Nxai Pan National Park is an easily accessible part of the salt pans with dense wildlife, beautiful sunsets and the famous Baines Baobabs.
Nxai Pan National Park is just north of the main Maun-Nata highway, the A30. This road is surprisingly bad – unlike all the other main highways in Botswana, the surface has long stretches of potholes and is almost barely a road in places.
Tips for Nxai Pan
- Nxai Pan often not busy, though it’s still recommended to book campsites in advance.
- Pay park conservation fees in advance or have cash.
- The Tracks4Africa Botswana Map* is very useful.
- Fuel up and get groceries at Maun or Nata beforehand, there’s no fuel and only a very basic snack shop within the park.
- Prepare for hot days in summer, and freezing nights in winter.
- Check out nearby Makgadikgadi Pans or Kubu Island, or read our overall guide to the Botswanan Salt Pans.
- Find the best books to read while in Botswana
- We stopped at Nxai Pans in the middle of or two-month Botswanan road trip which you can read more about in my book*.
Nxai Pan is little-visited and off the beaten track, yet contains beautiful scenery and many animals during the winter months. Apart from the game, the famous old Baines Baobabs stand proud above the flat salty expanses in the southern section of the park. During our stay, an elephant wandered around our tent during the night, rubbing himself on the neighbouring tree. You can read more about that in the travel adventure book I wrote, No Footprints in the Night: On Safari in Botswana*.
Nxai Pans is one of the most accessible places to visit the salt pans in Botswana, though you won’t see any huge expanse of salty water like Sua Pan in food. It covers an area of 2580 km², the same size as Luxembourg, though small compared to other National Parks in Botswana.
The open plains here, instead of the usual mopane bush, make for unobscured game viewing. The flat, dusty pans dotted with umbrella thorn acacias make for a beautiful landscape, and the sunsets here can be truly spectacular.
The disadvantages of this park are that it’s fairly small so there aren’t too many places to visit, and wildlife can be scarce. Animals migrate through here between the Okavango Delta and Makgadigkadi Pans, and depending on the time of year the park can feel slightly empty. However, the landscape is always beautiful.
Information and Itinerary
There are no facilities within the park apart from a very basic shop for snacks. Fuel up in advance (at Maun 140 km west or Nata 165 km east) and bring cash to pay for entrance fees and camping if you haven’t already booked in advance.
Gate Opening Hours
Gate hours of Nxai Pan National Park are 06:00-18:30 Apr-Sep (winter), 05:30-19:00 Oct-Mar (summer). Make sure you’re back in your campsite outside these hours.
Nxai Pan National Park Itinerary
Our trip within the park involved one night of camping, at South Camp. We arrived around lunchtime and when the heat started to decrease we set off on a game drive around the park. We didn’t have time to visit the more remote Kgama Kgama Pan in the northeast corner, but only drove around the main pan. The sunset was super beautiful.
During the night an elephant wandered around our tent. The following day we attempted to drive to Baines Baobabs in the south of the park. We took the wet season northern route, as advised at the reception, but even so we couldn’t reach the trees because the surrounding pan was covered in water. This was mid-April.
Nxai Pan National Park is fairly small, though staying only one night we didn’t manage to see it all. Another night would have allowed us to visit the remote northeastern pan and given us the chance to see more animals, though nobody had seen any big cats recently.
Best time of year to visit Nxai Pan
Nxai Pan National Park remains relatively accessible all year round. In rainy season (Dec-Apr) there are often afternoon thunderstorms and the roads may become wet and muddy making driving challenging. You might not be able to reach Baines Baobabs at this time of year.
An advantage of the rainy season is the greenery, which attracts abundant game. Elephants arrive, as do large herds of springboks and zebras who often give birth here in December and March/April respectively. The defenceless young attract many predators. It can be freezing at night in winter.
In the dry season (Apr/May-Oct/Nov) the grass turns brown and many animals disappear, though the permanent waterhole still attracts many animals. Driving is very easy.
Baines Baobabs were ‘discovered’ by Thomas Baines, a naturalist, artist and adventurer who painted them in 1862. The trees themselves are over 1000 years, and perhaps 4000 years old. The giant baobabs grow so slowly that in 160 years there seems to be no change in size or shape of the trees.
There are seven large baobabs and a few baby ones. You can visit these during the day or camp at one of the three nearby campsites overnight (see below). In rainy season the trees may be impossible to reach. Ask at reception about the tracks.
How to get to Nxai Pan
Nxai Pan National Park is simple to reach, though a 4×4 is required to enter. There is one entrance, on the tarred A30 between Maun and Nata. It’s about 140 km east of Maun and 160 km west of Nata. There’s a large entrance gate on the northern side of the road where you have to check in and pay park fees and camping, if you haven’t done so already.
At the gate the staff will give you a map. During the rainy season, enquire about the best route to Baines Baobabs. The northern, slightly longer track is recommended when it’s wet, though the trees may still be surrounded by water and inaccessible. We visited in mid-April and could only see the famous trees from afar, with deep water covering a pan blocking our way.
Road Conditions in Nxai Pan
The tracks within Nxai Park are similar to elsewhere in Botswana. The sandiest section is the entrance track, where the sand is quite thick. It’s the only entrance to the park so if you get stuck there should be another vehicle along soonish. Around Nxai Pan itself the tracks have a much harder surface. Getting to Baines Baobabs can be a challenge if it’s wet. Don’t drive onto the pan unless you’re confident it’s very dry, as the hidden wet sticky mud below the surface can easily trap your car.
We drove 210 km in total in the park. We last fueled up in Nata and drove via Makgadikgadi Pans to Nxai. After exiting the park we drove straight to Maun, where we refuelled once more. Don’t rely on the fuel station at Gweta as it is only open sporadically.
Self-Drive Safaris in Nxai Pan National Park
The park and tracks are centred on Nxai Pan itself which is open grassland with scattered trees. To the north is mopane bush where it’s harder to see the game, though there are some lovely baobabs hidden amongst the scrub. The loop around the western side of the pan is called Baobab Loop – a 12 km circular loop and a mix of mopane, grassland and seasonal waterholes.
We saw elephants, gemsbok, springbok, impala, ostriches, giraffes, wildebeest and jackals. A pride of lions visits at certain times of year, though hadn’t been seen for a while when we arrived. Cheetah sightings are also common in Nxai if you’re lucky. If you’re even luckier you might see leopards, brown hyena or wild dogs.
There’s less game in the dry season, though animals still cluster the central permanent waterhole and the lions are sometimes here. Remember to ask at the ranger camp about the most recent sightings when you arrive.
Pans and Waterholes in Nxai Pan National Park
Waterhole near Ranger Camp
The waterhole just behind the ranger camp (map↑) was full of elephants when we were there. Other herbivores sometimes visit, though it’s quite near the camp and the main entrance road so the shyer animals stay away in the daytime.
Permanent Nxai Pan Waterhole
This waterhole (map↑) is the best one in the park. Elephants, giraffe, antelope and the lions all visit here. You could spend a whole day sitting here watching the comings and goings. We saw a large herd of wildebeest come to quench their thirst just before sunset, lapwings attacking a secretary bird, and jackals playing with pigeons along with an elephant in the bush behind us.
Nxai Pan: The main, largest pan and focus of the park where the highest density of wildlife is found. There are many seasonal waterholes here, plus the central permanent waterhole.
Khama Khama Pan: In the remote northeast corner of the park, this pan receives few visitors though game can be plentiful here in wet season. There’s a loop around the pan and a seasonal waterhole.
Kudiakam Pan: Flooded in the rainy season, which makes reaching Baines Baobabs impossible without driving through water. However, you can see many birds here if it’s wet. We also saw gemsbok and springbok but the density of other wildlife is low.
Nxai Pan Entrance Fee and Camping Rates
We ended up booking all our campsites in Botswana via Botswana Footprints who were very professional and their booking fee was surprisingly low. It saves a lot of hassle. You can also book by yourself by contacting Xomae Group.
Park fees: P10/30/120 for citizen/resident/international per person per day + vehicle fees per day of P10/50 for local/international. Children 8-17 half price and under 8 free.
Xomae Group manages all the campsites within Nxai Pans.
South Camp: P80/ P145/$25/$38 per person for citizen/resident/SADC/international.
Baines Baobabs: P80/ P190/$30/$50 per person for citizen/resident/SADC/international.
Children 8-17 are half price, 7 and under free.
Contact Details: Contact Xomae Group to book campsites in the reserve. Contact the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) to pay conservation fees in advance and receive a voucher, or pay in cash at the park gates (cards sometimes work at Nxai).
Department of Wildlife and National Parks: Botswana Parks and Reserves Reservation Office, +267 397 1405 or +267 318 0774, [email protected] Office hours 07:30-16:30 on weekdays. Closed weekends.
Campsites in Nxai Pan National Park
There are two campsites in the park, each with its own vibe. South Camp is on the southern edge of Nxai Pan and contains 10 spots. The sites are all close together, with hot showers and flush toilets in the ablutions facilities. In contrast, at Baines Baobabs there are only three spread out sites each with a bush toilet and bucket shower (bring your own water).
South Camp is better for game, which concentrates on Nxai Pan, while the Baines Baobab sites are more atmospheric with a remote wilderness feel and beautiful views of the trees. Each site has 3 vehicles and 12 people per site maximum.
You will also see signs for HATAB campsites – these are for private tour operators. There used to be a North Camp Campsite, but this no longer exists.
South Camp Campsites
There are 10 sites at South Camp (map↑). These sites are all close together so there isn’t much of a wilderness feel. The ablutions, surrounded by anti-elephant spikes, were clean and well-maintained. The rangers camp is nearby and you can buy a few snacks in the tuckshop. Sites 1 and 2 are slightly more private than the others so probably the best sites.
South Camp is a great spot for elephants – they’re always visiting the waterhole by the rangers camp and trying to get to the ablutions. We had an elephant wandering around our car after dark and rubbing itself on a nearby tree. I was quite scared, and hoping it wouldn’t try and scratch that itch on our car.
Stay out late to enjoy the beautiful sunsets, but remember to be back in camp before it’s fully dark (18:30 Apr-Sep, 19:00 Oct-Mar).
Baines Baobabs Campsites
There are 3 secluded campsites by Baines Baobabs, surrounded by Kudiakam Pan and about 1 hour from the entrance gate. They’re a few kilometres apart so give a nice sense of wilderness. However, they may not be accessible in the rainy season.
All three campsites have a pit toilet and bucket-shower enclosure (bring your own water) but no other facilities. There may be some visitors to the trees, particularly around midday and early afternoon when guided tour groups visit. In the evenings it’s magically quiet.
If you camp here make sure to get up early and watch the sun rise over the magnificent Baobabs.
Site 1: (map↑): Closest to the baobabs (750 m away) with great views across the pan to the trees. A drawback is that you can see people visiting the trees, and they can see you, but there is nobody in the evenings. This campsite surrounds a large baobab.
Site 2: (map↑): This site contains two baobab trees, and has good views plus more privacy than site 1, though you can’t directly see Baines Baobabs.
Site 3: (map↑): The most private campsite, surrounded by scrub, but this also obscures most of the view. A large baobab is the central feature of this campsite.
Nxai Pan Camp Lodge
Nxai Pan Camp (Website, TripAdvisor Reviews*), sometimes called Kwando Nxai Lodge, is a luxury lodge opened in 2009 and the only accommodation option in Nxai that isn’t camping. The lodge overlooks the western edge of the pan and is surrounded by open plains, with a waterhole visible. Activities include game drives, trips to Baines Baobabs, nature walks with Bushmen and stargazing. Contact: +2676861449, [email protected]
Nxai Pan National Park was a stop in Botswana on our two-month road trip which you can find out more about by reading the travel adventure book I wrote, No Footprints in the Night: On Safari in Botswana*.
The speed limit in Nxai Pan National Park is 40 km/h.
Nxai means ‘pan’ in the local San language, though it also is the name of the curved stick that the San people use to hook springhares out of their burrows.
Thomas Baines painted his famous watercolour 160 years ago. However, the trees themselves are over 1000 years old and maybe even 4000 years old.
Nxai Pan National Park is just north of the A3 highway, 140 km east of Maun and 165 km west of Nata.
Yes, you won’t be allowed in the park without a 4×4.
During rainy season (Nov-Apr) you’ll see the most game, but the tracks might be muddy and difficult. In dry season (May-Oct/Nov) the tracks are easy but the game may be sparse.