Namib is the oldest desert in the world and it is just waiting to be explored from sandboarding to living desert tours, there is something for everyone.
26 Dec 2022
22 Jun 2023
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The sun rises on the tall, red-tinted dunes found within the Namib desert, and creates an otherworldly image. Miniscule insects, scaly reptiles, and even the odd desert-adapted animals call this place home. Rolling in from the west coast, the cold Benguela current allows for the most interesting quest for hydration. In this area, you’ll see some of the most ancient vegetation on earth, complete with roots evolved to be elongated, digging deep for much-needed moisture. The otherworldly fog rolling into the area regularly makes this an alien atmosphere. With sweltering temperatures which dehydrates and dries out, to freezing cold nights and winters - the Namib Desert in Namibia is an enigma, a paradox.
Formed more than 50 million years ago, this is by far the oldest desert in the world, and encompasses the Namib-Naukluft Park, Skeleton Coast & Sperrgebiet National Park, makes up the entire coastline, and is one of the country’s foremost protected heritage sites. This area truly shows the essence of Namibia and what makes it the perfect destination - the endless horizon and deep feeling of solitude which resonates with locals and tourists alike. The perfect destination for introspection and to appreciate one of the most extreme, and beautiful landscapes on the planet. Ok, enough about how magnificent the Namib Desert is - allow me to tell you about what interesting activities await you!
Picture this - you’re standing up or lying on your stomach gliding on a smooth surface (no, I’m not talking about surfing!). The high dunes in the Namib Desert offer one of the best sandboarding experiences on the planet.
Climbing up a dune as high as Big Daddy in Sossusvlei or Dune 7 just outside Walvis Bay does take quite a bit of energy so you need to arrive quite early in the morning to climb before the sand gets too hot for your feet & legs to handle. Let me tell you though - the view from the top is spectacular! You will see endless horizons, dunes that cascade over the expanse of the area and it is by far one of the most amazing locations to see the bright sun rise & set.
This activity is offered by various providers, but we recommend Alter Action Sandboarding in Swakopmund. They offer lie down, standing and tandem options, all great ways to have the most adrenaline-pumping experiences. Keep in mind that they have an age limit of 10 year and up, however younger children are welcome to travel with a guide so this is a wonderful activity to try on a Namibia family holiday.
2. Quad Biking
Now, I’m sure we all love a good ATV. Quad biking has rapidly become one of the more popular activities to do in the desert, provided that riders stay on route and do not damage any fauna or flora. This, I would say, could be regarded as the more adventurous activity - however we recommend it for the entire family.
Desert Explorers in Swakopmund offers a diverse variety of options - from 30-minute beginner rides, to sand boarding & quad biking combinations. This is definitely an incredible way of seeing and appreciating the vastness of the Namib Desert.
The scenic wonderland which is the great Namib desert makes this a truly spectacular activity. Soar up to altitude and see the point where the desert meets the ocean, after which your instructor will open the door and give you the go-ahead to jump….
Skydiving is one my personal bucket list, and the excellent organization at Ground Rush Adventures in Swakopmund is a highly recommended provider for the activity. Guests will be able to partake in tandem freefalls, from an altitude upwards of 10,000 feet. The experienced guides will brief clients on the activity, gear them up with safe and appropriate equipment and give them the chance to add a video option to their booking.
3. Fat Bikes
The coastal town of Swakopmund is one of the most visited parts of the country. The architecturally German town is relaxing, slow-paced and fast-growing. Swakopmund Fat Bike Tours offers scenic desert tours up the slope of the dunes in the nearby Namib Desert. Guests who are up for the challenge of riding a bike through the soft, deep sand of the Namib are advised to take part in this activity. The variety of options offered range from the two-hour Scenic Desert Tour to the Swakopmund City Tour. The provider offers e-bike and fat bike options, which has a lower impact on the delicate desert and also provide virtually no pollution.
4. Climb Big Daddy
Sossusvlei is a picturesque part of the desert and consists of some of the highest dues on the planet, such as Dune 45, Big Daddy and others.
The tallest dune in this area is called Big Daddy, and is a ginormous mass of sand, soaring to heights of 325 metres. The soft sand of the desert makes climbing this dune an exciting and challenging family affair. Climbers are advised to wear hats and high-protection sunscreen, stay hydrated (2+ liters – the Namibian sun can be unforgiving) and make sure they wear breathable, long-sleeved clothing. The trek up this dune would generally take 1.5 to 2 hours (including some stops along the way to catch your breath!)
We highly suggest that guests visit this dune – the view from the top is absolutely spectacular and one of a kind.
