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Venture into the midst of the northern Kalahari desert in Botswana, and you’ll stumble across a vast and ancient complex of flat salt pans. Undisturbed for millions of years, this harsh, isolated landscape takes you to another world, far from modern life.
The wildlife is incredible and the scenery is stunning, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find the salt pans are home to incredible geology, culture and history.
The Great Salt Pans are dominated by the Makgadikgadi Pans, a massive salty stretch of around 10,000km2, where lush grasslands and palm-tree islands stand out on the dazzling white surfaces.
Nxai Pan National Park lies north of Makgadikgadi, where fossil pans are blanketed in grasslands filled with wildlife. Visit during the dry season for the best chance to spot lion, cheetah, spotted hyena, giraffe, springbok, gemsbok and hartebeest.
This is also one of the best areas to spot some of Africa’s rarest animals including the African wild dog and the brown hyena, a shy creature which can be spotted around San Camp on the edge of the Makgadikgadi. Here, you can also visit semi-habituated meerkat colonies, where wild meerkats usually ignore the presence of humans, or get up close for a memorable encounter.
One of the most special activities to do in the Salt Pans, is to walk with the San bushmen trackers of the region. You’ll venture into the bush as they share their incredible wisdom, learning about their nomadic lifestyle and how they hunt, gather water and use plants for medicinal purposes.
In Nxai Pan, you can’t miss a day trip to the impressive Baines’ Baobabs. These ancient trees were painted by the adventurous artist Thomas Baines in 1862, and 150 years later, the trees remain almost identical to the paintings.
The Great Salt Pans should be visited in both the dry and wet seasons to experience all of its unique treasures. Wildlife viewing is generally best during the dry season of May to October, and the shimmering white salt pans are quite striking when they’re at their driest.
Meanwhile, the wet season from November to April brings lush green scenery and hordes of birds, from bright pink flamingo to ducks, geese and pelicans. The pans are also the site of the huge migration of zebra and wildebeest in the wet season, one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Africa.
The Great Salt Pans feature on our Botswana Wildlife & Bird Watching tour, where you’ll have the chance to spot the brown hyena, one of Africa’s rarest mammals. On our Botswana Family Safari, you can spot big game right from your camp as they wander through a nearby watering hole, while couples will love our Botswana Honeymoon Safari, where you can venture out to meet semi-habituated meerkat families.
There is a large variety of lodges and camps in The Great Salt Pans. Stay deep in the wilderness at San Camp, on the edge of the Ntwetwe Pan, with seven billowing white tents, four-poster beds, Persian rugs and a magical Arabian Nights atmosphere. Families will love Nxai Pan Camp, with an outdoor pool with views of a nearby watering hole, while honeymooners will melt into a romantic and surreal environment at Camp Kalahari.