Camp Kalahari is nestled amongst acacia and palm trees, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
Camp Kalahari: Our full report
Camp Kalahari sits on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans on a shrubby outcrop known as Hyena Island. It’s the simplest of the three camps in this region, but still makes a good location from which to explore the salt pans in the dry season, or witness southern Africa’s largest migration of zebra and wildebeest when the rains arrive. There is no electricity at Camp Kalahari, which serves to add to the atmosphere, with the camp lit by paraffin lanterns at night.
The thatched main area at Camp Kalahari houses a small library as well as the lounge and dining areas, all on earth floors. Like the rest of the camp, it is decorated with local crafts and furniture as well as some campaign furniture, indicative of a bygone era of exploration. A short distance from the main area is the swimming pool, which has been sited on the outskirts of the camp – partly because it provides a more open feel away from the thicker foliage and partly because it keeps thirsty elephants out of camp. Although quite small, it’s certainly big enough for a cooling dip in the heat of the day.
Accommodation at Camp Kalahari consists of ten Meru-style canvas tents. Seven of these are twin, two are double and one – designed with families in mind – is effectively two twin tents linked by a bathroom. The beds are elevated high off the ground with steel frames which gives plenty of storage space for luggage underneath. On our last visit to Camp Kalahari, in May 2011, the evening temperatures really dropped, so we were happy to find a hot water bottle in our beds on our return from dinner each night.
All of the tents at Camp Kalahari are en suite with outdoor bathrooms containing a toilet and a shower. Water for the showers is heated by a wood-fired boiler which is lit each morning – giving extremely hot water that’s more than enough for a couple of good showers.
Activities from Camp Kalahari include 4WD safaris in and around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, often with spotlit night drives on the return to camp in the evenings. On our last visit we spent a fascinating evening watching brown hyena, bat-eared foxes and aardwolf as they emerged for their nocturnal activities.
Note that Camp Kalahari’s vehicles have three rows of seats, and take up to ten guests per drive. (One beside the driver, then three rows of three seats.) If the vehicle is full, it can feel overcrowded and those at the back may find it difficult to hear everything that the guide says. Unusually for a Botswana camp, there is no stipulation by Camp Kalahari that travellers with young children must hire their own private vehicle. That’s good news for families who can enjoy the activities with their children; it may be viewed as bad news by adults looking for peace and quiet.
A real highlight of both Camp Kalahari, and its sister camps, Jacks Camp and San Camp, is a visit to their resident family of meerkats. This has been semi-habituated to humans: while they are wild animals, they more or less ignore visitors. Spending a morning following the meerkats as they foraged across the Kalahari for grubs and scorpions was fascinating; they’re exceptionally cute and very inquisitive and we stood or sat just a few metres from them for several hours. The meerkat family was one, amongst many, of the wildlife highlights of our recent trip to Botswana.
Quadbiking excursions onto the huge Ntwetwe Pan (which covers about 6,500 km2) are a real feature of visits to Camp Kalahari in the dry season, from around May to October. Because of the fragility of the pans, quadbiking is possible only during this period, so ask us if this is something that appeals to you and we’ll do our best to advise you accordingly. (NB: It’s essential that you read the Quadbike warning in the ‘Health & Safety’ section below for our comments on the absence of bike helmets on this activity.)
Horseback riding is also available here. You can choose between rides of a few hours or a whole trip of up to five nights, which is for experienced riders only!
The ‘Bushman experience’ at Camp Kalahari is very good too – the best of all the similar activities we took part in during our last visit to Botswana. There’s nothing fake or staged about this experience; it’s simply a group of men of varying ages sharing the knowledge passed down to them by their fathers and grandfathers on how they have traditionally survived in this wild and harsh environment.
Guests may also get a chance to visit Chapman’s Baobab – which is estimated to be about 4,500 to 5,000 years old. In the past, a hole in this great tree was used as a postbox, with mail left to be collected by those passing. When here, note how far the roots extend from the tree – it’s extraordinary!
Our viewCamp Kalahari doesn’t have the prestige or the refinements of its sister camps, but it offers similar activities for a cut-down price. The wide range of activities means that no one, young or old, should become bored – but you should expect simpler facilities and meals, and probably more companions on your drives, than you would have had at its sister-camps. It’s a good option for travellers with children, but also delivers a relaxed and peaceful experience.
