The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park located in the southern Kalahari desert straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana. The red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, and dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers are teeming with wildlife. The desolate landscape is an excellent place to see predators, particularly the big cats; lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Camping in Kgalagadi is the most popular way to explore this fantastic park and one of the best tourist attractions in the Northern Cape.
About The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Two adjacent national parks, the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa were joined to form a single ecological unit, The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The boundary between the two parks had no physical barriers, although it is also the international border between the two countries. This allowed for the free movement of animals. If you are staying within the Kgalagadi Park you do not need a passport even if you drive into the Botswana side, it is only necessary if you enter in one country and exit in the other.
Getting to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The closest relatively large town to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is Upington in the Northern Cape. Getting to Upington from Cape Town take the N7 turn off on to the R27, total distance to Upington 820km (8 to 9 hours drive). From Upington take the R360 for 250 kilometers via Askham to Twee Rivieren on the South Africa/Botswana border. Total distance from Cape Town 1100 km and from Johannesburg 960 km.
The easiest way to get to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is to fly from Cape Town or Johannesburg to Upington and rent a car in Upington. Kgalagadi is a great alternative stop on the Cape Town to Namibia road trip.
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Animals in the Kgalagadi
The Kgalagadi is one of the top destinations to experience wild African wilderness and a bucket list item for most wild life photographers. Since there are no elephant, rhino or buffalo it is not the place to see the big 5. The desolate Kalahari landscapes are however an excellent place to spot black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs and if you are lucky even a leopard.
We had a lot of fun watching the smaller inhabitants of the Kalahari; the bat-eared fox, meerkat, ground squirrel, and the beautiful cape fox. The Honey Badger (Ratel) and Pangolin (Scaly Anteater) are some of the other smaller animals special to the park. Plenty of action is offered by watching other predators and scavengers such as hyenas, jackals, and the birds of prey interact. We’ve visited several safari parks on our Namibia road trip and driving around South Africa but the Kgalagadi is definitely one of our favorite parks in this part of Africa.
South Africa offers incredible biodiversity the famous Big 5 are not the only impressive animals to see here. Marine safaris are no less exciting than land drives; watching whales in Hermanus or diving with sharks around Cape Town are incredible experiences.
Best time to visit the Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park
You can visit his amazing park all year round. The park is busier during the South African school holidays. The Kalahari is an arid region with less than 200mm of rainfall a year, falling between the summer months of January and April.
Mar/April – end of the rainy season, still some thunderstorms and rain. Game sightings very good, but predator sightings limited. Temps are moderate in the day and cool at night. Vegetation is green, beautiful time.
Jun/Jul – Very dry and dusty, lots of red dunes. Game and predator sightings good. Good for bird watching Day temps nice, but at night drops to -10 deg C. If you decide to visit the park during this time you can combine it with the flower season in Namaqualand.
Sept/Oct – Still dry and sparse vegetation, and very dusty. More lively than in winter months. Moderate day temps and cool nights. At the end of the dry season, many animals and migrating birds congregate around the waterholes. Great time for bird watching.
Dec/Jan – Thunderstorms, hot and heavy rain. With very hot days, game viewing is best in the mornings or evenings. Game, predator, and bird sightings very good. New-born animals around, attracting predators.
What car do you need to drive in Kgalagadi?
4×4 is not required to drive the roads between the traditional camps. The good ground clearance will however make it a lot easier to drive. In the rainy season from December to April the roads can be muddy and 4×4 is more necessary. Deflate your tires to 1.6 bar for driving in the sand. You can inflate them again at Twee Rivieren camp before exit.
- Twee Rivieren to Nossob the road was good and a Sedan car is ok.
- Nossob to Mata Mata the road was very sandy, a French couple in a Polo got stuck in the sand a couple of times and had to be towed out.
- Mata Mata to Twee Rivieren, road was good.
Accommodation in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
On the South African side of the park the most popular camps are the three ‘traditional camps’ this is the cheapest way to visit the park. The easiest way to visit the park is by staying in one of the wilderness camps. The six wilderness camps on the South African side are unfenced but have chalets with plenty of luxury, these camps are significantly more expensive than the traditional camps. !Xaus Lodge is the only fully-catered luxury lodge located in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Camping in The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
For camping in the Kgalagadi, your options are the three fenced traditional camps on the South African side of the six more wild campsites on the Botswana side. The traditional campsites have shops where you can buy essentials, but we always pack a cooler box with ice, drinks, and meat for the first two days. The toilet and washing facilities are neat and clean. When packing keep in mind that it can get very hot in the day, freezing at night and you will be camping on Kalahari sand and dust, so ground sails are nice. You will need all your own drinking water in the park. Buy some 5L bottles at a supermarket outside the park.
You are allowed to camp with a caravan in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The sandy and badly corrugated roads can be very hard on your caravan causing significant damage. With a standard caravan, I would recommend you stick to Tweerivieren, people do make it to Mata Mata driving careful and slow, the roads to Nosob will be even harder on caravans with lower profiles. Off-road caravans should make it to these sites no problem.
