Forever in the shadow of the extraordinary Namib, the country’s second desert, the Kalahari, is often neglected. Though technically a semi-desert on account of its greater rainfall – some areas receiving over 280mm per year on average – it’s difficult to conceive of it as anything other than a desert given that any precipitation immediately drains away through the porous sandy soils. Yet the higher levels of rainfall and the numerous ephemeral rivers that streak the Kalahari inevitably allow it to support more vegetation and more varied wildlife than the Namib. In particular, smaller mammals thrive on the shimmering grasses that follow rain and on the greater availability of even smaller prey: aardwolves, porcupines and honey badgers are all possible sightings, so too scurrying groups of meerkats, mongoose and suricates. Birders will be keen to watch out for the many raptors wheeling above: martial and snake eagles, as well as lappet-faced vultures. Inevitably, snakes and scorpions are common denizens of the desert; keep an eye out for the puff adder and Panabuthus raudus – the largest scorpion in southern Africa, which can reach over 12cm, threatening with a particularly impressive tail. Some of the desert’s more surprising inhabitants include tortoises and even frogs.

Yet the Kalahari is as much about the stillness and silence of the desert as it is about wildlife, and – in this southern section – the visually stunning red dunes, made so by the high iron oxide content in the sand. In contrast to the towering dunes in the Namib, these are rippling vegetated linear dunes, running broadly northwest to southeast. They start just east of the B1 between Kalkrand and Mariental, where several private reserves make the most of this picturesque dunescape, and they cover much of the land between the B1 and the eastern border of Namibia, extending into the South African section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The park is attracting increasing numbers of self-drive visitors entering via the Mata Mata gate on the Namibian border, roughly 200km northeast of Keetmanshoop, as the crow flies. Many take the scenic C15 from the agricultural centre of Stampriet, northeast of Mariental, which tracks the relatively lush Auob River valley 230km southeast to the park gate, sometimes stopping of at one of the new campgrounds that are sprouting up along the way.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Namibia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

19 places to get utterly lost

19 places to get utterly lost

One of the great joys of travelling is stumbling across unexpected places, wandering without a single destination in mind and embracing the journey. These place…

12 Sep 2017 • Keith Drew camera_alt Gallery
Namibia from above: the world's most extreme landscape

Namibia from above: the world's most extreme landscape

The Namib desert is one of the world’s most extreme environments. Covering 81,000 square kilometres, its vastness can only truly be appreciated from above. He…

17 Jul 2017 • Lottie Gross local_activity Special feature
In pictures: the otherworldly landscapes of Namibia

In pictures: the otherworldly landscapes of Namibia

From the spectacular dunes of the Namib Desert to the serpentine chasm of the Fish River Canyon, the rugged mountains of the Great Escarpment to the acacia-stud…

05 Jul 2017 • Sara Humphreys camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook