Established in 1999 as the first cross-border national park in Southern Africa, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park lies partly in Botswana, and partly in South Africa. It also provides border access to and from Namibia, making it a popular destination for those on a self-drive adventure through some of the continent’s best safari destinations. Defined by the dry riverbeds, arid pans, and red sand dunes of the Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi is one of South Africa’s great untamed wildernesses. Its challenging off-road trails make it the holy grail for 4x4 enthusiasts, while photographers are drawn by its magnificent golden light. Above all, the Kgalagadi is renowned as the best park in South Africa for predator sightings, ranging from big cats to birds of prey.
Only a third of the park is situated in South Africa. However, the South African section of the park is by far the most visited and therefore is the focus of this article. For information about the Botswanan side, visit the official Botswana tourism website.
Animals in Kgalagadi Park
Each day in Kgalagadi brings an abundance of wildlife sightings, made easy by the park’s sparse vegetation and the fact that animals tend to congregate in the dry riverbeds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers. Majestic black-maned lions are the park’s most famous residents, while usually elusive leopards and cheetahs are spotted with incredible frequency. Smaller African felines also abound, and include the caracal, the African wild cat, and the black-footed cat. You are likely to see spotted and brown hyenas, while the lucky few may catch a glimpse of the park’s endangered African wild dogs.
Water-dependent species including elephants, buffalos, and hippos are not found in Kgalagadi. However, desert-adapted herbivores like gemsbok, eland, blue wildebeest, and springbok are common, while herds of giraffe are miraculously able to sustain themselves on the park’s sparse greenery. Other Kgalagadi highlights include families of ground squirrels and meerkats, whose antics keep visitors entertained for hours; and smaller canids like the black-backed jackal and the bat-eared fox.
Bird Species in Kgalagadi Park
280 bird species have been recorded in the park, 92 of which live in the park year-round. Kgalagadi is famous for its raptors, with a cast that ranges from eagles (tawny, bateleur, and black-chested snake eagles being the most common) to owls and vultures. Keep an eye out for pint-sized pygmy falcons, and seemingly ever-present pale chanting goshawks. Non-raptor highlights include Africa’s largest flying bird, the kori bustard; and sociable weavers, whose vast nests have been known to topple fully grown acacia trees with their incredible weight.
Things to Do
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a paradise for self-drive safari enthusiasts. Its vast expanse is traversed by a network of gravel and sand roads, some of which are designated for four-wheel-drive vehicles only. The most revered of these is the four-day Nossob 4x4 Eco Trail, which runs through the dunes between Twee Rivieren and Nossob rest camps. This route demands a minimum of two vehicles, requires visitors to be completely self-sufficient, and must be booked well in advance. The three main rest camps and Kalahari Tented Camp also offer guided morning and sunset game drives, subject to interest and the availability of staff members.
Where to Stay
Main Rest Camps
Kgalagadi has three main rest camps, all of which offer a choice of self-catering chalets and fenced campsites. Facilities at all three include drinking water, electric power points in the campsites, laundry facilities, fuel stations, and a swimming pool. All three also have shops selling camping essentials. Twee Rivierien is the largest camp and the park’s administrative headquarters. It is located at the main gate in the far south, and is the only camp with a restaurant, 24-hour electricity, and cell reception. Mata Mata and Nossob camps are located at the Namibian and Botswanan borders respectively. Both have a waterhole with a hide, and generator-powered electricity for 16.5 hours a day. Neither have cell reception. Nossob has its own predator information center and is the most remote of the three main camps.
There are five wilderness camps at Kgalagadi, for those that want the most authentic off-the-beaten-track experience. They are called Bitterpan, Grootkolk, Kieliekrankie, Urikaruus, and Gharagab. None of them are fenced, and there are no facilities. You must bring your own water, firewood, food, and cooking equipment. All five camps have their own waterholes, and a maximum of eight people are allowed to stay there at any one time. Children under 12 are not allowed to stay in the wilderness camps for safety reasons.
Kalahari Tented Camp
This is a luxury camp with 15 permanent desert tents. Each one has a ceiling fan, a bathroom with gas-powered hot water, a kitchen, and solar electricity. The camp has its own swimming pool and waterhole, but there is no shop or gas station. The nearest place to purchase supplies is from Mata Mata rest camp, just under 2 miles away.
Owned and operated by the indigenous ‡Khomani San and Mier communities, !Xaus Lodge is the only luxury lodge located within park boundaries.
Weather and When to Go
The Kalahari Desert is semi-arid, with irregular rains that fall mostly during thunderstorms in the South African summer (November to April). Summers are scorching, with temperatures regularly reaching 107 degrees F (42 degrees C) in the shade. Winters (June to October) are mild and dry, although temperatures can fall well below freezing at night.
Winter is generally accepted to be the best time to go on safari. Animals gather at water sources and are easier to spot, the visibility is better for safari photos, and the roads are in better condition. Lower temperatures and humidity also make life in the desert more comfortable. Nevertheless, summer can also be a rewarding time to visit, with lush green grass and yellow desert flowers briefly transforming the park’s arid landscapes. Migratory birds also arrive at Kgalagadi in summer.
Visitors from the south and west travel to the park entrance at Twee Rivieren via the R360 from Upington in the Northern Cape. The journey takes approximately 2.5 hours on a road that’s newly tarred and in good condition. If you’re traveling from the east, you can choose to take the R31 from Kuruman via Van Zylsrus. This route takes 4.5 hours on a badly corrugated gravel road, but saves you approximately 30 minutes versus traveling via Upington.
Practical Visiting Information
- Although not compulsory on the main park roads, 4x4 vehicles with high ground clearance and low range capabilities are recommended, especially in summer. In case of breakdown, keep an emergency supply of water in your car and stay in your vehicle until help arrives.
- The Twee Rivieren shop is the only one that accepts credit or debit cards, and is also the only camp with an ATM. If you’re planning to stay at the other camps, bring cash (although fuel stations throughout the park accept cards).
- Accommodation tends to fill up months in advance, so be sure to book early on the South African National Parks website.
- Kgalagadi is a low-risk malaria area—consult your doctor about whether or not you should take prophylactics.
- All foreign visitors must pay a daily conservation fee of 384 rand per adult or 192 rand per child. Discounted rates apply for South African citizens and SADC nationals.
- Driving distances between the rest camps are considerable. For example, it takes 4.5 hours to drive from Twee Rivieren to Nossob, and 3.5 hours to drive from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata (not including stops for wildlife viewing). Gharagab wilderness camp cannot be reached from Twee Rivieren in a single day.
- If you plan on arriving at the park in the afternoon or have to leave early in the morning, be sure to stay at the camp closest to your entry or exit point. Make sure to check gate and border post times carefully.
- No driving is allowed in the park after dark.
- If you want to enter the park from South Africa and exit into either Namibia or Botswana, you must complete immigration paperwork at Twee Rivieren and stay in the park for a minimum of two nights.
- To cross into Namibia, your vehicle must have a ZA sticker. Namibian immigration charges a road levy for vehicles and trailers (242 rand and 154 rand respectively at the time of writing).