Namibia is an incredibly beautiful country, with its stark, sun-drenched deserts stretching as far as the eye can see, colorful giant dunes, magnificent canyons, rugged coastline, and unique wildlife adapted to this land of extremes. It also has fascinating cultures and truly wild adventures in remote locations. With so few people – only about 2 ½ million in the entire country – there is, nearly everywhere, an unnerving and surreal, but wonderful feeling of isolation, far, far, off-the-beaten path.
There are two vast deserts – the enormous Namib – with incredible scenery and wildlife, including desert-adapted elephants and lions, and the picture-perfect towers of sand in Sossusvlei- and the Kalahari, with its beautiful mix of green acacias, yellow grass and red sand. They are both home to ancient tribes still living traditional lives. There is also Fish River Canyon, a massive gorge with breathtaking views; Etosha National Park, one of the greatest wildlife parks on the continent; the Skeleton Coast, scattered with shipwrecks and skeletons; and Swakopmund, a lovely coastal town where the desert meets the sea.
Many of the country’s magnificent sites can be seen on a self-drive journey, but for those who can afford it, flying allows for spending more time observing wildlife crowds at the precious waterholes, climbing dunes into the sky, searching the sea for whales, hiking down into massive canyons, diving out of the sky, ballooning across the desert, or just listening to the silence of the shifting sands.
Regions of Namibia
Sossusvlei, one of Namibia’s most iconic destinations, is located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest conservation area in Africa. It is one of the most photographed landscapes on earth, due to its incredible scenery, an ocean of sand with waves of massive red dunes reaching over 1,066 tall, some of the highest in the world.
Although daytime temperatures can be quite hot, like any desert environment, the night brings cooler temperatures. Still, there is life here, adapted to these extremes – including ostrich, springbok, hyena, bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, porcupine, Cape Fox, and aardwolf.
Climbing the dunes in the memorizing early morning light, followed, for some, by an exhilarating run down, is an experience not to be missed. There is also quad biking, wilderness hikes, and some of the best stargazing on the planet.
Although Namibia might not be the first country that comes to mind for a safari, there certainly is wildlife here, especially in Etosha National Park, the country’s top tourist destination. The best game viewing is at the park’s waterholes, and one main location, the Etosha Pan.
Etosha is named for this massive mineral pan that covers 25% of the park- so enormous, nearly 2000 sq. miles- that it can be seen from space. This great depression in the earth collects the region’s precious rain, a vital source of water for animals who come from near and far to quench their thirst in this salty desert, including elephant, rhino, lion, zebra, oryx, and hundreds of species of birds. If there is a good rain, as many as 1 million flamingos come here to breed.
There are few places on earth like the Skeleton Coast, a beautiful but haunting stretch of remote coastline in western Namibia, originally named for the open graveyard of whale bones left from the days of the whaling industry. Now, ghostly shipwrecks also litter the beaches, after losing their battle with a combination of rough seas and fog. The National Park includes the coast, rugged canyons of colored volcanic rock, spectacular mountain ranges and infinite wind-swept dunes that “roar”. It is also home to one of the largest breeding colonies of Cape Fur seals, as well as big cats, desert-adapted elephant, black rhino and many other species. At select camps, one can learn about the latest studies on lion or hyaena happening in the area. To say the least, the Skeleton Coast is a striking, unique, and beautiful part of Namibia that is hard to forget.
The extremely remote region of Kaokoland is a thirsty and extremely hot landscape with endless dunes, impressive mountains, and little vegetation. Wildlife is sparse in this barren land – only those animals who are adapted to this unforgiving wilderness can survive here, in a land with only 6 inches of rain a year. These desert-adapted species include lions, giraffe and wide-ranging populations of desert elephant who must trek for days to quench their thirst.
Few tourists make their way into this desolate land, but those who do also have opportunities for some amazing cultural encounters. This is the home of the Himba people, an ancient tribe of semi-nomadic pastoralists, many of whom still live and dress according to their ancient traditions. Opportunities like this, interacting with people who live as they did thousands of years ago, is rare today. Most people feel it is one of the most memorable and enlightening experiences of their visit to Namibia.
Damaraland is one of the most scenic areas in Namibia- an untamed, rugged, and rocky wilderness with deep gorges, ancient geologic formations and massive mountains. Rivers cutting through this desolate terrain create lush oases, attracting wildlife to forage and quench their thirst, including a small population of elephant, black rhino and other species specially adapted to survive in the arid desert. This is also a region to explore the country’s ancient history. Twyfelfontein, a World Heritage Site, contains thousands of Bushman rock paintings, some of the largest and most important concentrations of rock art in Africa. The Petrified Forest, which dates back millions of years, contains gigantic fossilized trees, up to 100 feet tall.
Swakopmund, the “capital” of the Skeleton Coast, is a lovely seaside resort town, with accommodations, restaurants and activities for visitors, and a popular holiday beach destination for Namibians, who come here to escape the heat. It has the odd ambiance of a small, German village still reminiscent of colonial times, with of quirky mix of Namibian influences. From calm sunbathing and strolling the promenades to more adrenaline activities of sandboarding and quad biking, there is something for everyone, combined with the welcome and rare cool ocean breeze, a rare treat in Namibia.