Namibia – 7 things not to miss
Namibia, on the south-west corner of Africa offers wide open places and solitude (if that’s what you seek) like no other destination in Southern Africa.
Larger than France and Belgium (where?) combined, large parts of Namibia are desert with the Kalahari Desert straddling Namibia’s border with Botswana and South Africa whilst the Namib-Naukluft, the oldest desert on the planet, cuts a huge swathe northwards from Luderitz up to Swakopmund and up to 80 miles inland with dunes up to 1,000 feet high. North of Swakopmund the Namib narrows as it heads towards Angola forming what is known as the Skeleton Coast. More on this later.
To the north are some simply stunningly remote valleys as well as the huge saltpans of the Etosha National Park, the main wildlife reserve in the country.
That’s enough of the geography – now where to go for those must have experiences.
Fish River Canyon
Located in the far south of the country, inland from the diamond field, is the largest in Africa and s second largest in the world at 100 miles long, 17 miles wide and over 1,600 feet deep. It’s best reached via a flight from Windhoek to Luderitz or as part of a wider self-drive itinerary – but allow for a couple of stops en route from Windhoek as it’s not far short of a 500 mile drive; it’s closer to Cape Town than Windhoek.
The best place to stay is at the Canyon Lodge on the rim.
Heading north from the small town of Aus, having visited the deserted diamond town of Kolmanskop, will take you into the Namib Naukluft Desert towards the towering sand-dune landscape of Sossusvlei, home to dunes up to 1,000 feet tall.
A ‘vlei’ is an intermittent shallow lake the most dramatic of which is Deadvlei where the whiteness of the salt flats provides a stark contrast to the ever changing colours of the sand, all offset by the sky – this is a photographer’s paradise.
For the ultimate experience take an early morning balloon flight over the ever changing landscape and lots of camera memory cards.
My favourite lodge is Little Kulala – https://www.signatureafricansafaris.com/destinations/namibia/sossusvlei/little-kulala/ – but for position and value Kulala Desert Lodge – https://www.signatureafricansafaris.com/destinations/namibia/sossusvlei/kulala-desert-lodge/ is hard to beat.
An Atlantic coastal town with more than a hint of Bavaria ……….yes really, Bavaria, Swakopmund is an excellent place to break your exploration of Namibia with a warm shower and a cold beer; a Windhoek lager of course. Choose from one on many good locally run guest houses for some good homely Namibian hospitality or open the wallet and stay at The Hansa.
I wouldn’t really call Swakopmund a beach resort unless you like the chill waters of the Atlantic but it is the thrill seekers capital with a plethora of activities to choose from including sand-boarding, quad-biking and parachuting as well as the more genteel past-times of sea angling, horse-riding and kayaking. And many, many more.
The Skeleton Coast
Probably the most iconic location in Namibia, the Atlantic Coastline got its name from the name of a book printed in 1944 about the shipwreck of the Dunedin Star which told of the skeletons of whale and seals. The local bush men call it ‘the land God made in anger’ because of its harsh conditions, stark steep sided valleys and jagged mountains.
But that was then and the limited number of camps and lodges that offer access to the Skeleton Coast offer levels of comfort a world away from 70 years ago.
The best lodge to stay at is Wilderness’s Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, a relatively new lodge receiving rave reviews.
The Etosha National Park
The remains of a huge lake the Etosha National Park, the premier game reserve in Namibia, has massive salt pans (over 8,500 sq miles in total) at its heart and is home to a large number and diversity of wildlife. You can self-drive in the park or stay at locally run rest camps such as Halali, Namutomi (sight of an old German fort) and Okakeujo or one of a number of privately owned and run lodges on the outskirts of the park.
For a balance between the rest camps and the private lodge, try Andersson’s Camp on the Etosha’s southern edge. https://www.signatureafricansafaris.com/destinations/namibia/etosha-national-park/anderssons-camp/
The Caprivi Strip
A throwback to the old colonial days the Caprivi Strip is a narrow, arrow straight strip of land that separates Botswana from Angola and then Zambia, and gives access to the Zambezi River, which eventually reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. The idea was that Germany, which ‘owned’ what was then called German South-West Africa, could gain quick navigational access from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean; shame they forgot about Victoria Falls!
Anyway it is now offers a great self-drive route from northern Namibia into the more verdant areas of northern Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
I would stay at Hakusembe River Lodge as a good place to relax and break the journey.
The Hartmann Valley
If you want to experience silence and solitude then travel to the far north-west and the region known as Kunene, on the border with Angola. Here you will find the Hartmann Valley, a landscape of such incredible beauty that a stop, with a G&T in hand, just seems the right thing to do.
I doubt if there is a more remote part of Namibia.
The nomadic Himba people call this region their home and the remains of their temporary shelters can be seen in the valleys and on the hillsides, usually fairly close to a water source.
Although it seems a shame to break the peace, getting around on quad bikes is a great way to explore the area as is a boat ride up the Kunene River.
My choice of accommodation would be Serra Cafema, although there are some more rustic bush camps in the region that I would equally recommend. Whatever you do – just get there.