Namibia is one of Africa’s newest countries and a destination that boasts vast desert landscape, amazing wildlife and charming colonial villages. From the wild Skeleton Coast to the colossal sand dunes of the oldest desert in the world, Namibia is an adventurer lover’s paradise. Read on to learn 10 of the best things to see and do in Namibia and what makes this wild and untamed country so magical.
1. Explore the Sand Dunes of the Namib Desert
If you want to play in the world’s biggest sandbox, then take a ride 50 miles east of Walvis Bay to the Namib-Naukluft National Park. You will soon see why the sand is such a rich deep red colour when the sun rises over Dune 45. It’s aptly named because it’s 45 km from the Sesriem gate, one of the entrances to the park.
Here you can hire a guide to take you out for some wild off-roading on the dunes using a quad, or you can try your hand at sandboarding down a 1000-foot-tall sand dune. If you stay at the luxurious &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, you can watch the sunset over Dune 45 which will take your breath away.
2. Take a Wild Road Trip on the Skeleton Coast
A road trip along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia is an off-road adventure you will never forget. Along the coast, you will come across a unique blend of colonial German towns such as Swakopmund, great expanses of uninhabited coastline, an abundant supply of wildlife and of course – the Namib Desert. This vast stretch of coast got its name from the countless shipwrecks scattered along the shoreline. Namibia was built for a true African road trip with an incredibly long, flat stretch of hard-pan that runs along the most surreal coastal wilderness in the world. Where else can you drive the desert coast in the company of elephants? But you can only make this trek in a fully equipped 4×4. Make sure you have prepared yourself and your vehicle for any situation as help can be hours away.
3. Experience the Culture and Diversity of Windhoek
When you visit Windhoek, you will be blown away by the diverse influences that make this city a must-visit spot. This quaint and quirky city is tucked away in a small corner of Southern Africa where you will find a mix of Herero, German, Afrikaans, and British cultures.
Windhoek is clean, relatively safe and getting around by taxi or bus is easy. It’s famous for its beer – Windhoek Lager. This is one of the only beers brewed outside of Germany that still brews its beers following the famed German purity law of 1516 called “reinheitsgebot.” As you walk down the tree-lined Independence Avenue, you may feel like you are in a provincial German town, complete with colonial architecture. Check out Joe’s Beer House and chow down on a zebra burger while enjoying a Windhoek Lager.
4. Go on Safari in Etosha National Park
Tucked away in Northern Namibia, Etosha National Park is the country’s premier destination to see a wide variety of wildlife. Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend hours in a 4×4 looking for some of Africa’s “Big Five.” Just head to one of the many watering holes and just wait and watch the wildlife. You’ll see animals such as lion, springbok, giraffes and elephants in droves. During the rainy season, the salt-pans are transformed into shallow lagoons jam-packed with flamingos and pelicans. To get the best views of the park while getting pampered at a luxury safari camp, book a stay at the Dolomite Camp.
5. Take a Cultural Tour to a Himba Village
If you are interested in traditional African culture, a trip to a Himba village in the remote Kunene region of northern Namibia is a must. The Himba (also called OvaHimba) still live very much as their families have done for countless generations. They are pastoral nomads whose livelihood is based on cattle herding, hunting and gathering.
Villages are simple thatched-roof huts made of branches, mud and cow dung. The men, women and children wear very distinctive dress and jewellery and rub a dark red paste called otjize into their skin to protect them from the sun. Tours are led by a local guide who will also be your interpreter. This allows you to visit the villagers and learn about their lives, beliefs and customs. Check with a local tourist office to schedule a visit because availability is always changing.
6. Hike the Fish River Canyon
Believe it or not, the Fish River Canyon is the world’s second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon and is rated as one of the most scenic, but toughest hikes in Africa. You will need to plan ahead by making reservations (you can only hike from May to September because of the heat). You will also need medical proof that you are in good physical shape and getting a guide to get you to the trailhead – but it will be more than worth it!
