MAKGADIKGADI PANS NATIONAL PARK
The area that is now covered by Makgadikgadi pans national park was once a 30m deep lake that occupied several square miles. But has since thousands of years, dried up and water has evaporated leaving salt pans stretching as far as the eyes can see. Today, the area is though to be the largest salt flats in the world. Within the salt plains are isolates rocky outcrops, specks of giant baobab trees, dry savannah bushes and palm trees.
Contrary to its local translation for a vast lifeless land, Makgadikgadi boasts of thousands of wild animals, reptiles and birds. Formerly a game reserve in 1970, Makgadikgadi is now a protected national park covering an area of close to 2,000 sq km Sowa and Ntwetwe and other smaller salt pans that make it the largest salt pan worldwide.
Makgadikgadi Botswana safaris
The park’s habitat ranges across riverine woodlands, scrubs, salt pans, weathered and dry baobab trees, spiky grasslands and other unique plant species.
When the sparse summer rain comes, shallow depressions of saline clay and silt become pools that attract a migration of wildlife – zebra, wildebeest, eland, bushbuck, duiker, waterbuck, gemsbok, springbok and hartebeest ebb and flow across the plains in ceaseless pursuit of water and grazing. Boteti river that flows from Okavango is a major source of life to the dry salt pans and attracts several game during the dry season ( june to July) to its western riverbank
Following in their spoors are the inevitable array of carnivores – lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, and hyena. It is not an uncommon sight to see game, far out on the pans eating the mineral-rich silt, as if up to their knees in water as the heat shimmers a mirage across the surface of the pans.
The bird life is a specialist’s dream – white backed and lappet faced vultures, bateleur, ostrich, kori bustard, black korhaan and bronze winged courser, four species of sand grouse and a startling variety of larks. In the wet season flamingos, pelicans, avocet and a huge range of ducks move into the area to feed on the algae that form on the flooded salt pans. Sowa Salt pan attract several water birds at the Nata bird sanctuary found on the main route to Sowa pan.
Best time to visit
January to April are the best months to visit Makgadikgadi Botswana safaris when game sifts south of the park to Boteti riverbanks in search water as predators feast on the large numbers of animals that migrate here. August to November is the dry season but associated with strong dry winds that blow away sandy silt.
The rains flood most of the salt pans transforming it into a sea of life for many birds like pink flamingoes that use the area as a breeding ground. The park is then inaccessible with slippery roads and you surely need an expert game ranger to escort you on a game drive. Bear in mind that this area is Malarial and you will need to pack your anti-malaria treatment and drugs.
Due to its harsh weather, the salt pans have remained void of human settlement for several years after Stone Age Era. There are Bushman hunting shelters and sacred sites and the shorelines of Makgadikgadi are littered with archaeological relics including Stone Age tools. The seasonal bounty of game has attracted hunters through the ages.
You’ll find two camping sites overlooking the salt plains on Njugha hill with basic facilities and latrines. If you are lucky enough, you will experience the migrations of zebras, wildebeest and other animals on trail that can be seen from the camp sites. Campers are encouraged to carry plenty of drinking water and other supplies.
Find a public camping ground at Kumaga locate droughly 50km from the main park gate on the banks of Boteti river. Sunsets are splendid on this camp site with the pans turning golden.