There are certain places on earth that captivate the mind and move the spirit in a way that is life changing. Africa is one of those special places and Namibia, in particular, is a country that's a game changer.
A Little Bit of Everything
Namibia is a peaceful country. After more than 100 years of German and South African rule, the country became independent under a democratic multiparty constitution in 1990. While mining is a significant portion of the economy – Namibia produces 30% of the world's diamonds – tourism is the biggest draw.
Spectacular natural attractions – miles of deserted ocean, glimmering dunes, wild desert expanses, deep canyons and vast savannah teeming with wildlife – plus a vibrant and welcoming local tribal culture makes Namibia
a destination that tops the charts.
Orange River and Fish River Canyon
Many travelers traverse Namibia by way of South Africa, moving north then cutting east to Botswana. If you decide to proceed in this direction your first stop after crossing the Namibian border will be along the Orange River, a meandering oasis that cuts through lush fauna and rocky outcrops. Canoeing or kayaking is the best way to explore the natural beauty of the Gariep, as it is so called in the native tongue.
Next up is the spectacular Fish River Canyon, a jaw-dropping ravine that stretches 100 miles long, 16 miles wide and almost 2000 feet deep. The canyon is the largest in Africa, the second largest in the world, and is popular with tourists who come to revel in the sheer magnificence of its scale as well as the multitude of rewarding hiking trails.
Fish River Canyon
As one traverses through the Namib Desert – the oldest in the world, stretching nearly 1000 miles south to north from the Orange River to Angola – the landscape, flora, and colors change dramatically every hour or so from gravel to dunes to rocky mountains.
One of the most sought after visits is to the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the magical Sossusvlei (“dead-end marsh”), where soaring red sand dunes, some reaching 1300 feet, merge together along the border with the Atlantic Ocean, preventing the river waters from passing any further. A most memorable experience is to wake in the cool, dark hours of the morning, climb the highest dune and await the emergence of the sun as it cascades its glimmering light on the red-hued dunes.
Also not to be missed is Dead Vlei, a salt pan beside the dunes that receives no water whatsoever. Not only has all life died, but the utter lack of moisture means nothing can decompose. Hence, an otherworldly vista of dead life perfectly preserved over the centuries.
Five hours further is Swakopmund, a quaint, welcoming coastal town, strewn with beautiful old buildings reminiscent of its German Colonial past. Swakopmund is an adventure seekers paradise with myriad possibilities.
One can visit the Cape Fur Seals at Cape Cross, where hundreds of mammals bask in the sun along the rocky shores. Sandboarding or quad biking in the nearby dunes offers adrenaline junkies their fill, while hot air balloon rides allow for a more tame experience and a glimpse of the breathtaking contrast of desert and ocean vistas. A helicopter or small plane journey over the Skeleton Coast, an eerie, barren stretch in northern Namibia where rough seas, roaring winds, and ferocious currents have left many a shipwrecked vessel in its wake, is yet another unique experience.
Brandberg and Spitzkopf
The scenery changes once again in Damaraland, in the northwestern Namib desert near the coast. Here, the Brandberg area entices visitors with its unspoiled beauty and free roaming wildlife, including the endangered black rhino. The highest mountain in Namibia, at more than 8000 feet, Brandberg Mountain is home to the White Lady, a more than 2000-year old Bushman rock painting. You can grab one of the hipster guides to take you on the one hour hike to see numerous paintings and learn about the diverse geology.
A little further afield is the Spitzkoppe, a small group of granite peaks more than 120 million years old that rise out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. Nicknamed the "Matterhorn of Namibia", the area is great to camp at overnight due to the spectacular sunsets, starry night sky, and sheer open expanse.
The furthermost northwest corner of Namibia in Kaokoland is home to the Himba, a semi-nomadic tribe with a fascinating culture. Tourists can stay in a camp where visits to a Himba village allows for a glimpse into daily life.
At first glance, the Himba skin looks red in nature but in actuality is due to red ochre and fat that's been rubbed on their bodies to protect against the sun. Himba families live in cone shaped huts, made of mud, cattle dung and palm leaves and they are master craftsmen, mostly of jewelry that they fashion from old pipes and ostrich shells.
Etosha National Park
Probably Namibia's biggest claim to fame is the majestic Etosha National Park, a vast expanse of 8600 square miles and one of Africa's and the world's best wildlife viewing meccas, home to hundreds of species of mammals and birds.
The essence of the park is the grand Etosha Pan, a 2000 square mile flat, salty desert that changes with the seasons. When covered by rain, flamingos and pelicans flock to the area in hordes. In the dry season, wildlife migrates to the scarce water.
In fact, one of the biggest reasons Etosha is such an alluring venue for wildlife viewing is the parks' watering holes. While you can and will drive around searching for wildlife, you can also just visit one of the three watering holes – Halali, Okondeka, and the floodlit Okaukuejo –and wait. Soon enough elephants, lions, leopards, zebras, giraffes, springbok and more arrive en masse to quench their thirst. It's a spectacle not to be missed.
Etosha National Park
Traveling south from Etosha, the traveler will eventually land in Windhoek, Namibia's capital and largest city. While a good place to learn about the country's colonial past, Windhoek is not likely a place one will spend a lot of time. However, it is often the starting point for travelers arriving by plane and many safaris begin and end here.
The Kalahari and San Bushmen
After departing Windhoek to the east, the land gradually slopes downward. Soon enough the endless golden-grass plains of the Kalahari emerge. This vast expanse stretches nearly 360,000 square miles across Namibia, Botswana, South Africa.
While not a true desert because it receives too much rain, the Kalahari is characterized by flat, yellow savannah and dunes, and is home to loads of animals, such as springbok, antelope, ostrich, and jackal. It is also home to the hunter-gatherer San Bushmen who still survive off the land to this day.
Meet the San and Himba people and discover Etosha National Park on this Cultural and Wildlife Adventure
Enjoy sightseeing in the Namib Desert, visit Sossusvlei, Cape Cross, the Brandberg Mountain, and Etosha National Park on this 15-day adventure.
This article was written by Cheryl Peress