Situated in the center of the savanna of north eastern Botswana, the Makgadikgadi Pan is one of the largest salt flats in the world. The pan is the remnant of Lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient lake 80,000 km² (30,888 miles²) in area and 30 m (90 ft) deep. The lake dried up 10,000 years ago, leaving only a flat expanse of clay crusted with light-catching white salt and other minerals. The pan is located in the Kalahari Basin, along with other commonly-visited pans: Sua, Ntwetwe and Nxai Pans, forming the largest salt pans in the world. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is situated on the western edge of this region, and the Nxai Pans National Park is located just above it, making it easy to visit them both on one safari.
As the sun sets over the remote Makgadikgadi Pan in the Kalahari Desert, the vast dome of countless stars are mirrored in the sparkling crystals of the salt flats below, the dried remnants that tell the story of the ancient and enormous lake. Eternity begins here, with unending horizons and soul-expanding isolation marking the enormity of space, while layers of history, from Dr. Livingstone’s famous journey to stone tool relics of pre-human cultures, dig back through immemorial time.
A visit to Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in the dry season, from March to September, is the best time to experience the otherworldly landscape of the pans. Predators such as lions cheetah, leopards and hyenas are attracted by the migrating herds of wildebeest and one of Africa's biggest zebra populations. Graceful springbok, playful meerkats and elegant ostriches are also common sights.
Less common is the rare white rhinoceros. Orapa Game Park, nearby to Makgadikgadi Pans, is a sanctuary for white rhinos and features one of South Africa’s most respected breeding programs, a crown jewel of endangered species conservation.
The deluge of rains begins in November, and with it come the largest herds of animals seeking relief from the dry, hot summer. Water birds, including Great White Pelicans, ducks, teals, spoonbills and geese flock to the water-filled pans by the thousands. But not to be missed is the flamboyance of a sky full of tens of thousands of pink flamingos. The only breeding population of Greater Flamingos in southern Africa come home to the pan. The heavy rainfalls of the very wettest seasons coax big game such as elephants and buffalo into the area.
Chapman's Baobab is one of Africa's largest trees. Over 3,000 years old and sporting a girth of 25 m (82 ft), this is the most prominent landmark on the lonely savannah. A natural navigational draw, it served as a post office for nineteenth century explorers, who left letters in a hollow in its trunk.
Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is open year-round. Game viewing is best from April to June. It is best to view the wildlife by air during the wet season, from mid-November to March, as the roads are practically inaccessible.