Camp Kalahari: Our full report
Camp Kalahari sits on the edge of Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pans on a shrubby outcrop known as Hyena Island.A relatively simple camp, it makes a good location from which to explore the salt pans in the dry season, or to witness southern Africa's largest migration of zebra and wildebeest when the rains arrive.
Camp Kalahari is the simplest of three sister camps in the Makgadikgadi area, the others being Jacks Camp and San Camp. Their activities, however, are similar, so the choice of camp is largely a question of style and cost.
The V-shaped, thatched main area at Camp Kalahari has two ‘arms’ – one housing the dining room, the other the lounge. Both are on very slightly raised, polished concrete bases covered with sisal matting and oriental rugs. Like the rest of the camp, they are decorated with local crafts and furniture, as well as some campaign furniture, indicative of a bygone era of exploration. Old glass cabinets house artefacts (ostrich eggs, animal skulls, silver cups etc), and the walls are adorned with interesting old maps and pictures.
The dining room has one long table and directors’ chairs for convivial meal times, a help-yourself bar and water cooler (both housed in old wooden chests), and a dark wooden sideboard with a permanent tea/coffee station. In the small lounge you’ll find a couple of cosy seating areas where red/cream fabric covers the comfy sofas and cushions. A glass-fronted cabinet does service as a small library and there is a multi-adaptor charging station for camera batteries etc.
On the outskirts of the camp, a short distance from the main area, is a small swimming pool with a thatched, shady area covering a set of deck chairs and a couple of day beds. The location of the pool, away from the thicker foliage, provides a more open feel and helps to keep thirsty elephants out of camp. Despite its size, the pool is certainly big enough for a cooling dip in the heat of the day, though when we popped in for a visit in October 2017 we were informed that it is going to be enlarged during 2018.
Sandy pathways lead to Camp Kalahari’s 11 Meru-style canvas tents. Six of these are twin, four are double and one – designed with families in mind – is effectively one twin and one double tent linked by a large bathroom. At the time of our visit, most of these were still on low wooden decks, but two had been rebuilt on raised decks and we understand that the others will follow.
The steel-framed, four-poster canopy beds in each tent are quite high off the ground, giving plenty of storage space for luggage underneath. In the winter months, when the evening temperatures really drop, we are pleased to say that a hot-water bottle is placed in each bed, ready for your return from dinner. For the summer mohths, there’s a standing fan, and glasses and a flask of cold drinking water sit on an old fashioned desk. Electricity in the rooms is for lighting and the fan only; batteries can only be charged in the main area.
All of the tents at Camp Kalahari are en suite, their bathrooms reached through the back of the tent housing a toilet and shower. Although these bathrooms are effectively outside, they are screened by wooden palisades and are mainly covered by gauze netting and flysheets (with the exception of the family tent which has an open-top shower area).
Activities from Camp Kalahari and its sister camps are exceptionally varied. Among them are are morning and evening 4WD safaris in and around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, often with spotlit night drives on the return to camp in the evenings. They are also keen that guests should take part in a night drive after dinner especially in the summer months when it takes a bit of time for the temperature to drop sufficiently for the nocturnal animals to come out. On our last visit in October 2017, we spent a fascinating evening watching brown hyena, bat-eared foxes and aardwolf as they emerged for their nocturnal activities.
In the past, Camp Kalahari's vehicles would take up to nine guests with three guests seated in three rows of seats. However, the new owners have changed this policy, and now only take six guests per vehicle - allowing each guest a window seat.
A real highlight of both Camp Kalahari and its sister camps is a visit to one of four resident families of meerkat. These have 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 visit 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, sticking strictly to set tracks, 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 bike helmets and insurance on this activity.)
Horseriding is also available here, for both beginners and experienced riders. You can choose between rides of a few hours or – for experienced riders only – a multi-day trip of up to five nights.
The 'Bushman experience' at Camp Kalahari is very good too – the best of all the similar activities we have taken part in during our visits to Botswana. There's nothing fake about this experience; it's simply a group of men and women of varying ages sharing some of the knowledge passed down by their forefathers on how they have traditionally survived in this wild and harsh environment, and some of the games they have enjoyed, too.
In the past, guests also visited Chapman's Baobab relatively frequently, an ancient tree estimated to be about 4,500 to 5,000 years old. Historically, a hole in this great tree was used as a postbox, where mail was left for collection by those passing by. Sadly the tree collapsed in January 2016, splitting the trunk, and although you can still see the prostrate trunk, the appeal is no longer so great.
