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Tswalu Kalahari review: a five-star desert safari

Tswalu Kalahari review: a five-star desert safari

An oasis of luxury in the desert, Tswalu Kalahari sits at the heart of the largest game reserve in South Africa. Rare African wild dogs and black-maned Kalahari lions are among the frequent sightings, and the luckiest visitors may also see the endangered pangolin. Meerkats are also plentiful.

There’s no shortage of creature comforts, either. Well-appointed stone and thatch cabins come with private patios overlooking a waterhole, where animals gather to drink and cool themselves, while human refreshments come courtesy of a swimming pool, an extensive wine cellar and a creative chef.

Where is it?

Tswalu is in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, about 400 miles west of Johannesburg. Scheduled flights arrive daily from Johannesburg and Cape Town. It is also possible to drive from Johannesburg, but the journey will take about seven hours.

The landscape

Situated at the southern end of the Kalahari desert, Tswalu Kalahari consists of flat plains interrupted by hills and mountains. Grasses and thorn bushes grow up after summer rains, covering the red sand, and die back during the dry season.

As well as the game, there’s a rich diversity of birdlife at Tswalu. Southern yellow-billed hornbill, also known as flying bananas, are particularly common 

Game drives and other activities

Tswalu’s desert location necessitates a different approach to game drives. In areas with denser animal populations, guides will drive out without much of a plan and stop off whenever they happen on something interesting, but at Tswalu the drives are more directed. In most cases, you will set out to find a specific species, and will then spend the whole drive tracking, following and observing the animal, learning about its behaviour.

Despite the relative sparsity of game, you are likely to see animals here that you won’t find anywhere else. Black-maned Kalahari lions, for example, and a pack of African wild dogs, which you may well be able to watch as they go out on a hunt. You will have a private guide and vehicle throughout your stay.

As well as game drives, Tswalu also offers horseback safaris, visits to ancient rock art and spa treatments, as well as the chance to sleep out under the stars.

Accommodation and food

The Motse (which means “village”) provides Tswalu’s principal accommodation, in the form of nine spacious stone cabins. Dark wood furniture, including four-poster b and a luxuriously appointed bathroom, are complemented by decor and furnishings that pick up the colour of the Kalahari sand.

At the main camp, each cabin comes with its own private patio overlooking a waterhole

The kitchen serves three sit-down meals per day, plus a spread of fruit and pastries first thing in the morning and an extensive afternoon tea. Menus are broad and varied, offering a range of international and South African specialities, including game. The chef will fly in special requests from Johannesburg or Cape Town. Guests are invited to browse a cellar stocked with scores of wines from South Africa and beyond, and a wide range of whiskies and other spirits are also available.

Extended families and other large groups can take over Tarkuni, a villa with five bedroom suites, two lounges, each with an open fire, several patios, a swimming pool and an outdoor firepit. A private chef takes care of the cooking.

When to go

The southern Kalahari has four seasons: in summer (November-January) hot afternoons, reaching 40C, are interrupted by occasional thunderstorms, and nights stay warm (about 20C). Frost is not uncommon in winter (May-July), but the temperature climbs to a pleasant 20C during the day.

Spring, at the end of the dry season, when vegetation dies back and waterholes are the only source of sustenance, is the best time of the year for game viewing. Alternatively, late summer offers an unusual opportunity to see the desert in bloom.

Price and booking

A night at Tswalu costs from £777pp, full board, including all activities. The Luxury Safari Company can incorporate Tswalu into a tailor-made itinerary. For more details, phone 01666 880 111, email info@theluxurysafaricompany.com or visit theluxurysafaricompany.com

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