Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Wild Dogs in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Wild Dogs in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a superlative wilderness covering the centre of Botswana full of wildlife, stars and a safari lover’s dreams.

Where is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is in the centre of Botswana covering a large area of the Kalahari, one of the largest protected areas in the world. There are several entrance gates, the most commonly used being Matswere followed by the Tsau Gate. If you drive up from Khutse, which is at least two days drive through a low-game density section of the park, you will enter at the Khutse South Entrance Gate. The Xade Gate is an option for those taking the long, remote route southeast from Ghanzi.

Tips

  • The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is truely remote, bring everything you need with you including enough fuel and water.
  • Book your campsites in adance – some sites fill up a year in advance.
  • Pay park conservation fees in advance or have cash at the gate.
  • The Tracks4Africa Botswana Map* is very useful.
  • Prepare for hot days in summer, and freezing nights in winter.
  • Find out more about the south of the park in Khutse Game Reserve.
  • We visited the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in the middle of our Botswanan road trip which you can read more about in my book*.

Most people only visit the northern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, either through Matswere or sometimes Tsau Gate, and stay as far south of Piper’s Pan. This area is where the largest density of pans and therefore game can be found. Further south of Piper’s Pan, game becomes scarce and it’s hundreds of kilometres to Khutse Game Reserve where several pans are located and a high density of game is once again found.

We visited Khutse before the Central Kalahari, but instead of driving through the park we went around via Kang and Ghanzi to stock up on petrol and supplies. You can read more about our two-month Botswanan adventure in the book I wrote, No Footprints in the Night: On Safari in Botswana*.

Animal Sightings in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Leopard between Sunday Pan and Leopard Pan, Botswana

Over five days and four nights we saw one large male lion, a leopard close by under a tree, a pack of wild dogs in the beautiful morning light, a caracal slightly far away sitting outside a bush, a pair of elephants in the distance, several bat-eared foxes, a few jackals, a warthog family, kudu, many many gemsbok, springbok and ostriches (yay), a few herds of giraffe and wildebeest, and several steenbok in the sand dunes.

kori bustard
kori bustard
kori bustard in flight

For the birds, we saw so many large kori bustards, other bustards and korhans, several pairs of secretary birds, many birds of prey such as chanting goshawks, a few wading birds, we had a Scops Owl roosting above our tent one night and an Eagle Owl perched on our shower structure staring at us with its large eyes.

Eagle Owl in Botswana

Others we spoke to had seen a cheetah and her cubs in Deception Valley but unfortunately, we missed this! We also didn’t see any Brown Hyena which we would have loved to after reading Cry of the Kalahari*. If you’re going to the Central Kalahari, make sure to read this book beforehand or while you’re there! (Check out what else to read when visiting Botswana). Honey badgers and the rare African wild cat are sometimes seen if you’re very lucky.

Male Lion, Botswana
Male Lion, Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Central Kalahari Information and Itinerary

Crimson-breasted shrike
Crimson-breasted Shrike

There are no facilities or mobile coverage within the park.

Things to bring to Central Kalahari Game Reserve Game Reserve

For things to bring to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, see our other post on what to bring to Mabuasehube, since what you need is the same! Distances in the Central Kalahari are far, and the sand decreases fuel efficiency, so bring more than enough fuel.

Gate Opening Hours of Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Gate hours of Central Kalahari Game Reserve are 06:30-18:30 Apr-Sep, 05:30-19:00 Oct-Mar. Be back at your campsite on time.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve Itinerary

We spent four nights in the park, all at different campsites. We entered from Ghanzi and Tsau Gate, and left via Matswere Gate to Rakops. We spent one night each in Motopi (CK-MOT-02), Sunday Pan (CK-SUN-03), Deception Pan (CK-DEC-01) and Pipers Pan (CK-PIP-01).

