Best Desert Holiday Destinations In Southern Africa

18 Nov 2021

Man sitting against tree in a South African Desert Holiday

When you think of a desert, you think of vast swathes of sand with no sound nor soul in sight. You may even wonder why on earth anyone would want to visit such a place. But what if we told you that a desert holiday actually offers a chance to discover a whole new world? It’s also a great way to enjoy luxury and seclusion in some of the world’s most off-the-beaten-track locations. In fact, there are deserts in southern Africa imbued with such tranquillity and raw beauty they will render you speechless. The bonus is that you get all the additional exhilaration and adventure that you’d expect from any other holiday destination. If this tempts your inner trailblazer, then read on to discover our most highly prized desert holiday options.

THE KALAHARI DESERT

The rolling russet-coloured sand dunes of the Kalahari are a striking feature, while the vast chalky salt pans left behind by dried-up lakes, make for a spellbinding contrast. As a semi-arid desert, you’ll also find grasses, herbs, and trees dotted across the sandveld plains, creating an otherworldly landscape under big blue skies. The Kalahari Desert covers an enormous area across regions of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.

HIGHLIGHTS

Kgalagadi Transfontier Park - South African Desert Holiday

Kgalagadi Transfontier Park

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of southern Africa’s most spectacularly beautiful safari secrets. While famous for its big, black-maned Kalahari lions, a myriad of desert adapted wildlife and migratory herds roam this desert wilderness of red dunes and ochre scrub. The magnificent game viewing here also includes cheetah, leopard, Hyena, and an incredible number of antelopes. Kgalagadi also provides the opportunity to do some exciting predator spotting thanks to the sparse scrub and the sand dunes which are high enough to provide panoramic lookout points.

Orange River Wine Route - South African Desert Holiday

Orange River Wine Route

The Orange River Wine Route in the Northern Cape beckons like a lush utopia showcasing both shimmering semidesert and fertile valleys. The Orange River feeds the desert, creating a stretch of intense green on either bank in stark contrast to the surrounding dryness of the southern Kalahari. While most tourists flock to the winelands of the Western Cape to sample South Africa’s famous fine wines, wine tasting in a desert oasis is an experience unlike any other. Other travel treats here include tearooms in the desert, camel back rides, thrilling white water rapids and spectacular microlight glides above spectacular red dunes and jagged mountains.

South African Desert Holiday

Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls National Park is a beautiful desert landscape featuring rocky terrain, immense granite boulders and thundering waterfalls. While the waterfalls plunging dramatically into the 500-million-year-old gorge of the Orange River are a spectacular sight, if you are walking or hiking through this rugged terrain, you’ll be dazzled by the spiky Kokerboom trees, aloes, tufts of pale grass and Namaqua figs. One of the many pleasures here is soaking up the natural scenic beauty which means you’ll be enthralled by the wildlife with spectacular sightings of rock dassies, lizards and klipspringer antelope as well as giraffe and mountain zebra.

Best place to stay:

Dinner in the desert- South African Desert Holiday

The uber opulent Jack's Camp lies deep in the Kalahari Desert on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the largest saltpans in the world. This lavish colonial style camp is situated in a captivating lunar-like plain that spans over 6757 square miles. Thousands of wildebeests and zebra herds flock to the grasslands in the annual migration and during the wet season, the landscape transforms into a lush grassy oasis that teems with flamingos, waterfowl, and other wildlife.

THE KAROO DESERT

Considered South Africa's "outback” the Karoo is a little bigger than the size of Germany. Spanning four provinces: the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, and Free State, the Karoo is a wilderness of semi-desert with arid, dusty plains that stretch towards a shimmering horizon with dramatic mountains in the background. If you enjoy road trips, the Karoo is one of the best destinations to get behind the wheel. There are long roads that journey through expanses of semi-arid landscape with quaint towns and interesting pitstops along the way.

HIGHLIGHTS

Multicoloured wild flower field - South African Desert Holiday

Namaqualand flowers

If you’re looking for a magical semi-desert experience, the Namaqualand should instantly come to mind. The hot, dusty landscape alters dramatically with the shifting seasons and when the conditions are exactly right, crops of beautiful wildflowers erupt in an exquisite riot of colour covering almost every available surface. This natural phenomenon never ceases to amaze and can best be viewed at the Nature reserves in the area, such as the Goegap, Richtersveld National Park and Namaqua National Park.

