Namibia- Expert reviews
A place to bond with the desert and marvel at the stars
It’s rare for travellers to return from Namibia with anything other than glowing praise. I’m always impressed by the spacious drama of its desert landscapes, where oryx pick their way over towering, apricot-coloured dunes or stare out from under solitary camelthorn trees, ostriches dash through the shimmering haze and desert-adapted elephants lumber along dry river beds. At dusk, the air reverberates with the chinking call of geckos as Namibia’s huge skies mould themselves into a dizzying dome of stars.
Best of all, these splendours are accessible – while you might feel apprehensive about venturing into the trackless Sahara, Namibia’s great desert regions are loosely crisscrossed with decent gravel roads, making it easy enough to explore.
Sparsely populated, but with enough mineral wealth to make it one of Africa’s more prosperous countries, Namibia, though somewhat troubled by land reform issues, is largely a model of peace, stability and inter-ethnic respect. I’ve always felt very comfortable here. If you’re self-reliant and confident behind the wheel of a 4x4, you need feel no qualms about travelling totally independently, staying at simple campsites or fabulously designed bush lodges as you go.
Organised adventures are available, too, and feature some of Africa’s rarer experiences, such as spending time with Ju’Hoansi Bushmen, whose ancestors marked rock faces in the northern semi-desert with engravings of giraffes and antelopes, possibly as a wildlife primer for youngsters. You can also explore one of Africa’s loneliest coasts, track black rhinos through the semi-desert on foot, or get close to big cats in rescue centres. Some of these activities are ground-breaking in that they’re made possible through the conservancy system, whereby traditional rural communities taking a decisive role in environmental and cultural conservation. For more animal action and superb birdwatching, the busy waterholes of Etosha National Park and the riverine wilderness of the Zambezi Region, Namibia’s green lung, definitely deliver.
Wildlife in the Desert
I could extoll the virtues of Namibia forever. Scenically spectacular and as varied as anywhere. This is a country of endless vistas; barren deserts with the most beautiful sand dunes you’re ever likely to see; fertile swamps and grasslands, cute little towns with a distinct German air and, best of all, some of the most impressive wildlife viewing on the continent.
What makes Namibia so special though is how easy it is to take all this in on a self-drive, fully independent, safari that won’t break anyone’s bank account. Distances in Namibia might be long but the roads are generally in reasonable shape meaning a 4x4 is rarely needed for much of the country. It’s also a very safe country with crime against tourists very rare indeed even in the bigger towns (which frankly are still virtual villages). It’s true that you don’t get the sheer density of wildlife here that you might find in some other African countries, but the variety of species and relative lack of crowds make Namibia one of the best safari destinations in Africa. On one day you can be viewing a smelly, noisy colony of thousands of Southern Cape seals and on the next watching elephants amble out of the dry woodlands to a water hole. There are abandoned mining towns half-buried under sand dunes, a fascinating tribal culture and buffalo hiding in waterweed covered swamps.
If you’re looking for that perfect ‘first-time’ Africa experience but one that still holds a sense of the unexpected then Namibia is unbeatable.... more
Sand, salt pans and stars: Southern Africa’s wild west
Most of Namibia is comprised of harsh and inhospitable desert, yet I’m not sure there’s anywhere in the world that I consider more beautiful. Namibia was the first place I really travelled in Africa, and it continues to hold a special place in my heart.
Etosha National Park is one of the most popular and accessible Big 5 wildlife areas on the continent, and the incredible moon-like expanse of the Etosha Pan makes for a great backdrop to your game-viewing experience.
Although Namibia is sadly experiencing a recent spike in poaching of its elephants and rhinos, the country enshrines wildlife conservation in its constitution and the government has invested considerable time and money in the development of ethical tourism. Many of the private game lodges and wildlife areas directly benefit local communities.
Given the unforgiving environment, it’s not surprising that wildlife density is not as great in most of Namibia as in some other countries in the region, but, if you’re lucky, here you can have the unique opportunity of seeing rare desert elephants, and perhaps the even rarer desert-dwelling lions. Namibia also has the highest population of free-roaming black rhino in Africa.
What Namibia might lack in wildlife density, it more than makes up for in wide open spaces, incredible vistas and big starry skies. Standing on the top of the great dunes of Sossusvlei at sunrise or sunset and watching the changing colours and contours of the sand was an unforgettable experience for me, as was a tour around the strange and ghostly abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop.