Where to stay
Sossus Dune Lodge
Stay inside the Namib-Naukluft Park at the sustainably built Sossus Dune Lodge, which is a property of Namibia Wildlife Resorts. This is one of the few properties which are found within the National Park, and offers guests the advantage of being able to reach the Sossusvlei area before sunrise and after sunset. Guests are able to then relax at the beautiful lodge after their activities in the area.
Kindly take note of the current NWR Park Fees for the Namib-Naukluft Park : N$150.00 per adult, N$100.00 children under 16, free of charge for children under 8 and N$50.00 per vehicle/day.
Kulala Desert Lodge
Kulala Desert Lodge, which is a property of Wilderness Safaris, is a remote vantage point from which to admire the stillness of the large Kulala Wilderness Reserve and surrounding areas. Built on wooden platforms with thatched roofs, the leading lodge offers leisure activities such as guided hikes, biking and incredible views of the clear night skies by means of “sleep-outs’’ or ‘’starbeds’’.
Ondili’s Desert Homestead Lodge
Enjoy the panoramic terraces, floodlit pathways, scenic drives and horse safaris into the desert at Ondili’s Desert Homestead Lodge. This lodge is located approximately 30km southeast from the Sesriem entrance of the Park, via the C19 and D826 gravel road. The ecological lodge is operated by means of solar power, and is located within the Namib Tsaris Conservancy, which is a private nature reserve of over 150 000 ha.
Lodges within the Namib Naukluft Park offer transfers into Sossusvlei, which is only accessible by 4x4. This option is advised, due to the fact that it can be a challenge driving in the sand that thick (especially if guests are used to travelling on tar or gravel), and also because it is more scenic and exciting zipping through the desert to the entrance of Sossusvlei. Beware for first-time travellers who decide to do the excursion alone, there have sadly been some cases over the years of travellers getting lost and only being found a long time later in a severely dehydrated state. For this reason, we always suggest that guests choose a guided option to avoid becoming disoriented.
5. Photograph Dead Vlei
Beyond the dunes of Sossusvlei, is the eerie site of Dead Vlei, or Dead Valley. The stark bareness, white clay pans, and dark trunks of dead acacia trees evoke an emotion which is a combination of awe and melancholy. This is by far the most photographed and photogenic part of the country. Descending the dunes of Sossusvlei to this part of the park is akin to being sucked into a vacuum - all that exists is yourself, a small speck of life in this vast world. The blue-sky calms, the dark trees inspire panic & nostalgia, and the white plain draws you back to a state of being grounded.
After exploring the dunes and strolling through Dead Vlei, visitors making their way back to the park gate can take a detour to visit the beautiful Sesriem Canyon. Although it is only a small canyon at 1 kilometre long and 30 metres deep, it is a popular attraction as it narrows to some 2 metres wide in places, with visitors able to touch both sides by spreading their arms. Carved by the Tsauchab River as it winds through the area, there is permanent water on the canyon floor, making it a magnet for local wildlife.
6. Balloon over Sossusvlei
One of the best ways to see these sites is an aerial view. Hot air ballooning is only offered by one provider in Namibia at the moment - Namib Sky. This efficient team curates a totally unique experience which is way different from skydiving or even doing a scenic flight.
For those who are interested in the more intimate & relaxing variations of adventure tourism - this is the activity for you. Watch the sunrise as you ascend into the clouds, being guided over the horizon by competent pilots and getting the most breathtaking view from above ground - an activity which is always popular with those on a Namibia honeymoon. The tour is completely controlled by the wind - if your pilot does not deem the weather to be safe for the flight, it will be cancelled. The direction in which the balloon travels is also dependent on the available wind channels and whichever ones your pilot regards as the most secure and scenic.
On the website of the provider, guests will be able to find information regarding the meeting point of the tour, as well as where the closest lodges to the base are located. During the journey, the balloon is followed by a vehicle, which contains the set-up to the next part of your experience. Land swiftly on a safe spot, and you will be met with a champagne breakfast (in the middle of nowhere). This is a totally remote set-up, and one I’m sure you will rave about for years to come. You will then be taken up to the skies again, and you will land back at the base and continue your onward journey.
A similar activity would be scenic flights over the area which are provided by a number of charter airlines, such as Scenic Air and Desert Air. These flights cover more surface area than hot air ballooning does and differ in the level of altitude.
7. Sandwich Harbour
Sandwich Harbour is located about 60km south of the port of Walvis Bay and is a dramatic parallel of land & sea. Desert and ocean. In this extremely sensitive part of the Namib-Naukluft Park, guests can experience the completely remote RAMSAR site and protected wilderness wetland. Namibia is one of the few countries in the world, and the only in Africa which has a site of this nature, and as such this is heavily protected.