The Botswana side of the park is mostly undeveloped, the camps are all very basic, with only a wooden shelter, long-drop toilet, and maybe a tap or shower. Here are no shops and the roads rough so you must have a 4×4 that is fully-equipped so you can be totally self-sufficient. You should always drive at least two cars together in this part of the park. A grass net is recommended to protect your radiator from driving in the long grass.
Since the camps in Botswana are unfenced lions and predators can enter your camp and often do so. Rooftop tents are the most popular way to camp here and are recommended. Some people do however camp in the ‘wild’ camps in normal tents on the ground without problems. Apparently sleeping on your car roof does not really guarantee predators can’t reach you, it just gives you a false sense of security. This is of course at your own risk.
Camping on the South African side of the Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park
We stayed in all three traditional camps, Tweerivieren, Nossop, and Mata Mata. These campsites are fenced so lions and other animals cannot pay you a visit at night. Accommodation here is available in self-catering chalets and there are campsites which is the cheapest option on the South African side.
Twee rivieren Camp
If you drive from Upington you will enter the park here. It is a well-maintained campsite with nice facilities close to the main gate so even if you arrive a bit late it’s not far to drive. The camp has everything you may need for camping and safari. There is a big shop that sells food, cool drinks, wood, water, some camping equipment, souvenirs.
Cost of camping R330 per campsite
We only booked our campsite 2 days ahead and the standard campsites (R330) were fully booked. We stayed in the premium campsite, this was a bit high for our budget but was really nice. You have your own ablutions block and kitchenette. There is a nice, private shaded area where you can hide from wind and sun. It was a good campsite with jackals walking around inside and I heard a couple of hyenas howling nearby during the night.
The camp has a waterhole with a hide, ask where it is, sunrise and sunset you can have some awesome game viewing from here.
Cost of camping R600 per campsite
Mata Mata Camp
We had fun in Mata Mata watching many ground squirrels and meerkats running around, digging, trying to find some food all around us. The camp has a waterhole with a hide, we spoke to people that saw a hyena and a cheetah at this waterhole. When you return from your game drive go and sit here for sunset! The camp has a small shop selling cool drinks, snacks, ice, wood, and water.
All three campsites had the following facilities available:
- Hot water shower – yes
- Flushing toilets – yes
- Electricity – yes, if you choose a site with electricity
- Power outlets – yes, if you choose a more expensive site with electricity
- Braai place – yes
- Swimming pool
- Wi-fi – no
- Phone reception – poor signal, no 3G
- Accept cards – yes
The Wilderness Camps on the South African side of Kgalagadi
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has six ‘wilderness camps’ on the South African side of the park. These camps are located in beautiful locations far inside the park, the locations are isolated and close to wildlife.
The sites are; Grootkolk Wilderness Camp, Urikaruus Wilderness Camp, Kielie Krankie Wilderness Camp, Bitterpan Wilderness Camp, Gharagab Wilderness Camp, Kalahari Tented Camp and !Xaus Lodge run by San/Bushmen communities. Each wilderness camp always has an armed ranger on site.
All the camps but Kalahari Tented Camp have 4 chalets sleeping 2 persons each. The camps have solar power and gas available (no conventional plugs). Units are equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, cooking utensils, linen, and a fridge/freezer.
Grootkolk Wilderness Camp
The most northerly situated camp, located close to the Namibian border with the black-maned Kalahari lion often seen in this area. Chalets in Grootkolk are made from sandbags and canvas.
Grootkolk is 6 hours drive from Twee Rivieren and 2,5 hours from Nossob. The camp can be reached by normal car.
Urikaruus Wilderness Camp
Located on the bank of the Auob River between Twee Rivieren and Mata-Mata camps with a very active waterhole, here you can see most of the animals the park is famed for from lions and cheetahs to herds of wildebeest, springboks, and giraffes. The units are linked by a raised boardwalk. The camp can be reached by a normal vehicle.
Twee rivieren camp is 2 hours drive from Urikaruus.
Bitterpan is an isolated camp on stilts overlooking a waterhole. Bitterpan is located on a 4×4 route through the Kalahari dunes from Nossob to Mata-Mata and the Kalahari Tent Camp. It can only be reached by 4×4 and is about a 2,5 hr drive from Nossob to Bitterpan.
The campsite is hidden in the dunes, overlooking a waterhole, 20 km from Union’s End. Due to the waterhole attracting animals they are visible from camp. South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia meet in this town. Grootkolk is 6 hours drive from Twee Rivieren and 2,5 hours from Nossob. The camp is accessible to sedan vehicles.
Kieliekrankie campsite is sunk into one of the highest dunes in the Kalahari with beautiful views of the red Kalahari sands. For great animal viewing the campsite overlooks a waterhole. The campsite is located 50 km, one-and-a-half hours, a drive away from Twee Rivieren. Kieliekrankie can be reached by normal car.
Garagab campsite is located in the far northern region of the park, with elevated views of Kalahari dunes and the thornveld savannah. The campsite is located 164 km, about four hours drive, north of Nossob on the road to Unions End. Garagab camp can only be reached by 4×4 vehicles.