On our first day we drove to the park from Ghanzi (Kalahari Rest Camp), 155 km away, and it took almost 3 hours to reach Tsau Gate. We arrived mid-morning and after checking in at the gate and showing our reservations, we drove to our first campsite, Motopi 2 (KG-MOT-02), another 60 km and 2 hours away.

On our second day we headed east toward Sunday Camp, stopping off in Passarge Valley for lunch. We drove almost 150 km and were glad to finally arrive at Sunday Pan campsite. On our third day, we had only a short drive to our third campsite at the nearby Deception Camp, and drove some loops nearby. On our fourth day we headed west to Piper’s Pan, stopping off at Lekhubu campsite for a late breakfast and arriving at Piper’s Pan around lunchtime having driven 132 km. On our fifth and final day we drove the long way out of the park east to Matswere Gate and on to Rakops Lodge, in the nearby town of Rakops. This last day was 190 km driving.

I loved the Central Kalahari. We had some amazing animal sightings, and even if we didn’t the scenery and the light were beautiful, with magical sunsets and sunrises every day. I’d love to go back. Some people spend weeks in the park, while I’d recommend three nights a the very minimum. We didn’t manage to drive around the full northern loop, we would have needed another night for that with perhaps a campsite in Passarge Valley.

Caracal at Pipers Pan, Botswana
Caracal at Pipers Pan
Chasing Ostriches at Sunday Pan, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Chasing Ostriches at Sunday Pan
Wildebeest at Pipers Pan
Wildebeest at Pipers Pan

Central Kalahari Game Reserve Contact Details

Contact either DWNP or Bigfoot Tours to book the campsites in the reserve (see table below for a list of campsites and who to contact). I’ve given multiple phone numbers and emails because they seem to change quite often. Bigfoot Tours also manages all of the campsites in Khutse Game Reserve to the south. Contact the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to pay conservation fees in advance and receive a voucher, or pay in cash at the park gates.

Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP): Botswana Parks and Reserves Reservation Office, +267 397 1405 or +267 318 0774, dwnp@gov.bw. Office hours 07:30-16:30 on weekdays. Closed weekends.

Big Foot Tours: +267 395 3360, +267 73 5555 73, +267 72 24 3567, bigfoot@gbs.co.bw or reservations@bigfoottours.co.bw. Try contacting them on Facebook or their website.

Botswana Footprints: We ended up booking all our campsites in Botswana via Botswana Footprints. They were very professional, their fee was surprisingly low, and it saved us a lot of hassle. As well as booking the campsites they also paid our conservation fees and made sure we got the correct vouchers before we left on our trip.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve Entrance Fees and Camping Rates

Park Entrance / Conservation Fees

  • Citizen P10 per day
  • Resident P30 per day
  • Non-Resident P120 per day
  • Vehicle fees per day of P10 for Botswanan or P50 for non-Botswanan plates.
  • Contact DWNP to pay fees and receive an entrance voucher in advance, or take cash to pay at the gate.

Campsite Rates

  • The campsites in Central Kalahari Game Reserve are managed either by BigFoot Tours or DWNP.
  • BigFoot Tours: Citizens P88, Residents P190, SADC P250, International P350. Rates are per person per night, all half-price for children under 16 and free for children under 8.
  • DWNP: P30 per person per night.
Kudu in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana

When is the Best Time to visit Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

The best time to visit Central Kalahari Game Reserve is January to April. This is the ‘green season’, in other words the rainy season. The vegetation is relatively lush, at least for a desert, and the valleys attract the grazers, which in turn attract the predators. As the dry season begins, the valley vegetation dries out and the herbivores spread out into the vast dunelands of the Kalahari.

How to get to Central Kalahari Game Reserve

There are four entrance gates to the park. The most commonly used are Matswere followed by Tsau Gate and less commonly Xade Gate. For those driving from Khutse, read more about it in our article about Khutse Game Reserve.

Via any route, you will experience sand and lots of it. With a decent 4×4 this shouldn’t be a problem – most people who get stuck are pulling trailers. The easiest route with the least thick sand is via Rakops and Matswere Gate.

