September 8th, 2021

Going on a 'Desert Safari' in Africa - What are they, and where do they happen?

Written by:

Toby Pheasant


Safari 101


When we think of a African 'desert safari', images of Lawrence of Arabia riding his caravan of camels across the Sahara spring to mind. 

There are however a myriad of other desert adventures you can embark on across the continent.

In this notebook entry we'll reveal our favourite desert destinations and experiences, as well as a few alternative off-the-beaten-track options:

Desert safari from Kwessi Dunes lodge in Namibia's NamibRand Nature Reserve

What is a 'Desert Safari'?

Essentially, you'll be on a desert safari anytime you are exploring a desert ecosystem as an activity from a lodge or camp in Africa. This could be in the dunes of Namibia, the vast wilderness of Botswana's Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, through South Africa's Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, or through any of the smaller desert ecosystems across Eastern Africa.

These types of safaris typically start in a vehicle of some form (in a game drive vehicle or on quad bike) however, don't be surprised if you're out of the vehicle quite quickly looking for the plants or wildlife that make these habitats so fascinating - and there's an incredible amount of wildlife out there! From tiny toktokkie beetles scurrying around trying to avoid the heat of the sun, to giant desert-adapted rhino and elephant that maraud the sand in search of their next drink. 

On an afternoon desert safari, you can expect to set out in the late afternoon for a nature drive before completing your excursion in a remote and dramatic spot, sipping a gin and tonic while watching the sun set.  

These are three of our favourite destinations to go on a 'Desert Safari':

Wildebeest seen in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve


Namibia, home to world's oldest desert - the Namib-Naukluft, is a country defined by its aridness. 

From north to south there are varying desert experiences to entice all visitors. In the Namib-Naukluft itself, there are stunning hikes up the Sossusvlei dunes and hot-air balloon flights over the entire region. 

In the northern Kaokoland you can view the desert adapted wildlife, including black rhino, elephants, lions and much more, on foot and on game drives. 

In the vast rolling dunes of the very north heading out on quad-bike to visit the Himba tribes is one of the most humbling experiences across the continent.

Oryx seen on a desert safari from Serra Cafema, on the border of Angola and Namibia


You will be forgiven for thinking that Botswana is a land of abundant water, where the water adapted antelope lechwe and sitatunga live in their shallow waters happily. 

While this is true and the Okavango Delta is a shimmering paradise, the formation of the delta caused the drying up of a number of rivers leaving behind deserts of sand and salt. 

The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and the Central Kalahari are unique habitats. In both you can immerse yourself in the daily lives of people and animals that are adapted to these stunning habitats. Experiences range from Meerkat interactions, sleep-outs under vast canopies of stars, quad biking, horse riding and so much more. 

Quad biking excursion from Jack's Camp in Botswana's Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

South Africa:

Vast South Africa has two distinct desert ecosystems -  the Kalahari Desert in the north which stretches all the way up to Botswana in the north and Namibia in the West, and the Great Karoo which sprawls across central South Africa. 

Within the greater Kalahari Desert, there are two areas which we consider to offer the best Desert Safari experiences - Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. 

Tswalu, in particular, is a phenomenal reserve which has championed conservation and is arguably the best place in the Africa to see some of the the continents lesser known animals such as aardvark, pangolin and aardwolf.

Further south in South Africa, The Great Karoo stretches from the Cape Mountains all the way up to the Highveld and Drakensburgs, close to the border with Lesotho. This arid area is generally considered a semi-desert ecosystem that supports a vast range of wildlife, and is a fantastic destination for hiking too.

South Africa's Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is a fantastic place to see some of Africa's most elusive animals

If you'd like to learn more about Desert Safaris, how they work in practice, and how they can be incorporated into an itinerary, please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading,

The Bonamy Travel Team

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