The vast expanses of the Kalahari Desert stretch across South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, painting the landscape in red sands, thorny shrubs and golden grasses. In Tswana, the name means ‘the great thirst’, but espite the dryness and extremes of temperature, the Kalahari is not actually a true desert. Most of the region is covered with trees and succulent plants such as aloes, broken up by small red sand dunes.
Semi-arid savannah and dry river beds give life to the region, and more than 80 of Africa’s iconic mammal species manage to thrive here.A myriad of birds, amphibians and insects have adapted to the harsh conditions too, creating a veritable treasure chest for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. When exploring the desert, visitors can revel in absolute solitude and spectacularly clear night skies.
The Kalahari covers most of Namibia’s eastern side, and contrasts the soaring dunes of the Namib Desert in the east. Typical of desert climes, summer temperatures soar upwards of 40 deg Celcius during summer, and plummet to below freezing on winter nights.
Springtime brings with it rainfall, and this is probably the best time to visit, as the landscape becomes greener and the wildlife enjoys the newfound fertility. In good years, more than 250 millimetres of rain can fall, coating the plains in green grasses and colourful wild flowers.
Although there is no national park in the areas of Namibia covered by the Kalahari, there are several great lodges and guest farms which allow visitors access to this desert area. Here, with a bit of luck, you cans watch elusive cheetah use the grasslands as cover to hunt springbok, the remarkable gemsbok glean sufficient water from condensarion on leaves and grass, and small carnivores such as the rare black footed cat pick off reptiles, insects and birds. A closer look will reveal scorpions, tortoises and frogs. And be on the lookout for other desert specials such as meerkat and mongoose.
The Kalahari is also famously the home of the San Bushmen, the remnants of Southern Africa's original inhabitants who occupied the whole sub-continent. The remarkable resourcefulness of ot these nomadic people, along with their unique clicking language, are extraordinary to observe, and several farms in the Namibian Kalahari offer tourists the chance to engage with them first hand.
Other activities include farm tours, game drives, hiking, sandboarding, quad biking and cultural tours. On the eastern boundaries of the desert, close to the Namibian capital of Windhoek, tourists can pay a visit to the Arnhem Caves, the country’s longest cave system. This 4.5 km long cave is home to six bat species, including the giant-leaf nosed bat, the world’s biggest insect-eating bat.
The Kalahari is sparsely populated and is not packed with tourist attractions, but its remarkable solitude is exactly what makes it special.