Picture an area the size of Portugal that’s flat, harsh, isolated, dotted with sparse vegetation, and largely uninhabitable. Sounds bleak, but these very factors are what have preserved a wealth of fascinating history and treasures for those who dare explore it.
10 Interesting Facts about the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
- The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans cover 10,000-12,000 km2, possibly the largest salt pans in the world. By comparison, Bonneville Salt Flats are 104 km2.
- The pans are part of the Kalahari desert, an area largely untouched for about 65 million years.
- The Makgadikgadi is a series of pans, the largest of which are Sowa and Ntwetwe, both surrounded by many smaller pans. Sand dunes, rocky islands, an occasional palm tree island, and desert terrain are interspersed between the pans.
- Vegetation cannot survive on the salt but the fringes are covered in grasslands. Massive baobab trees thrive in some of the grassy areas.
- The area was once a superlake, almost 30m deep, covering an area of 80,000 km2. The salt pans were left behind when the climate changed and the water evaporated 10,000 year ago.
- During and following years of substantial rain, the largest pans flood, attracting wildlife like zebra and wildebeast to the grassy plains. They can also attract up to hundreds of thousands of flamingos to the Sowa and Nata Sanctuaries.
- Today there is very little habitation, however villages between the pans and on the fringes are evidence that people have survived here as far back as the Stone Age.
- The Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve offers good wildlife viewing during the rains. Large herds of zebra and wildebeest pass through on their westward migration. As well, gemsbok, eland, red hartebeest, kudu, bushbuck, duiker, giraffe, springbok, steenbok, elephants, and all their predators can be seen.
- Kubu Island is a tiny cresent-shaped rocky outcrop and treasure trove on the Sowa pan’s south west shore, rich in archeological and historical remains. Stone Age tools and arrowheads can still be found. A circular stone wall and stone cairns suggest that Kubu may have been part of the great Zimbabwe empire. Fossils, eroded and rounded by water and time are strewn on the beach. Nearby rocks are covered in fossilized guano.
- Nata Sanctuary is Botwana’s first community-based conservation project, managed and staffed by residents of four local communities. Proceeds from tourism activities are shared for development projects of their choice.
A trip to the Makgadikgadi Pans is part of Renedian’s Waterfalls and Wildlife Motorcycle Safari.
photo credit: still life in the salt plains, sambhar salt lake via photopin (license)