The main reason why Botswana is a primary safari destination in Africa is the vastness of the thirst land called Kalahari. This arid region that takes up 80% of the country favors animals over humans, leaving very little room for civilization. For such a large space, it was much more practical to divide it into smaller regions, yet even these smaller subsections are larger than so many other safari parks. In fact, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is not only the second-largest game reserve in the world but also larger than some countries like the Netherlands. So, we wouldn’t be lying if we told you that Central Kalahari is like a separate country occupied by animals only.
Mind you, the area has been home to the ancient society of San people who had a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Although the current government has been trying to relocate these people, their influence is still present.
Overall, you will have a lot to learn on a trip to Central Kalahari.
Central Kalahari is the most remotely located game reserve in the world, owing to the surrounding large drylands and sand dunes. Although the landscape is not mountainous and steep, the enormous savannah plains with nothing in short sight can be overwhelming for first-timers.
The vegetation in Central Kalahari contains plants that have adapted to the arid climate. These trees are sparsely populated on sand dunes, salt pans and dry river beds. You will also come across microclimates that receive a larger rainfall than the rest of the park, even creating lush greenery in summer. These are usually in the form of valleys formed in between hills and dunes.
Drought is a critical issue in Central Kalahari, so even a drop is worth more than an entire gold mine. To maintain the eligibility for wildlife, the administration built artificial waterholes near populated habitats.
Despite the attempts to enrich the area with water, some mammal species had started to migrate towards the north of Botswana. So, the management built fences along the northern border to inhibit the migration.
Compared to Chobe National Park, Central Kalahari has a smaller density of wildlife, which lacks some species that can’t adapt to the arid climate. Nevertheless, Central Kalahari delivers excellent game viewing of rare animals with jaw-dropping scenery in the background.
Some big game animals are not a fan of the extreme dryness. So, the number of elephants, rhinos, buffalos are much fewer than Northern Botswana. Waterholes are your best chance to see them.
The big cats compensate for the lack of some animals. Lion, cheetah, and leopard are the main predators in the park. The indigenous black-maned lions usually roam around in small packs to hunt antelopes and porcupines. The cheetah population is the most visible of the big cats, making Central Kalahari arguably the best reserve for cheetah sightings. Other predators in this region are wild dogs, brown and spotted hyenas, jackals, bat-eared foxes.
Springbok is one of the most frequent animal sights. The other herbivores in Central Kalahari include red hartebeest, giraffe, kudu, oryx, eland, and wildebeest.
The birdlife in Central Kalahari is another highlight. A large number of small mammals and reptiles attract many raptors to the park. Large birds like ostrich and bustard also occur in high numbers. Overall, there are over 250 bird species here.
The vast expanses of Central Kalahari will make you feel like you are on another planet. The park offers some unique activities that you would not find anywhere else.
Game drives are the primary activities in Central Kalahari. Besides the extensive road network, the safari tour vehicles are equipped to handle off-road safari. This is a huge advantage that can bring you almost face to face with an animal. The night drive is another option, but you need to arrange it with the guide beforehand and obtain the minimum demand required.
Bushmen are an essential part of Central Kalahari, so you can’t complete a safari here without interaction with the San people. Guided by experienced Bushman trackers, you can visit the San villages that are the last examples of their kind. The bushmen trackers also lead nature walks through the desert.
Thanks to its remote location, Central Kalahari has a perfectly clear sky free of light pollution. Stargazing can be done at the lodges with the help of knowledgeable guides.
Climate And The Best Time To Visit
Central Kalahari experiences longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons than the other parks in the country. The main rainy season is between November and February. During this period, you will experience thunderstorms in the afternoon. The temperature range will be between 18 and 32 degrees. The rainfall is at its peak in January and February, during which even storms can occur.
The dry season lasts from mid-March till the next November. The temperature during the day remains above 25 degrees during the day; however, the night temperatures will gradually drop down to the minima around 6-8 degrees.
For many game reserves, the rule of thumb is to visit in the dry winter months to see animals easily. This does not apply to Central Kalahari. From December to March, the wildlife tends to congregate around the salt pans. You could also witness the wildlife migration through the park, which is ideal for photographic safaris.
The closest city to Central Kalahari is Maun 250 km north of the park. You can fly to Maun Airport from South Africa, Namibia and many other African cities. You have three options once you get to Maun.
1- Chartered aeroplanes can take you to your lodge or campsite.
2- If you book a 4×4 safari tour, your safari guide will pick you up at the airport.
3- If you are self-driving, you can rent a 4×4 at the airport. The park entrance is 5 hours from the airport.
Tips & Things You Might Need To Know
- Central Kalahari is usually not recommended for first-timers because of its vastness and difficulty of tracking animals. Chobe is a better alternative as a first experience.
- Although December to March is the best time to visit, the afternoon rain can make the roads muddy, so watch out for the muddy sections if you are self-driving.
- The northern section near Xade and Matswere gates has the largest concentration of wildlife. As you drive south, the frequent animal sightings are replaced with wide open pans, absolute quietness and precious animal sightings. We recommend that you save 1-2 extra days for the southern half for a unique drive through the desert.
- The best campsites are those overlooking waterholes, as you will see animals before even going on safari drives. Piper Pan 1 and Kori 3 have fantastic views of waterholes and the Deception Valley where animals tend to congregate.
- Central Kalahari lies within a no-risk malaria zone, but you should consult your doctor about antimalarial pills if you are planning to travel further north to Okavango and Chobe.