The salt pans of Botswana

The salt pans of Botswana

Salt pans are some of the most breath taking phenomena in the natural world. They are a photographer’s paradise and offer an experience that is as surreal as it is awe-inspiring. Driving along the pans it is easy to imagine that you are the only people in the world.

It is believed that the Makgadikgadi salt pans are the biggest in the world. It is not difficult to see why if you take into consideration that they stretch about 12, 000 square kilometres. Usually the plains are dry and white and seem to be reaching endlessly to the horizon. In years with good rain the plains transform into grasslands that attract birdlife and herds of game like zebras, wildebeest, eland, giraffe, elephants, springbok and dozens (sometimes even hundreds) of flamingo’s. Of course this attracts their predators and impressive hunts could be seen if you are lucky.

During the rainy season the pans turn into powder blue lakes – a reminder of the large lake that the Makgadikgadi was in prehistoric times. It is believed that the Makgadikgadi was the largest lake in Africa. Today, during dry seasons it is transformed into a spectacular group of salt pans surrounded by a sandy desert. The pans can be described as a salty desert with very little plant life but for a thin layer of blue-green algae.

The Makgadikgadi is in north-eastern Botswana, between Maun and Francistown and consists of the Sowa, Ntwetwe, Kudiakam, Nxai and Kaucaca pans. It also encompasses Kubu Island with the huge baobab trees – an African icon. The oldest and largest baobab is about 5,300 years old and was used as the first mailbox in this area.

There are a number of accommodation options in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, ranging from budget to luxury- providing something for everyone.

There are many activities in the area including game drives, bird watching (don’t miss the flamingo’s), bushwalks of historic trains guided by experienced Bushmen and even quad-bike excursions.

The pans have been inhabited by people since the Stone Age. There are many archaeological sites scattered throughout the pans where you can see Early Man’s tools and bones of fish and animals they consumed. Today there are many villages like Mopipi, Mmatshumo and Nata still settled along the edges of the pans.

The area was declared a game reserve in 1970. In December 1992 it was enlarged and turned into a national park. The park itself is 4,900 square kilometres and was once completely submerged by Lake Makgadikgadi. It is estimated that the ancient lake covered between 60,000 and 80,000 square kilometres. The lake dissipated after tectonic activities ‘tilted’ the continent and water flowed to the ocean through Mozambique and along the Zambezi over the Victoria Falls.

Offering a unique experience in Africa, the salt plains in Botswana is an experience not to be missed on your trip through the continent. It has endless vistas, the magical salt pans and an abundance of wildlife, plus the not to be missed iconic and unique baobab trees.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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