Turn off to Central Kalahari Game Reserve from Rakops
Turn off to Central Kalahari Game Reserve from Rakops

Central Kalahari Game Reserve From Ghanzi and Tsau Gate

We approached CKGR from Ghanzi, a town where you can stock up on supplies at Spar and get fuel. If you have any car troubles, there’s also a mechanic here that’s used to dealing with Overlanding-type cars. Ghanzi is the last town you’ll see in a long time, until you exit the park again, so make sure you have everything and your vehicle is in good condition.

From Ghanzi it’s 155 km to Tsau Gate, 115 km of which is on nice the tarred highway, with the remaining 40 km on thick sand along a cutline heading directly east. This stretch of driving was worse than anywhere we found within the park. There were several sections of very thick sand where if you slow down or stop you may well get stuck. However, if you keep accelerating through you shouldn’t have any trouble.

The exit from the highway onto the cutline is about 150 m south of the Vet Fence (if you’re coming from Ghanzi, you don’t cross the Vet Fence) and is well-signed, though the route doesn’t look particularly promising. Make sure you don’t head east on the track north of the Vet Fence as you won’t be able to get back to the correct side.

Once within the park, there aren’t any route choices for a while and you head east along the cutline demarking the northern boundary of the park and then south towards Motopi and the main loop around the northern section of the reserve. We camped at Motopi 2 (CK-MOT-02), a few kilometres from the track south and the Motopi Waterhole. This was a great site, there were many animals at the waterhole and it was the perfect place to spend the first night. The next day we headed to the popular Deception Valley area via the northern half of the loop, though there’s also the option to continue south the other way around the loop.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve from Rakops and Matswere Gate

We exited the Central Kalahari park via Matswere Gate on its eastern edge and continued to Rakops River Lodge (decent enough but nothing special) where we spent the night. Rakops is a fairly dusty town with little in the way of supplies, though there is the all-essential fuel. The petrol station in town has a few snacks and very basic food items, and there’s a small supermarket nearby which when we were there had mainly empty shelves. Stock up elsewhere before entering the park

From Rakops it’s 45 km to Matswere Gate along a relatively good sandy track. From Matwere Gate to Deception Valley and the nearby campsites it’s another 40 km and should take roughly 1.5 hours.

We drove all the way from Pipers Pan to Rakops, 170 km, on our final day in the park. This was further than we would have liked, but we had to spend our last night at Pipers Pan due to availability of camping spots. It turned out to be an ok drive as the tracks were pretty solid along the southern half of the loop, and from Matswere to Rakops was fast too.

Sandy track between A3 (north of Ghanzi) to Tsau Gate, Botswaana
Sandy track between A3 (north of Ghanzi) to Tsau Gate

Central Kalahari Game Reserve via Xade Gate

The main way to reach Xade Gate is from Ghanzi, though a more commonly used route from Ghanzi would be via the Tsau Gate since it’s quicker and with slightly better roads to the northern loop (see above). From 10 km south of Ghanzi, a good gravel road (but watch out for wandering cattle) leads for the next 100 km to the village of New Xade. After this, the thick sand begins and there are corrugations and some surprise potholes all the way to Xade Gate, 70 km away. From Ghanzi to Xade Gate might take 4-6 hours.

A less common alternative route is to take the cutline directly east from the A2 just south of the Kgalagadi/Ghanzi District border and then head straight north along the boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This is a slightly obscure route and not well travelled, so if you’re worried about getting stuck, don’t go this way.

Xade Gate is quite in the middle of nowhere. There’s a campsite here (bookable through Big Foot Tours), a sometimes broken waterhole and a ranger station. The track north to Piper Pans and the northern section of the Central Kalahari is not a great one, though if you’ve made it this far it will be fine. It’s 3-6 hours from Xade to Piper’s Pan. For more about Xade and driving between Khutse and the northern Central Kalahari, see our Khutse Game Reserve post.

