Best of Namibia

2013-02-20 08:31
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Unforgettable Namibia

Striking images featuring Namibia's trump cards - its wildness and striking desolation.

Despite sharing a border with South Africa, most of Namibia remains a fairly unknown entity to a lot of South Africans, let alone the rest of the world. With a population of just over 2 million dispersed across a country four times the size of Britain (which has over 60 million inhabitants) and largely consisting of arid desert and Africa’s most inhospitable coastline, it is perhaps not hard to see why this is the case.

But those lucky few who have explored the country extensively will know that Namibia’s unspoilt wildness and isolation are in fact its trump cards. You will probably not find more striking natural landscapes or bigger, clearer skies anywhere in Africa, while both the country’s abundant wildlife and rich and diverse cultural heritage continue to defy both the difficult climate and the challenges posed by the modern world, often remaining largely unperturbed by outside influences.

Whether marvelling at the majestic dunes of Sossusvlei rising like great waves above you, spotting the big five around the edges of the great moon-like expanse of the Etosha Pan or spending time in a traditional Himba tribal village in the rugged hills of Kaokoland, once you have experienced Namibia you will never forget it. So start planning now. And in the meantime, here is a rundown of some of the best bits to fire your imagination and thirst for adventure until it’s time to set off.


The dunes around the Sossusvlei salt and clay pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park are among the most photographed sights in all of Africa. The highest of them stand at over 300 metres high and the rich, deep orange hue and beautiful natural curvature of these imposing dunes is particularly striking when seen in contrast to the harsh grey-white of the pans below, or the blackened and brittle dead acacia trees that are dotted across the former oasis of Deadvlei. The best viewing is at sunrise or sunset as the softer light and faster movement of the sun causes the dunes’ colours to constantly change.

Dune 45 is the most visited and most photographed of the lot. It is in close proximity to the road and at only 80 metres high can also be climbed quite easily, whereas some of the bigger dunes are further into the park and can only be accessed by 4x4 vehicle or, for the wilder at heart, on horseback.

Sossusvlei is easily accessed from the town of Swakopmund and numerous tour operators run trips from any of Namibia’s other major cities, whilst almost all organised overland trips, whatever their duration, are also guaranteed to have Sossusvlei somewhere on their list of locations. This incredible place is an absolute must for all visitors to Namibia.
Kolmanskop and Luderitz

Take the straight road west from the town of Ketmanshoop through the desert to the fringes of the wild Skeleton Coast just a few hours away and you will come across the famous ghost town of Kolmanskop.

Kolmans Kop was once a booming mining town in the early decades of the twentieth century after large numbers of diamonds were found in the area. Numerous German miners and their families came to call this inhospitable patch of desert their home.

But after the Second World War when the diamond supplies eventually began to dry up and larger deposits were found elsewhere, the inhabitants began to vanish just as quickly as they had arrived, and the town was gradually reclaimed by the desert on which it had been built. Many of the buildings are now half-swallowed by the sand, whilst inside great mounds of sand have broken their way through doors and windows and poured in.

Kolmanskop once boasted a school, shops, a cinema, a bowling hall, a casino and even a working railway connecting it to Luderitz. Today many of the buildings still contain pieces of furniture and other belongings that had been left behind by the settlers.

Drive a few kilometres further on and you reach the coastal town of Luderitz, often reputed to have the best oysters in the world and otherwise known for its striking pastel-coloured German colonial buildings and Gothic churches. It is also a popular destination for spotting seals, penguins, flamingos and ostriches.


When an American trader by the name of Mckiernan passed through the vast area that now comprises Etosha National Park in 1876, following the centuries old trade routes of the Ovambo tribe, he remarked that “all the menageries of the world turned loose” could not compare to the sheer abundance of wildlife that he saw around him.

And for all the threats posed by hunting, droughts and border wars during the 137 years since Mckiernan’s time, not much seems to have changed today.  This famous park, once the biggest in all of Africa, contains large numbers of four of Africa’s Big Five (buffalo being the only exemption) as well as giraffe, zebra, warthog and all sorts of antelope species in droves. It is considered one of the best parks in Africa to view the elusive and endangered black rhino.

The stunning vistas across the shimmering green and white expanse of the Etosha Pan’s moon-like surface and the floodlit watering holes for night-time wildlife spotting make this a truly unique safari experience. Another draw factor is that most of the park can be easily accessed without a 4x4 vehicle.


The coastal town of Swakopmund is Namibia’s top beach resort. The waterfront promenades are lined with palms, there is a wide range of accommodation within stumbling distance of the beach, the nightlife is buzzing and there are a plethora of art galleries and quality restaurants. In the hot summer months the town provides a welcome refuge from scorching inland temperatures for thousands of Namibians and foreign visitors alike.

But perhaps above all, ‘Swakop’, as locals call it, has become a Mecca for adrenaline junkies. The area surrounding the town known as the West Coast Recreational Area offers a range of outdoor activities including sand boarding, quad biking, dune carting, parachuting, skydiving and hot air ballooning to name but a few. There can be few better places in the world to fling oneself out of a plane, with the desert stretching to the horizon on one side and nothing but the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Shark diving, fly fishing and trips to the Cape Cross seal colony can also be arranged in the town.


Even by Namibian standards, this is a particularly wild and unpopulated region of the country, with a population density of only one person to every two kilometres. Its isolation, lack of infrastructure and position far to the north of any of Namibia’s major towns or cities has helped keep Kaokoland off the itinerary for many visitors to Namibia, and might make it seem a surprise choice for this top five list. Conversely, all of this is exactly what gives the area so much of its magic.  

The rugged and unspoilt mountains and valleys so characteristic of Kaokoland are not only home to the rare desert dwelling elephant as well as a large percentage of Namibia’s black rhino and giraffe population but are also the heartland of the semi-nomadic Himba tribe.

The Himba people have become iconic for their elaborate copper jewellery, their statuesque beauty and the custom of the women to plait their hair and cover their bodies with deep red ochre until their skin has a naturally reddish hue. Far removed from the more westernised world to the south, these people continue, to a great extent, to live and dress as they have done for many centuries. But this is gradually changing, and a visit to a traditional Himba village may not be possible for much longer and is certainly worth the extra distance.

Overall, narrowing Namibia’s best destinations down to a top five is no easy feat. Many worthy contenders have not been included on this list. There is so much to see, and for all the isolation and open spaces, the roads are mostly very good and access from South Africa either by plane or by car is easy.

So if you have time on your hands, either drive up from South Africa or rent a car in any of the major towns and take it all in at your own pace. If time is a little more constrained and budget a little freer then operators such as Namibian Travel Connection offer a great range of different safari tours from just under a week long to around two weeks and covering almost all of the must-sees.

Whatever you choose to go for, you will certainly be in for a treat. The only downside might be that sooner or later you will have to go back home again.
Read more on:    namibia  |  travel south africa

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