Measuring 52,000 square kilometres, I think this vast wilderness is a signature Botswana safari experience.

Known for its golden grasslands, salt pans, sand dunes covered in vegetation and wide former river valleys, it’s a soulful experience that’s custom-made for a self-drive safari.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve botswana

An inquisitive Blue wildebeest in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Central Kalahari Game Reserve highlights

Unlike most other destinations in Botswana, the CKGR has far more campsites than lodges, with, at last count and with the closure of Kalahari Plains Camp, just one upmarket lodge within this massive reserve. It sometimes feels like you have the whole park to yourself.

A certain mystique also surrounds the CKGR, especially Deception Valley, which was the focus of Mark and Delia Owens’ Cry of the Kalahari (1984). The couple lived in Deception Valley working with lions and brown hyenas; Delia Owens later found fame with her novel Where the Crawdads Sing (2018).

Central Kalahari Game Reserve wildlife

The game-viewing is best just after the rains when herds of oryx (gemsbok) and springbok congregate in lush fossilised river valleys, preyed on by huge black-maned lions, cheetah and leopard. Other resident desert specialists include bat-eared foxes and brown hyenas while raptors flock to the park during the rainy season. The mammal density and diversity are not quite a match for the northern parks making it less well-suited to first-time safari travellers but for the feel of a true African wilderness, CKGR is tough to beat.

Hugging the park’s northern boundary, the Hainaveld consists of a handful of compact, segregated, privately-owned reserves. The denser habitat means the landscape is less scenic than inside the park, but pumped waterholes concentrate the game in the dry season. Several of the lodges employ local Kalahari bushmen with legendary tracking skills, who will also teach you about their way of life on a guided walk.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve lodges & camps

Tau Pan Camp: benefitting from an unusually elevated view over a picturesque pan inside the park, Tau Pan has a good reputation for both service and game sightings.

Mobile safari: the long driving distances and immense size of CKGR make it an ideal location for a mobile safari, during which your camp moves with you allowing you to split your time between two different areas of the park.

Deception Valley Lodge: the oldest lodge in the Hainaveld, with fantastic guides and a genuine cultural appreciation of the Kalahari bushmen.

Dinaka: a ground-level photographic hide and impressive game density have made this camp a Hainaveld favourite.

About the authors

Safari in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

James Gifford

James is an award-winning photographer and journalist based in Botswana. His work on Botswana's wildlife, landscapes and culture has been published in numerous publications including The Times, The Guardian, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet, CNN Traveller, amongst many others.

Safari in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Anthony Ham

Anthony is a renowned travel journalist and guidebook author and is one of the world's leading authorities on Africa safari, wildlife and conservation. He has been travelling to Africa for more than two decades to research Africa safari guidebooks for Lonely Planet. He is widely published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Monthly, Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), National Geographic Traveler, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet Traveller, Africa Geographic, The Independent, Travel Africa, among many others.

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