There’s something so special about Namibia; its diverse tribes, its stunning desert, skeleton coast and its quirky German towns. You can travel for miles and not see a single soul. Conservation is the key here, whether community-based or environmental and traditional homesteads are run by indigenous tribes to help sustain their way of life that they have been living for centuries.
There is a large German influence in the country which can be seen in the cities and the capital Windheok (meaning ‘windy corner’) is no exception, surrounded by mountains it’s a bustling city with colonial buildings and a German feel.
Leaving the city behind and heading North is where the real Namibia begins. The Skeleton Coast is a haunting coastline and ship graveyard that has claimed many shipwrecks and is where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. But there is life here at the Skeleton Coast Park where you can see game such as black rhino, elephants and cheetahs or visit the cape fur seals at Cape CrossSeal Reserve if you prefer tamer animals.
The national parks here are much less crowded than in South Africa and the wildlife is just as good. The northwest is home to the free-roaming black rhino which thrives in Namibia and the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park gives you the opportunity to get up close and personal with cheetahs (you can even stroke these big cats).
Etosha Park has the Big Five and you can also see: impalas, jackals, ostrich, warthogs and springboks, unique to southwestern Africa. The park closes when the sun sets and being here at dusk is the best time to see the animals.
Head further north and you’ll reach the Caprivi Strip, a piece of land that juts out from the northeast of the country and borders Botswana. This area is full of lush vegetation, national parks and local villages and is great for birdwatching (at Mahango National Park). The North is home to the Himba tribe, a semi-nomadic pastoral tribe who live within the Kaokoveld region and are admired for their unique beauty.
Visit the Himba homestead near Puros for a unique insight into their way of life and watch them grind the red ochre that covers their hair and skin with a reddish tinge. The Himbas aren’t the only tribe within Namibia; the Nama people who are highly skilled artisans once lived near the Orange River and are now dispersed throughout the country.
The eastern region is the cultural heartland of the San people and the rural desert town of Tsumkwe is surrounded by San (bushmen) villages where you can buy their handmade crafts. Go further East into the Kalahari Desert and you can trek with the bushmen of the Kalahari, whose way of life is being threatened. The Kalahari is Namibia’s second desert and is more of a fossil desert with acacia trees and tall grass due to the rain that falls here. Read more about the Kalahari Bushmen.
There are plenty of opportunity to try new dishes in the country. Namibians are mainly meat eaters and you’ll often find ostrich, crocodile, kudo and even zebra on the menu. When you’re ready for dessert, visit the tiny town of Solitaire for its famous apple pie before getting back on the road and driving through a moon-like landscape to Swakopmund via the Tropic of Capricorn.
Swakopmund is the adventure capital of Namibia and you can do any kind of extreme sport here from skydiving, paragliding, quad biking and sand boarding down the dunes – this is the place to do it.
Swakopmund is the country’s biggest coastal town and is a mecca for the locals on holiday. Its colonial influence is on every street corner and although it doesn’t feel much like a holiday destination it has great galleries, souvenir shops, cafes and German bakeries, plus a fantastic Kristal gallery, home of the world’s largest quartz cluster and the rare Nambian Citrine.
Mining is big in Namibia with pink quartz and semi-precious stones and it has the world’s largest open-pit uranium mine so it’s a great place to buy any crystals to take home. Local sellers from townships are often found near the beach selling their handcrafts and carved statues. There’s only one nightclub here but it’s so western, you’ll think you’re back home!
A township tour in Mondesa is a great way of meeting the locals and it’s not as scary as you may think. There are 12 different ethnic groups here and you can visit the Heroro tribe whose tribal landmark are victorian dresses and cow-horn hats.
Originally descendants from East Africa they settled as cattle ranchers and now live in modern houses in the townships. The tour gives plenty of opportunity to meet the locals and you can visit the town’s Herbalist and even the Chief before getting taken to one of the 200 bars to try the local cuisine of fried caterpillars and bean curd (it’s all part of the experience!)
In the north-central part of the country is Damaraland, a semi-desert wilderness and home to black rhino. It’s a great place to hike and has Namibia’s highest mountain, Brandberg (2573m) which dominates the area and many serious mountaineers come here to climb. The area also contains rock art from 6000 years ago.
