Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 52,800 sq. km.
Nothing can prepare one on Botswana tour safari for the sheer size and immensity of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), nor its wild, mysterious beauty. There is the immediate impression of unending space, which gives the impression of having the entire reserve to you.
Waist-high golden grasses stretch to the horizon, punctuated by dwarfed trees and scrub bushes. Wide and empty pans appear as vast white stretches of pancake-flat earth, meeting a soft, blue-white sky. At night the stars are genuinely awe-inspiring, utterly dominating the land with their brilliance and immediacy.
During and shortly after good summer rains, the flat grasslands of the reserve’s northern reaches teem with wildlife, which gathers at the best grazing areas. These include large herds of springbok and gemsbok and wildebeest, hartebeest, eland and giraffe.
Silver Terminalia sand veldt, Kalahari sand acacias, and Kalahari apple leaf dominate the landscape, interspersed with grasslands and dotted with occasional dunes, pans and shallow fossil river valleys.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve was initially established in 1961 to serve as a sanctuary for the San people in the heart of the Kalahari (and Botswana). The Central Kalahari Game Reserve provides space for traditional lifeways, without intrusion or influence from the outside world.
Following 30 years of closure, the 1980s and 1990s saw limited self-drive and organized Botswana safari tours. Following initiatives lead by the Government of Botswana to diversify tourism across the country; authorities allocated concessions for lodge construction.
These sites are at the peripheries of and inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, allowing for fly-in tourists. Deception Valley, located in the north, is one of the reserve highlights due to dense concentrations of herbivores that gather to feed on the sweet grasses that spring into life after the rainy season.
Naturally, these animals attract the usual itinerant predators. Deception Valley is also one of the most travelled areas of the reserve, with many public campsites and proximity to the eastern Matswere Gate. The other two gates are on the far side of the reserve, at Xade and Tsau, where public camps are also available.
Other worthwhile areas to drive are Sunday and Leopard Pans, north of Deception Valley, Passarge Valley, and further south, Piper’s Pan.
Activity highlights in CKGR include the following:
- Game drives
- Wilderness drives
- Nature walks with the Basarwa (The San)
- Culture based dances
Highlights and main Attractions of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Brilliantly remote and exclusive, Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, covering over 50,000 square kilometers, of which most is inaccessible.
It is the sheer sense of desolate, pristine landscape and untouched isolation that gives it such appeal, and the area is only seen by only a handful of visitors every year, making it ideal for those looking for a very private and peaceful African safari experience.
Dominating the centre of Botswana, the area mostly consists of grass and bush land albeit with shallow river valleys and sand dunes, and is occasionally punctuated with larger trees, like Kalahari apple, acacia, silver terminalia sandveldt and mopane.
Community, Weather and Expert tips
The history of the reserve is an interesting one, as it was originally established in 1961 to provide a protected sanctuary for the indigenous San community, who would be able to preserve their traditional hunter-gatherer culture without any human interruption.
For around 30 years the reserve was completely inaccessible for tourists, however in the 1990s this changed to allow very small numbers to have access, although these numbers are kept strictly low to this day.
The arrival of the summer rains is known as a highlight of this area, and indeed one of Africa’s best kept wildlife secrets, both during and immediately after the rains.
The northernmost sections of the reserve teem with wildlife activity, particularly around the Northern Deception Valley where herbivores such as gemsbok and springbok gather to feed off the sweet grasses, which in turn attracts large numbers of predators.
Infamous black-maned lions, hyena, leopard, ostrich, giraffe and wildebeest are all found here.
Places of Interest on Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Deception Valley, Kalahari:
An ancient 80 kilometre dried-up riverbed, this area is incredibly lush in the rainy season which attracts thousands of plains game. Some stay around in the dry season, but it is a much harder life here once the surface water has gone.
The valley was the setting for the book ‘The Cry of The Kalahari’ by Mark and Delia Owens. Tau Pan (the most central camp to the main pans in this northern area) and Kalahari Plains Camp (furthest south) are the two closest to this valley. Deception Valley Lodge is actually just outside of the Reserve in the north east.
Piper’s Pan, Kalahari:
If you’re coming from the north, this is about as far south as most people get. This is a flat expanse of grassland which, in the rainy season.
It is covered with springbok and gemsbok, and as the rains dry up is left with what looks like vast golden barley fields (around May/June). Grasslands Lodge and Kalahari Plains Camp are the closest to this pan.
Tau Pan, Kalahari:
Tau Pan is a stunning area of open grassland fringed by acacia trees and other vegetation. Wildlife likes the grasslands here and there is enough protection from surrounding small trees for the plains game to have a little safety. The lodge of the same name is the best place to base yourself for this pan.
Most visitors fly into the Kalahari, though there are also some mobile safaris which drive here, and you could get here on a self-drive if you are very confident driving in sand (otherwise the chances of getting stuck or lost are quite high!).
Top Tip from our Central Kalahari Game Reserve Experts
In Central Kalahari Game Reserve , you will engage in some fascinating conversations with the San Bushmen. Learn about their way of life and the different roles within their tribe.
You will have plenty opportunities to ask all sorts of questions whether it’s to do with the way in which the men hunt or how their homes are looked after.
Exploring with the San Bushmen gives you a unique experience, and gives you excellent insight into the land.