Stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and plenty of adventure; Namibia has it all. Having spent around three months in this otherworldly country I can still say I haven’t seen even half of what Namibia has to offer. It’s also one of the easiest and safest of the African safari destinations to self-drive; meaning that companies catering to visitors who want to ‘go it alone’ are becoming ever more prevalent and cater to everything from budget camping to 5-star luxury. But just what makes Namibia the ideal destination? Below are ten great answers to that question that take you beyond Namibia’s biggest tourist draw, Estosha National Park.
Climbing some of the World’s Biggest Sand Dunes in Sossusvlei
Dune 45 is one of the more popular dunes to climb in Sossusvlei National Park and stands at a daunting 85m high. Having climbed the dunes in Deadvlei in the morning I politely declined killing myself climbing Dune 45, but if you plan on giving it go I would recommend: doing it in socks (unless you fancy tipping a sandbox full of sand out of your shoes); walk in the footsteps of those in front of you (most of your energy is lost in digging your feet into the sand as you climb); and definitely protect your camera – that sand gets everywhere!! At 325m high Big Daddy is the biggest dune in the Sossusvlei area and is located between Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. I’d love to be able to say ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ but unfortunately that would be a complete fabrication. A dune too far for my fitness levels I’m afraid. Instead I stayed at the bottom and watched others enjoying themselves much like my mum at every theme park we’ve ever visited.
…..And then Sand-boarding Down Some of Them in Swakopmund
Swakopmund is a fairly small coastal town (even though it’s actually one of the larger towns in Namibia) on the west coast of Namibia and it’s regarded as the capital city for adventure sports in Namibia. Given the abundance of dunes right on the doorstep one of the most popular activities is sandboarding. My one piece of advice on sandboarding is to not be fooled by anyone that sandboarding is easier (or the landing softer) than snowboarding; I swear I nearly cracked my head straight open like a ripe coconut! There are a whole host of extreme activity companies operating in the area and a simple google search reveals a myraid of options you can book in advance. Other sports you might want to give a go are quad biking through the dunes, land yachting, surfing, wind surfing, paragliding and sky diving.
Enjoying Wonderful Food at Every Turn
Namibia has an eclectic mix of cuisine; from the locally inspired biltong and potjiekos (bush stew) to the heavy colonial influences of German cuisine. In Windhoek you could chose to visit the Namibian Institute for Culinary Education (NICE) for dinner or head to Joe’s Beerhouse for a more authentic bush braai (Joe’s game meat bbq is one of my favourite things about Windhoek). Swakopmund on the other hand is a heavily German-influenced town. As a result it’s dotted with German restaurants and brauhaus’ where you get your fill of schnitzels, pork knuckles, bratwurst and eisbein. You’ll also find some fairly decent seafood restaurants (the Tug being one of the best).
Getting Up Close and Personal with Wildlife at Okonjima
Okonjima is private safari reserve on the road between Windhoek; Namibia’s capital city, and Etosha National Park to the west of the Waterberg Plateau. It’s the perfect place to stop over for a night or two on your way around the country’s classic self-drive route. The Reserve is based around the operations of the Africat Foundation; who utilise the vast expanses of land that Okonjima sits on to rehabilitate carnivores with the intention of releasing them back into the ‘wild’. Okonjima offers an unbelievable chance to track cheetah and Wild Dogs on foot; enough to make even the most foolhardy of us get a little nervous ‘sweaty’.
Tracking Desert Adapted Wildlife in Damarland
Damaraland is probably one of the most scenic areas of Namibia and isn’t exactly your typical safari in a National Park. The real highlight of a Damaraland safari is tracking down the rare desert-adapted elephant and black rhino (the latter is notoriously more difficult to track down as we found out at 4am on a cold winter morning with snot and tears running down our faces). Healthy populations of Gemsbok, springbok, kudu, Hartman’s mountain zebra, giraffe and gemsbok (i.e. the animals you’ll be ridiculously excited to see the first time you see them and then won’t even acknowledge their existence by the end of your trip) are also regularly sighted. If you’re looking for culture and history then take some time out from safari to visit Twyfelfontein; which is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in Africa.
Capturing a Sunrise over the Desert in a Hot Air Balloon
We all know that Africa has some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets anywhere on earth. What better way to capture the moment than from the air, soaring silently above the reds and oranges of the scorched desert in Sossusvlei. Even if you aren’t a fan over getting up at an ungodly hour, and even if you can’t usually stomach the thought of engaging with other people before your daily caffeine intake, you definitely won’t regret it on this occasion. After witnessing the spectacular day break you’ll then typically be treated to a champagne breakfast after ‘touchdown’. There’s definitely worse ways to start your day!
Hunting for Shipwrecks Along the Skeleton Coast
The Skeleton Coast is famed for its shipwrecks; which provide a fantastic photo opportunity. Even if you don’t have the time to travel further up the coast there are a number dotted between Swakopmund and Cape Cross (for example, we visited one at mile marker 68 which was visible from the road and had a small parking area for vehicles). Be sure to check with locals what the current closest one is as they have a habit of being dismantled and sold for scrap (you don’t want to drive all that way only to find the ship is gone!). Some of the more spectacular shipwrecks are way north and would require a fly-in to the Skeleton Coast to reach, but those fairly close to Swakopmund are probably good enough to quench the thirst of the average shipwreck hunter.
Horseback Riding in the Foothills around Windhoek
Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, is usually the starting point for a Namibian adventure. Just outside of downtown lies a small neighborhood called Klein Windhoek where a small stables is located by the River Crossing Hotel amongst the foothills. Even if you aren’t staying at River Crossing you should definitely take the chance to be taken out on a horseback ride amongst the stunning scenery. For those of you, like me, who aren’t experienced riders then just beware of the thorn bushes. Unfortunately for me my wife (who’s an experienced rider) trotted off with our guide and left me to ‘navigate’ my horse into a thorn bush. The next few hours were spent plucking thorns out of my arms and legs and tending to my severe lacerations (I swear that isn’t a manly over-dramatization of events).
Kayaking with Seals in Walvis Bay
I don’t think there’s a better way to get up close and personal with the aquatic wildlife along Namibia’s coast than to paddle your way out into the lagoon in Walvis Bay in a Kayak. Sure, you could head out on a boat for dolphin and seal watching – certainly a more relaxed and luxurious option (you’ll be sipping champagne and chowing down on hors d’oeuvres before you even leave the port), but I’d much prefer to get down at eye level with the wildlife (including Walvis Bay’s flamingo population). This might be more work but you’ll be right in the middle of the action as the seals swim around the kayak.
Meeting the Herero
The Herero people are a pastoral cattle breeding tribe believed to have migrated from the east African lakes about 350 years ago. Today, there are about 100,000 Herero people in Namibia; mostly found in the central and eastern parts of the country. The importance of cattle to the Herero people is displayed in the traditional dress of Herero women; particularly their head-wear that represent the horns of cattle. As you travel through central and eastern Namibia (including on the route from Windhoek to Etosha National Park) you’ll often see Herero women on the roadside selling tribal crafts.