Kalahari Desert. Desert in Africa

Kalahari Desert

Desert in Africa

Hello there! Photo © Linda Alexandersson

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Kalahari Desert

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Elephants - Kalahari Desert
Elephants - Kalahari Desert. Photo by Linda Alexandersson
Although labelled a desert, the Kalahari is an enormous basin of red sand and savannah, stretching across much of Botswana and extending into Namibia (including the capital city of Windhoek) and South Africa. The outer fringes even extend to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola. It covers an area of around 930,000 square kilometers and maintains an average altitude of around 1,000 meters above sea level. The name derives from the Tswana word ‘Kgalagadi’ meaning “waterless place”, quite accurate, as this vast expanse of red sand is mostly devoid of any permanent surface water. Seasonal rainwater gathers in pans and attracts herds of game. The only constant water flower is the Okavango River (Wikipedia Article), whose delta is in the northwest of Botswana, forming marshes, which in turn attract a diverse array of wildlife.

Climatic Conditions

This dry and moderately hot area of southern Africa experiences a dry season of eight months or more, with the brief rain season lasting between one to four months. Rainfall averages as little as 110 mm in the southwest Kalahari, officially designating it an arid area, whereas 500 mm and more falls in the northern and eastern sections. The Kalahari enjoys an excess of 4,000 hours of sunshine each year on average. The altitude helps to keep the temperatures down to an average of 29°C (29 °C) in the summer months. The Twee Rivieren area claimed a record temperature of 45 °C (45 °C) in the summer of 2012.


Old woman, Bushmen,
	Botswana - Kalahari Desert
Old woman, Bushmen, Botswana - Kalahari Desert. Photo by Dietmar Temps
The Kalahari has been home to the San community for an estimated 20,000 years. The San adapted the hunter-gatherer role in order to survive in the harsh conditions. They hunt game using deadly, accurate, poisoned arrows but also forage for nuts, berries and roots, such as desert melons found beneath the harsh surface. They derive much of their water needs from plant and animal sources and use ostrich eggs for water storage after consuming the high-protein contents. Shelter is transient, as the San move seasonally as required. Construction is basic in nature and takes the form of huts made from local materials, including a frame made from indigenous trees, and a roof of thatch made from coarse grasses. Other sparsely flung communities found in the Kalahari include the Tswana, Kgalagadi and Herero.

Fauna of the Kalahari

The Kalahari has many seasonal visitors in the wildlife sense. Predators include Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Spotted and Brown Hyena, and Wild Dogs and they follow herds of different varieties of Antelope, including scarce Springbok. Large herds of Wildebeest are also common. Birds of prey are found in numbers and include several varieties of Eagle, Secretary Birds, Goshawks, Falcons, Kestrels, and Kites. Some areas become seasonal wetlands and attract migratory birds like the Flamingo.

Getting There

Because of the vastness of the area covered by the Kalahari, and the fact that it spans over three countries, it is wise to decide which tour operator best suit your needs and focus on a specific area. Would it be Namibia, Botswana or South Africa?

 - Kalahari Desert
Kalahari. . Photo by Linda Alexandersson


Two zeebras and impala
	at watering hole - Kalahari Desert
Two zeebras and impala at watering hole - Kalahari Desert. Photo by Dave Bezaire & Susi...
Because it encompasses the south and east of Namibia, it makes sense to include the incredible Fish River Canyon while touring in this part of the Kalahari. The canyon offers a magnificent five-day trail that will reveal all the secrets that this ancient geographic fault has to offer. The luxury Ai-Ais Hot Springs Spa is certainly worth experiencing if time and money allow, and driving is the easiest way of getting around, either south from Windhoek or north from South Africa (Upington).

South Africa

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Wikipedia Article) is the best area to visit while in South Africa. Fly into Upington from either Cape Town or Johannesburg and hire a suitable vehicle for the 250-kilometer ride north out of Upington. You are sure to get a real sense of the remoteness and sheer vastness of this enormous, red desert region. In terms of accommodation, there are several privately owned lodges from which to choose.


Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the most popular of the options as you can fly into Maun (Wikipedia Article), from where you can charter flights to the reserve of your choice. While in the area, try to make time to visit the fabulous Okavango Delta where the only permanent source of water flows through the northwestern area of the Kalahari.
A visit to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve rewards the visitor with an area of 52,000 square kilometers, making it one of the largest game reserves anywhere. Here, you can enjoy the peace and quiet while observing a true and natural wilderness. Plenty of wildlife and birdlife, and little evidence of humankind are what make this destination one of a kind. If you are lucky, you might stumble upon a group of San-Hunter-Gatherers and observe a way of life that has changed little in the last 20,000 years.

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Author: robric. Last updated: Sep 23, 2014

Pictures of Kalahari Desert

Baines baobab trees - Kalahari Desert
Baines baobab trees - Kalahari Desert. Photo by Dave Bezaire & Susi...

Giraffes - Kalahari Desert
Giraffes - Kalahari Desert. Photo by Linda Alexandersson

Oryx on the move - Kalahari Desert
Oryx on the move - Kalahari Desert. Photo by Linda Alexandersson


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