Tha aptly-named Skeleton Coast (so-called for the numerous shipwrecks that can be found here) is a hub of interesting marine life, and the incongruous coastal town of Swakopmund is an adventure enthusiast’s dream.
But for me, the real highlight of Namibia is found, simply, in its incredible feeling of almost other-worldly isolation.... more
Natural wonders of Namibia
If you love dune-scapes and deserts, then Namibia is the place for you. The iconic views of Dune 45 and Deadvlei at Sossusvlei certainly live up to even the highest of expectations, particularly in the early morning light. Taking a helicopter flight or a hot-air balloon trip over the desert puts into perspective its sheer vastness, with nothing but a sea of sand as far as the eye can see. There is life in the desert though – the dunes themselves are slowly moving with the winds, and clever wildlife has adapted to survive the parched conditions. It’s worth hiring a guide for a desert walk, to really understand the complexities of life and survival here.
But if wildlife is your passion, then head to Etosha, particularly in the dry season when all sizes of animals from antelope to elephants head to the shimmering Etosha Pan followed closely by hungry predators – at 5000 sq km it covers almost a quarter of the entire National Park. For a different perspective to Namibia’s wildlife, head to the Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi Strip), that odd streak of land jutting out into Zambia, Angola and Bostwana, which is dominated by huge rivers and lush floodplains. The wildlife isn’t as prolific as in Etosha but there are far fewer tourists and the change of scenery into a watery wonderland is stunning.
If you enjoy walking, the Fish River Canyon and surrounding farmlands offer glorious but challenging trekking through one of the world’s most dramatic gorges – with nothing around you for miles and miles other than the spectacular scenery, the region offers wild camping in its truest sense. Be prepared for the heat and dryness here – at one point after a long day’s walk, we threw ourselves fully clothed into the river, desperate to cool down. The Naukluft mountains offer gentler day walks or another tough eight-day trek, the Naukluft Hiking Trail, which I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to attempt.
With all these natural wonders, it’s easy to overlook Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, which is a shame because its centre is a pleasant, pretty area in which to wander. A township tour of Katutura helps to unravel the history of this vast yet sparsely populated country which only achieved independence in 1990 and provides an insight into the lives of the locals here.
Dunes, Deserts and Scenic Splendour
Namibia is sometimes referred to as ‘the land God made in anger’ – a seemingly apt description for what at first glance appears to be an inhospitable wasteland of sand and rock where only the hardiest plants, animals and indigenous people are able to eke out an existence. But, safari goers who scratch a little deeper will find that the country is actually a geologically diverse and truly fascinating land, perfectly suited to travellers wanting to explore and experience a unique, desolate and predominantly arid wilderness where gobsmacking scenery frequently takes precedence over wildlife. Dominated by the arid Namib and Kalahari deserts, this thirsty realm is home to some of the most bizarre and beautiful landscapes on earth.
The world-renowned red dunes of Sossusvlei are probably the most photographed landscape in all of Africa. The arid Cunene region with its desert-adapted elephants, rhinos and lions makes for a unique safari experience, especially when the wildlife aspect is combined with the cultural experience of a visit to interact with the Himba villagers in this remote region. Etosha, boasting the Big 5 and all of Africa’s big cats, is undoubtedly Namibia’s premier park and top wildlife-viewing area. Jutting out east towards the Zambezi, the Zambezi Region gives Namibia its own little slice of lush, watery wilderness and provides an excellent opportunity for safari aficionados to combine a slither of more well-watered African safari terrain with the country’s jaw-dropping desert landscapes and the abundant animals of arid Etosha.
Furthermore, Namibia has excellent tourist infrastructure and plenty of self-drive friendly safari options. There is no malaria outside of the Caprivi and these factors combine to make it an affordable and family-friendly safari destination. No matter which season you choose to visit in, or which regions of this sparsely population country you choose to visit, Namibia is a place of solitude, magnificent terrain, wide-open spaces and deafening silence that inevitably leaves tourists speechless at its incredible wealth of stark natural beauty.
Namibia breaks the mould. Its rugged rock and desert landscapes provide a quite different backdrop – and thus different visitor experience – from any other African safari destination. For many, the country’s attractions are as much about the scenery as the wildlife. Certainly, I was taken aback by the sheer power of the landscape on my first visit, and the excitement of camping under the stars in a genuine wilderness ¬– from the huge dunes of the Namib Desert to the sculptured rock formations of Damaraland – left an indelible impression.