Roads and Fuel within Central Kalahari Game Reserve

A nice stretch of track in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
A nice stretch of track in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Road Conditions in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The tracks within Central Kalahari are mainly sandy single-spoor tracks. Off the main loop the tracks are sandier with some ups and downs as they pass through dunes. On the main loop the track is quite flat and in most places not so sandy. This is because the track mainly travels along valleys that have hardened salty, soil beneath them. In some places where the track travels across pans, it’s possible to reach the speed limit, which is 40 km/ hr in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Although the pans are nice when dry, during the rainy season (Nov-Mar) they can become very muddy. After heavy rain, the main loop, especially in Deception Valley, can become quite difficult. There are no huge areas of water or deep water, but surface water that turns the salty mud into thick, soft, sticky mud that traps your vehicle and is very slippery. We saw many deep ruts when we were there. Luckily, the tracks dry out very quickly. In the sand dunes, the water passes straight through the sand so the tracks in these areas remain fine.

The sandiest bit of road we encountered was outside the park, on the drive from the A3 north of Ghanzi to Tsau Gate. It wasn’t terrible, but every so often the sand suddenly thickened and you have to make sure to not slow down, but keep on powering through. The track to Motopi campsites 1 and 3 was overgrown and scratched our vehicle a lot, but apart from that, I was surprised how good most of the tracks were (April, no rain).

How much Fuel do I need for Central Kalahari?

From the town of Ghanzi until Rakops where we refuelled five days later, we drove 793 km and used 83 litres of fuel, giving a fuel efficiency of 9.5 km/l (Land Rover Defender 110 TD5). 115 km of the total was on the tarred A3 highway where we average almost 10 km/l. The remaining 678 km was on sand where we average just over 9 km/l. If you are pulling a trailer your fuel efficiency will be much worse. Always have spare fuel.

DayWhereSurface Distance, km
1From Ghanzi north on A3Tar 115
1From A3 east to Tsau GateThick sand40
1Tsau Gate to MotopiSand60
2Motopi to Sunday Sand148
3Sunday to DeceptionSand107
4Deception to Pipers Pan Sand132
5Pipers Pan to Matswere Gate Sand146
5Matswere Gate to Rakops Sand45
TotalGhanzi to Rakops via CKGR793
Distances include game drives around pans etc.

Things to do in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Self-drive safaris and enjoying the remote wilderness are the main things to do in Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Additionally, make sure to check out the strange red grass in Deception Pan. If you stay at any of the posh lodges you may also go on game walks and cultural activities.

Self-Drive Safaris in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Wild dogs in Deception Valley, Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Wild dogs in Deception Valley
Wild dogs in Deception Valley

In general the game concentrates in the pans and along the valleys (these are fairly broad and shallow). This is where the loop around the northern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve goes so you should be able to see amazing sightings of many animals from anywhere along this loop. The valleys in particular hold huge herds of grazing animals.

That being said, the highest concentration of predators in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is in Deception Valley nearish Kori Campsites and along Passarge Valley. Isolated spots where predators are often seen include Piper Pans and Motopi waterhole.

Off the main northern loop, the landscape becomes dunes interspersed with pans. The dunes contain few animals apart from little steenboks, while the pans amongst them have much more going on.

In the dry season (Jun-Oct) the animals congregate more around the waterholes rather than the pans, though they also disperse into the bush so can be harder to see.

Make sure to get up early and leave at first light. Predators are most active during this time, so easier to spot. Have a break during the heat of the day, then set off again when it begins to cool down.

Deception Pan

Deception Pan, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Deception Pan and ostrich, Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Deception Pan is a very circular pan at the southern end of Deception Valley, about 12km south of the Kori and Deception campsites. When we were there, in April, the grass in the pan was red and looked super eerie. The animals seemed to think so too and they avoided this strange place in the middle of nowhere.

