Meerkats in the Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari: Southern Africa’s Otherworldly Desert

written by
N black orange
Niarra Travel

Welcome to the Kalahari Desert - a realm of otherworldly beauty

A semi-arid pan of gold and amber that spreads to the horizon and beyond. The Kalahari Desert is a vast open expanse of sands, shrubs and grass tussocks that stretches further than any eye could ever wish to see. However, despite its otherworldly appearance and apparent lack of any real vegetation, there are still many incredible creatures that call this fascinating savanna landscape home.

Extending over an area of over 900,000 sq km, the Kalahari is second only to the Sahara Desert in terms of Africa’s largest deserts, and among the ten largest on the planet. When visiting the Kalahari, travellers are often left spellbound by the sheer scale of the area and the manner in which the turf’s ochre tones perfectly clash with the deep blue of the skies above. And at night, the scale and remoteness of the area makes it one of the greatest places in the world for stargazing, enabling you to stare in awe at the celestial wonders with unmatched clarity. It is a place that must be seen to be believed.

Tswalu game drive in the Kalahari Desert

Where is the Kalahari Desert?

Given its immense scale, the Kalahari Desert crosses a number of national borders in Southern Africa. The majority of it is found in Botswana, but it also spills into parts of Namibia and South Africa.

However, the Kalahari Basin, in which the desert is found, spreads its boundaries yet further, expanding into Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The sheer number of countries that the Kalahari Desert delves into is a testament to the terrain’s significance, both in terms of scale and influence on the lives that exist here.

Lion and tower of giraffes in the Kalahari Desert

The San People

Despite its seemingly inhospitable conditions for human life, there are still groups of people who call the Kalahari Desert home. Most notable of these are the San. The San people are the last reminder of the formerly extensive range of peoples indigenous to this region of Southern Africa, with the current population now estimated at around 100,000.

San bushman hunting in the Kalahari Desert

Historically people focused on a hunter-gatherer existence, the San are among the oldest cultures on the planet. Once found across a wider scope of lands in the region, a history of oppression has forced the majority of remaining members to exist in the difficult conditions of the Kalahari Desert. Despite recent positive steps in the right direction, the San people sadly still face discrimination within their respective nations to this day.

What Wildlife Lives in the Kalahari Desert?

The Kalahari Desert’s extreme conditions make much of the area’s arid conditions only liveable for Africa’s most stoic wildlife, as well as helping form a selection of truly unique subspecies over time. Endemic creatures are few and far between in parts of the region. However, those built to endure arid conditions - including the likes of oryx, ostriches, African wild dogs and meerkats - are not uncommon throughout.

However, it would be wrong to assume that no other wildlife can be found here. Migratory species are frequently seen in the the outer reaches of the Kalahari; as you head towards the Okavango Delta in the northeast, for example. The likes of hyenas, zebra, wildebeest and Africa’s three big cat species can be found marauding on the fringed of the Kalahari Desert during the wetter months of the year. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park on the northern border of the Kalahari is an also area famous for its annual arrival of colossal flocks of flamingos.

The legendary black maned lion of the Kalahari Desert

Other famous inhabitants of the region are the incredible Kalahari black-maned lions. So named for the distinctive jet black manes that elegantly frame their golden faces, this species has roamed the Kalahari from a time before records began. They have adapted to life in the desert through the likes of forming larger prides than their golden-maned counterparts and living a primarily nocturnal lifestyle. Though their numbers are low, recent efforts to restore their habitat has shown promising effects.

Other fascinating natural specimen that can be found in the region include the brown hyena, bat-eared fox, aardvark and the world-renowned pangolin. Much is being carried out across all nations which envelop the Kalahari Desert to protect these endangered species and help rebuild their habitats.

Pangolin in the Klahari Desert

Conservation in the Kalahari Desert

Elephants and giraffes once traversed the landscapes of the Kalahari Desert on a regular basis. However, sadly modern day farming techniques have seen a number of fences raised across the region, preventing these beautiful beasts from returning to where they once trod. Cattle farming in the area has also led to the hunting and killing of various predatory species. A reminder of the importance of implementing conservation efforts that takes both the local wildlife and local communities into account.

Several important conservation projects in the region have seen a number of rare species reintroduced, including rhino, wild dogs and elephants. The pioneering efforts of Tswalu Wildlife Reserve have shown extremely promising results, encouraging harmony between the local wildlife and the inhabitants that call this area home.

Jackal in the Kalahari Desert

Where to Stay in the Kalahari Desert

As with the rest of Africa, the Kalahari Desert plays host to some fantastic accommodation options that are sure to help make your visit to this unique region unforgettable. From mesmerising luxury lodges to private homesteads, these accommodations are sure to make you feel like you’ve stepped onto another planet.

Tswalu Tarkuni

When walking into the tranquil oasis of Tswalu Tarkuni you are welcomed by immense rolling mountains on one side and the dense bush of the Kalahari on the other. Each of this mesmerising accommodation’s rooms comes with a private deck and star bed, allowing you to gaze at the dense collection of clear stars that gather here on a nightly basis. After a day spent on a personalised safari with the homestead’s dedicated guide, you can relax by the pool or enjoy a private dinner experience nestled in the wilderness.

Swimming pool at Tswalu Tarkuni in the Kalahari Desert

Morukuru River House

Situated at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, Morukuru River House boasts the accolade of South Africa’s premier malaria-free safari destination, making it the perfect destination for a family vacation. Taking inspiration from both European and African decor, the accommodation boasts its own private chef and safari guide. With your own vehicle on hand too, you can choose how to pace your stay, dividing time between the library, the pool and the exhilaration of the South African bush.

Swimming pool at Morukuru River House

Tswalu Motse

Tswalu Motse is nestled within the heart of the desert, with the Kalahari’s amber expanse surrounding you on all sides. Designed as a small village with nine beautiful dwellings, when visiting here it is impossible not to wind down entirely, with a spa, walk-in wine cellar and even a photographic studio. Beyond the luxury of the desert-surrounded swimming pool, there is a whole range of wildlife to be found just beyond the accommodation’s borders, including lions, hyenas and the rarely seen pangolin.

Tswalu Motse communal fire pit with luxury seating

Purveyors of creating purposeful travel experiences that provide a lifetime of memories, at Niarra Travel we ensure that our guests both experience the very best of a region and leave having made a positive impact. If you are interested in booking an unforgettable trip to the Kalahari Desert, get in touch with our team on +44 (0) 20 3821 5994 (UK), +1 (833) 215 9353 (US) or at explore@niarratravel.com and begin crafting your dream African adventure today.

Mountain cutout 2
footer clouds

The world is at your feet

Receive inspiration in your inbox

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Contact a Travel Researcher

We always aim to reply within 24 hours.