Namibia is a country caught between two great deserts. The Namib - the oldest desert on the planet - spreads a sea of red sand along the west coast, and the white sands of the Kalahari blanket the eastern side of the country. This is a land of awe-inspiring wide-open spaces and striking harsh beauty, blessed with an endless supply of spectacular landscapes, unique wildlife, sun-drenched weather and starry nights.
On Safari In Namibia
A visit to Namibia is as much about immersing yourself in the sheer sense of space as it is about observing wildlife. With the notable exception of Etosha, Namibia isn't big-game country in the same sense as Botswana, South Africa, or Tanzania; game-viewing in Namibia is more about appreciating the subtler aspects of the bush - insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.
This is not to say that it's impossible to see big game in Namibia. Hardy desert-adapted elephants and rhinos eke out a living in the harsh valleys of Damaraland where their wetland cousins would rapidly perish, and elegant oryx trot across sandy dunes. Leggy giraffe amble gracefully across the blinding white salt pans in Etosha, stalked by magnificent black-maned Kalahari lions. Some species, such as the beautiful black-faced impala, are found only in Namibia.
Whales can be seen off the coast near Walvis Bay during October and November, and dolphins can be seen year-round. From November until April there is the chance to see endangered leatherback turtles. Cape fur seals colonise lonely beachheads along the Skeleton Coast, and these colonies offer some of the best opportunities for a glimpse of the solitary, secretive brown hyaena, which often scavenges nearby - earning it the local name of 'strandwolf' (beach wolf).
Unusual plant life abounds in Namibia, where the harsh climate has resulted in some unique adaptations. The distinctive cracked bark of quivertrees hides a fibrous core that enables them to store water for long periods of time. Travellers in the Namib may happen across the odd sight of a grocery store-perfect nara melon, which has played a key role in the diet of local people since the Stone Age, or some of the numerous species of geophytes (plants disguised as stones).
Perhaps the most well-known of Namibia's unusual flora is the prehistoric welwitschia plant, which can live for over 1,000 years and is one of 200 plant species that are endemic (localised) to Namibia.
Game drives in Namibia are conducted in open 4x4 vehicles with canvas roofs to shelter you from the sun (except in the Skeleton Coast where closed vehicles are used due to the dust). While excursions in the national parks are limited to established roads, off-road driving and night drives to observe nocturnal animals are possible in the private reserves.
Wilderness walks in the company of a professional guide often play an important role in a Namibian safari, enabling you to experience the subtleties of Namibia's environment up-close. For the adventurous, tracking rhino on foot in a private reserve is an unforgettable experience. And there is nothing like being on foot to convey the immensity of Namibia's landscapes.
Quad-biking, cycling, beach fishing, and hot-air ballooning are among the more unusual activities offered at Namibia's safari camps. Boating excursions can be done from some camps situated alongside rivers.
The enormous distances between destinations mean that flying is often the best way to move from place to place. Seeing the country from the air is arguably the best way to truly appreciate its vast splendour and the awe-inspiring scale of its wide-open spaces. In addition, flying means more time on the ground to explore Namibia's wonders (as opposed to the roads between them!). Longer safaris combining flying and driving also offer a fascinating experience, but due to the time and distance involved these are only recommended if you have at least two weeks (ideally three) to enjoy the country.
Namibia has five principal safari destinations:
Cultural Exploration in Namibia
- The towering dunes at Sossusvlei and the spectacularly sculpted red sands of the Namib Desert create a sense of stillness and space unlike anything else on earth, and are home to a wide range of desert-adapted animals and plants.
- Damaraland shelters elusive desert-adapted rhino and elephant, and features some of Africa's most well-preserved San Bushman rock carvings and paintings.
- The waterholes surrounding its central saltpans are a magnet for the big game seen at Etosha, Namibia's premier game-viewing region.
- The remote Skeleton Coast, home to the unique roaring dunes, is a place of desolate beauty and subtle natural attractions.
- In the hot, dry far northwest corner of the country, the Kunene River is a lifeline for the Himba, who are amongst Africa's last nomads.
A large number of cultural influences have contributed to Namibia's unique atmosphere. Germany, Great Britain and South Africa have governed the territory, but it was with independence in 1990 that Namibia was able to fully develop its multi-cultural character. A rich, colourful uniquely African vigour blends with colonial influences on architecture, food, customs and art to create a distinctive Namibian character.
A visit to Namibia offers unique opportunities for interaction with indigenous people. Compared to many other countries in Southern Africa, a large number of Namibia's people continue to pursue a traditional way of life. Herero women in their distinctive missionary-inspired garb are a common sight on the streets, and the Himba who inhabit the remote north-western part country are among the few remaining nomadic peoples on earth.
Some of Africa's oldest and most well-preserved San Bushman rock art can be found in Damaraland. Only a fraction have been studied in detail, and no doubt there are many more yet to be found. The significance of the naturalistic figures to their makers remains a mystery that may never be fully understood.
Frequent flights between Windhoek, Johannesburg, and Cape Town make combining your visit to Namibia with a safari or city stay in South Africa
With a bit of forward planning to account for the relative scarcity of flights to Maun, it is also possible to combine the deserts of Namibia with the wetlands of the Okavango Delta in Botswana
and the majestic Victoria Falls
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to start planning your trip to Namibia today.