Nonetheless, the wildlife enthusiast will still find plenty to get excited about. Etosha is undoubtedly one of Africa’s top ten game parks, with its huge dry season concentrations of game – and abundant predators – creating some of the best waterhole spectacles on the continent. Big game also occurs in smaller numbers elsewhere in the north, from the Zambezi Region, the one area of the country with enough water to support species such as hippo and buffalo, to the Kaokoveld, where desert-adapted black rhinos and elephants are a unique attraction. And it’s not all about big game: the arid landscapes are home to numerous lesser-known species that are hard or even impossible to find elsewhere, from brown hyena to shovel-snouted lizard. Birders can pursue endemics, such as dune lark and Rüppell’s korhaan, and enjoy the great water bird spectacles of the coast, where flamingoes, pelicans, cormorants and others flock in huge numbers to sites such as Walvis Bay.
Roughly 15% of Namibia is protected within reserves, and the healthy tourist infrastructure ranges from simple national park accommodation to upmarket lodges. Specialist activities such as balloon rides and bushman tracking aim to make the most of the desert experience. Despite its rugged landscapes, the country has a good transport network and is an excellent destination for the independent, self-drive traveller. And you don’t have to be a wilderness pioneer: I was amazed at how far you can take a simple family car – just so long as you plan your petrol stops in advance.
The Sheltering Desert
The Sheltering Desert is the title of a wonderful book by Henno Martin, describing how he hid out in the Namib Desert during the Second World War. Read it and you will discover why so many visitors fall under the spell of this extraordinary country.
Namibia is four times the size of Britain, with a population of fewer than two million people. Most of it is desert. Some of its rivers do not flow for years. In some places, rain falls perhaps once a century. The result is a land more like Mars than our own blue planet, but with a life of its own. In Damaraland you can track desert-dwelling elephants and rare black rhinos. In Etosha national park you can find all the big five, and you’ll never get closer to cheetahs than you can at Okonjima. But in Namibia it is the land itself that grabs the eye. At Sossusvlei you’ll marvel at brick-red dunes as high as the Sussex Downs. On the Skeleton Coast you’ll stroll through the sea fog on beaches strewn with shipwrecks, whalebones and brown hyena tracks. And in the burnt-out badlands and stony valleys of the Namib-Naukluft national park you’ll find the weird welwitschia, one of the world’s oldest, most primitive plants. Some are said to have been growing there for 1,500 years. Fly-in safaris are the way to go, providing sensational views and allowing you to reach the most inaccessible locations. Or drive yourself. Namibia has miles of good roads and very little traffic.
Land of open spaces
Namibia is one of the world’s driest and most thinly inhabited countries, supporting a population of two million spread across an area thrice that of the UK. It is a land of lonely, sun-baked roads that run like monochrome ribbons below a cloudless blue sky, a land of terrible thirsty plains and rocky mountains too ravaged and desiccated to be described as pretty, a land of great wide open spaces whose sheer scope – like the glittering night sky above them – is at once humbling, breathtaking and liberating.
For me, if any one landscape evokes Namibia as a whole, it is majestic Sossusvlei, where a series of normally dry pans, lined with spectral dead trees, shimmers below the rippled apricot dunes of the incomprehensibly large Namib-Naukluft National Park. Elsewhere, there is the gaping Fish River Canyon, one of the world’s largest ravines, as well as the quaint and fabulously isolated Germanic seaside resort towns of Swakopmund and Lüderitz, and the superlative prehistoric rock art of the Brandberg and Twyfelfontein regions.
Although Namibia is more about spectacular desert scenery – truly a photographer’s dream – than a conventional safari experience, it does offer some great wildlife viewing in places. Tracking the desert-adapted elephants and black rhinos of Damaraland is an unforgettable adventure, as is visiting the region’s largest colony of Cape fur seals at Cape Cross, in the aptly named Skeleton Coast National Park. Best of all, however, is the vast Etosha National Park, named after a vast seasonal pan that attracts game concentrations that compare favourable with any African reserve.
