10 reasons to put the Namib Desert on your bucket list

The Namib Desert  is thought to be the world’s oldest, at 50 million years. It’s hard to find the words to describe the wild beauty of this place: thousands of kilometres of sand and copper dunes, plains of silvery grass and mountains that turn purple at dusk that span the length of Namibia, reaching to the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s one of Africa’s treasures, and a place you have to visit before you die.

This is why you should put it at the top of your travel bucket list.

1. The Namib Desert is one of the world’s most beautiful places to go hot air ballooning. You rise at dawn as the sun touches the horizon and turns the vast landscape from bluey-grey to golden, and rise over dunes, startling gemsbok and zebra. Seeing the desert from the air is the best way to take in its magnificence.

2. If you think deserts are boring, think again. Deserts are not barren and devoid of life. The Namib, in particular, has thousands of flora and fauna species that are fascinatingly adapted to life in the harsh climate. Take a tour with a guide who will introduce you to a fantastic micro world of sand, insects, reptiles, birds and plants.

3. Sossusvlei is the Namib Desert’s most famous pan, but Deadvlei, a few kilometres away, is much more photogenic. It’s a dry clay pan with cracked puzzle pieces of earth and dead trees thought to be a millennia old, scorched black from the harsh sun. There’s nowhere quite like it anywhere else in the world.

4. The Namib Desert has some of the world’s highest sand dunes (they reach up to 400 metres), which mean great views and great sandboarding. The best place to go sandboarding is in the sea of dunes near Swakopmund: expect a lot of fun, along with a fair amount of falling on your face and sand eating.

5. The roads that skirt the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park are some of Africa’s most scenic. You’re likely to drive for hours without seeing another car on apricot-coloured dirt roads flanked by mountains and sand dunes: you couldn’t ask for a better road tripping destination.

6. The sky over the southern Namib Desert is one of the darkest in the world, which means that it’s one of the planet’s best places for stargazing. Camp under a blanket of pinpricks of light and watch shooting stars criss cross the Milky Way.

7. To really get away from it all, you can explore the Namib on foot by doing a slackpacking trail with Tok Tokkie Trails (http://www.toktokkietrails.com/), where you spend days hiking the dunes, learning about the desert, and nights sleeping in open-air camps under the stars.

8. The Namib is home to desert elephants, which roam Damaraland and Kaokoland in the north of Namibia. They’re not a different species from African savannah elephants, but they have remarkably adapted to survive in the desert. The only other place in the world where you find desert elephants is in Mali, so it’s a rare find to see these ellies.

9. Even if you’re not a plant lover, it’s hard not to be entranced by the unusual welwitschia, a desert plant that can live up to 2000 years that is only found in the Namib. This strange looking plant only produces two strap-like leaves in its lifetime, which split into many leaf straps from the wind.

10. Desert travel can be profoundly spiritual. There’s something undeniably magical about being in a place, like the Namib Desert, that hasn’t changed much for millions of years, surrounded by thousands of miles of sand and no human habitation. It forces you to confront the insignificance of your existence in the face of the great power of nature, which, strangely enough is comforting rather than anxiety inducing. If you ever feel like you need to escape the stress of city living, the Namib is where you should come.

For more on the spiritual significance of the Namib Desert, read my piece on Negotiating the Edge of Existence.

Sarah Duff is a freelance travel writer and photographer and editor of Peregrine, an online travel magazine dedicated to the “why” of travel.

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