Kalahari Plains Camp is a permanent camp, set in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Kalahari Plains Camp: Our full report
Kalahari Plains Camp sits on the edge of an enormous pan, southeast of Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (also known as the CKGR) which offers some of Botswana's best summer game viewing. It is one of just two camps in a reserve approximately the size of Switzerland, and the views from across the pan are exceptional. The camp was moved here from its original location in December 2009, taking it away from the more accessible public roads in the reserve.
The lodge is located on the edge of a large pan and, as such, affords great views across this vast (often sparsely vegetated) expanse. There is a waterhole a fair distance away but with the help of the viewing scope in the main area you can take a closer look at its visitors. The main area of Kalahari Plains Camp is a sprawling building built on a wooden deck and open on three sides to allow the air to flow more freely. At one end is the dining area, with views out to the separate pool deck and the pan. The small salt-water pool offers welcome relief from the Kalahari heat, and the shaded deck some respite from the sun. This deck leads out to the 'loo with a view’, which we think is worth trying at least once!
At the heart of the building, the bar is the venue for pre-dinner drinks, although when we last visited it felt a little soulless during the day. A large proportion of the main area is taken up by an inviting lounge area, an eclectic gathering of comfortable chairs, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and a small reference library. The curio shop is well stocked and we liked the fact that they sell a good selection of locally made items. There is a star-gazing deck on the roof above the bar, and an open campfire area in front where dinner is usually served if the weather allows. Unlike most camps in Botswana the fire is not lit every night due to the scarcity of wood here.
Until recently, accommodation at Kalahari Plains Camp was in ten spacious, walk-in tented chalets on raised wooden platforms. In early 2015 they decided to reduce the total number of chalets to just eight, creating a slightly more intimate atmosphere to the camp. Two of the chalets are family 'units', which have a second en-suite bedroom sleeping up to two children, but otherwise offer the same facilities as the standard tented chalets.
Each tented chalet is linked to the main area by sandy pathways. The rooms are of a good size, built on wooden decks raised off the ground. The innovative insulated canvas walls and roof of each tent, together with a ceiling fan and large mesh windows, helps to keep the interior relatively cool.
The chalets are simply, but comfortably, furnished. Their twin or double beds face out towards the veranda in front of the bedroom, with fantastic views of the plains through an enormous mesh window. There is a table and chairs on the veranda and, inside, a writing desk and chair, plus an additional armchair. We loved the airy feel the large windows gave to the chalets, but were pleased to note that there are roll down canvas or clear plastic blinds in case of inclement weather.
A door to one side of the chalet leads to the en-suite bathroom, complete with a flush toilet, twin handbasins, mirror and walk-in shower. You'll also find wooden shelves with hanging space for clothes, extra blankets, a safe, and environment friendly shower gel, shampoo and conditioner.
One of the coolest features of each chalets - and a real highlight for us on our last visit – is the sleep-out deck above, accessed by a set of wooden steps from the bottom deck. Lying tucked up and cosy, gazing up at the star-filled sky, feels a bit like camping – but is a lot more comfortable and without the associated work!
In the family units, the second bedroom is joined to the main bedroom by an external deck and has its own en-suite bathroom with flushing toilet, shower and twin basins. Note that the sleep-out deck and veranda are located above and in front of the main bedroom only.
For much of the year the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a dry, unrelenting landscape dotted with a relatively low density of wildlife, which includes springbok, gemsbok (or oryx), jackals, bat-eared foxes and occasionally, cheetah and lion. Between May and October, when the Okavango Delta is awash with the annual flood waters, the contrast is quite stark. It's the perfect time to see first hand just how well these animals have adapted to survive in these harsh conditions.
However, during the summer months, from November through to April in times of good rainfall (with December, January and February being the best), the valleys and pans of the CKGR turn green with nutritious grasses. Aggregations of antelope, blue wildebeest and giraffe congregate here to feed on these sweet grasses, followed closely by predators including, cheetah, Kalahari black-maned lion, leopard and black-backed jackals. At this time of year, the Central Kalahari is one of the best game-viewing areas in Botswana and there are usually very few others to share the spectacle with. Note that when we visited in April 2013 it was already dry and the large herds of plains game had moved on, however this was a particularly dry year! In 2012 the animals were all still around in April – it all just depends on the rains. Likewise when we visited again at the end of November 2013 it was still very dry as the rains were yet to arrive and therefore the herds were yet to arrive in full. Nevertheless, in November we did still manage to see a family of bat eared foxes, a family of aardwolves as well as quite a number of black-maned lion.
Guided morning and afternoon game drives in open 4WD vehicles are the mainstay of activities at Kalahari Plains Camp. On a visit in May, we found game sightings erratic – but our guide was excellent; he was a very good birder and could find something of interest almost anywhere. One very quiet afternoon drive, when we saw little more than a herd of springbok and a couple of lone jackals, was followed the next morning by good sightings of giraffe, zebra, some unusually relaxed steenboks (they are normally very shy and skittish) and a wonderful hour spent in the company of a pride of five playful adolescent lions. On a visit in April we were lucky enough to see both black-maned lion and cheetah on our afternoon game drive as well as some endearing bat-eared foxes.
Full-day trips to Deception Valley or further afield can be arranged on request. But note that as the camp is in a national park, no off-road driving or night drives are allowed.
