A personal insight in to some of the elements that make Namibia such a captivating country to travel to.
15 Jun 2020
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In these uncertain times, when travelling is off the table, it is a good time to reflect on happy memories of trips past and why they were so enjoyable.
For me, it is Namibian holidays that always spring to mind as the most memorable adventures through Africa. This captivating desert country has so much to offer, with breathtaking landscapes, fascinating desert-adapted wildlife and a huge variety of ways to be active.
Here are my top 8 reasons why I love Namibia, hopefully they will help convey why this is such a wonderful place to visit and inspire you to make a trip there too
1. It is epic for road trips
Being able to self-drive on any holiday makes it a real adventure – the feeling of exploring under your own steam is a truly wonderful one. Picking up a 4x4 and hitting the open road is the best way to explore Namibia and is a huge part of what makes a trip here so special. Driving from place to place is very much part of the adventure here, with the ever-changing landscapes ensuring that no two journeys are the same. The roads are largely empty, so there is no driving through endless streams of traffic and there are plenty of places to stop for a drinks break or a picnic lunch whilst you enjoy the mesmerising views that unfold wherever you look. Self-driving also allows you to explore the many National Parks and highlights of the country such as Etosha, Damaraland and Sossusvlei without the need for hiring a guide or joining a group. Whether travelling as a couple, a family or a larger group of friends, a road trip through Namibia is a fabulous experience and one that will live long in the memory.
2. Wildlife that has to be seen to be believed
A first glance at the landscapes of Namibia may lead a visitor to think it is devoid of wildlife, it is after all a seemingly dry desert with little to no apparent water sources. However, once you start exploring it is quickly apparent nothing could be further from the truth. Spending time in the beautiful Central Highlands, where big cat conservation projects take place at the world-famous Okonjima Nature Reserve is a real highlight of any trip, as is the iconic Etosha National Park. There are few better ways to spend time here than parking up by a waterhole for a few hours and waiting to see what comes along for a drink – lion, leopard, elephant rhino and more – the possibilities are endless. Damaraland is home to significant populations of desert-adapted elephant and rhino and the associated conservation projects which are fascinating to spend time learning about. Even as you drive through more remote areas of the country wildlife can be spotted in the most unlikely areas, stately oryx climbing the dunes of Sossusvlei, lion and hyena roaming the beaches of the Skeleton Coast and dainty springbok grazing on the plains of the Kalahari.
3. The beautiful sunsets
There are few more iconic African experiences than watching the sun set over the endless plains, preferably with a glass of something cold in your hand. Namibia is home to some of the most special sunsets I have ever experienced, with the deserts turned to every hue of orange as day turns to night. Some of the most striking spots for sundowners include:
Overlooking the waterhole at Okaukuejo Camp where rhino can often be seen coming to drink.
The clifftop bar at Mowani Mountain Camp – one of the most innovative features of any lodge in Africa.
The terrace of the Strand Hotel in Swakopmund – there really is something about seaside sunsets.
Mountainside drinks on one of the sundowner drives from Hoodia Desert Lodge, close to the towering sand dunes of Sossusvlei.
The pool deck at Fish River Lodge – the views across the Fish River Canyon are stunning and the night skies that follow sunset are one of Namibia’s finest features.
4. E-Bike the deserts of the Western Kalahari
Electronic bikes are all the rage these days, eco-friendly and allowing riders to cover huge distances, especially welcome in the heat of the Kalahari Desert. This is one of the best spots in all of Africa to enjoy e-biking trails, zipping through the rolling sea of red sand dunes and marvelling at the stunning landscapes. As you ride guides will point out the varied wildlife you see, including oryx, springbok and ostrich, as well as help identify the sign of the more secretive cats, both big and small that live their elusive lives in the desert. They really are a wonderful way to explore, sedate but exciting, with plenty to see and do as you ride through this much under-visited but rewarding part of the country
5. Morning walks through Kolmanskop
Not far from Namibia’s foreboding Atlantic coast, a short drive from the port town of Luderitz, the old diamond mining town of Kolmanskop, long abandoned, sits as a monument to one of Namibia’s great boom and bust stories. From barren desert, this patch of land became a thriving community, whose wealth was built on the discovery of diamonds beneath the sands. Nowadays the buildings; old houses, hotels, a hospital and even a skittles alley are rapidly being reclaimed by the desert sands, lending and eery ghost town feel to proceedings. Tours depart from Luderitz each morning, with guides on hand to tell the fascinating story of the discovery of diamonds, how Kolmanskop became, for a short time, one of the most prosperous places on the planet before being abandoned almost as quickly as it was discovered and left to fall in to ruin. They also sell special photography permits, allowing more wide-ranging access to the town and the chance to take some truly extraordinary photographs.
6. Hiking in the Fish River Canyon
In the cooler winter months, between May and September, the southern part of Namibia becomes the perfect spot for exploring on foot. The most intriguing part to explore on foot is undoubtedly the mighty Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world which straddles the border between Namibia and South Africa. Many lodges in the region offer day walks in the canyon and along the rim, but the best way to explore is on multi-day hikes which include camping overnight on the canyon floor. As you walk you see the sheer sides of the canyon rising, seemingly forever above you as the Great Fish River flows along the floor. There is something wonderfully simple about these trips, exploring on foot, cooking over a campfire and sleeping under the stars. As travel experiences in Africa move more and more towards the luxury end of the scale, these walks are a step back to the Africa of old and an experience to be treasured.
7. A dawn drive through the avenue of dunes
The iconic red sand dunes of Sossusvlei are inarguably the best-known feature of Namibia, featuring on the front of guidebooks, brochures and travel website the world over. Climbing these dunes and marvelling at the view from the top is undoubtedly a wonderful experience, but for me it is that drive along the approach road, just after daybreak, that is the highlight of any trip here. The earlier you get to the gate at Sesriem the better, meaning you avoid the queues and one of the first vehicles on the tarred road that leads you through to the parking area. As you drive, the incredible contrast of colours quickly becomes apparent, black on one side and burnt orange on the other where the sun is shining on the dunes. Amazing for photographers, or simply those who want to enjoy one of the most beautiful sights they could wish to see, the approach road to the dunes at dawn is truly an amazing Namibian experience.
8. Boat cruises in the Caprivi Strip
Away from the seemingly endless deserts that cover much of Namibia, the lush, verdant Caprivi Strip feels like a completely different world, where winding rivers, open grasslands and forests replace the stark desert plains. With abundant wildlife, especially birdlife, this is a superb area for game viewing, with the boat cruises along the Okavango River one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time here. The afternoons are the best time to enjoy these, with the sun starting to dip in the sky so it is getting cooler and animals are out in the open much more. With a coolbox full of drinks and snacks taken along, these boat cruises are a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy time in this unique part of Namibia.