Great salt pans, all that remain of ancient lakes

Known for meerkats and endless horizons, the Makgadikgadi is one of Botswana’s most remote and interesting safari destinations.

The Makgadikgadi is the size of Portugal and largely uninhabited by humans. Flat and featureless the Makgadikgadi Pans are some of the largest salt pans on earth. This desolate area remains dry for much of the year and seemingly devoid of all life, but the summer rains however bring a spectacular transformation. The two largest pans, Sowa and Ntwetwe, flood attracting huge herds of wildebeest and zebra along with flamingos in the east.

The only landmark for hundreds of miles is Chapman’s Tree, believed to be 3 000 to 4 000 years old. Doctor David Livingstone, perhaps Africa’s most famous explorer, crossed these pans in the 19th century, guided by this massive baobab. Seeing the baobab today reminds one of an era when much of the continent was uncharted, explorers navigating the wilderness on oxcarts through grueling terrain.

The salty surface of the pans can support no vegetation, but the fringes are covered with grasslands and massive baobabs their silhouettes create dramatic landscapes against a setting sun.

Providing protection for the pans, the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve incorporates the western end of Ntwetwe and comprises extensive grasslands and acacia woodland. Its northern boundary bounds the Nxai Pan National Park. These parks provide good game viewing in the summer when large herds of zebra and wildebeest migrate west to the Boteti region. Other species include gemsbok, eland and red hartebeest, duiker, giraffe, springbok, steenbok, and even elephant, accompanied predators, including rare brown hyena.

The Makgadikgadi has been inhabited since the Stone age with this early population adapting to the geographical and climatic changes as they have occurred.