During the rainy season (November to May), huge flocks of water birds congregate at the Nata Delta, which is formed when the Nata River flows into the northern end of the Sowa Pan. When the rains are at their heaviest (December to February), the pan is covered with a thin film of water that reflects the sky and obliterates the horizon in a hallucinatory, perspective-challenging panorama.
The Nata Bird Sanctuary is the most easily accessible part of the delta. This 230-sq-km community-run wildlife sanctuary was formed when local people voluntarily relocated 3500 cattle and established a network of tracks throughout the northeastern end of Sowa Pan. Although the sanctuary protects antelope, zebras, jackals, foxes, monkeys and squirrels, the principal draw is the birdlife – more than 165 species have been recorded here. It's at its best in the rainy season when the sanctuary becomes a haven for Cape and Hottentot teals, white and pink-backed pelicans and greater and lesser flamingos.
In the dry season (May to October), it’s possible to drive around the sanctuary in a 2WD with high clearance, though it’s best to enquire about the condition of the tracks in the sanctuary before entering. During the rainy season, however, a 4WD is essential.
The entrance to the sanctuary is 15km southeast of Nata.
This long, slender protrusion extends into the heart of the pan and is the nexus of Botswana’s lucrative soda-ash industry. Although security measures prevent public access to the plant, private vehicles can proceed as far as Sowa village on the pan’s edge. Views of the pan from the village are limited, though they’re better if you’re travelling through the area in a 4WD.