The local San know exactly where you should go in the Central Kalahari.

Luxury Safaris in the Central Kalahari

If Africa is an open book, then the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is its centrefold – beautiful yet mysterious, receptive yet at times unreachable. I love the Central Kalahari for the feeling it gives me of getting right to the heart of the matter. In the middle of Botswana and the middle of nowhere, this vast remote wilderness somehow speaks to me.

I’m not the only person to have heard its siren call – a game drive through Deception Valley passes through the heart of the area where Cry of the Kalahari was set. The valley retains its power to deceive thanks to a mirage that makes it appear full of water when in fact it’s bone dry.

Further north, the evocatively named Sunday and Leopard Pans suggest either quiet reflection or great game-spotting opportunities, while Passarge Valley causes armchair travellers to reach for their dictionaries.

Whether you follow in the hoofprints of the summer herds, or visit the Central Kalahari in the winter to concentrate on resident desert-adapted wildlife, this is a wildlife experience like no other. Slow, meandering game drives might let you cross paths with Kalahari lion – with their full, black manes, they’re some of the most impressive big cats in Africa – while aardwolf, aardvark and other interesting species put in regular appearances.

A San cultural experience puts TV ‘survival’ shows in their place – not least because it’s the survival of the ecosystem that takes precedence. Some luxury safari lodges even let you sleep out on the pans, wrapped in a blanket of stars with a planet for a pillow.

When to Go

The cooler, dry winter is generally reckoned to be the best time to visit northern Botswana (especially the Okavango). However, the reverse tends to be true in the Central Kalahari. Rather than floodwaters compressing wildlife, scarcity of food in the arid Kalahari causes the game to disperse. Resident desert-adapted wildlife can be seen year-round, however, and the stark, near-infinite beauty of the Kalahari finds its most eloquent expression in these dry winter months. Cooler temperatures also make the experience more manageable, and a winter visit aligns perfectly with the optimum Okavango season.

The wetter summer ‘green season’ is when the Central Kalahari comes to life. Large herds of gemsbok and springbok assemble to feed on new grass growth, and the predator activity (especially lion and cheetah) can be intense. It’s also the time of year when a great many migrant birds visit the Central Kalahari, to the delight of birders. Luxury safari lodges are adept at dealing with the high summer temperatures and brief, heavy downpours, although cloud cover may impact on stargazing. It’s also a beautiful time of year in the Okavango Delta.

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