Kalahari Tented Camp
The Kalahari Tented Camp is the largest of the wilderness camps, it has 15 units. The camp is located close to Mata-Mata and the Namibian border. Giraffes are often seen in the area. Kalahari camp has a swimming pool with a wooden tanning deck. Accommodation is in stilted canvas tents looking out on a waterhole in the Auob River. Guided morning and sunset drives, and guided morning walks can be arranged from Kalahari Tented Camp.
!Xaus Lodge is excellent comfort for a lodge in a magical setting in the middle of the desert. The lodge is run by local communities on Heritage land returned to the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities. It is the only fully-catered luxury lodge to be located in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Located on the red dunes of the Kalahari the lodge overlooks an enormous salt pan where from your private chalet you can see the animals drinking at the waterhole below. Booking !Xaus Lodge
Booking Campsites and Fees in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
For the duration of your stay in the park, you have to pay a daily SANParks conservation fee per person, as well as your accommodation. The daily conservation fee covers daily self-drive safaris, but if you book a safari drive or a walk that is extra. At the time of writing, the conservation fee is R96 per day for SA citizens and R384 for foreigners (2020). Conservation fees are less if you have a SANParks Wild Card.
Day visitors are welcome in Kgalagadi transfrontier park. There is a maximum number of visitors that are allowed in the park per day. Day visitors are not allowed if this number is reached. This happens in the season when the park gets busy. You can book day visits ahead.
The campsites are popular and I will recommend you book as far ahead as possible. We have checked for camping at various times in the year and you often find a spot, so even if it is with short notice you have to check! It is easy to book and pay for accommodation from the SANParks site:
The Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) are responsable for bookings on the Botswana side of Kglagadi
Contact DWNP central reservations: Tel +267 318 0774, firstname.lastname@example.org
Game Drives in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Most people do self-drive safaris in the park during the day. There are organized safari drives, we have heard good things about the night drives from Nossob. Morning and sunset drives, as well as morning walks, are available at Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata, and the Kalahari Tented Camp. Inquiries about these drives can be made at the reception desks. Drives require a minimum of 2 adults in order to go out and a max of 20 people can go.
Our Kgalagadi trip – Day 1
We arrived at 3pm did a 35km game drive towards Nossob before lighting the fire for our braai. The drive took us 3,5 hours and we saw; three jackals, a bat ear fox, many meerkats and ground squirrels, many gemsboks and springboks, some wilde beests, many ostriches . Remember the camp closes at 7pm.
Two Rivers campsite – Nossob campsite
We started the drive quite early before 7am hoping to spot more animals and we did see some right in the beginning. Cape foxes and jackals were very active in the morning digging, running around so we got some nice photos. Most of the springboks, gemsboks, and were still half asleep sitting in the grass. After that for most of the way we didn’t see much some occasional ostriches, jackals, and bokkies. The road is half gravel half sandy not difficult to drive don’t need a 4×4 can drive with a normal car.
There are two designated picnic spots between Two Rivers and Nossob with flushing toilets and running water. These are the only places you allowed to get off the car.
Nossob – Mata Mata
It was our worst day in the park we literally saw nothing till the last turn to Mata Mata, there we saw some springboks, gemsboks, jackals, and many different birds.
Mata Mata – Khalahari Lodge – Springbok
That was our best day from the start, just after leaving the campsite we saw a wild cat, 5 minutes later two hyenas. Finally, we got some luck! This was a very good day; we also saw four lions (two male and two female together), two bat-eared foxes, a Cape Fox with two cubs. Not mentioning black back jackals, boks, wildebeest, eagles, falcons, and many meerkats and ground squirrels.
Tips for Kgalagadi Transfrontier park game watching
- We found the area between Mata Mata and Twee Rivieren to have the most animals (especially lions) of areas that can be driven without 4×4. On this stretch, lions are seen almost every day. We were told some stories by regular visitors to the park that they have seen up to 25 lions on that stretch in one day! If you are limited in the time we’d say from Two River gate drive straight to Mata Mata and rather stay there for a day or two and do short morning and evening drives in the area.
- If you’re geared with a 4×4 and rooftop tent and feel like going into the wild and exploring more off the beaten path of the park go to the Botswana side stay in unfenced campsites we’re sure you won’t be disappointed.
- For great photos, you’ll need a proper zoom lens we did regret having only an 18-135mm one. By the way, we’ve never seen so many people geared so well in one place from their cars to the photo equipment compare to them we looked like real safari amateurs.
- From other travelers’ words, it sounded like Night safari is worth money and people see a lot on them. For some reason there were no night safaris on the days we were there. Remember to book night safari long in advance they are very popular and usually fully booked.
- The guided morning walks are highly recommended, get up early and experience the Kalahari dawn. Book early as you can.
- Deflate tires to 1.6 bars, there are facilities to inflate and deflate tires in all 3 traditional camps.
- The best times for animal sightings are in the early mornings in summer and afternoons in winter.
- If you are traveling from South Africa into Namibia, you are required to spend at least two nights in the park – bring your passport!
- Bring binoculars!
- Look at the animal sightings’ board at the three main camps to see what has recently been sighted and where.
About Author – Campbell
The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.