Flying over Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans

Posted by Jan And Jay Roode on 27 June 2011 Tags:, , ,

Living in the busy city of Johannesburg one could almost find it impossible to imagine a place so vast it seems to exist more of sky than of land. The huge, endless, uninhabited spaces of Botswana‘s  Makgadikgadi Pans are a mere three-and-a-half-hours flight from Johannesburg in a light aircraft and are so surreal when viewed from above that one feels transported into a parallel universe, not just over a national border.

The Makgadikgadi consists of numerous pans, but the three major ones are Ntwetwe Pan, Sowa Pan and Nxai Pan. Collectively the Makgadikgadi is said to be the largest salt pan in the world covering over 12 500 km², an area almost the same size as Portugal. The silvery expanse bears testimony to a super lake that once covered most of northern Botswana more than five million years ago.

In the dry season hot winds and salt water make it very difficult for the great herds to survive here but following the rainy season the pans become an oasis and essential habitat for wildebeest and zebra populations and the large predators that prey on them.

The wet season also attracts a spectacular array of water birds. Ducks, geese, pelican and flamingo dot the lakes like glistening pearls and can be viewed particularly well with the help of an experienced guide at the community run Nata Bird Sanctuary.

Visiting the Makgadikgadi is not something that can be described it is something that needs to be experienced. It is probably as close as one can come to experiencing Africa as it was hundreds of years ago. The deep stillness whispers softly, changing you forever.


Visiting the Makgadikgadi

There are few serviced facilities in the Makgadikgadi so it is more suited to self-sufficient 4×4 parties and fly-in enthusiasts.

For the aviator there are airstrips at Nata, Gweta and Sowa, however there is no access to Avgas (aviation gasoline). 95 unleaded fuel is available at petrol stations for those aircraft that can take Mogas (motor gasoline) but should be viewed with suspicion.

There are a number of lodges close to airfields that provide transfers and accommodation:


To see more photographs of the Makgadikgadi, visit