Namibia Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration
PureTravel Says: "Namibia is unlike any other country in Southern Africa. Huge dunes and sand desert contract to large areas of wetland and salt pans. Deep gorges, desolate coastlines, remote and historic town and great game-viewing. Located in southern Africa, the Republic of Namibia is a developing nation that borders South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Atlantic Ocean. Independent since 1990 after a 24 year-long guerrilla war for independence, Namibia was once a German colony known as South West Africa, and was later was administered by, and eventually annexed to South Africa. Before these modern-day power struggles, Namibia was home to several ancient African tribes, including the San Bushmen."
Safari & Wildlife - The most famous safari destination in Namibia is the Etosha National Park. This vast area is based around an ancient salt pan, making for some of the most dramatic wildlife photos. Inside the Park there are rest camps run by the National Park authority where you can camp or stay in one of their rooms. They offer food and also have shops for those who wish to self-cater. Around the gates to the park are many private lodges and camp sites, offering accommodation that varies from the basic pitch site for a tent to top of the range luxury lodges. Inside the park there is a full range of flora and fauna on offer, including several species unique to Namibia.
Other areas include the Caprivi strip, a wetland habitat adjoining the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Wartenberg Plateau.
History & Culture - Namibia has 11 recognized indigenous languages, including Oshiwambo, Herero, Nama and some of the Khoisan languages that include clicking sounds. Each of these tribes has its own geographical area and vibrant culture that can be visited and enjoyed today.
Sightseeing - From the Skeleton coast (so named because of the whale bones seen scattered on its beaches) to the Fish River Canyon, Namibia is home to some of the greatest natural highlights in the world. At Sossuvslei the Namib Desert is the home to the tallest and the oldest sand dunes in the world. These red giants tower over you and for whoever decided to climb to the top presents a sizable challenge.
When To Go
When you think of Africa you think two things: hot and dry. You’ll find both of those things in Namibia, but not necessarily everywhere, and not year round.
On the coast, for example, the Benguela current keeps the climate cool and rain-free almost year round, and brings heavy fog during summer nights. Inland, summers can be rainy, with cool nights whereas winters are mild during the day, with some cold, frosty nights!
The most extreme heat (upwards of 40C degrees) is found during the summer in the north and south of the country.
- Always keep your fuel tank full, filling up whenever you see a station as distances here are vast and you do not want to run out of fuel.
- If you have a puncture, get it mended as soon as you can.
- Always carry a large supply of water with you when travelling, in case of a breakdown.
- In the desert, respect the sun and heat. Remember, sun can be reflected back off sand so remember to apply sunscreen under your chin and your ears.
Holidays In Focus
Nearly one million tourists visit Namibia each year, mostly to view nature and wildlife. Namibia takes conservation and eco-tourism very seriously, and its constitution is the only one in the world that addresses conservation and protection of natural resources. An entity called Nacobta is a non-profit organization charged with assisting the local communities in developing tourism in formerly neglected parts of the country. