National Parks

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana

Makgadikgadi Salt Pans is one of the largest on earth. A lunar-like landscape, the epitome of epic.

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Everything you need to know about Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

There are very few desolate destinations that make it onto the radar of international adventurers. This is why the popularity of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park can be a bit of a mystery to travellers who haven’t encountered the region in person. And therein lies its true allure – a seemingly uninspiring landscape that bursts into awe-inspiring life at the slightest provocation.

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park recalls prior abundance

The salt pans at the heart of the game reserve are the remains of an African super lake, the enormous Lake Makgadikgadi, which now encompasses an area of 3 900 sq. km in the midst of the arid savanna of north-eastern Botswana – making it one of the largest salt flats on earth. If you want to get technical about it, it’s actually a few different salt pans, the biggest of which are the Sua (Sowa), Nwetwe and Nxai Pans, connected by a sand dunes, rocky islands and peninsulas, and desert terrain. The park itself is roughly the size of Portugal (12 000 sq. km), and the best way to get there is to fly into Maun and then hop aboard a 40-minute charter flight to one of its lodges.

The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park landscape

So why the big fuss about the remnants of a lake that dried up more than 2000 years ago? First off – it’s the epitome of epic. Nothing can quite prepare you for the vastness of the lunar-like landscape. Here, in the arid reaches of the Eastern Kalahari, climate is primarily hot (and we do mean hot) and dry but with regular annual rains. As such, the pans are a flaky, salty expanse for a larger part of the year, which then transforms into a sea of fresh, young grass as rains flood the plains during the summer months. This is when the true spectacle begins.

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What type of wildlife will we see?

During the dry months, the park is waterless and bone dry, which means there are very few large mammals around. With its hot winds and salt water, it’s just not hospitable terrain. However, once the rain starts to fall from October to April, the pan becomes the backdrop of the great Southern African migration, with 20 000+ zebras and wildebeests arriving in search of rain-sprouted grass, naturally with a slew of predators hot on their heels. This is also when the flamingos pull in from all over the continent, arriving in tens (sometimes hundreds!) of thousands, along with migratory birds such as ducks, geese and great white pelicans. In short – you can point your camera in pretty much any direction and come away with a National Geographic-worthy shot.

When to visit

By far the best way to see the pans in migratory season is to book a scenic flight that will allow you to see the bustling activity, including the vast flamingo flocks, from the top. If you prefer to stay with your feet on terra firma, a walking excursion with native Bushmen could introduce you to the pans from entirely unique perspective. Alternatively, traverse the desert on horseback or quadbike, or book a star-gazing experience with a knowledgeable guide who will provide context in the form of African myths and legends.

As always, when you go depends on what you want to experience. For wildlife, Makgadikgadi is better during the rainy season (November – March/April). During the dry season when you can access the salt pans, you can enjoy activities such as quad biking, sleeping out on the salt pans and enjoying the open vistas. During this time, game viewing is still good (you will see big herds of Zebra and Wildebeest). However, the pans itself is only accessible during the dry season – from March to October. This is when the glaring white surface spreads so far that you can see the curvature of the earth.

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