Covering an area of more than 1,500 square miles, the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve is essentially a salt pan located in the northeastern part of Botswana. This salt pan is the remains of Lake Makgadikgadi which once submerged the entire area. Following the first rain of every wet season, the pan creates an important habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating animals including wildebeest, zebras, as well as predators that prey on them. Bird species such as great white pelicans, geese, and ducks also pass the pan in their migratory path. Large population of flamingo finds home in the pan, too.
When to Visit Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve
The difference between dry and wet seasons is prominent in Makgadikgadi Pans, but each has its own tourism appeals you should not miss. In dry season where temperature is high and the habitat becomes nearly impossible to tolerate for wildlife, the pans appear as if they are some sorts of desolations. Food and water is scarce, yet all the animals are all well-adapted to such environment that they can survive until the rain falls again. When rain does fall, Makgadikgadi Pans transform into a heavenly place that provides more than enough resources of plants and hundreds of animal species to thrive. Rain is a sign that the season of plenty has come. All of those make Makgadikgadi Pans great as all-year round destination.
Best Places to Visit
Within its vast area, Makgadikgadi Pans are sprinkled with a lot of different attractions and unique tourism experiences. Animal sightings and natural adventures are all around indeed, but there are certain locations where you can get the best of both worlds.
Kubu Island: located at the southwestern part of Sowa Pan, Kubu Island is only about one kilometer long. The entire island is a national monument and considered sacred by the indigenous people. It is a dry granite rock island in the shape of a crescent moon. Slopes of Kubu Island are sprinkled with beaches of rounded pebbles. It is worth mentioning that many of the rocks in the island are covered in fossilized guano; this is an indication that this place was once filled with water. On the shorelines of the island, you can still see the remnants of old civilizations such as Stone Age tools, arrowheads, stone wall, and stone cairns.
Another interesting part of Kubu Island is the existence of Baobabs. It may seem strange that a plant species can survive in such harsh condition, but Baobab has an ingenious way to adapt. A fully grown Baobab can store up to 120,000 liters of water in its trunk. This tree can also shred its leaves during long drought to minimize water usage. A view consisting of big trees in the middle of salt pan in one image may sound strange, but this is real in Kubu Island.
Nata Bird Sanctuary: this sanctuary is actually quite wide at almost 100 square miles. It has pans and grasslands, making it more livable for wildlife and humans alike. It has a lot of camping facilities at reasonable prices as well. Nata Sanctuary is actually the first community-based conservation project in Botswana. Everything is managed by the residents of four local communities including Nata, Maphosa, Sepako, and Manxotae. All proceeds from tourism activities in the sanctuary are shared for development projects by local communities as well.
Camping facilities in the sanctuary provide easy access to the pans. During rainy season when wildlife seems to be all over the place (because in fact it is), the sanctuary provides some of the best places to start game viewing and birds-watching. Thousands of birds are flocking into the pan including pelicans, flamingos, ducks, geese, and more. The sanctuary is home to 165 (or more) species of birds, in addition to approximately 250,000 of flamingos.
Nxai Pan National Park: comprised of several large pans (Nxai Pan, Kudiakam Pan, and Kgama-Kgama Pan) and smaller pans that store water during rainy season, the national park is home to a diverse wildlife. The larger pans were once salt lakes, but now they are grassed and filled with small islands. The national park has rich vegetations and water for animals to feed on and thrive.
Especially for the national park, the best attraction is game viewing. However, it is a seasonal activity that happens only during rainy season (December to April). There are some artificial watering points too. Some of the most common animals in the area include lion, giraffe, cheetah, wild dog, impala, springbok, wildebeest, zebra, and brown hyena; sometimes elephants and buffalos visit the place as well.
With all the natural attractions that Makgadikgadi offers, you are provided with various activities and wonders to explore. Popular activities in Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve are as follows:
Game Viewing: the most popular activity is of course game viewing. Large herds of wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes are easy sightings during rainy season. Thousands of flamingos along with numerous species of birds migrating into the pans are not to be missed either.
Quad-Bike Adventure: apart from the most popular areas previously mentioned, Makgadikgadi Pans have more interesting places hidden in more remote areas. The best way to explore them is on a quad-bike.
Historical Trails: lessons about ancient cultures, methods, beliefs, and way of life are all over the place. You probably cannot notice the significance of little details until you engage in a historic trail adventure.
In 1970, the pan was declared as Game Reserve, but it changed in 1992 when it underwent area expansion and became a national park. Today it has an area or nearly 1,900 square miles. Makgadikgadi is comprised of several pans including Sua (Sowa), Nwetwe, and Nxai pans. Sandy deserts separate those individual pans, creating a unique contrasting scenic views and allowing for a diverse wildlife. Every island has distinguishable landmarks and characteristics, forcing to explore deeper and wider to get a complete experience in the pans.