Destinations Western Africa

7 Must-See Wonders in Kalahari Africa

kalahari africa
Written by See Africa Today

Kalahari Africa or the popular Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa is attractively unique. It’s one of the few deserts in the world that receives rainfall yearly but never retains it.  The sand-filled plateau quickly absorbs all the water leaving the surface dry. Hence its naming ‘Kalahari’ a Tswana word meaning the thirstiest land. From it comes Kgalagadi, another natural wonder alluding to extremely dry land.

An interesting bit of this ecosystem is that it supports wildlife across various parks and game reserves. They are:

  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  • Khutse Game Reserves
  • Gemsbok National Park
  • Nxai Pan National Parks
  • Makgadikgadi Pans

Where is Kalahari Africa?

Kalahari Africa is Southern Africa covering approximately 900,000 square kilometres from South Africa, Botswana to Namibia. However, the biggest part of the desert is in Botswana covering 581,730 square kilometres of the total 900,000 square kilometres The rest is shared between South Africa and Namibia.

Therefore, it suffices to state that Botswana is a centrepiece of the good, the bad and the ugly of the Kalahari Desert. By description, Kalahari is a huge mass of a semi-arid savannah filled with sand.   Kalahari’s northeastern region receives the highest amount of rainfall annually at 500mm. The southwestern part receives the least rainfall at just 110mm per year. Further, the desert’s central region receives moderate rainfall at 250mm every year.

Where is Kalahari Africa?

Kalahari Desert tour in South Africa. Photo/Art of Safari

Why is it Called Kalahari?

Tswana people coined the name Kalahari from a native name Kgala meaning ‘terrific thirst’. It also means ‘the land without water’. The arid nature of the land is seen in the shimmering, red sand covering the plateau from South Africa to the Namib Desert.

Summers are extremely hot and winters are super cold with temperatures falling below 00 Celsius. The air is dry during summer and winter occasioned by high altitudes across the desert. Normal temperature during summer ranges at 45°C (115°F) while nights in winter record lows of –15°C (7°F).

What’s unique about this desert is that it is semi-arid. Fully arid deserts receive a little less than 250mm of rainfall annually but Kalahari Africa records highs of 500mm per year in the northeastern region.  Also, it has a dense grassland at 900m above sea level which is uncommon in a desert ecosystem.

Despite receiving huge amounts of rainfall, the Kalahari Desert lacks surface water. Most of the rainwater sips through sand pits and never gets to the surface.

What is the Kalahari Desert Famous for?


What is the Kalahari Desert Famous for

Black-maned lions in Kalahari Desert. Photo/Naturetrek

The northeastern part falling within South Africa’s Cape region has a higher wildlife concentration because of more vegetation supported by more rainfall. In general, wildlife in the Kalahari Desert is adapted to arid nature. You’re likely to see the following wild animals in while in the northern region which is wetter.

  • Springbok
  • Oryx
  • Kudu
  • Duiker
  • Wildebeest
  • Steenbook
  • Cheetah
  • Black-maned lions
  • Leopard

You’ll also find desert species such as meerkat, brown hyenas and cape foxes even in the southern region which is drier.  Bird lovers enjoy the sighting of endemic desert birds listed below.

  1. Secretary bird
  2. Kites
  3. Kestrels
  4. Goshawks
  5. Kori bustard
  6. Giant eagle owl
  7. Eagle

Cape cobras, different lizard species, puff adders, tremolo sand frog and the bushveld rain frog survive in the desert.

Desert Vegetation

Large hoodia cacti, scattered shrubs, grass tussocks, gemsbok cucumbers, and tsamma melons support the existence of wild animals. The wetter northern region has a superfluous growth of camelthorn that largely supports the growth of other vegetation. Camelthorn produces necessary nutrients for other plants to grow at its base.

Beautiful Landscape

Golden red sand stretching from the north to the south of Kalahari with bumps of grass, shrubs and other desert trees create a golden sight in the remotest part of Southern Africa.

Springboks Migration

Kalahari Desert

Springboks migration at the Kalahari Desert. Photo/Pinterest

Oblivious to many, there is wildlife migration in the desert majorly involving springboks moving in search of water. This migration is mostly to the north where there is more rainfall every year.

Makgadikgadi Pans

Makgadikgadi Pans are famous salt pans steeped deep in history as the remains of an ancient lake. The pans form seasonal lakes during the rainy season.

Qxuyu Caves

They are sandstone caves with historical archaeological significance. The caves have rich rock painting patterns carved by the San people who are the bona fide inhabitants of Botswana.

San Bushmen

As the inhabitants of the desert, the San people are excellent guides throughout the Kalahari Desert. They’ve lived here for centuries and they understand every bit of the desert terrain and its surprises.

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