A water hole in the Kalahari Desert

Camping in the Kalahari: Bagatelle Ranch

The Kalahari Desert is one of Africa’s most iconic landscapes. It stretches across much of Southern Africa and includes a huge diversity of scenery. What better way to see this remote and desolate region than a night of camping in the Kalahari?

 

You can get deep into the desert after just a few hours’ drive from Windhoek. Heading south from the capital, you’ll quickly get a sense for how isolating and awe-inspiring this region can be. In the midst of this hostile environment, Bagatelle Game Ranch’s lodge and campsite makes a comfortable base.

 

 

I organized my trip to the desert through Wild Dog Safaris (camping in the Kalahari is part of their Seven Day South tour). I have no affiliation with it, or with Bagatelle — in fact, this blog wasn’t even live when I was in Namibia. All opinions in this post are my own. If you book or purchase through the links in this post I get a small commission at no cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running.

 

Before you go: What you should know about the Kalahari Desert

 

Much of the Kalahari is covered with long grass rather than huge dunes
Much of the Kalahari is covered with long grass rather than huge dunes

 

The Kalahari covers nearly a million square kilometers. It contains a wide variety of microclimates and ecosystems. Some parts of the region are quite fertile and densely populated (by Namibian standards), while others are barren.

 

In other words, if you’re picturing enormous sand dunes that last for miles on end like those deep in the Namib Desert, I’ve got bad news — that’s not the Kalahari.

 

That’s not to say it doesn’t look like a desert. Indeed, the landscape is mostly red-orange sand; wide, flat salt pans; occasional water holes; and virtually no shade. At the same time, the area supports megafauna such as ostriches, the Kalahari lion, and many species of antelope.

 

Thanks to National Geographic documentaries, the Kalahari’s most famous inhabitants are the San, or Bushmen. Those terms are common Western parlance for dozens of different societies, each with different traditions. These hunter-gatherers maintain their historic ways of life in much of the Kalahari. As a visitor, you’re unlikely to encounter them unless you specifically arrange to visit one of their communities — if you choose to do so, take a local guide and avoid the “human-zoo” types of tours.

 

See the Kalahari on a game drive

 

The giraffe thinks she's a tree -- on a game drive at Bagatelle Game Ranch
The giraffe thinks she’s a tree

 

The great thing about African landscapes is they’re also home to incredible wildlife. If you’ve never felt the adrenaline rush of searching for an elusive large mammal, the Kalahari is a great place to get acquainted with it.

 

Driving on the main road through the desert, you’ll likely see a few animals. Large herds of ostriches inhabit the area and aren’t shy about coming near the road. Oryx are everywhere. If you get lucky, you’ll even see an eland or two.

 

But for a better glimpse at the life the Kalahari Desert supports, sign up for a game drive at Bagatelle Game Ranch. The private reserve hosts most Namibian antelope species, a handful of giraffes, and a large wildebeest population. There are no elephants and no cats, but don’t let that deter you — the gorgeous scenery more than makes up for it.

 

My guide David was very entertaining. He started the trip with an extensive lecture on what happens if you drop your cell phone (you never get it back, so keep it inside the vehicle at all times to avoid losing it as David drives like a maniac over the tops of dunes). He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the animals in the reserve, and was able to find giraffes for us after we’d lost hope of seeing them.

 

 

The game drives take you up and around the dunes, through the thick, tall grass, across salt pans, and to a series of water holes. Along the way you’ll see large herds and clusters of animals. I was there at the end of rainy season, and there were lots of babies.

 

The drive ends at the top of one of the taller dunes, under a huge bird’s nest. There, waiting for you, is Africa’s most amazing invention — a bush bar, stocked with the wares for gin and tonics and other ice-cold drinks. Grab a cocktail and watch the sun set over the desert, turning the dunes a fiery red color before disappearing below the horizon.

 

Camping in the Kalahari at Bagatelle Game Ranch

 

Sunset over the Kalahari Desert
Sunset over the Kalahari Desert

 

I went camping in the Kalahari on my first night on safari in Namibia. And honestly, it felt more like glamping. You certainly don’t have to sacrifice creature comforts to camp in the Kalahari.

 

Bagatelle Game Ranch goes above and beyond to make your camping experience memorable. They give you full access to the lodge and their pool during the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glimpse of a meerkat while you’re swimming! (I didn’t, and I’m still kind of heartbroken, but at least I got a photo of the “don’t feed the meerkats” sign.)

 

When my group of six pulled up to the lodge to check in, we were greeted with cold drinks. After unwinding for a bit, we were offered afternoon tea, including a delicious array of sweets and real coffee. Then, we headed out for an afternoon game drive.

