Karas is the name given to the Southern region of Namibia, and it takes this name from the Karas range of mountains in the south of the region. These, in turn, take their name from the Nama word Kara for the Quiver Tree. The region is bordered by the Orange River in the South, the national border in the East and an imaginary line drawn east west through the town of Gibeon in the north. In the west of the region is the Namib Desert, a restricted area because of diamond mining. The remaining part of the Karas is mainly a semi-arid sunbaked savannah.
In the far south of the Karas is one of Africa’s natural wonders, the Fish River Canyon. The Fish River flows into the Orange River in the Ai-Ais and Fish River Canyon Park. The canyon is 160 kilometres long and thirty wide, and the sidewalls are some 550 metres high. The canyon makes an awesome site and is bettered only by the Grand Canyon in the United States of America. There is a road that follows the eastern edge of the canyon for some 25kms that has a series of viewing sites that offer some splendid views of the canyon. The Karas region is famous for its dates and grapes, which grow in the fertile soils along the Riverbanks. In the park is the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort, a welcome stopover place for visitors.
The main towns in the Karas are: Oranjemund, Lüderitz and Keetmanshoop. Keetmanshoop is a major road, rail and air link and the visitor can see several old buildings that date back to German colonial times. There are two hotels here and a caravan park outside the town. Just a few kilometres to the north of the town is the Kokerboom Forest, a large collection of Quiver Trees which are actually not trees, but a species of aloe, Aloe dichotoma. This forest was declared a national monument in 1955, and some of the trees in this forest are between 200 and 300 years old.
Some 70 kilometres to the north of Keetmanshoop on the western side of the road is an extinct volcano, Brukkaros. This mountain of bare volcanic rock has a crater some 2000 metres across. The western part of the Karas from the Atlantic coast up to a hundred kilometres inland is a restricted area, and visitors may not enter without a permit, as this is the diamond mining area. The mining company De Beers mines some 400kgs of diamonds a year in this area, and to the north of the area near to Lüderitz there is a diamond operation offshore, where gravel from the sea bed is vacuumed up and sorted.
On the eastern border with Botswana lies the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve, where the visitor can see a huge variety of animal life, including lion, leopard and cheetah. This area offers a wide variety of different tours and excursions and is a favourite venue for 4 x 4 owners. There are many historical sites to be seen, but these are frequently well hidden and the use of a guide is recommended. Sites include the White Elephant rock art site near Warmfontein and the Lost City of the Yellow Nation, the remains of a red stone citadel only discovered recently.
The people most associated with this region are the Nama people, from which name comes the name Namibia. These people share their cultural roots with the San or Bushman hunters, who have lived in the region for many years, and with the Khoi herder clans from South Africa’s Cape Province who were driven across the Orange River during the 17th and 18th Centuries by European settlers.