The landscape is Namibia’s defining natural asset. People use all sorts of words to describe it: vast, endless, magnificent, and unimaginable, among others. Good words as far as words go, but they don’t really do Namibia’s top attractions justice. There simply is no frame of reference, nothing that comes close to seeing the sunset at Sossusvlei, spending the day playing at Swakopmund or visiting the Himba in Damaraland. You have to experience it yourself, and then encourage others to do the same.
Below is a list of the top 10 destinations of Namibia in no particular order.
Etosha National Park
Today’s Etosha National Parkwas claimed as Namibia’s first conservation area in 1907. One of Africa’s best game reserves, its eastern territory is dominated by a vast, shallow pan of silvery sand while the rest of the park is covered with sparse shrubs, grassy plains and hilly mopane woodlands – a total of 22,000 sq. km.
During the dry season, tens of thousands of animals converge to drink at the waterholes – elephant, giraffe, rhino and lion, possibly leopard, cheetah and much more. Luckily, the park was designed to make viewing such game easy. Good roads, signposts and plenty of lookouts make Etosha perfect for self-drive tours, and the three rest camps of Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni offer many choices when it comes to lodging. You’ll also find restaurants, stores and other services in the vicinity.
Seeing vast herds of game against this backdrop, referred to in the local vernacular as ‘the great white place of dry water’ makes the Etosha game viewing experience truly unique. It’s a must see.
Sossusvlei means ‘the gathering place of water” though seldom will you find water here. Instead you’ll find the highest sand dunes in the world and perhaps Namibia’s most outstanding scenic attraction.
These dunes, part of the Namib Desert, have developed over a period of many millions of years. The result of material flowing from the Orange River dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, carried northward and then returned again to land by the surf.
Here the wind continuously shifts the sand further and further inland, reshaping patters in warm tints that contrast vividly with the dazzling white surface of the large deflationary clay pans at their bases. Climbing up one of these dunes provides breath-taking views of the whole area, including Deadvlei, a large ghostly expanse of dried white clay punctuated by skeletons of ancient camelthorn trees, carbon dated between 500-600 years old.
The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset when the dunes refract spectacular colours, ranging from burnt orange, red and deep mauve. It’s a photographer’s dream.
Swakopmund and Walvis Bay
Swakopmund is Namibia’s playground, a holiday destination for tourists and locals alike looking to escape the heat of the interior and to have a little adventure.
The city itself resembles a small German town and manages to create a feeling of timelessness with its palm-lined streets, seaside promenades, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and museums. And while there’s plenty to do within city limits, the real action happens in the desert surrounding Swakopmund.
Quad-biking, sand-boarding, sand-skiing, parasailing and dozens of other guided adrenaline inducing activities are available by reservation from many of the adventure companies operating in the area. At Walvis Bay, visitors can join a dolphin cruise or explore the lagoon on a kayak tour.
Even with all this excitement Swakopmund serves as a good break during a busy vacation. Relax and have fun in a place well suited for both.
Damaraland and Kaokoveld
Damaraland and Kaokoveld demand a certain level of respect. Beautiful, but arid and unforgiving, attractions near this area have names like Burnt Mountain, the Petrified Forest, the Skeleton Coast – all aptly named and an indication of the drama found here. Occupying a huge, harsh stretch of landscape to the northwest of the country, even the people and wildlife have adapted accordingly.
The Himba, a tall, slender and statuesque people, rub their bodies with red ochre and fat to protect their skins against the climate. Desert adapted elephants have special behavioural characteristics, large annual and seasonal ranges and a social structure and daily activities to cope with the environment.
Thankfully for visitors, there are many great desert accommodation options, which mean you don’t have to rough it in Damaraland and Kaokoveld in the slightest.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is the second largest natural gorge in the world and the largest in Africa. Set in a harsh, stony plain dotted with drought resistant succulents, such as the distinctive quiver tree or kokerboom, the canyon is a spectacular natural phenomenon.
Formed over 500 million years ago, Fish River Canyon was created not only by water erosion, but through the collapse of the valley bottom due to movements in the earth’s crust. It drops vertically by half a kilometre without any warning. And as with most rivers in Namibia, the Fish River is generally dry except in the raining season, from January to April.
Beyond being a great place to take amazing photographs, the Fish River Canyon has become a popular hiking destination. The most popular trail, the aptly named Fish River Hiking Trail, is a 4-day, 86 km expedition open from May to September requiring a doctor’s approval to participate. With no services except for at the beginning and end, it’s obviously not for the faint of heart.
To the west of Khorixas is Twyfelfontein, a massive open-air art gallery carved into red rock by ancient Bushmen overlooking an expansive valley below. The engravings, some estimated to be 6,000 years old, record the wildlife seen in area – giraffe, rhinoceros, elephants, ostrich, even a lion depicted with a 90 degree kink in its tail.
It is believed by many that the creators incised their engravings as a means of entering the supernatural world and recording their shamanic experience among the spirits. Whatever the meaning, the site was awarded world heritage status in 2008.