Waterholes in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Motopi Waterhole, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Motopi Waterhole

Motopi Waterhole: a great waterhole near Motopi campsite 2, near the Tsau Gate. We saw many giraffe, kudu, gemsbok, springbok and a few jackals here. Others report seeing lions here.

Pipers Pan Waterhole, Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Pipers Pan Waterhole

Pipers Pan Waterhole: We only saw birds here, though the tracks nearby show that a lot of game regularly visits this waterhole in the middle of the pan.

Sunday Pan Waterhole, Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Sunday Pan Waterhole

Sunday Pan Waterhole: just below two of Sunday Pan campsites. It’s well supplied with water, and quite muddy. We saw gemsbok cooling down in the muddy water and many birds.

Passarge Pan Waterhole, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Passarge Pan Waterhole

Passarge Pan Waterhole: A nice waterhole just 2 km off the main northern loop track with frequent sightings of diverse game.

Letiahau Waterhole: not working when we were there (2021) and looked like it hadn’t been working in a while though there were quite a few trees and green bushes around

Campsites in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

SitesCodeLocation Owner Notes
Motopi3CK-MOT-01/2/3NW 15 km off loop, near Tsau Gate BFTNear a waterhole
Passarge3 CK-PAS-01/2/3North loop BFTLovely remote sites
Leopard Pan1 CK-SUN-01 East loop, in Deception Valley DWNPNear Leopard Pan
Sunday Pan3 CK-SUN-02/3/4Near East loop & Deception Valley BFTNear a waterhole
Deception6CK-DEC-01/2/3/4/5/6 Near East loop & Deception Valley DWNPLess remote feel
Kori4CK-KOR-01/2/3/4East loop, in Deception Valley DWNPGreat sites, less remote
Letiahau1 CK-WIL-06 South loop BFT No facilities
Lekhubu1CK-WIL-07 South loop BFTNo facilities
Pipers Pan2 CK-PIP-01/2SW 15 km off loop on the way south BFTGreat pans
San Pan1 CK-TAU-02 West loop DWNP Remote, great views
Phokoje1CK-TAU-03West loop DWNPRemote
BFT = Big Foot Tours (Private Operator), DWNP = Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Botswanan Government)
Longdrop bush toilet, Botswana
Bucket shower, Botswana

Almost all sites have a longdrop toilet and bucket shower (bring your own water). Exceptions are Motopi 1 (CK-MOT-01) which has no shower, Phokoje (CK-TAU-03) whose shower and longdrop are broken, and Letiahu (CK-WIL-06) and Lekhubu (CK-WIL-06) which have no facilities. There is no difference in facilities between the DWNP and Big Foot Tours sites.

You might see signs for campsites like ‘New Kori Campsites’, or ‘HATAB sites’ which are for private mobile operators, not self-drivers and you can’t book these.

Giraffe in  Pipers Pan, Botswana
Pipers Pan

Further afield, the Passarge Valley sites are completely by themselves, with Passarge 2 (CK-PAS-02) having great views over the surroundings. The two Pipers Pan sites are also very popular due to their remoteness and the pans attracting a lot of game. Motopi campsite has a lovely waterhole and is a great stop on your way to/from Tsau Gate.

The Letiahau and Lekhubu sites are less used because they have no facilities, but they are wonderfully remote and there is a decent amount of game around. San Pan and Phokoje sites are equally remote and situated by lovely pans.

See contact details box for how to book campsites in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Remember, there is a maximum of six people and three vehicles per site.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve has 26 individual campsites, some tens of kilometres from the neighbouring site. Some sites (Kori, Pipers Pan, Passarge Valley) are more popular than others and can be booked many months, if not a year, in advance. If you visit last minute, you might be able to work out an itinerary but might not get your first choice of campsites.

We stayed in Motopi (CK-MOT-02), Sunday (CK-SUN-03) and Piper Pans (CK-PIP-01) from Big Foot Tours and Deception (CK-DEC-01) from DWNP. I loved the remoteness and beauty of Piper Pans, while the Sunday and Motopi sites were also lovely. Deception was my least favourite as it was enclosed by thick bush – we would have preferred Kori but it was fully booked.

