Like nowhere else on earth! Approximately the size of Switzerland, this was once the enormous Lake Makgadikgadi which dried up thousands of years back and is now one of the most extensive salt flats on earth. It's a spectacular environment; spectacular in a harsh and sparse way, offering isolation as absolute as anywhere in Southern Africa. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is today a protected area and is flanked on either side by the Ntwetwe Pan and the Boteti River – each with camps offering the activities, unique to Botswana and mentioned below.
Makgadikgadi Pan is not a single pan but many pans with the Kalahari Desert in between. These pans are dotted here and there with palm tree islands, clumps of mopane woodland, umbrella acacias, and grasses breaking up the scenery. A stunning addition to this area is the occasional baobab standing in the vast expanse; these iconic trees are succulents, and, surprisingly, many are over a thousand years old. The Kalahari Desert is not, in fact, a desert but a semi-arid savannah! The climate is hot and dry, but annual rains seasonally cover the salty, clay crust with water and grass, creating a much-needed refuge for birds and animals from the intense Botswana sun.
Leaving aside the geography lesson, what does this area offer? A safari, like no other. This is the land that time forgot, and it does feel as if it remains much as it was thousands of years ago.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN THE MAKGADIKGADI
So why visit this remarkable place in the dry savanna of Botswana… It may seem as if there is little here. But you'd be wrong. Desert adapted animals that inhabit this area; brown hyena, oryx, black-maned Kalahari lion, nocturnal porcupine, bat-eared fox, aardvark, and honey badger. Plus the real bonus of meerkats, which – while very well known – are only found in Southern Africa in the Kalahari desert areas. It is a real treat to spend time following these cheeky endearing little fellows on foot and taking time to sit with them and follow their foraging and individual interactions. A little-known fact; the Makgadikgadi remarkably also offers one of Africa's most significant migrations! With the onset of Southern Africa's summer rains in December and January, tens of thousands of zebra make their way towards the pans and congregate along the Boteti River around April. The migration offers a spectacle like no other, as the jostling and distracted often fall prey to the ever-lurking predators in tow, including lion and black-backed jackal.
Another draw of this unique area is that it is possible to meet some of the world's oldest tribal people; the Khoisan. The 'San' people are regularly referred to as the Bushmen of the Kalahari, have lived a hunter-gatherer style existence stemming over 70,000 years. If you are open to the experience, you may accompany them on bushman walks, see their skills first-hand, and learn about their lives. You may also sit with them in the evenings and engage or follow them on their trance dance. The community members heal negative issues or sickness in the community by rhythmic dancing, hyperventilation, and clapping/singing, empowering a state of altered consciousness.
Classic game drives here are slanted towards the different, desert-adapted animals that inhabit this area. Additionally, depending on the camp, there are other additional activities such as quad biking across the seemingly endless salt pans, horse riding amongst the migratory herds, and sleep-outs under the star-studded skies.
Many of these activities are while the pans are dry, April to October, when the 'desert' is hot, empty, and promises shimmering images above the crusted salt. Typically the areas may have been devoid of larger migratory (or non-adapted) mammals, but pumped waterholes have enabled the game viewing experience year-round.
The wet season, November to April, is transformative. The desert area of the Makgadikgadi Pans becomes a time of plenty, and the dry caked salt gives way to watery grasslands bringing Africa's second-largest migration as thousands of wildebeest and zebra flood the plains. The rains and consequent grasses also bring migratory birds, including flamingos, which arrive like pink clouds from heaven! While the viewing may be different, as indicated here, the safari activities remain similar in these months. In Botswana, this is green and the low season, so it's typically a more economical time to travel. There is, however, no quad biking across the pans during this time.
WHERE TO STAY
There are some beautiful places to stay in this mesmerising area. Jack's Camp, for example, will ultimately enhance and compliment your experience. It is a pure delight to take some time away from the activities on offer to indulge in a lazy afternoon on your deck gazing over the lunar landscape or soaking in the pool reflecting on the safari road travelled or to be travelled.
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