You can track desert elephants here (not alone obviously) or just marvel at ancient lava on the escarpment but don’t leave the North without an overnight stay in Spitzkopp, an area that looks like something out of the Flintstones with ancient bushmen paintings within the bedrock.
Southern Namibia is a land of wide open spaces, solitude and the oldest desert in the world; the Namib Desert, a place for wilderness safaris and spotting meerkats! Sossusvlei lies in the southern part of the desert and the gateway to this spectacular area is through Sesriem on a 4×4 drive.
This stunning salt pan in the midst of red sand dunes is barren except for a few camel thorn trees and is a breathtaking sight that won’t be seen anywhere else. Cruising through the sand to get there just adds to this amazing experience that makes it the biggest attraction in the country.
Sesriem Canyon is also a must-see as the canyon carved through sedimentary rock is over two million years old. The canyon was named after the amount of reigns it took to steer the ox wagons by the settlers here in the Seventeenth Century.
From here you can travel to another of the county’s natural wonders:Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon). It’s 90km to the end of the canyon and you can hike it (it will take you five days and you need a permit) or just go to the lookout point to see this impressive wonder.
Namibia has two rivers; the Orange River which borders South Africa (you can actually swim across to the next country but be careful of the currents) and the Zambezi River which unites Namibia with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia and Victoria Falls.
Other places to see are: the small settlement of Dorabis for arts and crafts, Hardap Dam Resort for water sports, the waterways and floodplains of Impalila Island, Naukfaut Massif for exploring valleys, canyons and cliffs and the ‘fairy circles’ in NamibRand Nature Reserve. You can also take part in a walking safari at Otjumue.
Namibia is a place of sculptured landscapes, enchanting deserts and fascinating tribes with iconic red dunes and a canyon that is nearly as big as the Grand Canyon – why wouldn’t you want to come here!
Visit Okakandja at the end of August for the colourful Herero procession of the Red Flag.
Walking solo in Damaraland is not permitted so book a guide at the Daureb Mountain Guide Centre.
Distances are long and driving on dusty roads. There’s a train from the capital to Swaopmund. TransNamib have air-conditioned buses and trains on their Starline service to destinations all over Namibia and a luxury tourist train. Minibus taxis are perfectly safe and are often shared with other passengers or prebook an ‘on-demand' taxi to hire the car for just you.
From the Airport
* Resorthoppa operates a cheap airport shuttle that will take you to the city centre or your hotel.
Windhoek – Shuttles and taxis run from the airport to the city in 30 minutes.
Swakopmund – A shuttle van will take you the 3 miles and costs £9.
Walvis Bay – A shuttle van runs to Swakopmund for £15 or take a taxi into the city or harbour for £10 for the 15 minute journey.
How long do I need?
One week to see Windhoek, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei. Two weeks to include the Namib Desert and Sesriem.
Travelling onwards (check visas before you travel)
To South Africa – There any many borders: Velloorsdrif, Oranjemund, Noordoewer, Klein Menasse, Hohlweh, Ariamsvlei. Intercape have a bus service from Windhoek to Cape Town for approx £55 (it takes about 24 hours) or travel from Vioolsdrif to Springbok.
To Botswana – Buses leave from Windhoek to Maun in Botswana and take all day. There are also buses from the Caprivi Strip. Other crossings are: Mohembo or Ngoma or via Buitepos (make sure you have enough fuel for this crossing).
To Zambia – Intercape run a luxury coach service from Windhoek to Livingstone.
To Angola – From Oshikango to Namacunda (open from 8am to 6pm) and Ruacana to Calueque (only open in the evenings from 6pm to 10pm).
- Can I drink the water? Yes.
- Is tipping expected? If you’re happy with service 10% is acceptable for restaurants, taxis and tour guides.
- Fixed price or barter? Fixed Price except at markets.
- Any ATMs? Yes in the main cities.
- Which side of the road do they drive? Left.
- Good for vegetarians? They do love their meat but it’s okay for veggies.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
*This is accurate at time of writing but we appreciate things can change. Please let us know if you experience anything otherwise. Thanks…