Central Kalahari Budget Travel


Highlights of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve Experience 

  • pristine wilderness - a remote and untamed primal land
  • escape the crowds - leave human development behind
  • experience the deep desert silence and real solitude
  • marvel at the sheer scale of this immense open space
  • incredible star gazing - wide skies over dark horizons
  • watch amazing sunsets while sipping on sundowners
  • 4x4 game viewing drives - spot wildlife and birds 

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is Famous for:

  • The black-maned Kalahari lions that can be heard roaring in the otherwise quiet nights.
  • Deception Valley, made famous in the book Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owen.

Where is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

This remote game reserve is located in the middle of Botswana, an inland country in Southern Africa.

This gigantic reserve is set in the heart of the Kalahari Desert, some 200 km south of Maun, gateway to the Okavango Delta. The Central Kalahari Reserve lies southwest of the Nxai Pan and Makgadigadi Pans National Parks, both of which also lie in the Kalahari Desert region of Botswana.

Size of Central Kalahari Game Reserve

It covers around 52,800 km² making it the second biggest game reserve in the world.

To give you an idea of the size - it's about twice as big as Massachusetts and you could drop Denmark or Switzerland into this vast game reserve! 

Wildlife of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is home to a surprising number of wild animals, including some rare and unusual species.

Predators include the famous black-maned lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, black-backed jackal and brown and spotted hyena. Herbivores include giraffe, blue wildebeest, duiker, eland, gemsbok, kudu, springbok and red hartebeest.

Other wild animals found in the reserve include aardwolf, African wild cat, caracal, honey badger and warthog, as well as polecat, genet and meerkat. The bat-eared and the Cape fox can also be spotted, along with meerkat, springhare, Brants' whistling rat and porcupine.

Kalahari Game Viewing Guide

The best time for game viewing in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is during and just after the summer rains (December to April). During these less dry months the wildlife gathers in the valleys and pans transforming the reserve into one of Botswana's top game viewing destinations.

The best time to visit is generally considered to be early December and in April, when summer temperatures are not at their peak.

During the rains the open grasslands are covered in wild flowers and grasses, attracting large herds of grazers, such as gemsbok, springbok, hartebeest, eland, giraffe and wildebeest. The presence of numerous herbivores in turn attracts the predators that prey on them. The wildlife concentrations are highest in the northern part of deception valley, in the northern reaches of the reserve, where the best grazing is to be found.

The game viewing outside of the rainy season is also good, even though the wildlife is more dispersed during spring, autumn and winter. 

Birds of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an excellent bird watching destination, hosting over 200 species of birds. Deception Valley in particular is a birder's paradise and the best time for spotting birds is during and after the summer rains.

The large and outlandish ostrich is among the birds that can be seen in the reserve, as well as migratory species and birds of prey, such as eagles and falcons. Birds found here include the black korhaan, egrets, sandgrouse, warbler, lark, starling, stork, heron and the Kalahari scrub-robin. 

What does this reserve look like?

In this unique and desolate-looking reserve you will see vast open plains, salt pans and ancient riverbeds. Most of this vast desert area consists of flat and undulating plains covered with low bushes.

The northern part of the game reserve incorporates sand dunes covered with grasses and a variety of trees and shrubs. The central region consists of flat bushveld dotted with thorn trees and low shrubs. In the more wooded southern part of the reserve you will see mopane forests.

The flat plains are interrupted by four fossil valleys, formed by meandering rivers that ran dry many thousands of years ago. Today these wide valleys contain salt pans that stretch out stark and white under the big blue skies. One of these is Deception Valley, formed about 16,000 years ago. Deception Valley is named after the Deception Pan, which is so-named because a mirage sometimes makes it appear to contain water from a distance, when in fact it is a dry salt pan.

History of the Central Kalahari & People

The game reserve was established in 1961, to preserve this ancient land and its traditional tribes. The Central Kalahari region of Botswana has been inhabited by San people for thousands of years.  

The San, commonly called Bushmen, once lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers surviving off the land in this harsh desert environment.

In the mid-1990's the Botswana government attempted to relocate the San and by 1997 only about a quarter of the San population remained in the reserve. In 2005 the government started forcibly removing the San again, until only 250 of the original San inhabited the reserve. In 2006 the San were allowed to return to the reserve after a court ruling in their favour. Today San communities live inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, sharing their traditional lifestyle and culture with visitors.

From 1974 to 1981 Mark and Delia Owens lived in Deception Valley, conducting research on brown hyenas and lions. Their camp was located in a pocket of trees in the northern part of Deception Valley. The Owens wrote a now-famous book about the Central Kalahari of Botswana and their experiences here, called the Cry of the Kalahari.

San (Bushmen) of the Kalahari

The Kalahari Bushmen, or San, now live more modern lives in settlements where various tribes are found. Some of their ancient traditional knowledge still survives, being passed down from generation to generation.

These local San take visitors into the desert bush on guided walks to show them how their ancestors survived and share intriguing tales with them. The modern-day San guides still know how to find water by unearthing tubers and snare animals in the bush. 

The local Bushmen don animal skins, carrying bows and arrows as they journey into the wilds, sharing their collective past. Encountering the San is a fascinating cultural experience, even involving lively dance performances and adventure-filled tales.

Seasons & Weather

Late November to April is the rainy summer season, but even then rainfall in this semi-arid region is erratic and unpredictable. During the summer, impressive cloud formations gather over the savannahs, bringing short rainstorms.

From May to October its the dry winter season, where night time temperatures plummet and little rain falls. Following the heart of the cold dry winter is a short dry season, arriving in about September and lasting until just before the rains arrive.

The dry and rainy seasons vary from year to year, depending on the rainfall patterns. This variation in the weather gives rise to different vegetation growth, which in turn affects which wildlife is abundant and where the animals will be found. Visiting the reserve is therefore a different game viewing experience not only from season to season, but from year to year.


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