As the mid-day heat makes it difficult to photograph the etchings, the best time to visit Twyfelfontein is in the morning. Second place goes to late afternoon or early evening with the promise of an excellent sunset.
Caprivi is a narrow strip of land in the far northeast of Namibia. About 400 km long, it protrudes from the rest of the country like a finger, owns a very unique history and shares borders with 4 other countries – Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is the wettest region of Namibia by a great margin and consists mostly of extensive wetlands, floodplains, woodlands and rivers, like the Okavango and Zambezi. This habitat sustains a large variety of animal and bird species.
Spectacular herds of elephant, buffalo, red lechwe and reedbuck are among the highlights of any game viewing experience. But be careful, the waters are also home to five-meter long crocodiles and families of hippopotamus, which venture onto the floodplains at night to feed.
Other attractions include Popa Falls, which are more rapids than waterfall, but nonetheless impressive as they rage through a four-meter high rocky riverbed intrusion amongst beautiful scenery.
The world’s largest continuous stretch of sand, the Kalahari Desert isn’t technically desert at all. Thanks to a modest measure of rainfall the landscape is well vegetated with a variety of trees, shrubs, camelthorn, red ebony and other acacias. In springtime the plains are covered in blankets of flowers and grass while the summer rains bring a fair share of greenery.
This physical beauty only enhances the real, true allure of the Kalahari – the liberating silence and solitude found in so much open space. Visitors describe their visit as an almost spiritual experience and emotionally enriching.
And of course, no visit here is complete without meeting the proud San Bushmen. Tour operators will respectfully make such introductions with the tribe where you can learn about their traditions, origins and knowledge of living in the bushveld. In some cases you can still listen to their unique use of ‘click’ language, a wonderful experience in itself.
Perhaps by accident or a stroke of meticulous German planning, Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is located at the geographic centre of the country surrounded by rolling mountains. It’s not only the perfect place to start or finish your holiday, but well worth a visit in its own right.
The influence of German colonization is still present in language, architecture and restaurants where one can savour traditional dishes, bread and beer, and even celebrate Oktoberfest if the timing is right. During the day the city centre has a European café culture feel, laid-back and eclectic, with a pedestrian precinct, bustling shops and market stalls.
It all makes for great people watching, and due to Namibia’s complex and intertwined history, you will see people of all colours and cultures. From the fairest blond to striking women in traditional dress – all seem to possess a wonderful sense of pride, hope and ambition.
Away from the cafes, guided tours are available of many of Windhoek’s main attractions, including Namibia’s National Museum at Alte Feste (Old Fort), the Christuskirche (Christ Church) of the Lutheran parish from the year 1896, and Katutura. This suburb built on South Africa’s apartheid policy in the 1950’s is now a crowded mix of people from different cultures living together in peace and harmony. The same can be said of the entire city.
The Skeleton Coast
Once upon a time the entire coastline of Namibia was called The Skeleton Coast. Today, the moniker mostly refers to the Skeleton National Park, which stretches the northern one-third of Namibia’s shore.
The landscape in the park ranges from wind swept dunes to rugged canyons with walls of richly coloured volcanic rock and extensive mountain ranges.
The park’s ominous name is well earned given the scores of shipwrecks littering the beaches – the work of the Benguela Current, dense fog and rough surf. Bleached whale and seal bones also are visible back from days when the whaling industry was still active. But despite its appearance, the Skeleton National Park houses a great variety of species with its borders – big cats, desert-adapted elephant, black rhino and many more.
You’re best to fly-in to see everything, especially the vast display of shipwrecks, but you can also enter between the Ugab and Hoanib rivers and enjoy the coast’s superb fishing area.
Lüderitz is located along the coast in southern Namibia and is probably the most unique town in Namibia.
Lüderitz is a colourful fishing harbour town with many interesting early 20th century German Art Nouveau buildings. The nearby world renowned Kolmanskop Ghost Diamond Town allows you the opportunity to see and experience what life was once like in this harsh desert landscape.
Lüderitz is also famous for its delicious fresh seafood; lobster, oyster and the much sought after abalone (Cape Perlemoen).
From the colourful fishing harbour and its small waterfront complex, there are daily marine cruises to see Dias Cross, outlying islands with Namibia’s largest colony of African Penguins (Halifax Island), Heaviside Dolphins, Cape Fur Seals (Seal Island) and sometimes whales.
Desert adventure activities are available including; 4×4 Guided and 4×4 self-drive tours into the vast Namib Naukluft Park to the north and the Tsau //Khaeb (Sperrgebiet National Park) to the south. The Tsau / Khaeb covers a large area of 26000km2 and contains over 2300 endemic succulents – the world’s top region for succulents found nowhere else.
Lüderitz can easily be reached by good tarred roads from Windhoek or via frequent Air Namibia flights from Hosea Kutako International Airport. Various accommodation establishments are available including one of Namibia’s leading four star hotels.
To fully appreciate what Lüderitz has on offer, a minimum two night stay is recommended.
For more information on Namibia go to Namibian Tourism Board.
Date: 7 May 2013