Learn About the History and Visiting the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, part of the Kalahari Basin, is situated in the heart of a dry South African savannah in Botswana. Makgadikgadi is officially made up of several pans, the largest of which are the Sowa, Ntwetwe, and Nxai Pans, with sand desert in between.

It is home to some of the largest salt pans in the world. 3,900 kilometers square make up the Makgadikgadi Pans.

Additionally, it is located halfway between Francistown and Maun.


footprints in Makgadikgadi Lake

Due to the vast Lake Makgadikgadi’s evaporation and subsequent drying up thousands of years ago, the salt pan was formed. Modern human is believed to have started their evolutionary process in this region some 200,000 years ago, according to recent studies on human DNA. According to the research, this terrain was appropriate for early humans since it was still a huge, highly productive area of watersheds, wetlands, forests, and grasslands. [1]


elephants and zebras in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park's Boteti River

Commonly, ostriches, wildebeest, lions, meerkats, cheetahs, zebras, leopards, and hyenas can be found in the semi-arid park. But in the severe dry season with its only saline water and stifling winds, very little animal can survive here. However, after a rain, the pan can support some wildlife. Flocks of migratory birds including pelicans, ducks, geese, flamingos, and others settle in as the pans fill up with the good rain.

Weather and Climate

a herd of elephants on the Boteti River

The surface of the pans is made of clay, which is often dry and salty but occasionally covered in grass and water. The weather is hot and dry even though it rains a lot every year. Despite having two distinct seasons—the wet and dry—it is open all year round.


SUV traveling through Botswana's salt flats

The Makgadikgadi Pans are a stunning and exceptional site. You can engage in a variety of activities when visiting Makgadikgadi Pans. Some of them include seeing migratory birds and wild animals in the vast, gorgeous plains; quad riding; there are also experienced guides who can provide you with historical knowledge about the region’s old past.

You can find a big, wide, dazzling, crystallized salt crust here if you come during the dry season (April to October).

You can view the active animals in the semi-arid area if you go there between November and March, which is the wet season. The old salt crust is now alive thanks to the rain of the wet season. In its bodies of water, one can view a variety of vibrant migratory birds. Animals of many species can be seen consuming water in the rivers. The formerly flat area is now home to vegetation.

Places to Visit

Kubu Island

Kubu Island in Botswana's Makgadikgadi Pan region offers beautiful nighttime views with a baobab tree

In the vicinity of Makgadikgadi Pan, there is a dry granite rock island called Kubu Island. The indigenous people of the region regard the entire island, which is a national monument, as a sacred place. In Tswana, Kubu is named after a hippopotamus. The region is perfect for camping and offers views of various rock formations, a broad expanse of white horizon, baobab trees, and other vegetation.

Baobab Trees

the mighty baobab trees of Makgadikgadi Pans

In the Makgadikgadi Pans, baobab trees functioned as a significant historical landmark. People often refer to the baobab as the tree of life. It’s a succulent, believe it or not! It gathers and retains water in its enormous trunk during the rainy season, allowing it to produce a fruit that is nutrient-dense throughout the dry season.

Nata Bird Sanctuary

during the wet season, flamingos moved into the Makgadikgadi Pans

This avian sanctuary is an initiative run by the local community. Over 300 different bird species have been identified in the area, and migrating birds congregated there during the wet season.

The 230 square kilometer Nata Bird sanctuary is situated in Sowa Pan.

Nxai Pan National Park

kudu herd in Nxai Pan

One of the salt pans in Makgadikgadi is the Nxai Pans National Park. The Nxai and Kudiakam Pans are its two primary pans. It is covered in lush green grass following the rainy season. The abundant vegetation draws the migratory animals to graze.

Sowa Pan

an observation tower at the Sua Pan's banks

In Tswana, the word “sowa” or “sua” refers to salt. Sua Pan is a temporary body of water that swells up during the summer monsoon season. The region is well-known for its sodium carbonate mining operations. Sua Pan is the western transport hub of the 174.5-kilometer-long Francistown-Sua Pan railway line.

Ntwetwe Pan 

a family of meerkats near Ntwetwe Pan

Ntwetwe Pan is one of Makgadikgadi’s largest salt pans. It is located in Sua’s western region. The area is well-known for its spectacular sunsets and landscape on the east side. The west side features rocky outcroppings, dunes, and channels. During the rainy season, flocks of flamingos can be seen enjoying the pristine water.


salt flat with quad bikes

It’s simple as 1, 2, 3 to take a trip to this mystical realm and through the barren pans with their stunning scenery. Makgadikgadi Pans can be readily reached by self-drive safari, scheduled mobile safari, or light aircraft due to its location 162 kilometers (100 mi) east of Maun.


Makgadikgadi is a magical location. Its isolation from civilization is what keeps its natural beauty pristine. The knowledge you can pick up here is just as amazing as the surrounding scenery and wildlife.


[1] Humanity’s Birthplace Why Everyone Alive Today Can Call Northern Botswana Home. Vanessa Hayes. The conversation.com Available at: https://theconversation.com/humanitys-birthplace-why-everyone-alive-today-can-call-northern-botswana-home-125814 [Accessed on: January 25, 2023]