Where to go & what to do in Namibia
Namibia is a desert country, and the overwhelming sense is of vast open spaces and desert landscapes. But within that there is an enormous amount to see and do, and the diversity of sights and sounds in this huge and empty country are truly spectacular.
National Parks & Wildlife
Etosha Pan: This is the main wildlife destination in Namibia and arguably one of the flagship wildlife destination in southern Africa. The park is dominated by the natural feature of the Etosha Pan, which is a salt pan some 130km long and 50km wide in places. Perennial springs north of the pan attract quantities of wildlife, including all of the Big Five. The park is easily accessible by road and air, and camp and lodge facilities are available within the park, with a selection of private facilities outside the park boundaries.
Khaudom National Park: Khaudom is a little known park situated at the entrance to the Caprivi Strip in the vicinity of the small town of Tsumkwe. It has limited facilities, but an interesting selection of wildlife, and is home to several communities of bushmen. External lodges offer excellent hospitality facilities as well as game drives and the possibility of excursions with bushman trackers.
Mamili National Park: This park consists of two islands on the Cuando and Linyanti Rivers in the heel of the east Caprivi. Home to wetland species of antelope. This is a wild and inhospitable landscape so far only partially mapped.
Mudumu National Park: On the east shore of the Cuando River, in an environment of savanna and miombo woodland, is situated the Mudumu National Park, also home to many wetland species as well as a wide selection of other common antelope such as kudu and roan, and of course healthy populations of Zebra
Namib-Naukluft National Park: This is one of the signature Namibian parks showcasing the uniquely beautiful desert landscape of the country. This is the largest game park in Africa, and is an ecological preserve. Although extremely harsh, the environment supports a surprising diversity of insect and reptile life, as well as hardy antelope such as gemsbok. The region is sustained by the famous local morning fog that comes in as a cold Atlantic meets a warm landmass. This settles briefly allowing many creatures to survive in an otherwise waterless landscape.
Skeleton Coast: This is a park region for the purist lover of bleak and lonely beaches. It comprises a vast stretch of coast that has little variation once the isolation and forbidding aspects have been absorbed. The main seal colony is situated at Cape Cross which is south of the park, and worth the effort to visit.
Waterberg National Park: This is a small and accessible park that has as much historical as ecological significance. It was the site of the defining confrontation between the Germans and the Herero people resulting in the decimation of the latter, and the comprehensive loss of their homeland. It is also the home of secretive species such as Eland, and the extremely rare Cape Vulture. It is otherwise an area of scenic hill country, harsh and broken, and beautiful in the signature way of Namibia.
Fish River Canyon: Situated in the south of the country this is one of the premier regional hiking destinations, although it is also one of the toughest and lest forgiving. Fish River is the second longest canyon in the world, shorter only than the Grand Canyon, and is not dissimilar in terms of climate and landscape. The Fish River Hiking Trail covers 90km of the canyon, staring at the view point of Hobas and finishing at the hot springs of Ai-ais.
This is not a hike for the un-initiated, since once you are in the canyon it is almost impossible to get out, and casualty evacuation is by helicopter. A certificate of health is required before embarkation, giving some sense of how seriously this is taken.
Water is available at the canyon floor, but dehydration is an ever present factor.
Despite this it is a rare and beautiful environment, and the kind of trip that, although sometimes better viewed in retrospect, will be unforgettable.
Namib-Nauikluft: Multi-day treks are also available in the Namib-Nauikluft National Park, through varied landscape and reasonably benign conditions. There are several tour companies offering this trek, although it is not necessary to take this option, and unsupported treks are easy to organize.
Namib Trail: This is a multi day, usually guided trek in the private Namib Rand Nature Reserve. Pick ups are arranged through NamibRand. The reserve covers some 16 000 hectares and represents an authentic slice of the desert ecology of Namibia.
Multi-day Horse trail: This is a 13 day excursion from Windhoek to Swakopmund across the Central Plateau on horseback. It is hard to imagine a more elemental way to see and get close to the landscapes and ecology of Namibia. It is run by Chameleon Holidays.
There are a million and one tour options in Namibia, and you do not have to look too far to find just what you are looking for. The country is great for self hire access to most of the regions and national parks, and being a fundamentally safe travel destination, it is not essential to take advantage of any organized tours. However in the area of overland and 4×4 safaris the first timer in the region will always be at a disadvantage.
4×4 expedition travel: There are a good many companies offering stylish off road adventures into the desert backcountry that are available for a variety of budgets, but on the whole they are not particularly cheap but most are well organized and well supported. Namibia is the last word in African outfield safari rambling, and this is definitely the way to do it, and get the best out of it.
Commercial Overland Trucks: This style of overland travel is arguably the best way to see large tracts of any region from a safe and organized platform. These days overland trucks maintain a fairly routine series of itineraries that cover most of the main sights and destinations. In a country like Namibia the system is perfect, and jumping on an overland truck in Cape Town and jumping off at Victoria Falls is probably the best and most relaxed way to achieve a comprehensive travel itinerary in Namibia, as well as South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Sossusvlei: This is where most of the iconic Namibian late afternoon shots of ochre dunes and cobalt skies originate. It is a small area but is contained within the much larger Namib-Naukluft National Park. It is a must visit destination without which a trip to Namibia is incomplete.
Swakopmund: It is here that the residue of German occupation of Namibia is most visible. The architecture of this small resort town is highly distinctive in this regard, contrasting it sharply with its precarious situation at the edge of the Namibn desert. It is a local holiday mecca, and something of an entrépot for overland travel. Dune surfing or sand boarding is one of the main activities offered, but anything from camel safaris to hot air ballooning can be arranged in this little adrenalin village that is the Namibian adventure capital.
Look out for some of Southern Africa’s choicest backpackers lodges.
SpitzKoppe: An isolated inselberg. Klein Spitzkoppe is 1584 meter above sea level and Groote Spitzkoppe s 1728m. Situated near Usako between Swakopmund and Karibib.
Walvis Bay: The only commercial seaport in Namibia, Walvis Bay hosts an important wetland bird habitat, which is nothing if not an anomaly in Namibia. It is also an excellent fishing, kite surfing and dolphin watching destination. Look out for the pink flamingos and other aquatic birdlife. Great seafood, and of course the dunes of the Namib are not far away.
Food and Drink
They say it is impossible to be a vegetarian in Namibia. Of course this is not so, it is simply disappointing. Meat intake is high, but seafood along the coast is excellent. Cosmopolitan cuisine is available in the main centers, but authentic Namibian cuisine has either a rather bland indigenous flavor, or a slightly less bland Teutonic flavor. Look out for some of the best German beers in Africa.