Gemsbok in Sunday Pan, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Sunday Pan

The area of the park near Deception Valley is the busiest. This is due to the proximity to Matswere Gate and Rakops, and the high density of game. Here you’re close to the action in terms of predators hunting along Deception Valley. Sites here include Kori, Deception, Sunday and Leopard Pan and they are all less remote than the other sites in the park. The Kori Sites are probably the best due to their great location, while the Deception sites are enclosed in thick bush. Sunday and Leopard Pan sites are slightly further from the highest concentrations of game, though we saw a leopard near Sunday Pan.

Gemsbok fighting in Deception Valley, Botswana
Deception Valley

Deception Campsites

Baby Springbok, Botswana
Baby springbok

There are 6 sites at Deception Camp (map↑) and we were assigned site 1. We would have preferred one of the Kori sites but they were fully booked. Confusingly, the Deception sights are not in Deception Valley while the Kori Sites are, though the Deception campsites are still fairly near the Valley. The Deception sites are all slightly enclosed in thick bush, but during the night we heard a scops owl purring away right above our tent which was magical.

Sites 1-3 are on the southern side of the road, sites 4-6 are on the north. The best Deception campsites are 1 and 2 as they are private, away from the campsite loop, and far from the main track.

CK-DEC-01 (map↑): At the end of a track so private and not visited by others.

CK-DEC-02 (map↑): Also at the end of a track so quiet and private.

CK-DEC-03 (map↑): At the edge of the track to 1 and 2, perhaps the worst site.

CK-DEC-43 (map↑): Close to number 5, could be good if you are a group needing two sites by otherwise too close to the neighbours.

CK-DEC-05 (map↑): Similar to 4.

CK-DEC-06 (map↑): Slightly off the northern campsite loop, not too close to the other sites.

Kori Campsites

Kori campsite (map↑) consists of 4 sites along the edge of Deception Valley. Site 4 is on the edge of the road, while the others are slightly off it but still a little close. Sites 3 and 4 are larger, while sites 1 and 2 are smaller with fewer trees, though all sites have quite a bit of shade. There’s a little viewpoint of the pan very close to site 3, just on the opposite side of the main track, making this perhaps the best site.
The Kori campsites are all very popular. Deception Valley has some of the highest concentrations of game within Central Kalahari Game Reserve, so it’s a great place to be.

CK-KOR-01 (map↑): The southernmost Kori site, similar in size to site 2 though smaller than 3 and 4.

CK-KOR-02 (map↑): Close to the road, but nearest to the valley.

CK-KOR-03 (map↑): A large site close to a viewpoint on the opposite side of the road, making it a great site.

Springbok in Deception Valley
Springbok in Deception Valley

CK-KOR-04 (map↑): A large site on the edge of the road, so not much privacy, but with partial views to the pan (though obscured a bit by the bushes).

Leopard Pan and Sunday Pan Campsites

Sunday Campsite CK-SUN-03, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Sunday Campsite CK-SUN-03

CK-SUN-02 (map↑): Again confusingly, this is Sunday Pan campsite 1. It’s just south of Sunday Pan, a large, pleasant, rather hidden site with nice shade. Some people had lions visiting within this camp. Lions like this camp, many people had lions visiting. This campsite is the largest of the three around Sunday Pan and would be nice for a group.

CK-SUN-03 (map↑): Sunday Pan campsite 2, one hundred metres from CK-SUN-04 and on a rise near Sunday Pan waterhole.

CK-SUN-04 (map↑): Sunday Pan campsite 3, is slightly better than CK-SUN-03, with a slightly better view, a bit larger and less sloping. They are 100m apart so slightly close if your neighbours are noisy. Occasionally visitors drive into camp for a view (though the view isn’t amazing).

