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If you are looking for a national park safari in Botswana, consider Nxai Pan National Park. Where is Nxai Pan?

Safari vehicles pass Nxai Pan National Park sign. Kalahari Desert, Africa.
Safari vehicles pass Nxai Pan National Park sign.
Kalahari Desert, Africa.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Botswana national park is located in the Kalahari Desert, southeast of the Okavango Delta. The Maun to Nata road separates Nxai Pan National Park from Makgadikgadi Pans, a game reserve south of the road. African animals migrate between the joined national parks.

Nxai Pan driving directions

Turn north off the Nata-Maun road 106 miles (179 kilometers) west of Nata. You need a 4WD vehicle to follow the sand road for 22 miles (35 kilometers) to Game Scout Camp in Nxai Pan.

When is the best time to see wildlife in Nxai Pan? During the February through April wet season, animals spread throughout Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park. In the fall and winter dry season, animals congregate around an artificial water hole, located just north of Game Scout Camp.

Accommodation in national park

Camping permits are required for North Camp, five miles (eight kilometers) north of Game Scout Camp and South Camp, which is one mile (1.6 kilometers) east. Both Botswana camps have toilets and water taps.

Because you need to be self-sufficient in Nxai Pan, you can book mobile safaris from travel agencies in Maun.

Passengers view springbok from safari vehicle.
Passengers view springbok from safari vehicle.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Wildlife photography

In spite of the heat and dust, the dry season is a great time to photograph animals on a Botswana safari. We photographed two lionesses stalking springbok around a water hole. Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) are the only gazelles in southern Africa.

Hunching low to the ground, the lionesses moved stealthily, on opposite sides of the water hole. If the springbok stopped drinking to stare, the cats paused, resting motionless on the parched soil. When the antelope slaked their thirst, the felines resumed hunting.

Suddenly, one lioness bolted like a coiled spring unfurled. Panic-stricken springbok scattered as she sprinted to the edge of the water hole, where one animal dallied a second too long.

Lioness kills springbok by water hole as other springbok watch.
Lioness kills springbok by water hole as other springbok watch.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

She skidded to a halt in a cloud of tan dust. When it settled, the lioness emerged, her teeth firmly gripping the lifeless springbok by its neck.

Elephant watching

As the wild cats began eating, an elephant swaggered over, flapping his ears and erupting dust with every step. The lionesses snarled and refused to move.

The elephant bellowed. Satisfied that he had asserted his power, the pachyderm ambled to the pond, evicting the thirsty springbok so he could drink.

Lion carries freshly killed springbok.
Lion carries freshly killed springbok.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Just when we thought the game-viewing had ended, a male lion appeared. The King of Beasts, who was resting in the shade, strutted over and roared, demanding the kill.

The lionesses bared their teeth, but reluctantly let him steal the springbok. Licking their bloody muzzles, they returned to the water hole to hunt again. The lion proudly dragged away the booty. It was the highlight of our safari to Botswana.

Baines Baobabs

The next day, we drove 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Nxai Pan to Baines' Baobabs, named after Thomas Baines, who painted them in 1862. Originally called the Sleeping Sisters, the tall baobabs (Adansonia digitata) dwarfed our Toyota Landcruisers, parked below.

The bark on the bottle-like trunks of the baobab trees resembled wrinkled elephant skin. Seed pods contain pulp that is rich in Vitamin C, calcium and antioxidants. The pulp is sour enough to use as a substitute for cream of tartar in baking powder.

Safari vehicles stop by baobab trees.
Safari vehicles stop by baobab trees.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

If you are lost in the African bush, you can find protection in the hollow centers of mature baobabs. After hiding from lions and hyenas inside, use a chunk of thornbush to block the entrance.

Wildlife tracks

As we drove out of Nxai Pan National Park, we stopped to examine some gemsbok or South African oryx (Oryx gazelle) footprints across Kudiakam Pan, which is located south of Baines' Baobabs. Both Nxai Pan and Kudiakam Pam were once part of an ancient lake bed.

The pans (clay depressions that catch water) are punctuated by islands of umbrella acacia trees. Kudiakam Pan is composed of small salt pans, but Nxai Pan escaped encrustation by leached salts because of its higher elevation.

We wished we had time to extend our Botswana safari to see wildlife in the Eastern Pan Complex, located nine miles (15 kilometers) east of South Camp, and Kgama-Kgama Pan, located 5.6 miles (nine kilometers) further northeast.

But we didn't realize the size of Nxai Pan. It covers 811 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) by itself. Combined with Makgadikgadi National Park, the size is 1,545 square miles (4,000 square kilometers).

Our advice? When you go on safari to Botswana's Nxai Pan National Park, allow plenty of driving time.


Botswana Tourism Board: www.botswanatourism.co.bw

More African safari and wildlife information:

South Africa Cheetah Encounters and Conservation

Namibia Travel - Flights, Hotels, Safaris and Tours

African Safari Planner

The Africa Book