Ideal length of stay: 2–3 nights
Directions: Flight transfer in light aircraft from Maun to Jack's Camp Airstrip where you will be met and transferred by game vehicle to the camp.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Ralph Bousfield - Uncharted Africa
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Meals at Camp Kalahari were good on our last visit in May 2011.
Breakfast is varied, with fruit, cereals and savoury products available as well as a cooked option.
Dinner during our stay was a leek soup followed by chicken curry and rice, with banoffee pudding for dessert.
The camp produces its own ‘Pilli-Pilli Ho-Ho’ which is bottled and on hand at mealtimes. This blend of chillies, sherry and gin is very fiery but very tasty too. It’s a great example of the little personal touches which make Camp Kalahari and its sister camps special.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Included
Further dining info: No
Family holidays: Adventurous quad biking across the Kalahari saltpans and fascinating bushman experiences make for memorable, hands-on family safari holidays at Botswana’s Camp Kalahari. The semi-habituated family of meerkats here is another highlight for children and adults alike.See more ideas for Family holidays in Botswana
Riding holidays: Camp Kalahari offers two sorts of riding activities. As well as the quad biking experience, which is identical to the one at its sister camps (Jack’s and San), you can also explore the exceptional scenery on horseback with trips lasting up to five nights.See more ideas for Riding holidays in Botswana
Cultural experiences: Camp Kalahari offers a fascinating and authentic walk with Bushmen. Our team has done this and said it is one of the best on offer. You’ll go out with Bushmen guides, looking at the surrounding flora and fauna, and hearing about their culture.See more ideas for Cultural experiences in Botswana
Wildlife safaris: Visiting Camp Kalahari’s family of meerkats is an exceptional experience at any time of year. Lions, brown hyena and other species frequent this area, although the wildlife densities are low in the dry season . During the rainy season (December–April), zebra can sometimes be seen here in their thousands.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana
Walking: Our team rate the Bushman walks at Camp Kalahari as some of the best on offer. The Bushmen explain how they survive using knowledge passed down to them through the generations. We found this fascinating.See more ideas for Walking in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Camp Kalahari welcomes children of all ages. Note that children under the age of 12 years are not allowed to drive the quadbikes but younger children may accompany an adult.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions at Camp Kalahari.
Generally recommended for children: Camp Kalahari makes a fantastic family safari destination, and children love the meerkats. Unlike at Jack’s and San camps, families with younger children are not required to take a private vehicle. This camp caters well for children.
Notes: The salt pans is not an area of prolific game, but lion and other dangerous game (like honey badgers) do sometimes pass through the camp. So children should always be closely supervised.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: There is no internet or cellphone reception at Camp Kalahari.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: All of the senior camp staff are first aid trained. The nearest doctors are a short flight away in Maun or Francistown. In a serious emergency, guests would be flown to Johannesburg by Medivac. Please note that it is only possible to fly out of camp during daylight hours as the bush airstrips do not have any lighting at night.
Quadbike warning: with an abundance of caution, we feel that it's important to let prospective visitors know that no safety helmets are provided for any quadbike activities here, either at Camp Kalahari or at its sister camps, San Camp or Jack's Camp.
We understand that the camps have operated quadbikes regularly here since 1992, and that at time of writing (August 2012) there has never been a serious accident. The camp’s team comments that they regard this activity to be safe even without helmets, especially as they generally keep to specific tracks and don't speed; and that the area is largely flat and free of other traffic. We're not aware of any of our travellers having any problems over the years, and all of our team members who have visited there have enjoyed quadbiking activities without any problems or concerns.
If you are concerned about the safety aspects of this activity, please tell us very clearly and specifically in writing, before you travel; request that we confirm to you in writing that we have arranged for you to be driven across the pans in a vehicle instead of using a quadbike. If you leave this decision until you're at camp, and then choose that you don't want to do this quadbike activity, then alternative arrangements may not be possible. Although, of course, you can always omit this activity, and relax around the camp and swimming pool instead! (Sadly, refunds aren't possible if you choose to miss activities like this at a camp.)
As with any activity, please check the details of your travel insurance to ensure that you are fully covered in the case of quad-biking accident. Be aware that some insurances will provide cover for bikes up to a certain engine power, but not beyond - so you need to check such clauses particularly carefully.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are escorted to their rooms after dark.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in all of the rooms and in the main area.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Included
Money: There is a safe in reception where guests can leave valuables. Currency exchange is not available.
Accepted payment on location: Camp Kalahari accepts payments by credit and debit cards – but there is a surcharge.