There are 4 campsites with the prefix CK-SUN, though confusingly one (CK-SUN-01) is by Leopard Pan and managed by DWNP, while the other three are by Sunday Pan and managed by Bigfoot Tours. The three sites by Sunday Pan were refurbished in 2019 and all four sites have a toilet and shower. CK-SUN-02 is just south of the pan and the largest site, so good for groups, while CK-SUN-03 and CK-SUN-04 are on a rise above Sunday Pan Waterhole and only 100 m from each other.

CK-SUN-01 (map↑): Confusingly, this is Leopard Pan campsite, and located just south of Leopard Pan. It’s a fine campsite, though there is no view. Unlike the other three, it’s a DWNP site.

Sunday Campsite CK-SUN-03, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Sunday Campsite CK-SUN-03

Motopi Campsites

Overgrown track to Motopi Campsites 1 and 3, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Overgrown track to Motopi Campsites 1 and 3
Motopi Campsites 1, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Motopi 1 Campsite

CK-MOT-02 (map↑): Site with toilet and shower, at the top of a small hill so with nice views over the surroundings. Nearest to the main road (1.5 km away) and waterhole so convenient, though still a remote site with the nearest other campsites about 5 km away. We stayed here and saw a lone giraffe wandering about nearby.

CK-MOT-03 (map↑): A 9 km drive along an overgrown track from the main road. Toilet and shower. The track to here can become muddy after rain.

Motopi has 3 campsites in the northeast section of the park, convenient if you are entering via Tsau Gate. The dunes in this part of the reserve are larger and more vegetated than elsewhere, though there are not any loops to explore nearby. The numbering of the campsites is slightly confusing and CK-MOT-02 is the site nearest the main road. CK-MOT-01 and CK-MOT-03 are 7 and 9 km respectively from the main road along a bushy, overgrown but passable track (conditions in 2021).

You can’t see the Motopi waterhole from any of the sites, though CK-MOT-02 is nearest and on a rise so you have some views overlooking the surrounding bush. This, and the very overgrown track to the other sites make CK-MOT-02 the best site here.

The Motopi water is great for wildlife and lions are often seen here. We saw a large mixed herd of giraffe, gemsbok, springbok and kudu all crowding around the waterhole, along with a couple of jackals that spooked the young male kudu.

CK-MOT-01 (map↑): A 7 km drive along an overgrown track from the main road. Toilet but no shower and very remote.

Motopi 2 Campsite, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Motopi 2 Campsite

Passarge Valley Campsites

Ostriches in Passarge Valley
Passarge Valley

There are 3 lovely campsites very spread out in Passarge Valley, which makes up the northern side of the loop. Campsite 3 has the best views of Passarge Valley and is probably the best site, while campsite 3 is nearest to the Passarge Valley Waterhole, 11 km away.

Passarge Valley contains large concentrations of grazing animals, such as gemsbok and springbok, which bring the lions and other predators with them. These sites are all very popular.

CK-PAS-01 (map↑): Large site with no views but nice shade trees and very remote, 750m off the loop road at the eastern end of Passarge Valley.

CK-PAS-02 (map↑): This site is slightly raised so offers lovely views over Passarge Valley. It’s 100m off the loop road, lots of shade.

CK-PAS-03 (map↑): Large site with shade, 300m off the loop road. Waterhole 11 km west.

Pipers Pan Campsites

There are 2 campsites near Pipers Pan, both very popular since Pipers Pan has a high concentration of game. These sites are 30 km off the main loop through sand dunes, and on the way if you were heading south, for example to Xade Gate or Khutse Game Reserve. Site 1 is actually on the edge of the pan and closer to the waterhole, so the better site.

CK-PIP-01 (map↑): Site with space but not that much shade, with a great location just next to Pipers Pan.

CK-PIP-02 (map↑): Large site with a central shade tree and some views over the surrounding bush,1.5 km south of the Pan.