Unspoilt wilderness and unique and stunning landscapes offering a variety of contrasting safari expe
A hauntingly beautiful country that stretches along the west coast of southern Africa, with wide open spaces, big skies and some of the earth's most mystical and vivid sunsets, any visitor is blown away by the way Namibia ‘looks’ – the landscapes here are totally different to any other African country. As one of my favourite destinations, I have an endless list of why it appeals so much, but I think overall its Namibia’s unconfined space, silence and extremes that make it so interesting – it’s literally exposed to the mercy of the elements and how the flora and fauna, even the littlest things like insects and plants, and in some regions the people, survive in such an inhospitable environment is fascinating to see. It features a brutally hot climate, shimmering sun soaked plains, rugged mountains, great canyons, barren red-sand deserts, and a furiously wild coast.
I find it an incredibly rewarding safari destination – not just for animals (which, while they are numerous in their diversity, are less in concentrations than other southern African regions) but for its fascinating variety of habitats. Most types of big game can be found in the parks and reserves such as Etosha, including a number of rare species, and even in the desert you'll find elephant, rhino, and numerous antelope. The birdlife too is magnificent, especially so in the well-watered fertile finger-like Zambezi Region which is nothing like the rest of the country’s arid landscapes.
While the official tourist hot spots are spread all over the map, it has a fully developed infrastructure an impressively organized tourism industry with an excellent choice of accommodation and activities. Despite its vastness, I also find its geographical location is a bonus too; it provides an ideal addition to visits to South Africa and Botswana, and where the Caprivi ends in the east, the traveller is within a stone's throw of the mighty Victoria Falls.
The stark beauty of Namibia
Most of Namibia’s environment is arid and harsh, and yet there are few people who wouldn’t call this country beautiful. The desolate landscapes of the Namib Desert are picture perfect. Photographers, myself included, love to get creative here. I would be happy to come back to Namibia over and over again for the scenery alone. I love driving along the empty roads, with not a soul in sight, just emptiness. A lot of the country is very monotonous, but at the end of a long dusty journey there is usually another natural wonder.
Namibia is also an amazing wildlife destination. The Skeleton Coast is a great place to see marine wildlife including the Cape fur seal. Etosha National Park, with its pans of water attracting a big variety of animals, is one of the great parks in Africa. But it was some of the more remote places that really captured my heart. Tracking desert elephants in Damaraland has been a highlight in my African travels. A place that really impressed its isolation on me was the Kaokoland. Wildlife is thin on the ground here, but the fact that there is any wildlife at all seems amazing. My highlight was the simple sight of a lone gemsbok, walking between the dunes and kicking up dust against the setting sun.... more
An unrivalled canvas for your photos
Namibia is oft-overlooked as a safari spot, but this largely desert-like country harbours some striking animal encounters. The sandy landscape of Etosha National Park provides an unusual backdrop to your animal images, setting them instantly apart from photos with more familiar greenery and savannah settings. The often arid park's many waterholes are the perfect place to picnic, offering sightings of varied species at the same time. For me though, a trip around Namibia is as much about the landscape as the animals that inhabit it. Sand plays a large part in the set design, be it the white sand of the Skeleton Coast or the shifting russet-coloured dunes of striking Sossusvlei. Further south, there's the Fish River Canyon, a sight that will keep you staring for hours, while the crashing waves of the icy Atlantic seem to provide some refreshment in this scorched but beautiful land.
On Safari in Namibia
With South Africa, Botswana and Zambia adjutting its borders, Namibia often flies under the radar of safari-seekers, but it shouldn’t. Etosha stands as one of the great wildlife viewing venues of the continent. From here it's true that no other park is snapping at its heels, in terms of wildlife possibilities, but the Namibian landscape, often captured within the boundaries of its protected areas is out of this world...literally. The landscape in places lends itself to a more lunar feel or at least something otherworldly. If you are on a self-drive safari stop the vehicle every now and then and just get outside (in parks such as Khaudum, this is allowed): savour the silence, the swirling desert sands, the towering dunes, the granite slabs rising out of constantly changing sands and the snaking desert roads disappearing into an endless horizon. It's an unforgettable place. Even on a wildlife safari it sometimes seems as though spotting animals is just a bonus, the real privilege is immersing yourself in the ancient fabric of this glorious landscape. That said, there are plenty of possibilities for those who, in particular, get their kicks from seeing herd animals such as antelope, and of course elephants whose booming population makes them a relatively easy spot. It doesn't mean you won't catch the rest of the big five - it’s one of the best places in Southern Africa to see black rhino; lions are a chance; where there is water there are sometimes herds of buffalo, and leopards are difficult to spot but never far away. And as for elephants – just head for the Zambezi Region...... more