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Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Makgadikgadi Salt Pans Destinations

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The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park contains the world’s largest salt pan landscape. It covers an area of over 30,000 km² and is technically not a single pan, but consists of many pans – the largest of which are Sua, Nwetwe and Nxai pans. The Makgadikgadi Pans were once part of the old Makgadikgadi lake bed – an ancient lake that is believed to have covered as much as 80,000 km², and started drying up almost 10,000 years ago, leaving huge salt-encrusted pans behind.  The salt-baked, sun-scorched Pans are clear of vegetation, quite simply because nothing can grow in the salty soil, but around them are nutritious grasslands and enormous baobab trees. The contrast is breath-taking. 

If you visit the pans in the dry season, when the landscape is arid and the land is as dry as a bone, you might not believe that it hosts Africa’s largest zebra migration and is also home to one of the largest congregations of flamingos in the world. In the desert, rain is everything. When the drops start to fall, the transformation of the desert is remarkable.  From November onwards, the Pans start to fill with water, the cycle of life is stimulated, and algae blooms, crustaceans breed, and clouds of flamingo descend.  The salt pans (the Sua Pan in particular) are considered one of the most important breeding sites in southern Africa for lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) and greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber roseus).  By January to March the pans are transformed into lush, nutritious grasslands.  Then comes the rumble of Africa’s second largest ungulate migration; epic herds of 30,000 zebra and wildebeest chased by black-maned lion, cheetah, wild dog and leopard. In the dry season (May to October), the Pans dry up again, a haze settles above the salt, and the sun shimmers on the scorched, dry ground.  Elephant, brown hyena, bat-eared foxes, aardvark and aardwolves are also regularly seen throughout the year.

Lodges in the Makgadikgadi National Park offer game drives to see the unique desert wildlife and walks with the Zu’/hoasi bushmen to discover the amazing creatures that somehow manage to survive (and thrive) in this harsh environment.  In the dry season there are quad bike adventures across the otherworldly salt pans and in the green season, horseback safaris allow visitors to mingle with the great herds of zebra and wildebeest.

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Gail Davis
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