Our guide of the what and the where to keep the whole family happy in Namibia
22 Jul 2020
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There are few more enjoyable experiences in Africa than a Namibia family safari, offering an amazing range of experiences, a superb choice of accommodation and being malaria free you can head there as a family knowing no additional medication needs to be taken. Whilst wildlife viewing is of course one of the main focuses here, there is plenty else to keep visitors of all ages entertained throughout a road trip through this beautiful desert country. Here is our guide to the best things to do at each stop as you explore – we always recommend pre-booking activities before you travel as numbers are limited and they get very popular, especially in the main travelling season between May and November. All of these activities can be incorporated in to standard itineraries without having to add any additional time to your trip, with all of these taking up either a half or full day of your time.
Spend time at the AFRICAT Foundation
Headquartered in the Central Highlands at the Okonjima Nature Reserve, one of the first (or sometimes last) stops on a road trip through Namibia, the AFRICAT Foundation does vital work in preserving Namibia’s predator population. The foundation’s aim is to rehabilitate and house predators, mainly leopard, cheetah and wild dog, who have been injured in conflicts with local farmers. Even guests staying just one night at Okonjima are able to spend time with one of the projects run at the reserve, giving them the chance to see real-life conservation projects in action. Whether it is close encounters with cheetah for younger children, or more thorough dedicate safaris for older kids and parents, there is something to delight all visitors to Okonjima. Of special interest for visitors of a nocturnal disposition will be the chance to visit their “night hide” where rarer animals such as honey badger, porcupine and hyena can often be seen.
There can be few better experiences for family bonding than to spend time together on safari in the African bush. Driving through Etosha shortly after sunrise, with that feeling of anticipation as to what you might encounter on the day out is a truly wonderful feeling. The huge variety of wildlife on display means there is plenty to keep even the fussiest of the family happy – rhino lumbering slowly to watering holes, elephant making their stately way across the arid plains or lion and leopard stalking their prey through the scrubby bush that dots the park. For the ultimate family experience pack a picnic lunch (your lodge can provide one), fill your cooler with drinks and head out for a full day safari in the park. You can park up at waterholes to enjoy a break and see what comes to join you for a drink, follow the inevitable stream of vehicles that indicates a good predator sighting or simply explore the park of your own accord and enjoy the peace and solitude that it offers. As a bonus, the road network is very well marked so there is little chance of getting lost – always a bonus when on a family day out in the car!
Track desert rhino in beautiful Damaraland
For families travelling with older children one of the most thrilling experiences Namibia has to offer is the chance to track desert adapted rhino on foot. Enjoyed in the beautiful deserts of northern Damaraland, this incredible experience allows visitors to get up close and personal with these gentle giants of the bush. Enjoyed in the company of hugely experienced guides, you will be able to learn more about these incredible creatures and how they have adapted to thrive in the harsh desert environment in which they live. However, it is undoubtedly the educational aspect to these walks that make them such an appealing prospect for families. They are conducted in conjunction with the Save the Rhino Foundation, which is doing sterling work in protecting rhino across Africa from the poaching epidemic that sadly afflicts them. The rangers will tell guests all about their work, not just in Namibia but across Africa and how they work with local communities to ensure the protection of one of Africa’s most iconic species. A long day out for sure, with lots of walking in hot conditions, but one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry and a truly amazing way to spend some of your time in Namibia.
Visit the ancient petroglyphs of Twyfelfontein
Definitely one for all of the family, a visit to Twyfelfontein’s ancient rock art sites, known by their proper names of petroglyphs, can be visited independently and are a highlight of any trip through the region. Dating back some 6,000 years, there are over 2,500 individual pieces of art across the site, all drawn by the San Bushmen who have inhabiated these barren deserts for millennia. A visit here will allow families to learn more about their way of life, interpret what the etchings mean and marvel at how these resourceful people have managed to survive in such an unimaginably harsh environment. A visit to the Damara Living Museum will also help to bring what you have seen in to context and help to learn more about the deserts and the people who live in them. As well as being such an important cultural part of the country, this is also one of the most scenic, with a series of geological formations, known as The Organ Pipes, a wonderful photography subject and perfect for marvelling at before hitting the road again. The location of the area means a visit here can easily be enjoyed en-route to or from Swakopmund without having to add any extra time to your visit. Perfect for those pushed for time and also those who like to break up long days on the road.
Take a catamaran cruise from Swakopmund
Time spent in Swakopmund is part of almost all family trips to Namibia, allowing a respite from the searing heat of the deserts that this charming little coastal town provides. It is also renowned as being the adventure capital of Namibia, with a huge array of activities on offer in and around the town. Undoubtedly the most relaxing of these activities is a catamaran trip down the coast – the perfect way to spend a day unwinding and enjoying being looked after by the attentive crew of the boat. Drinks and meals are served as you make your leisurely way across the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, enjoying the endless seascapes to one side and the breathtaking orange sands of the Namib Desert to the other. Dolphins often frolic in the wake of the catamaran and the birding is good, with flamingo sightings especially common. A superb day out for all of the family, the catamaran cruises from Swakopmund are immensely popular and definitely need to be pre-book to avoid missing out.