The Fish River trek is just over 50 miles long and will take you 4 to 5 days to complete. Along the way, you will witness towering rock faces, deep ravines and a rich assortment of bird and animal life. There are even Sulphur springs hot pools along the way to relax from your long day of hiking.
7. Explore the Swakopmund Area
Swakopmund is probably the best place to base yourself as you explore Namibia’s Atlantic coast. This is the place to learn about the cultures of the local Nama and Herero people. This colonial town has finally been able to shed the vestiges of its scarred past and look to a brighter future. There are many tours available for you to meet the locals and visit community craft markets, schools and homes.
Don’t forget to stop for a drink in a local bar or “shebeen” and sample Namibian cuisine. This sleepy seaside town is laid-back and has the charm of a small European town.
Head to Walvis Bay and take a catamaran cruise to spot dolphins, seals, pelicans and whales (July to November). You will also see eerie shipwrecks and oyster platforms that produce some of the best oysters on the planet. Bird watchers will also delight in the amazing species found in the Walvis Bay area.
Rent a 4 x 4 and take a drive to the aptly named “Moon Landscapes of Namibia.” This isolated area is home to craggy outcrops and rocks has a look that is not of this world. This lunar landscape stretches for miles into the vastness of central Namibia.
8. Visit Grosse Spitzkuppe Nature Reserve
Just northeast of Swakopmund is Grosse Spitzkuppe Nature Reserve. This is home to one of Namibia’s most famous landmarks, the Spitzkoppe Mountains and its signature peak—Spitzkoppe. This 120-million-year-old hunk of granite known as the “Matterhorn of Namibia” soars more than a mile above the desert floor and is surrounded by nothing but miles of desert. You just have to stay the night and gaze at the night sky. The clear desert air brings out the stars in all their brilliance and this heavenly display of lights will simply amaze you.
Spitzkoppen Lodge is a great way to enjoy a stay in the Namib Desert. While you are in the area, make a day trip to a place called “Bushman’s Paradise” where you’ll find rock paintings.
Another popular spot for rock paintings is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein. This is home to some of the best cave paintings in Africa, many dating back thousands of years. Step back in prehistoric time to witness first-hand the thousands of carvings and historical rock art created by the stone-age hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa.
9. Explore a Cheetah Rescue Farm
Did you know that Namibia is home to the largest population of wild cheetahs in the world? The sad part of that fact is that cheetahs will sometimes prey on domestic animals like cattle. That does not end well and the cats are usually shot or trapped. There are many in Namibia who have started rescue efforts and have rescued and relocated the cheetah instead of killing them. There are now several cheetah rescue farms in Namibia that are worth a visit. You will even get a chance to interact with these amazing wild cats. The Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park is an awesome way to interact with the cheetah and you might want to stay the night to get the full experience. There are other sanctuaries in Namibia, but this park is a family-run business and you will be made to feel like one of the family.
10. Safari in Bwabwata National Park
Namibia is not just all about the Namib or the Kalahari. Located in the in Caprivi Strip in northeast Namibia, Bwabwata National Park is unlike anything you will find in the country. The Caprivi Strip is a thin strip of land that juts out over northern Botswana. Thanks to the Cunbango River it is a fertile and green oasis. This region feeds right into the well-known Okavango Delta.
Unlike other wildlife parks, the Bwabwata is home both to wildlife and local villages. The government has even set up a program that restocks the area with indigenous wildlife that the locals rely on for hunting. Ecotourism has also brought prosperity and new jobs to the region helping make this area a great destination for visitors looking for something new. The park is also on the migration route for elephants travelling from Southern Angola to Chobe National Park in Botswana, making elephant spotting some of the best around.
Namibia is blessed with some of the most wonderful nature reserves and landscapes on the planet and would make a great addition to anyone wanting to visit Africa. Be sure to add some of these top experiences to your list when planning your trip.
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