8 Things to Do in Namibia
Featured destinations: Namibia
Published 04 January 2017
The first time I went to Namibia, I expected a safari destination teeming with wildlife. What I got was a landscape plucked from another planet, a refreshing lack of people and buildings, and mile upon mile of vast open skies presiding over the desert sands. Yes, there is excellent safari to be had, but it’s really not about that; it’s more about the peace and quiet of the wilderness, and spending your days far removed from anything resembling the modern world.
I love Namibia so much I got a job selling Namibia safaris, and spent months in the country writing and researching a Namibia travel guide. I have good Namibian friends, and feel I know the place better than any other country outside the UK. Here are my favourite things to do here:
Climb Dune 45 in Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei, a collection of bright orange dunes and swirling sands deep in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, is like no other place I’ve ever been. In the centre of the dune cluster, you’ll find Deadvlei, a collection of scorched trees that are unable to rot due to the extreme sun, even though they died in a drought 700 years ago. Apart from depleting your camera battery, the thing to do here is to climb a dune, and Dune 45, at 170m tall, is one of the most accessible. Climb in the morning and watch the sunrise, or try the sunset like I did and watch the desert turn every shade of purple as the stars appear in the sky.
Look for desert adapted elephants in Damaraland
Found only in Namibia and Mali, the desert adapted elephant is a close relative of the more commonly known African bush elephant, it’s just that this one has special features to allow it to live in harsh, dry conditions. For example, these pachyderms have larger feet to help them walk on the soft sands, and longer trunks to enable them to dig further to find water. To spot one, you’ll need to head to Damaraland or Kaokoland in Namibia’s north, a remote and beautiful place of russet rocks and dazzling night skies.
Surf the sands in Swakopmund
On Namibia’s west coast, Swakopmund is a strange little place. The first time I visited it reminded me of something out of The Prisoner, its colourful houses lining empty, dusty streets that lead nowhere at all. Aside from gorging on bratwurst and Black Forest gateau in this former German colony, Swakopmund’s attractions lie in the surrounding desert. And, for me, top of the list is sandboarding: whizzing down a duneside with a snowboard attached to your feet. It’s not quite as fast as real snowboarding, but still heaps of fun. Warning: you’ll find sand in every crevice for days afterwards.
Kayak with seals in Walvis Bay
Just south of Swakopmund, Walvis Bay has less of the fanfare enjoyed by its more famous neighbour, resulting in a far more chilled-out place. There are some excellent seafood restaurants, and the hotels are quieter than in Swakopmund, so for me, it’s the more appealing of the two towns. My favourite activity here is kayaking with seals on the Pelican Point peninsula. They’re curious creatures, and will come right up to your kayak to say hello and give you a friendly splash. If you are very lucky you might spot the odd passing dolphin too.
Gaze across Fish River Canyon
At 100 miles long and 550 metres deep, Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and second only to the Grand Canyon for impressiveness. Having never been to the Grand Canyon, it’s by far the most remarkable canyon I’ve ever seen. To take it in, your best bet is a rim hike, although with a bit of prior planning it’s possible to trek down into it too. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at the wonderful Fish River Lodge, where the rooms are perched right on the cliff edge, looking out over the vast chasm below.
Explore the ghost town of Kolmanskop
Accessed from nearby Lüderitz, a fascinating destination in its own right, Kolmanskop is a former diamond mining settlement. Once very prosperous, the town fell into decline after World War I and, after being completely abandoned in 1954, fell into disrepair. The wind brought the desert sands into its buildings, which include houses, a school, a theatre and a bowling alley, and you can take a look around on the daily guided tours. It’s an eerie place, and a snapshot of a forgotten time that to me feels post-apocalyptic, like something out of a movie.
Go on safari in Etosha National Park
Top of the Namibian game-viewing areas is Etosha National Park, a huge reserve whose numerous waterholes attract thirsty giraffes, elephants and zebra, where leopards laze in the mopane trees and rhinos roam across the salt pans. One of the joys of Etosha is driving yourself – the roads are good and the waterholes well signposted – but if that doesn’t appeal, join a guided 4X4 safari and see the Namibian wilderness in all its glory.
Get off the beaten track in the Caprivi Strip
Look at the above picture and you wouldn’t guess it was taken in Namibia; there’s far too much water! On Namibia’s ‘panhandle’ this little-known region is a far cry from the dusty deserts of the centre. Here, the Kwando and Chobe Rivers flow through wildlife-rich national parks before joining the Zambezi River and dropping dramatically over Victoria Falls. A drive along the strip – stopping to search for hippos and crocs on a river safari or two, and calling in at Botswana’s Chobe National Park to spot elephants before entering Zambia or Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls – is the stuff of true African adventure. My top tip: look out for elephants crossing the road.
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