The breathtaking site offers incredible scenery, where you will see the ravine-like ropes of sand dunes spilling over into the ocean. The fact that this is such a fragile part of the country means that guided trips are highly recommended. This area has virtually no marked route or signposts, so if guests do want to self-drive, we suggest that they contact a provider, such as Sandwich Harbour 4x4, and arrange for a tour or to book a lead guiding vehicle which will take them to the more picturesque spots.
8. Living Desert Tours
Next, we are moving on to the Skeleton Coast. This is a hostile and remote part of the desert which is extremely fragile. The history behind the name is due to the large number of shipwrecks & whale skeletons found in the area - a number of ships have been stranded in this area due to the thick fog, the cold currents and the stormy weather which is unpredictable most of the time. In this area, wildlife and vegetation is the star of the attraction. Desert-adapted lions, rhinos and elephants roam the area and a number of lodges offer tracking activities for these uniquely evolved species.
One of these lodges is Hoanib Valley Camp, which was sustainably constructed in collaboration with the Giraffe Conservation Fund in Namibia. Also found here are plants such as the Welwitschia Mirabilis. which is known as a “living fossil” and can become as old as 2,000 years of age.
9. Meet the Himba people
Culturally, within the northwestern part of the country in which the park is found, guests can also go on excursions to OvaHimba households. These semi- nomadic people have kept the traditions of their forefathers for centuries and have remained largely remote. For guests who are interested in learning about one of the most ancient tribes in Southern Africa which still practices the same beliefs and practices that they have since the dawn of time, this would be an incredible experience.
10. Explore Kolmanskop
The story of Kolmanskop’s boom and bust is perhaps the most fascinating tale in Namibia’s history.
Taking its name from a transport rider by the name of Johnny Coleman who camped with his wagons here during a sandstorm, Kolmanskop sprang to notoriety in 1908 when a local worker by the name of Zacharias Lewala found a diamond in the desert and showed it to his German supervisor. Quickly, it dawned on the man that the area was home to massive diamond deposits, sparking a rush of prospectors and would-be miners to the area to seek their fortune. Indeed, many did find their fortunes and Kolmanskop grew rapidly to mimic a German town, with neatly laid-out streets and colonial-style buildings.
Such was the money being made that the town was, for a brief while, perhaps the most affluent in the whole of the southern hemisphere, home to a wide array of shops, a casino, a ballroom, and a hospital while a tram line linked it to Luderitz on the coast. An ice machine was brought in to help keep the sundowner drinks of thirsty miners cool and it was also home to the first X-ray machine south of the equator. The latter was less for use in the hospital, however, and more to check mine labourers weren’t carrying away anything they found in the diamond fields.
As the Second World War had its inevitable impact on all industries across the world, diamond mining in Kolmanskop slowed down, as the fields became more and more depleted. Throughout the 1950s there was a rapid exodus from Kolmanskop and the town was eventually abandoned altogether in 1956 as miners headed back to Germany to revel in their newfound wealth or head south to the mouth of the Orange River where even richer diamond deposits had been found.
Today the skeletal outlines of buildings stand as a monument to this once thriving town, with the desert sands rapidly reclaiming them. Scattered items from the heyday of the town, including old wagon wheels and bathtubs, can be found on what were once the streets that led visitors through Kolmanskop and are poignant reminders of how quickly the fortunes of the town faded.
Daily tours depart Luderitz at 09h00 and 11h00 so you can book onto one of these, with photographers required to pay a small additional fee for their photo permits.
11. Spot Wild Horses
The southern stretches of the Namib Desert are home to a small population of feral desert horses, numbering between 90 and 150, regarded to be the only such population in Africa. Their origins are disputed, although it is likely they are a cross-breed of riding and cavalry horses that were used in Namibia by the Germans in the early 20th century. Today they congregate around the small outpost of Aus, attracted by the permanent, man-made water found there. Despite the harsh conditions, the horses are in very good health and only seem to struggle in times of extreme drought in the region.
The Namib Desert is the most ancient desert in the world, with a multitude of breathtaking views, diverse wildlife and plant life which has adapted to a very harsh environment and overcome extreme conditions. This unique part of the country is found across a wide expanse of land; from the southern sweltering heat of Sossusvlei to the relaxing coastal experience of Swakopmund, and finally to the starkness of the northwestern Skeleton Coast. The range of activities offered can be enjoyed by the whole family and offer diverse ways of appreciating the desert. Sandboarding, skydiving, scenic flights, hot air ballooning and cycling are just a small variety of ways to experience the vastness of this area. Namibia is one of the world’s foremost destinations in terms of diversity of landscape, wildlife and culture and a truly intimate experience can be found in every part of the country. The low population density means that you will be travelling long distances with amazing scenery and a feeling that you are the only person in the world at that moment.