Enjoy guided activities from Shipwreck Lodge
For adventurous families, a trip up the Skeleton Coast, most notably to the wonderfully innovative Shipwreck Lodge is high on the agenda when planning a trip to Namibia. With a wonderful array of activities on offer, this is a perfect family lodge, with the day driving through the remote Skeleton Coast a highlight of any stay here. The scenery on these drives, especially the one along the Hoarusib River which includes a visit to the Clay Castles, is spectacular and allows guests to spot a variety of desert-adapted wildlife including elephant, oryx and springbok as well as possibly lion, brown hyena and giraffe. Further afield day trips to Mowe Bay include a visit to the huge Cape fur seal colony that lives there, as well as visits to various shipwrecks and crashed aircraft that litter the coastline. Families with older children can enjoy quad biking through the dunes, with these trips rounded off by sundowner drinks in this remote but beautiful part of Namibia. A perfect spot for families, the Skeleton Coast is the highlight of any trip.
Climb the iconic sand dunes of Sossusvlei
Almost all visitors to Namibia will include a visit to the iconic towering red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, a beautiful part of the country and one that is appealing to visitors of all ages. The morning trip to the dunes requires a pre-dawn start, but even the most reluctant of early risers will be easy to get out of bed once they know what awaits them at Sossusvlei. The drive through the avenue of dunes as the sun rises is a much-underrated part of the trip, with one side of the dunes still in shadow and the other a bright orange as the sunrises – a perfect subject for keen photographers. The walk up the dunes is quite taxing, although there are three climbable dunes of varying difficulty so there should be one all the family can tackle – have a chat with your lodge and they will advise the most suitable one to take on. A family photo atop one of the dunes is bound to take pride of place in any album of your trip, whilst a stroll through Dead Vlei, an eerily beautiful old salt pan studded with dead trees is also a highlight. En-route back to the lodge a visit to the Sesriem Canyon shouldn’t be missed and helps to create a superb day out and one that is suitable for the whole family.
Soar over the breathtaking Namib Desert
There are few more iconic African experiences than a dawn hot air balloon ride, with the stunning Sossusvlei area home to Namibia’s premier ballooning operation. Families with children over 1.2 metres tall are able to enjoy this amazing experience, with flights operated on a daily basis between February and December each year. Setting off as the sun rises is an amazing experience, with the shadows still cast long over the desert and the orange hue of the desert just starting to show. The flight allows for a wonderfully different perspective of the dunes, with their intertwined razor back formation clearly visible as you fly. Setting down on the desert floor means it is time to enjoy a Champagne breakfast amidst the dunes – a truly wonderful way to start your day and one that will create memories for the whole family to enjoy.
Visit the historic town of Kolmanskop
Visitors who head to the more southern parts of Namibia enjoy some stunning scenery and can also get a glimpse in to one of the most fascinating chapters of Namibia’s history. The abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop can be accessed from the coastal town of Luderitz or the inland village of Aus and is a fascinating morning out for the whole family. The guides will tell the boom and bust story of Kolmanskop and how for a short while it was one of the most affluent towns in the southern hemisphere, with its prosperity founded on the discovery of diamonds in the desert sands. Guests are free to walk through what is now a ghost town, photographing the abandoned buildings that are being reclaimed by the desert sands and make for amazing subjects. Amongst the abandoned buildings are an old skittles alley, shops and houses and the hospital which was home to the first x-ray machine in the southern hemisphere. A wonderful day out for the whole family, a trip to Kolmanskop is a chance to learn about this hugely interesting part of the development of Namibia.
Trek in the vast Fish River Canyon
For many families the chance to really get off the beaten track and explore the wilderness is a huge draw of visiting Namibia and there is no experience that offers this more than the longer multi-day treks through the Fish River Canyon. Enjoyed in the cooler winter months between May and September, these walks take guests down to the canyon floor and along the path of the Great Fish River as it relentlessly carves its way through the area. By day walk the canyon floor and swim in the cool waters of the river whilst marvelling at the towering walls of the canyon that rise high above you. By night enjoy meals cooked over an open fire and drinks from the comfort of your camp chair before retiring to a night spent under the beautiful starry sky. Guides will point out the constellations of the southern hemisphere and help kids identify individual stars. An amazing family bonding experience, there are few better ways to escape Namibia’s admittedly sparse crowds than a few days camping in the canyon. Magical.