Baines’ Baobabs is a significant tourist attraction in Nxai Pan. These amazing botanical, succulent trees are surrounded endless plains, and have always captivated travellers visiting Botswana.
Many travellers often ask us, what bucket-list experiences should be prioritised on their Botswana safari itinerary, a visit to Baines’ Baobabs is one of them.
These monumental trees are located in the Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana. The Nxai Pan is characterized by its ivory-colored landscape, which encircles the northern regions of the Kalahari Desert. The landscape is vast and endless. In fact, the salt pans are downright gigantic, dwarfing Belgium and holding the world record for being one of the largest salt pan landscapes in the world.
The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, which is very close to Nxai Pan was once submerged in water. In fact, the rivers that feed the renowned Okavango Delta, originally flooded the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
Due to tectonic movement, the rich waters were diverted away from the Makgadikgadi, leaving travellers with a vast, dry salt pan. If you’re planning on travelling during the rainy season, you may still see some pans flooded with water.
The Nxai Pan is an enormous landscape, characterized by its endless plains. The Baines’ Baobabs are very hard to miss when visiting the area; their presence is striking. Baobabs are tall trees, with big bellies, and in this case, they are clustered together. Not only do they provide relief from the heat, but they also act as an island sanctuary of sorts.
When the Europeans first began exploring Botswana, then named Bechuanaland, in the late 19th century, the Baobab trees were used as landmarks by the country’s early missionaries. Thomas Baines was a British landscape painter who first traveled to South Africa in the 1850s as a war artist. After sketching the battlefields of Bloemfontein, he moved to nature’s tranquility, capturing the vastness of Southern Africa in watercolour.
Baines gained recognition as an exceptional artist, naturalist, and geographer, and his work was so well received that the Royal Geographic Society invited him to join David Livingstone on his second trip to the Zambezi River in 1858. The relationship between Baines and Livingstone deteriorated to the point where Baines was charged with ‘attempting to steal’ and sent to Cape Town.
Baines was known to have an exceptional work ethic and later decided to join James Chapman, a cattle and ivory trader, on a trip to Namibia and then to Victoria Falls.
Along with a team, the two of them departed from South Africa in the 1860s. They sailed north by ox wagon before slowly making their way from the Namib Desert to the enormous Mosi oa Tunya. While travelling through the Kalahari Desert (a large semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa), they decided to take a break and pitch camp under the shade of a cluster of seven baobab trees.
The trees provided much relief from the heat and inspired Baines to the point where he documented the scene with a watercolour piece of art titled ‘A group of Baobab trees on the north-west spruit of the Mtwetwe pans, May 1862.” Although the original artwork is now housed in England’s archives, Baines’ name is still visible on the trees.
“It was incredible. The vast open landscape of the salt pan that surrounds the massive baobab trees seems quite surreal. You would never think a tree this big would be able to survive in that environment. It’s super cool to see how nature works, and having our guide Max know so much about the Baobabs helps put everything into perspective”.
–Luke Bolton (Video Editor & Content Creator at ABC)
The Makgadikgadi consists of three separate salt pans, Sowa, Ntwetwe, and Nxai Pan.
Nxai Pan is located northwest of Ntwetwe and forms the northernmost border of the Makgadikgadi Pans system. Nxai Pan National Park was established in 1962 to safeguard the rare ecology and was expanded in 1992 to include the Baines’ Baobabs, which are located to the south of Nxai Pans National Park.
Today, the Baines’ Baobabs are still standing tall and are considered to be one of Nxai Pan’s crowned jewels. Your visit to Botswana is incomplete without experiencing the Baines’ Baobabs firsthand.
A mature Baobab tree can self-regulate its environment by supporting the lives of innumerable organisms, from the largest mammals to the hundreds of small critters that scamper in and out of its fissures. Birds nest in its branches; baboons consume the fruit; bush infants and fruit bats absorb the nectar and fertilize the flowers; even elephants have been known to chop down and swallow an entire tree.
A baby baobab tree is quite different from an adult baobab tree, which is why the Bushmen think it does not grow like other trees, but rather crashes to the ground, fully grown, and then vanishes. It’s not surprising that they are referred to as “magical trees.”