Larger than Denmark or Switzerland, the 52 800 square kilometre Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which was set up in 1961, is the largest game reserve in the world. Situated right in the very centre of Botswana, this reserve is characterised by vast open plains, salt pans and ancient riverbeds. Varying from sand dunes with many species of trees and shrubs in the north, to flat bushveld in the central area, the reserve is more heavily wooded in the south, with mopane forests to the south and east. Rainfall is sparse and sporadic and can vary from 170 to 700 millimetres per year.

The people commonly known throughout the world as Bushmen, but more properly referred to as the San, have been resident in and around the area for probably thousands of years. Originally nomadic hunters and gathers, the lifestyle of the San has gradually changed with the times and they now live in settlements, some of which are situated within the southern half of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Other fairly recent residents were Mark and Delia Owens, who spent many years in the Deception Valley area of the park undertaking research mainly on brown hyaena. They set up their camp in the northern section of Deception in a prime “tree island”, however tree islands are no longer used for camping in these days of more environmental awareness. The Owens’ book, “Cry of the Kalahari” brought the attention of readers to this previously little-visited area and even today many people refer to the Central Kalahari simply as Deception. The name “Deception” comes from a pan in the area of which the dry surface at times appears convincingly full of water until one gets right to the edge.

Trans-Kalahari Travel:

The main wildlife concentrations are to be found in the tourist areas in the northern half of this vast reserve but it is possible for adventurous and completely self-contained visitors to travel through the reserve between Khutse on the southern boundary to the northern section – a journey which takes minimum two days of 4×4 wilderness travelling. Undeveloped campsites are available for overnight stops at Molapo, Gope, Bape and Xaka. Those visitors wishing to travel trans-Kalahari should note that, apart from being self-contained with all fuel, food and water, they should only travel in a group of two or more vehicles with basic spares and survival aids.

How to get there:

There are currently three entry points to the reserve, the one through Khutse in the south, then a western entrance through Xade and also in the north-east through Matswere. Access to Xade, where there are two undeveloped campsites, is made by turning off east from the Ghanzi-Kang road about 36 kilometres south of Ghanzi where indicated by signpost. Xade is reached after following this loose sandy track for 160 kilometres, taking about three hours for the full journey from Ghanzi. Visitors should fill up with fuel at Ghanzi and ensure that they have sufficient for their entire stay. On arrival at Xade visitors are required to check in at the tourist office in the Wildlife Camp.

Access to Matswere can be made via Rakops, where petrol and diesel are available, 55 kilometres from the check-in point at Matswere.? Rakops can be accessed from the north from Maun – Motopi – Kumaga – Tsoe, or from the south from Mahalapye – Serowe – Letlhakane – Mopipi. Matswere can also be accessed from Maun by travelling 57 kilometres east, turning right at the Makalamabedi junction, continuing for 20 kilometres to the village and turning right on the western side of the veterinary fence. The fence is followed south for some 80 kilometres of sand track to the Kuke corner veterinary gate, after which a further 21 kilometres down the eastern boundary of the reserve takes the visitor to the entrance gate which is then only 9 kilometres from Matswere. This “short cut” from Maun takes about three and a half hours travelling time.

Camping facilities:

Matswere is the access point for designated but undeveloped campsites in the region of Deception Valley, Sunday Pan, Leopard Pan and Passarge Valley, whilst the campsites at Piper Pan can be accessed from either Matswere or Xade.

It is planned to put in rustic pit latrines to service some these undeveloped campsites, but until this development has been completed, visitors are specifically requested to dig their own mini-latrine to ensure they leave no signs of being there, particularly where toilet paper is concerned. Firewood may be collected from well-wooded areas but not from tree islands. The ashes from campfires must be buried before vacating a campsite, combustible rubbish burnt and non-combustibles carried back to the pit at the entrance gate. Water is available from the Wildlife Camp at Xade but is currently not reliable at the Matswere entrance.


Game viewing for animals which include gemsbok, springbok, ostrich, kudu blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, giraffe, eland, brown hyaena, warthog, wild dog, cheetah, leopard, lion and is best between December and April, when the animals tend to congregate in the pans and valleys. Visitors are warned that sleeping in the open without a tent is dangerous and foolhardy and that they should keep their tents fastened to prevent snakes, scorpions, etc. from gaining entry. Foodstuffs, etc. should not be kept in the tent but should be closed into the vehicle to avoid the unwanted attentions of lions and hyaenas. Visitors may walk in pan areas where visibility is good, but walking in areas of tall grass or thick bush is potentially dangerous and not encouraged and it is always wise to stay within easy reach of the vehicle.

Central Kalahari facilities at a glance: Undeveloped public camping sites at:

  • Kori (overlooking Deception Valley)
    Deception Valley
    Passarge Valley
    Sunday Pan
    Lengau (Leopard Pan)
    Lekhubu (between Deception north and Piper Pan)
    Piper Pan

NO petrol, diesel or food supplies available in the reserve.