The Central Kalahari Game Reserve has often been referred to as CKGR. This is the ultimate in 'remote' African safari destinations. Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers over 50,000km². Most of the area of CKGR is still inaccessible, particularly to the south. Although there have always been small groups of Bushmen living in the reserve, it is only quite recently that it has become more accessible to the public. This is mainly on the northern part of the park. Even now, this region is seen by only a handful of visitors every year.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the largest game reserve in Botswana. Covering an immense 52800 square km. It is in the centre of Botswana with the kuke fence running along the northern border .
The best-known account of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve was the haunting book, Cry of the Kalahari. This was written by American biologists Mark and Delia Owens about their research in Deception Valley.
Safaris to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
There are only two private, permanent camps inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. However those on Botswana safari to Central Kalahari Game Reserve can explore the park on Botswana mobile safaris. This is also a fantastic way to explore the reserve. Typically a 3 night while on safari to Central Kalahari Game Reserve at either of the permanent camps is perfect. Longer stays are definitely recommended when on a mobile safari. This is because it will give you time to explore the vast area further afield.
Botswana Accommodation in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Both Kalahari Plains Camp and Tau Pan have been operating in the Central Kalahari for a number of years. Game viewing at both can be fantastic at the right time of year. There are also three camps outside of the reserve boundary that offer the Kalahari experience. The neighboring Deception Valley Lodge, Dinaka and Haina Kalahari Lodge are becoming increasingly popular, as space at the camps inside the reserve is limited.
Popular Camps and Pans in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
- Deception pan
- Tsau pan
- Leopard pan
- Sunday pan
- Passage pan
- Motopi pan
- Piper pan
- Phukwe pan
Lodges of Central Kalahari
- Kalahari Tented Camp
- Deception Valley Lodge
- Leroo La Tau
- Kalahari Plains Camp
- Dinaka Safari Lodge
- Haina Kalahari Lodge
- Kalahari arms hotel - Ghanzi
- Thakadu Camp - Ghanzi
- Kalahari Trail Blazers
Places of Interest in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The CKGR is perhaps best known for Deception Valley, the site of Mark and Delia Owens’ 1974–81 brown hyena and lion study, which is described in their cult-classic book Cry of the Kalahari. Deception Valley's appeal also owes much to the variety of its landscapes. This broad valley, lined on its eastern and western shores by light woodland climbing gentle hills, is all about swaying grasslands, tight clusters of trees and roaming gemsboks, springboks and the occasional predator. It's a beautiful spot around sunrise or sunset, while Deception Pan, at the southern end of the valley, can feel like the end of the earth at midday.
Deception is one of four fossil valleys in the Central Kalahari – the others are the Okwa, the Quoxo (Meratswe) and the Passarge – that were carved out by ancient rivers, bringing topographical relief to the virtually featureless expanses. The rivers themselves ceased flowing more than 16,000 years ago.
Passarge Valley is far quieter than Deception Valley – we spent an entire afternoon driving along its length one July and saw not one other vehicle. On the said afternoon, we did, however, see a male lion, a cheetah, gemsboks, bat-eared foxes and a honey badger. There is a waterhole (artificially pumped to provide water for animals throughout the dry season) at the southwestern end of the valley.
The 39km from the Passarge Valley waterhole to Motopi Pan takes you through classic Kalahari country with rolling dune-hills covered in thorn scrub, acacias and light woodland, with some lovely views out across the plains en route. Motopi Pan itself is a lovely spot late in the afternoon, with the waterhole regularly visited by gemsboks, giraffes and ostriches, with lions never far away. The low hills that separate the three Motopi campsites include some of the CKGR's more varied topography and on one visit we spent an entire morning with a pride of lions around here before another vehicle appeared over the horizon.
The Western Pans
Some 26km southwest of the main loop through the central section of the reserve, Piper Pans is well worth a visit; you'll pass through here if you enter the reserve at Xade Gate and plan to head towards Deception Valley, or if you're completing a north-south (or vice-versa) crossing. The appeal here is a series of interlocking pans encircled by good trails, lightly wooded surrounds and the last of the good wildlife watching if you're heading south.
We've seen cheetahs and kudus around here, have heard reports of lions, and you're almost guaranteed to see wildebeest and good birdlife around the waterhole, even in the heat of the day.
Tau Pan is, as the name suggests ('tau' means lion in Setswana), reasonable for lion sightings, while we also saw cheetahs and aardwolves when we were last here. Both San Pan and Phokoje Pan are similar, with bat-eared foxes, gemsboks and hartebeest all possible.
