• Sara Essop

10 Interesting Facts About the Kalahari Desert

Updated: Feb 28

Over 60 million years old, the Kalahari Desert is a huge expanse of sandy savannah spanning approximately 900,000 square kilometres of Southern Africa across 3 countries. It encompasses a large portion of Botswana, the northern portion of the Northern Cape Province in South Africa, and the eastern third region of Namibia. This immense landscape is a mesmerising region that provides a sense of remoteness from the rest of the world, amid ancient backdrops and incredible wildlife.

Sand Dunes: Credit - Olga Ernst & Hp.Baumeler, Wikimedia Commons

Here are 10 Interesting Facts About It.

1. The Kalahari is the sixth largest desert in the world by size and the southernmost and second largest desert in the African continent, after the Sahara Desert.

2. Although commonly referred to as a desert because of its vast tracts of sand, the Kalahari is not a true desert because of the amount of rainfall it receives, which is too high for a conventional desert. Between 12 and 25 centimetres of rain falls annually here, especially in the north-eastern portion, which receives much more rainfall than the south-western portion. It would be more accurately referred to as a semi-arid sandy savannah, semi-desert or fossil desert.

3. The Kalahari Desert area is part of the much larger Kalahari Basin, which encompasses most of Botswana and more than half of Namibia, including the Okavango River Delta and other wet areas. The Okavango River is the only permanent river in the Kalahari, however temporary rivers are formed during the rainy season.

4. The name Kalahari is derived from Kgala, a Tswana word meaning “the great thirst” or Kgalagadi, meaning “a waterless place” because its sand absorbs and drains water. The sand surface is left dry, but the absorbed water gives rise to a diverse range of plant life, consisting mainly of grasses, shrubs and trees, which have evolved to grow roots which extend deep into the ground to absorb moisture.

5. Thousands of years ago, the Kalahari had hundreds of lakes. As the water evaporated over time, they left huge salt pans, or craters in their place which can still exist today, such as the Makgadikgadi Pan, which was once the massive Lake Makgadikgadi.

Kalahari Sunset - Credit – Gary Simons, Pixabay Free Images

6. Temperatures in the Kalahari are extreme in both summer and winter, due to its high altitude. The scorching temperatures in summer skyrocket to 45 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and in the dry winters, they can plummet to 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

7. The Kalahari is home to some of the largest diamond mines in the world. It is also rich in other precious resources such as iron, copper, nickel, uranium and coal. The red sand in the Kalahari is caused by high levels of iron oxide. 8. Several tribes live in the Kalahari including the San, Griqua and Nama. The nomadic San people have lived there for around twenty thousand years and are regarded as the oldest culture in the world. Some of them are still hunter-gatherers, using traditional bows and arrows to hunt, while gathering fruits, roots and insects. It is possible to go on guided walks with them, where you can learn about their culture and traditions.

San People, Central Kalahari, Botswana

9. Hoodia is a sought-after succulent that only grows in the Kalahari. It is used in dietary supplements as a natural appetite suppressant. Historically, it has been used by the San, who claim that chewing it satiates their hunger and thirst for up to 24 hours and gives them extra energy and strength when they go on long journeys.

10. The British television drama documentary “Meerkat Manor” was produced in the Kalahari. The series was aired between 2005 and 2008 and follows the life and daily exploits of a meerkat family in the Kalahari Desert.

Semi-arid Savannah Woodlands of Northern Kalahari


Sara Essop

Sara Essop is a travel blogger and freelance writer based in South Africa. She writes about family travel and experiences around the world. Her hobbies include taking the road less travelled and discovering fascinating places everywhere. Although she has been to 47 countries thus far, her favourite place to be in is the African bush.

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