 

We didn’t make it to our campsite until after dark. As we drove through the dunes, it seemed like the six of us were the only people on the planet. Aside from all the stars in the Milky Way, there wasn’t a single other light to be seen, nor sound to be heard. The lodge was a mere two kilometers away, but I’ve never been anywhere that felt so remote.

 

In the morning, I woke up to a technicolor sunrise. It was surprisingly chilly when I ventured out of my tent to explore. I wandered around the area near the campsite for a bit and found some hyena footprints — so that’s what I heard sniffing outside the tent during the night! Just another night in Namibia.

 

Practical tips for camping in the Kalahari

 

 

You'll need your own wheels to go on a camping trip in the Kalahari Desert
You’ll need your own wheels to go on a camping trip in the Kalahari Desert

 

You’ll need your own transport to go camping in the Kalahari. I researched a whole bunch of budget tour companies and Wild Dog Safaris was the only one that spent a night in this desert. If you don’t want to do a tour, you can rent a car — most of the drive is on tarmac. There’s a small possibility that you could hitch from Mariental or Rehoboth, but not much traffic passes by Bagatelle Game Ranch.

 

You’ll need to be self-reliant in terms of gear. If you’re coming from Windhoek, stock up on groceries there or stop in Rehoboth. If you’re coming from the south, Mariental is the best supply stop. Windhoek is the only place to rent camping gear if you haven’t brought it to Namibia.

 

The campsite itself had a cement shelter for cooking (including a sink), a private bathroom block, a fire pit, and plenty of space to spread out our tents. The lights in the shower didn’t work, and the water wasn’t hot hot, but it was acceptably hot for Africa and everything was very clean.

 

The biggest pro of camping in the Kalahari is you are truly out in untouched nature. Even within the campground, the sites were set hundreds of meters apart so you couldn’t see other campers at all.

 

 

But that also means you are truly out in untouched nature. You’re responsible for your own safety. Take your shoes into your tent and leave all food outside. Try to avoid leaving your tent during the night, but if you must, listen closely for wildlife in the area first. Wear long sleeves at night and use copious amounts of bug spray (this stuff works well). And definitely get travel insurance before you go camping in the Kalahari.

 

Is the Kalahari worth it?

 

Would've been so much more worth it if I'd seen meerkats, just sayin'
Would’ve been so much more worth it if I’d seen meerkats, just sayin’

 

If it’s epic landscapes you’re after, there’s no question that the Namib Desert is more impressive than the Kalahari. And if you want to see the Big 5, head to Etosha National Park.

 

Still, camping the Kalahari has one thing over those other destinations: a total lack of crowds. During my game drive, my group of six was the only one in the park. The campground felt deserted at night — only in the morning did we realize there were other groups camping about a kilometer away from us. Even in a country as sparsely populated and naturally gifted as Namibia, the total lack of light and noise pollution out here was special.

 

And if you need another reason? It makes a good pit stop on the way to Fish River Canyon! Stay tuned for a post on that next…

 

Have you been to the Kalahari? Which deserts are you interested in visiting? Leave a comment!

 

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16 Comments on "Camping in the Kalahari: Bagatelle Ranch"

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Planes, Trains and Champagne
Guest

What a wonderful trip. I have never been to theKalahari desert but would love to visit. So sad you weren’t able to see a meerkat!

Tracy
Guest

I am not one who loves to camp. However, I have always wanted to go one an African Safari. Your photos are gorgeous and maybe one day I will visit Kalahari.

Megan Elliott (@LushtoBlush)
Guest

This sounds incredible! I’ve always thought it would be so amazing to go on an African safari.

Gabbski
Guest

Those pictures make me want to book flights to Africa right away! I haven’t been there yet, and all the details you’ve mentioned is so useful for my future trip there! Never thought camping in Kalahri would be more like glamping 😀 definitely skipping fancy hotels now 😉

Ana - JauntingTrips.com
Guest

I would love to go on a safari, and let’s face it, seeing those little meerkats after the whole Animal Planet drama with Flower and the gang it’s just a must. I totally get your disappointment. But non the less it does seems like an amazing experience.

ARIANA DEL RIO
Guest

I haven’t been yet but this looks incredible. I am in the early planning stages of a trip to either Kenya, Namibia or Zimbabwe. Thanks for all your tips and let’s see where I end up first.

Trailing Abroad
Guest

Awesome read, safari in Africa is already on our list.. The caption for the pic where the giraffe is standing next to the tree is so funny. I am still chuckling about it..

seekneverland
Guest

Everything sounds perfect about your trip. I would definitely be on the hunt for Giraffes and Meerkats (I’m sorry you didn’t get to see one). I like the part about the cell phone. I think I would have to invest in a cell phone case that comes with a neck strap.

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