Occupying vast lands in three countries in Southern Africa, The Kalahari Desert is one of the most phenomenal locations in the world. It’s not even a true desert because of its annual rainfall, so it’s hard to fit it into a single profile. Kalahari has many facades with different characteristics from massive salt pans to crimson sand dunes. The Southern part of Kalahari is Kgalagadi, one of a kind in Africa as the first Peace Park that transcends manmade borders. Offering excellent wildlife sightings, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the biggest example of how wild animals can adapt to drylands and their extreme conditions.
The word Kgala means “great thirst” in Tswana, so Kgalagadi means “the land of great thirst”, which is an accurate description.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park lies in the southwest of Kalahari where the borders of Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana intersect. Covering 96000 hectares, the park is known as the largest sand-filled basin in Africa.
The park is bounded on the north by Bakalahari Schwelle, a ridge that separates the Okavango Delta from the southern Kalahari.
The rivers Nossob and Auob run through the park, originating from the Anas Mountains near Windhoek. However, both river beds have dried up after severe drought throughout the 20th century. Auob used to flow deeper and has created a deep and narrow valley. Nossob has a smaller gradient and more shallow water bed filled with sand.
Much of Kgalagadi’s terrain is dominated by Kalahari sands of five distinct categories depending on their particle size and color. The most recognizable sand type is red, which formed massive red dunes throughout centuries of strong winds and extreme temperature changes. Yellow and brown sands can be observed near the riverbeds.
For an area with such a scarcity of water resources, Kgalagadi offers a surprisingly rich and exclusive game viewing. The park owes it to the sparse vegetation, which forces the animals to congregate in herds around the riverbeds. Also, the sand dunes overlooking the plains and riverbeds offer an uninterrupted panoramic view.
The most exciting part is the opportunity to witness the chase between predators and prey. Although the park lacks some big five animals like rhino, the great numbers of the other big five animals compensate for this. You can see distinct cheetah, leopard, black-maned lion and hyena species that have adapted to Kalahari. The other highlight of the park is the dense population of herbivores such as blue wildebeest, eland, springbok, meerkat, hartebeest, honey badger, monkey, jackal, and bat-eared fox.
There is also a regular migration or interchange between Kgalagadi and Central Kalahari in Botswana, which is the most exciting sighting to watch in any safari park.
The park’s fauna is not all about the large animals. Besides the 92 permanent bird species, there are nearly 200 migratory bird species, meaning you will always be surprised to see new species every time you visit Kgalagadi.
There are several different 4×4 routes in the park. Each of them has a departure point near one of the campsites: Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata, and Kalahari Tented Camp. For each route, two game drives are organized per day, one in the early morning and one before sunset. However, the tours require a minimum of two people, so you must enquire about the availability at one of the receptions.
The most popular trail is the Nossob 4×4 eco-trail that is 214 km long. The trail passes by the feasible game viewing spots in Nossob such as the predator center and water holes between Nosob and Mata-Mata.
Tips & Things You Might Need To Know
Unlike many other safari parks in Southern Africa, Kgalagadi has a surprising amount of convenient facilities.
There are three shops in Twee Rivieren, Mata-Mata, and Nossob, where you can buy fresh commodities. The markets also come with a petrol station each. The market and the petrol station at Twee Rivieren have card facilities, but the other markets only accept cash. It might be a good idea to bring cash with you; however, there is also an ATM facility at Twee Rivieren should you need to withdraw cash.
Self-driving is possible in Kgalagadi, but we strongly recommend that you arrive with a 4×4 with high ground clearance and low range capabilities. Sedans are not suitable for the gravel roads within the park.
The main campsites have mineralized drinking water, while the Wilderness campsites don’t have water at all. In any case, we suggest that you provide your own drinking water.
The lighting in the camp areas is very little to avoid the distraction of wildlife, so you must bring your own lamp and torch.
Pets are strictly prohibited.
To protect against scorpion stings, you must wear shoes and long trousers to cover your legs and feet.
Kgalagadi is in a low-risk malaria zone that usually does not require intake of medication, but you should consult with your doctor to find out more.
Climate & Best Time To Visit
Kgalagadi is quite unpredictable when it comes to weather.
The southern half is dryer with 150 mm annual rain, while the northern half receives twice as much rain. November to April is the rainy season, where you can expect heavy thunderstorms or dust storms.
The temperature gap between day and night can be drastic. The summer months and sunny days can see 42 degrees in the shade, while it can drop down below -10 in the winter.
September and October are the best months for visiting because of the reasonable temperatures and a moderate amount of rainfall.
Kgalagadi has a total of 5 gates in three different countries. Three of those are located within Botswana, while Namibia and South Africa have one each.
The gate in South Africa is Twee Rivieren, approximately 250 km to the north of Upington in the Northern Cape.
The closest airport is near Upington, which can be accessed from Cape Town and Johannesburg via domestic airlines. There are car rental companies at the airport.
The park is over 1000 km away from any of the major cities, so we don’t recommend driving all the way unless you are doing a road trip.
There are two routes leading to Kgalagadi, one via Upington and the other via Vanzylrus. The former route consists of a tarred road, while the road via Vanzylrus is mostly gravel and badly corrugated. If you have to take the latter route, be careful not to go over the speed limit of 40 km. Doing so might lead to a flat tire.
You might wonder what the entry requirements are for a national park that spans territories in three countries. The good news is, you can drive freely throughout the park without showing a passport unless your exit is through a different gate from the one you entered. In that case, you must bring your essential travel documents along.