The Far South
You're a long way from anywhere down here. Xade Gate and its campsites inhabit the site of the old San settlement that was based around Xade Pan, although nothing remains in evidence. Wildlife is generally scarce all across the south, although a pride of lions with cubs was centered upon the Xaxa waterhole when we visited. The landscapes here are generally flat with golden grasslands, fewer salt pans than further north, and thinly scattered vegetation such as the acacia thorn and Kalahari apple-leaf everywhere.
The main campsites are Xade, Xaxa and Bape. And as far as the trails are concerned, remember that they involve some of the more challenging conditions in the CKGR. Due to its remoteness and the fact that only a trickle of traffic passes through here (you may travel a whole day or two without seeing another vehicle), the trails aren't as well maintained as some others, with plenty of overhanging branches grabbing at your vehicle as you pass. The stretch between Xade Gate and the turn-off to Xaxa waterhole is deep sand in parts, particularly at the western end, and you may need to reduce tyre pressure to avoid getting stuck. As always, driving in the early morning when the sand is colder and less loose tends to make for easier going.
Tourist Activities in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
When staying inside the Reserve you are restricted by national park rules. Both camps – and the mobile safaris - base their activities around game drives during the daytime. In the private reserves on the Northern part of the Central Kalahari, activities are more flexible and they’re allowed to offer night drives and walking safaris. Top things to do in Botswana when on an African safari to Central Kalahari Game Reserve include:
Wildlife of Central Kalahari
The ecosystems, wildlife and landscapes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve differs very much to what you would experience further north in Okavango regions. With this you will notice a variety of species that are more prolific here than elsewhere in Botswana. These wildlife species will include brown hyena, aardwolf, oryx, bat-eared fox and ostrich.
Animals of Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The game viewing in the Central Kalahari can can seem sparse when compared to the densities of game that can often be seen in the Okavango-Linyanti-Chobe region. Springbok are the most numerous of the large herbivores. Oryx numbers in the Central Kalahari are also very strong, often seen on the short grass plains during the rains in herds exceeding 100. Red hartebeest, eland, wildebeest, kudu and giraffe can also be found in good numbers.
The main predators here are lion, cheetah and leopard, though leopard are much less frequently seen. The lion prides range over large territories and are connected by loose associations. Many of the lions are solitary or live in pairs, and will often hunt smaller prey such as porcupines. The Central Kalahari’s low density of predators makes it an ideal place for cheetah resulting in this being one of sub-saharan Africa’s better places to see them.
Birds of Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The bird life in the Central Kalahari is varied. The largest of these, the ostrich and kori bustard, are doing extremely well and are commonly spotted. Doves are well represented with Cape turtle doves, laughing doves and Namaqua doves all seen in high numbers.
All the sub-Saharan species of sandgrouse can also be found in the reserve. During the day these can be difficult to spot with their excellent camouflage, however, during the mornings large numbers can be seen flying to the waterholes. Large flocks of red-billed queleas are also common, often seen as they swarm down from trees to drink or in search of food.
The Central Kalahari’s most common raptor is the pale-chanting goshawk, there are also a good number of black-shouldered kites, rock kestrels, bateleurs, black-breasted and brown snake eagles, martial and tawny eagles and lanner falcons are also around.
The lodges in the park have Bushmen trackers that go out on nature walks to interpret the environment for guests and in the private areas there is the opportunity for cultural interaction in the villages.
Despite the aridity of the area the Kalahari is one of the best birding areas in Botswana, especially so in the wet season when all the migrants are around. The Kalahari is particularly well known for its raptors due to the prevalence of small mammals.
Nature walks in the Kalahari are generally accompanied by Bushmen trackers who enhance the experience with their incredible knowledge of the area and its life.
Night drives in concessions outside the park
Night drives are done on some of the private areas outside the game reserve boundaries, providing a unique look at the nocturnal creatures of the Kalahari.
With its clear, unpolluted sky the Kalahari is one of the best places in Africa for stargazing and each lodge will have a guide with knowledge of the skies.
Unique Attractions of Central Kalahari
Unique desert adapted wildlife - the semi-arid environment of the Kalahari ensures some unique adaptations by the animals that live in the area and learning these from a guide is truly fascinating. These animals have numerous ways of dealing with the lack of water in order to survive.
Interacting with ancient wisdom - the Central Kalahari is synonymous with the Bushmen people and learning of their way of life is one of the most memorable experiences in Africa.
When to Go to Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Unlike other safari destinations, January through to April is the best time to visit Botswana to CKGR. During this rainy, 'green season' in Botswana, the beautiful interdune valley become lush with vegetation. This attracts thousands of springboks and gemsbok (oryx), a good number of ostriches, herds of wildebeest as well as giraffe.
The green season also signals the calving season where hundreds of newborns come into the world during this period. This makes for some truly exciting predator-prey interaction and stellar photographic opportunities.