Discover the Kalahari Desert in Africa

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The Kalahari Desert is home to countries in Southern Africa. Covering much of Botswana, Southeast Namibia, and North and East South Africa.

The Kalahari Desert in Africa
The sand dunes in the Kalahari Desert

From the first traces of human life by the Khoisan people to an unrivaled safari experience, Kalahari gives an illustration of Southern Africa in a nutshell.

The desert is considered as the best place in Africa to view cheetah in the wild. The Kalahari’s wide-open landscapes allow you to easily see the cheetah, black-maned lion, leopard, and endangered African wild dog in action.

Where is the Kalahari Desert Located?

A significant portion of Southern Africa is covered up in vast expanses of deserts, but none of them are as lively as Kalahari with 360,000 square miles. Occupying vast territories in Botswana, parts of Namibia, and Northern South Africa, Kalahari is hard to fit into a single profile. 

Each country has its own climate and soil, so Kalahari has many facades in each direction. It was not only home to the most exceptional wildlife in Africa, but also a witness to migrations, and settlements dating back to thousands of years ago.

Kalahari Desert Map

You can see how vast the Kalahari Desert is from the map as it dominates most parts of Southern African countries on the west part of the continent.

It straddles the Tropic of Capricorn, and it is predominantly tropical climate at an altitude of around 1000 m above sea level.

[su_gmap address=”kalahari desert” zoom=”4″]

A map of the Kalahari Desert

Interesting Kalahari Desert Facts

Here are some fun facts about the Kalahari Desert:

  • Given how everybody calls it a desert, you might be shocked to find out that Kalahari is not a real desert. This is associated with the annual rainfall of 5-10 inches, which is too high for the typical deserts in Africa
  • The word Kalahari derives from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning the “great thirst.” This because the Kalahari sand completely absorbs the rainwater and leaves nothing on the surface.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the southern Kalahari is Africa’s first Peace Park, one of many that aim to transcend man-made borders and conserve the wildlife.
  • The earliest inhabitants were the Khoisan people who lived as hunter-gatherers. Upon Bantu migration, their homeland was occupied by farms built by Bantu people. This made it difficult for them to sustain their lifestyles, so many of them had already assimilated. Further conflicts arose with the arrival of European settlers. Today, there are still a significant number of San people in the areas of the Kalahari region. However, the San people are battling against the Botswana government, who are trying to relocate them to other areas of the country.
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Best National Parks/Tourist Attractions in the Kalahari Desert

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Characterized by crimson-red sand dunes and camelthorn trees within a large semi-arid sandy landscape of 3.6 million hectares, Kgalagadi is one of a kind in Southern Africa. 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Upington, South Africa

The park occupies territories in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, so you can technically enter all three countries in one visit. The highlight is the scenic game drive through the arid terrain with a marvelous game viewing, including Black-Mane Lion, cheetah, leopard, Hyena, and an incredible number of antelopes. 

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The sand dunes are high enough as panoramic lookout points, so you can do a lot of exciting predator-watching.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Central Kalahari comprises the largest game reserve in Botswana and the second largest overall with 52000 km square kilometers. You might find the vastness a bit overwhelming; luckily, the guided safari tours know where to take you with pinpoint accuracy. 

Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana

All the wild animals you can think of are found roaming freely, including black-maned lions, wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards, jackals, bat-eared foxes, African wild cats, zebra, giraffes, and thousands of birds and insects. 

The wildlife is clustered in the northern end of the park inside Deception Valley, so the drives will likely take you there.

Still not convinced about the uniqueness of this national park? Perhaps cultural excursions into the life of local San inhabitants will change your mind. The grand-grandchildren of the first Kalahari Bushmen still live here in their primitive ways and practicing their traditions. 

You can not only witness their daily-lives but also look at ancient rock art to broaden your knowledge about them.

Makgadikgadi Pans

A salt pan is a vast flat area covered with salt and minerals, forming through rapid evaporation of water pools in deserts. 

Kalahari is a unique destination with perfect geographical conditions and a rapid evaporation rate. So, it wouldn’t be shocking to find the largest salt pan of Africa, Makgadikgadi Pan, in the Kalahari. 

It was previously the Makgadikgadi Lake with a size larger than entire Switzerland. Stone tools extracted during the excavations in Makgadikgadi proved the presence of prehistoric man in the area. 