Back at base, Kalahari Plains also offers an educational walk in the immediate vicinity of the camp, led by a Bushman member of staff. Our guide talked about how they don't live traditionally as they once did, but we found the glimpse into his culture and history interesting, and his sense of humour quite entertaining.
The camp operates in constantly challenging conditions, so we found their unusual 'behind the scenes' tour especially interesting! We were proudly shown the impressive state-of-the-art solar system, which runs off 72 solar panels and provides all the electricity and hot water in camp. Water is life in this dry environment, and we learned about the water storage and distribution. The water from the borehole is saltier than seawater which is used for such things as the showers, pool etc. Drinking water, which was once trucked in over 100km away is remarkably now produced by a reverse osmosis machine kept at camp, which purifies the water by removing the salt. We particularly enjoyed meeting the people behind the scenes, who keep everything ticking over smoothly.
Having said all this, because 'behind the scenes' areas – like the kitchens and staff village – are relatively close to the rooms, we found that we could often hear snippets of noise from them during our stay.
Our viewKalahari Plains Camp is well situated in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve close to the park's most famous area, Deception Valley. We loved the big gauze windows in the tented chalets and the sleep-out decks on the roofs; both made the most of the great views and helped us to feel part of the environment. We were surprisingly impressed by the 'behind the scenes tour' and the camp's eco-credentials – although we have been less impressed by the consistency of its food however we found this greatly improved during our stay in November. The guiding was good and we felt that the camp offers a relatively unexplored wilderness with great game between about December and March. However, we'd be less enthusiastic when the park is drier, and the game less visible, between about June and November.
Ideal length of stay: Stay two nights if you are visiting during the dry season of May to Nov and three nights if you are visiting during the Kalahari's most productive season, between about Dec to April.
Directions: Access to Kalahari Plains Camp is usually by air. It is approximately a 1-hour 15-minute light-aircraft flight from Maun Airport, followed by a 30-minute drive to the camp. The camp can, however, also be reached by 4WD on a self-drive itinerary but you still need to pre-book.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On previous visits to Kalahari Plains Camp, we have found the standard of the food to be a bit hit and miss and slightly disappointing however on our two latest visits in April and November 2013 we think the tide has turned. On each occasion we found the food to be wholesome and hearty - not haute cuisine but still very tasty.
A light breakfast is served before heading out on activities. This is usually a buffet of cereals, fruit, yoghurts and freshly made muffins still warm from the oven. We were impressed that the coffee cups were warmed in a pot of hot water before serving – ingenious!
We are constantly amazed at the wonderful creations the chefs come up with for afternoon tea. We do enjoy a good cake and the coffee cup cakes did not disappoint. The cheese and tomato quesadillas were also very good indeed and the homemade lemonade was incredible: it seemed to fizz in the mouth!
Dinner is, more often than not, taken as a group around one long table. During our stay in November 2013 we started with a tomato soup accompanied by a freshly made bread roll. The main course was a choice of beef and mushroom sauce or duck with orange sauce – both were very good. These were,served with a beetroot salad, cooked spinach or a filo pastry with cheese and butternut squash The dessert was a very yummy chocolate mousse with a home made brandy snap.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers, spirits and red and white wines are included. Premier champagne and premium imported brands will cost extra and must be requested well in advance.
Family holidays: Kalahari Plains Camp, which can be booked for exclusive use, has two family units with a sleep-out deck. Go on a ‘behind the scenes tour’ with the staff during your family safari holidays here to learn how the camp is run under the challenging conditions in the Kalahari.See more ideas for Family holidays in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 6 years are welcome at Kalahari Plains Camp. Children younger than six are accepted only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use.
Property’s age restrictions: Although the camp accepts children aged 6–12, private activities must be booked and this will be at an extra cost.
Special activities & services: There are currently no special activities or equipment offered specifically for children at the camp.
Generally recommended for children: Although children aged 6 and above are welcome here, the camp is pretty simple and although there are a few board games and a pool there is not much else to keep children entertained between activities. Especially in summer, because of the heat, the activities tend to be shorter than at Delta camps hence there are long periods of time free during the middle of the day. In summer you are invariably up at 4am and out on an activity at 5am; returning to camp around 9am. The afternoon activity generally then goes out around 3:30/4pm. Children can participate in the ‘behind the scenes tours’ learning about how the camp functions. For older children, the bushmen walks give an informative and entertaining recital of their traditions and culture. Because of this we generally recommend the camp for children aged about 16 and over.
Notes: The camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife can wander through the camp at any time. There is no fence around the pool. There is a small gate at the top of the stairs to the ‘star-bed’ deck but there is no lock and there is nothing to stop children climbing the stairs. Children need to be closely supervised by their parents/guardians at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: Kalahari Plains Camp is in radio contact with the guides whilst on activities and with the main office in Maun. There is a satellite phone available for emergencies.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The manager and guides at camp are first aid qualified. Anyone with serious medical issues will usually be flown from camp to the nearest hospital for treatment.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are escorted to their rooms after dark in case of animals wandering through the camp. Each tent has a small safe to store any travel documents or cash.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are situated outside each tent and the main area. Kalahari Plains Camp also has a 'fire station' with buckets, fire beaters and other equipment needed to help put out a fire.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included at Kalahari Plains Camp. For cultural reasons, the staff cannot wash underwear. A small pot of soap powder is included in each tent for guests who wish to do a little hand washing.
Money: No additional payment is needed in camp. We recommend US Dollars in small denominations for any tips.