Two million years ago, Lake Makgadikgadi attracted an array of wildlife and humans to its banks. A hub of life and prosperity is evident in the multiple remains of stone tools found in the area. Today, the salty remnants of the lake have morphed into the Makgadikgadi Pans, spread across 16,000km² and trapped by the Kalahari Desert in the north-eastern part of Botswana.
The dry season sees the pans become a crusty expanse, inhabited only by ostriches, plovers, and reptiles – until the rains, that is. The wet season leaves a freshwater layer across the pans, which attract migratory duck, geese, pelicans and the greater flamingos that flock to the area for their breeding season; while the long grass on the fringes of the pan and the fresh water from recent rains become grazing land and respite for migrating zebra and wildebeest.
The stout trunks and spidery branches of baobabs dot the landscape, providing natural landmarks for those attempting to traverse through the saline wilderness. Visitors will be entranced by the isolated, unmoving landscape of the dry season, broken only by gusts of hot air that move undeterred across the landscape. Meanwhile, the pans spring to life after the rains, with an air of activity buzzing around its peripherals and excellent wildlife viewing on offer.
- The Makgadikgadi Pans stretch for thousands of kilometres on flat, dry earth, offering solitude and a vast open escape
- A number of camp’s in the pans or on its fringes are eager to show visitors the wonders of the deserted pans
- The dry season offers excellent quad-biking on the pans – a perfect way to cover as much ground as possible while there
- Visitors can try their hand at fossil hunting or spend some time in the company of one of Africa’s most famous animals: the meerkat
Facts and Information
Travel to the Kalahari is a uniquely rewarding experience. The Kalahari is a series of diverse and changing landscapes that are not confined to one country but span Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. It is the southernmost desert in Africa and covers a massive area of 900,000 km². The surrounding basin covers an even greater area, extending into Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe while its distinctive red sands can even be found as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Namibia, the Kalahari occupies the south and east and is often combined with a visit to the Fish River Canyon, the scond largest canyon in the world. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (in South Africa and Botswana) has a great collection of protected wildlife as does the massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.
Although we have treated them as a separate destination, the vast Makgadikgadi Pans, the largest in the world, are actually part of the Kalahari region - marvel at the flamingoes and huge migrating herds of wild animals crossing the wide open spaces! There are also a number of other pans in the region (e.g. Nxai Pan) which are filled with water during the summer rains and attract an array of animals.
The San Bushmen still occupy parts of the Kalahari and hunt and track animals in traditional fashion, using a bow and poison arrow, while gathering fruits and roots. These are Africa's oldest living people and sadly their way of life is quickly disappearing - this is your chance to see an ancient culture before it is lost forever!
Climate and Landscapes
Most of the Kalahari is not a true desert as it receives an average rainfall of between 75-250mm per year, greater than the minimum requirements for a desert. It can be exceptionally hot in the summer with temperatures reaching 40°C though the seasonal rains do alleviate the heat and attract animals to the pans and waterholes. During Spring, flowers and plants bloom transforming the usually barren landscape into an oasis of colour and life. The winter is pretty dry and while daytime temperatures are more bearable, it can get quite chilly at night.
With a variety of habitats including moist broad-leafed woodland, dry savannah thornveld, and semi-arid duneveld, the Kalahari supports an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna in one of the most sparsely populated places in the inhabited world. Private game farms the size of small countries have high concentrations of wildlife and birdlife, offering a unique and exclusive viewing experience.
The Kalahari is a massive region, spanning 900,000 km² and 3 separate countries. So getting here really depends whether you want to experience the Kalahari in South Africa, Namibia or Botswana.
Botswana, South Africa or Namibia?
Most visitors to the Kalahari tend to visit the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an absolutely enormous reserve in the centre of the country, or the vast Makgadikgadi Pans slightly further north. The closest town is Maun, with regular flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and other destinations in Botswana. Most travellers will then take a private charter flight into the camp of their choice, since Maun is still quite a distance from the reserve and Makgadikgadi.
Travellers can head to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which also spills over into Botswana. To get here, take an internal flight with South African Airlink to Upington from either Cape Town or Johannesburg. The Twee Rivieren Entrance Gate is approximately 250 km north of Upington and you will have to drive there.
The Kalahari is located in the south and east of the country and is usually combined with a trip to the majestic Fish River Canyon. Getting here is not easy, a long drive from either South Africa or Windhoek. As such most travellers head to Botswana to experience the Kalahari since it is the most viable option.
NB: The Kalahari is an ideal travel destination to combine with Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, giving you a real sense of Botswana. We can organise everything from your trip, lodge and flights.
Why not Contact Us to plan your tailor-made trip?