Camp Kalahari doesn't have the prestige or the refinements of its sister camps, but it offers similar activities for a cut-down price, and it's a bigger camp and an attractive option for travellers with children. The wide range of activities means that no one, young or old, should become bored. And while facilities and meals are relatively simple, the camp can deliver a relaxed and peaceful experience.
Country manager: Botswana
- Kalahari's Salt Pans, Botswana
- Ideal length of stay
- 3 nights if possible
- Camp Kalahari is approximately a 50-minute light-aircraft flight from Maun, followed by a 4WD transfer to camp of roughly 15–20 minutes. Alternatively it's approximately four hours' drive from Maun, with the last part of the journey requiring a 4WD. Note that getting there by road doesn't end up being a cheaper option, even if you have a hired car! Note we only sell this camp on a fly-in safari.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Although we didn’t stay at Camp Kalahari when we visited in 2017, on previous stays the meals were good.
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 that make Camp Kalahari and its sister camps special.
Breakfast is varied, with fruit, cereals, breads, yoghurts available as well as a cooked option.
Lunch is served shortly after your return to camp after the morning activity and usually consists of a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes.
Dinner the last time we stayed here was a leek soup followed by chicken curry and rice, with banoffee pudding for dessert.
- Family holidays
- Quadbiking across Botwana's Kalahari saltpans and a fascinating Bushman experiences make for memorable family safari holidays at Camp Kalahari. Visiting the habituated families of meerkats here is another highlight for children and adults alike.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- Riding holidays
- Camp Kalahari offers two options for riding activities in Botswana. You can explore the exceptional scenery on horseback, with trips lasting from a few hours up to five nights. And then there is the quadbiking experience where you head out to explore the starkly beautiful salt pans.
- See ideas for Riding holidays
- Cultural experiences
- Camp Kalahari offers a fascinating and authentic walk with Bushmen, which we consider to be one of the best on cultural experiences in Botswana. You'll go out with Bushmen guides, looking at the surrounding flora and fauna, and hearing about their traditional culture.
- See ideas for Cultural experiences
- Wildlife safaris
- For a wildlife safari in Botswana, Camp Kalahari is pretty unusual. Visiting one of the families of habituated meerkats is an exceptional experience. Lion, brown hyena and other predators frequent this area, and during the rainy season, zebra can sometimes be seen here in their thousands, along with many wildebeest.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- It may not be classic walking, but our team rate the Bushman walks at Camp Kalahari as some of the best on offer. The Bushmen explain how they have survived over millennia using knowledge passed down to them through the generations. We found this fascinating.
- See ideas for Walking
- Attitude towards children
- Camp Kalahari welcomes children of all ages. There is a family tent accommodating two adults and two children.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Children under the age of 12 years are not allowed to drive the quadbikes, but younger children may accompany an adult.
- Special activities & services
- Generally recommended for children
- Camp Kalahari caters well for slightly older children. It 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.
- The salt pans is not an area of prolific game, but lion, elephant and other dangerous game (like honey badgers) do sometimes pass through the camp despite an electric fence being put in up 2015. So children should always be closely supervised
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Camp Kalahari
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Camp Kalahari have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- Batteries can be charged only in the main area.
- There is no internet or cellphone reception at Camp Kalahari.
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- All the rooms are plumbed and have flush toilets.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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 the event of a serious emergency, guests would be airlifted to Johannesburg. 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 although safety helmets are provided for the quadbike activities at Camp Kalahari and its sister camps, San Camp or Jack's Camp, there is scant mention of them by staff. They are usually left hanging on a post at the side with the guides just demonstrating how to use the kikoi as a head wrap. We would very much recommend that you ask to use one of the helmets for your personal safety.
We understand that the camps have operated quadbikes regularly here since 1992, and that at the time of writing (October 2017) there has never been a serious accident. The camps’ 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 prior to the helmets being introduced in 2016, and all of our team members who have visited have enjoyed quadbiking activities in the past without any problems or concerns.
If you are concerned about the safety aspects of this activity per se, 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 not to do the quadbike activity, alternative arrangements may not be possible. Although, of course, you could 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 a quadbiking accident. Be aware, too, 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 tents after dark.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in all of the tents and in the main area.
Guided walking safari
Sleeping under the stars
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- A laundry service is included – excluding underwear for which washing liquid is provided in each tent.
- There is a digital safe in each tent. Currency exchange is not available.
- Accepted payment on location
- Mastercard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Amex and Diners are not. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswana pula.
Other lodges in Kalahari's Salt Pans
Alternative places to stay in this same area.