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Makgadikgadi Pans/Botswana

Introducing Makgadikgadi Pans

Botswana’s great salt pans, Sua, Ntwetwe and Nxai, comprise the expansive Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pans National Park, and are like no other landscape on earth.

Especially during the sizzling heat of late winter days, the stark pans take on a disorienting and ethereal austerity. Heat mirages destroy all sense of space or direction, imaginary lakes shimmer and disappear, ostriches fly and stones turn to mountains and float in mid-air.

There is a beautiful 230-sq-km wildlife refuge at Sua Pan. The Nata Sanctuary (71-656969; admission US$5; 7am-7pm) has a range of birdlife, as well as antelopes and other grassland animals. It’s 15km southeast of Nata. In the dry season, you don’t need a 4WD, but high clearance is advisable. The admission fee includes camping.

Near the southwestern corner of Sua Pan is Kubu Island, surrounded by salt and covered with ghostly baobab trees and Iron Age ruins. You can camp on the salt or at the otherworldly camp site on the island, but there’s no water. Campers must register with the Game Scouts, located at the camping ground, who expect ‘donations’ of US$6 per group; get a receipt. To get here, you need a 4WD. The route is signposted ‘Lekhubu’ from the Nata–Maun road, 24km west of Nata; after 65km, you’ll reach desultory Thabatshukudu village, on a low ridge. South of here, the route skirts a salt pan and after 15km passes a veterinary checkpoint; 1.5km south of this barrier is the signposted left-turn toward the island, which is about 20km away.

To explore any parts of the pans on your own, you need a 4WD and a good map and GPS system, as well as common sense and confidence in your driving and directional skills. Drive only in the tracks of other vehicles, and keep to the edges of the pan.