Pipers Pan Campsite 1, Central Kalahari
Pipers Pan Campsite 1

Lekhubu and Letiahau Campsites

Springbok in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Lekhubu and Letiahau Campsites both have no facilities and are just ‘wilderness’ camps (hence -WIL- in their codes). They are both fairly large and very far from any other campsite, on the southern section of the loop. We saw huge herds of springbok and a large male lion in the vicinity. The tracks near these sites are quite compacted so make for quick driving.

CK-WIL-06 (map↑): Letiahau campsite. A large site with shade but no other facilities.

CK-WIL-07 (map↑): Lekhubu campsite. A large site with shade but no other facilities.

San Pan and Phokoje Campsites

These two sites are both remote, on the less busy western edge of the loop. They are both adjacent to long, thin pans that the loop track passes through. Their codes contain -TAU- because they are vaguely near Tau Pan and Tau Lodge. San Pan is very beautiful and the site here is nice because you get views of the surroundings, though it’s almost impossible to book through DWNP as they sometimes say it doesn’t exist.

CK-TAU-01: This site no longer exists.

CK-TAU-02 (map↑): San Campsite, near San Pan. A large site with many small shade trees, 750 m off the loop track. The site is on a rise so you have great views over San Pan. The site is not used often and can sometimes be slightly overgrown. Longdrop and shower.

CK-TAU-03 (map↑): Phokoje campsite, near Phokoje Pan and 400m off the loop track. One shade tree in the centre of the site provides mediocre shade, surrounded by low bush. The shower has no shower bucket and the toilet is now non-existent.

Luxury Lodge Accommodation in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Unlike Mabuasehube and Khutse Game Reserve, there are two luxury lodges within the park and three just to the north. Since there are no fences around the CKGR, the game is free to wander outside the park and there is a large buffer area with no villages so you might see just as much wildlife outside the park as within.

The luxury lodges in and near the Central Kalahari, while cheaper than those in the Okavango Delta, can still be hundreds of dollars per night per person. These rates are all-inclusive, which means meals and activities such as game drives and bushman walks are included. There are two luxury lodges within the park, Kalahari Plains Camp (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) and Tau Pan Camp (Website, Tripadvisor*).

Bordering the northern edge of the park in a large private conservancy, lie Evolve Back Gham Dhao Lodge (formerly Haina Kalahari Lodge, Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*), Deception Valley Lodge (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) and Dinaka Lodge (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*).


We visited the Central Kalahari Game Reserve as part of a long trip overlanding around Botswana. You can find out more about it by reading the travel adventure book I wrote, No Footprints in the Night: On Safari in Botswana*.

If you’re interested in other Botswanan Kalahari Desert parks, check out Khutse Game Reserve or Mabuasehube.

FAQS – Central Kalahari Game Reserve

What is the speed limit in CKGR?

The speed limit in Central Kalahari Game Reserve is 40 km/h.

How big is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers 52,800 square kilometres, roughly 10% of Botswana and an area larger than Switzerland.

Do I need to travel with at least two vehicles in Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

While it’s always recommended to travel with two vehicles so one can help the other if stuck, it’s not necessary. If you have your own recovery gear and are confident you can self-recover if stuck, have plenty of spare fuel and water, then you should be fine by yourself. On the main loop, normally at least one other car will find you within a day. Once you head south of Pipers Pan, vehicle numbers drop significantly.

Do you need a 4×4 in Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

You definitely need a 4×4 in CKGR and you won’t be allowed into the park without one. Tracks are sandy and can be very muddy in the rainy season. Take recovery gear.

When is the best time to visit Central Kalahari Game Reserve?

The best time to visit Central Kalahari Game Reserve is January to April. This is the ‘green season’, in other words the rainy season. The vegetation is relatively lush, at least for a desert, and the valleys attract the grazers, which in turn attract the predators. As the dry season begins, the valley vegetation dries out and the herbivores spread out into the vast dunelands of the Kalahari.

Sunset in Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Sunset in Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *