During our recent trip to Botswana we got to experience a really special sleep-out under the sparkling Milky Way – right in the middle of one of the world’s largest salt flat, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan! This experience was brought to us by the travel experts of Evaneos – and is one of our favourite memories from Botswana. Also it is honestly less scary than it might first sound!
This is where we slept in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan in Botswana!
Are there any wild animals around?
That was the one question everyone kept asking! 🙂 So first things first: There are no wild animals that can cross your way when sleeping in the Salt Pan. Surprisingly the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan is less dead than it might seem at first, as there are millions of shrimp egg laying under ground – waiting desperately for the rain falls to kick in. Once the plain is flooded they hatch and provide food to the thousands of flamingos that gather here in the rainy season (approximately December – May).
The Makgadikgadi Salt Pan is pretty much empty in the dry season – no animals around!
But in the dry season (June – November) the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan is a desert covered in white salt crystals. Since there is no water and no plants grow in the arid salty ground, there’s also no incentive for animals to come here. Not even mosquitoes make their way to the salt pan, that’s why you can easily sleep there without even a mosquito net around you.
The only animals we saw from a distance where a couple of wild horses, but that was right at the edge of the pan.
What to expect from the night out in the Makgadikgadi salt pan
The sleep-out experience actually covers much more than just the night under the stars. The whole expedition started around noon from the “Planet Baobab” lodge, where we had stayed the night before. From here we got picked up by the local guides with two cars (we were 8 guests that day). First we drove around 2 hours to the Southeast from the lodge, through ever-changing landscapes. The incredible Baobab trees got less and less, than the larger bushes disappeared and in the end the grass plain changed into a complete wasteland: We arrived at the edge of the salt pan!
First we drove off into the salt pan from our lodge with our guide.
Jeeps & quad bike adventures
From here on we switched the jeeps for quad bikes (which is an add-on that we would definitely recommend to book!). In one single line we drove along the salt pan until we arrived at a meeting point with the cars again.
Then we picked up quad bikes to ride in the salt pan – this was super fun!
The meerkat colony
At the edge of the salt pan we left the quads for a while to drive through the grassland with the jeeps again for a very special outing: A wild meerkat colony! A local wildlife enthusiast has slowly accustomed the meerkats to humans by accompanying them for months and months. Now those meerkats aren’t afraid of people anymore, so as a visitor you can even get out of the cars and spend time with them.
All of us went completely crazy and jumped around the plain in awe of these super cute animals, that couldn’t care less about us being around. They kept digging up food from the sandy ground, looking up once in a while to check the surroundings for any predators. We probably spent over an hour with the meerkats, because it was just too much fun to watch!
Watching the meerkats was great fun – these shots aren’t taken with a huge zoom lens, because they get so close!
A barbecue in the Makgadikgadi salt pan
After taking about 2.000 meerkat photos we drove back to the quads and went off deeper into the salt pan. When the sun started to set we made a short break in the middle of nowhere to take sunset photos and then drove off into the night. Before it got too dark we arrived at our campsite. A fire was already awaiting us and our guides had started a barbecue for dinner. We then sat around the fire listening to stories about the salt pan and the Okavango Delta, as told by our wonderful guide.
The night ends around the fireplace in the middle of the Makgadikgadi salt pan.
When the Milky Way lights up
And without us even noticing it had gotten so dark, that the Milky Way lit up like neon lights right behind us. In awe we turned around and I set up my tripod to shoot a couple of long exposures – capturing all the glory of the stars. As there is virtually no light pollution in the salt pan you’ll get one of the clearest and impressive night skies you can imagine!
The only light distracting from the Milky Way is our toilet tent 🙂
Sleeping in absolute peace
Then it was time to go to sleep! The guides had already prepared our beds – spread out in the salt pan, all with mattresses, fresh linens, a pillow and a blanket and even what they call “bush babies” inside. Those hot water bottles can be life savers in the cold winter nights in Botswana! 🙂 Having one of those inside the sleeping bag was the best thing to warm up when the temperatures drop at night.
These sleeping bags feature extra comfort – with mattresses, pillows and fresh linens.
It’s hard to imagine how silent it can get, but the salt pan is probably one of the most soundless spots int he whole world. We were a bit sceptical if we could sleep out there without any protection around us, but as we watched the shooting stars pass by we silently glided into a state of such deep sleep, that we awoke completely fresh and new before sunrise the next morning.
Our camping site in the morning – as you can see you don’t need a lot for a night out under the stars 🙂
Breakfast at sunrise
The guides had already set up a small breakfast with muffins, fruit and hot tea straight out of the open fire. We gathered one last time around the fireplace recounting our impressions from a night under the glistening Milky Way – before we rode off into the sunrise on our quad bikes again.
After breakfast it was time to head back on our quad bikes!
“A head full of memories and a heart full of feeling completely immersed into nature!” – that’s the best way to describe how we felt after the sleep-out under the stars.
How to book your trip to the salt pans
While booking our trip to Botswana we used the services of Evaneos, which is a platform connecting individual travellers to local travel experts worldwide. They recently added Botswana to their lineup and so we tested what they had to offer! After providing Evaneos with a couple of infos about how we like to travel and which time period we are considering for Botswana, they connected us to local Botswana travel expert Theda – who runs a German-speaking agency directly in Botswana.
She came up with a personalised itinerary matching our wishes and needs, while already checking for availabilities and prices in the background. Theda is based in Maun right in the center of the tourism industry of Botswana, so she knows all the right people and of course also the best places to stay and things to see and experience. This local know-how is essential when planning a trip to Botswana!
So without Evaneos and Theda we would’ve never found out about the option to sleep in the salt pans! The service includes the full booking process, so we only had to pay one invoice to Evaneos – covering the lodge, our rental car and the full sleep-out experience.
We highly recommend to use the services of Evaneos to discover experiences like this!
What you need to know for a sleep-out in the salt pans
- Bring warm & comfortable clothes: In the African winter it can get quite cold at night, so you will want to be cozy while sleeping outside. I wore leggings, a cashmere long-sleeve and a hoodie on top. The hood helped me keep my ears warm at night and was a true lifesaver.
- Use your tripod: If you want to shoot the Milky Way you need to bring your tripod for long exposures. This was the one time I really was happy I carried my tripod through all of Botswana.
- Toilet & other amenities: The camping site has a bush toilet – which is basically a dug out hole in the ground with a wooden seat on top of it. There is toilet paper and a small tent for some privacy. After you did your business you will be asked to cover it with sand (using the provided shovel). As there is no water the camp only provides one foldable washing basin filled with water at the beginning of the night. If you want to wash your hands, better be among the first to do so while the water is still relatively fresh 😉
There are some things you should know when sleeping out in the salt pan… like how cold it can get!
What you need to know when riding quads in the salt pans
- Pack away your camera while driving: Especially while riding the quads you’ll get covered in sand and dust. This won’t hurt you too much, but your camera will definitely not appreciate the sand bath.
- Bring goggles: We wish we had known this before, but only had our regular sunglasses. This helped while riding the quads during the day, but since we also drove after sunset we didn’t have any cover for our eyes – which wasn’t ideal given the dust situation.
- Take the pole position: So this brings us to our most essential tip – if you can grab the first quad in the lineup. The first one gets least of the dust 🙂
If you ride quad bikes in the salt pan, make sure to prepare against the dust!
Thanks to Evaneos for this incredible experience!