Road in mountain valley - South African Desert Holiday

Route 62

Route 62 is a road trippers dream and the world’s longest wine route winding almost predominantly through the Klein Karoo, a 300 km strip of semi-desert between Worcester and George on South Africa’s Garden Route. Route 62 will take you through spectacular mountain passes, lush wine-producing valleys, and quirky Karoo towns.

The Valley of Desolation

Set against the timeless backdrop of the Camdeboo National Park, The Valley of Desolation is a breath-taking geological marvel comprised of vertical cliffs and columns of dolerite that teeter precariously 120 metres above the valley floor. This unique Karoo landscape and ecosystem surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet, creating a type of oasis amid the aridness of the Karoo. The area is home to over 220 recorded species of birdlife, and animals like Kudu, Buffalo, and the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra. The Camdeboo is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric regions of the Great Karoo and can best be experienced on walking trails and overnight hikes.

Best place to stay

Lodge with private pool - South African Desert Holiday

The opulent and romantic Dwyka Tented Lodge epitomises the romance of a pioneering wilderness adventure. Alluringly set in the horseshoe bend of a dry Karoo ravine, this lodge boasts modern interiors and wooden decks that make the most of the glorious setting. Framed by picture-perfect views, you’ll find solitude relaxing in the jacuzzi on your own private deck.

THE NAMIB DESERT

The Namib is a coastal desert which originated around 80 million years ago and is thought to be the oldest desert in the world. Situated along the south-western coast of the African continent the Namib crosses Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. The strong winds of the Namib produce some of the highest sand dunes on the planet, some of which reach over 1,100 feet and the only desert in which endemic plants and animals have evolved in virtually barren dunes. In fact, the Namib is teeming with animals, including elephants, rhinos, Hartmann’s zebra, lions, gemsbok, and the black-faced impala.

HIGHLIGHTS

South African Desert Holiday

Sossusvlei

In the heart of the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei is known for its endless sea of sand dunes, gravel floors, and clay and salt pans. Showcasing the kind of red, rolling desert dunes that you see in the movies, the dunes in this area are some of the highest in the world, making activities like sandboarding extremely popular. Even though the region is known as Sossusvlei, the main attraction is actually Deadvlei. The salt pan of Deadvlei is one of the most iconic landscapes in Africa and it is here that you will find the white clay pan and skeletons of ancient camel thorn trees set against the stark backdrop of the vibrant Namib dunes.

South African Desert Holiday

Damaraland

In the hot, dusty, and spectacular landscapes of Damaraland, many lodges offer the exhilarating opportunity to track the region’s rare desert-dwelling elephants and roaming herds of black rhino on foot. If you are keen on exploring surreal landscapes the Spitzkoppe Mountains in Namibia’s Southern Damaraland is the perfect spot to enjoy an incredible nature-based break. They are more than 700 million years old and are among Namibia’s most distinctive landmarks.

South African Desert Holiday

Swakopmund

Situated in the Namib Desert on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, Swakopmund is Namibia’s playground. Not only will you find a bustling city, with a beautiful blue ocean, but you’ll also find adventure. You could spend your time sandboarding, quad biking, and horse riding in the desert, or you could set sail on the sea, learn how to surf or perhaps you’d prefer to take to the skies in a hot air balloon or if you’re feeling brave - skydiving.

Where to stay:

South African Desert Holiday

AndBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge offers a complete escape from everyday life with its sheer silence, total tranquillity, and romantic luxury. From stargazing to intimate picnics in the desert, this is an extraordinary wilderness to experience. Surrounded by the mountains and sand dunes of the Namib Desert you’ll enjoy vast spaces, endless horizons, and rugged mountain heights in one of Africa’s most compelling landscapes.

For a truly immersive and authentic experience, there’s no better way to enjoy Africa than adventuring through the unusual landscapes of its deserts. If you like the sound of Jeep safaris, hot air balloon rides, desert treks and horseback riding across undulating sand dunes with endless options for endless amounts of fun, give us a call on 01233 80 27 27 and we’ll create a treasure trove of desert delights that are guaranteed to captivate your soul and provide a lifetime of beautiful memories.

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Definitely recommend Best of South Africa Travel

My husband and I booked our holiday in South Africa and Mauritius with Best of South Africa Travel. Ash was brilliant she organised all our hotels at our different destinations in South Africa and we were very impressed with the high standard of them all. Ash also booked tours for us, recommending different interesting tours we would not have known ...

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