasslands dry out and the pans form a layer of bleached and blinding white salty clay, there isn't as much wildlife to be seen although there are still ostriches, meerkats, springbok, hyena, ground squirrel, steenbok, honey badger, wildcat, caracal, genet, spring hare, jackal, kudu, aardwolf and mongoose amid the majestic baobab trees.
The bushman (San) communities have survived for centuries in these areas, which are rich with their heritage dating back to the stone-age. You are able to meet and interact with them, exploring a number of ancient archaeological sites. These nomadic hunter-gatherers are considered to be the oldest culture in the world, and are also called the Basarwa in Botswana.
You are guaranteed to see an abundance of wildlife, no matter what time of year you choose to come to Botswana.