Today, it is home to exciting wildlife of wildebeest, zebra, and predators such as lion, cheetah, and Hyena. You can encounter the packs of animals coming to drink water from puddles or join historic trails guided by descendants of hunter-gatherer Bushmen.

Augrabies Falls National Park

The word Augrabies in Khoisan means “loud thunder,” which is relatively accurate for a large sheet of water falling from 60 meters. 

The falls located in a peaceful corner of the Northern Cape offers all the treats hidden in the province. Various lookout points to view the waterfall can be coupled with hot air ballooning, wine tasting, and watersports in the Orange River.

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Best Kalahari Desert Accommodations

Below is a list of accommodation options providing a comfortable stay and easy access to the significant activities through organized tours.

  • Kalahari Game Lodge
  • Kalahari Anib Lodge
  • Game View Lodge
  • Daan Viljoen Lodge
  • El-Fari Bush Camp
  • Tautona Lodge
  • Grassland Bushmen Lodge
  • Haina Kalahari Lodge

Kalahari Desert Animals and Kalahari Desert Plants Must-See

The northern part of Kalahari has surface water, thus more abundant in wildlife. It’s possible to find large amounts of the three African big cats (lion, leopard, and cheetah) in one place.

The southern part contains more arid-adapted species such as springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest, kudu, duiker, Hyena, and meerkat.

The Kalahari Desert Animals
Common Kalahari Desert animals in the wild

The birdlife is abundant in ostriches, Kori bustard, falcons, goshawks, kestrels, and secretary birds. Reptiles are commonly found throughout, including the poisonous Cape cobras, puff adders and lizards.

The plant life is quite diverse, depending on the climate. The southern region is extremely dry, and it contains shrubs and bushes resistant to drought. It looks more like a desert due to the abundance of Hoodia cactus. Edible plants and vegetables that require a small amount of water can be grown here, such as cucumber and melon.

The Kalahari Desert Plants
Kalahari Desert plants showing a shepherd’s tree

The central Kalahari receives more rain and suits the growth of a larger number of trees, especially Acacia species, camelthorn, blackthorn, shepherd’s tree, and silver cluster-leaf.

To Summarize

The center of Southern Africa is a treasure for tourists, thanks to Kalahari. There are many other desserts and safari parks in Africa, but none of them are as vast, mysterious, and surprising as Kalahari. 

No matter how popular it can get, it remains as the most untouched part of Africa. From its deep-rooted history to an extensive collection of wildlife, the Kalahari is a destination where you won’t get bored even after spending weeks.

For more travel inspiration and travel tips, read our Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana travel guides.

Common Questions People Ask about the Kalahari Desert

Is Kalahari a real desert?

It is considered a semi-desert, because of the annual rainfall it receives.

Is Kalahari hot or cold?

Kalahari can experience extreme temperatures because of its high altitude. Summers can get extremely hot with summer temperatures above 40 Celsius degrees, while winter temperatures can go below zero degrees.

What altitude is Kalahari at?

900 meters above sea level on average.

How large is Kalahari?

It covers 900,000 square kilometers the equivalent of 360,000 square miles.

What kind of wildlife can we expect in Kalahari?

Depending on if you are in the north or south, expect to see the three African big cats (lion, leopard, and cheetah) on your safari trip.

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Meerkats in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. National Parks | Highest sand dunes in the world | Sossusvlei Sand Dunes, Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia. #african #africansafari #africasafari #southafrica #namibia #botswana #southernafrica #desert #sanddunes #africatravel #africadestinations #traveltips #travelideas #traveldestinations #oceanicdestinations #bucketlist #adventuretravel #travelguide #travelhacks
If you are visiting South Africa, you may want to go to the Kalahari. We cover interesting facts, the best national parks, and tourist attractions, accommodation/the best place to stay, animals and plants you expect to see and more. #african #africansafari #africasafari #southafrica #namibia #botswana #southernafrica #desert #sanddunes #africatravel #africadestinations #traveltips #travelideas #traveldestinations #oceanicdestinations #bucketlist #adventuretravel #travelguide #travelhacks
The Kalahari Desert. Covers much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa. Africa. If you are visiting South Africa, you may want to go to the Kalahari. We cover interesting facts, the best national parks, and tourist attractions, accommodation/the best place to stay, animals and plants you expect to see and more. #african #africansafari #africasafari #southafrica #namibia #botswana #southernafrica #desert #sanddunes #africatravel #africadestinations #travelideas #travelguide
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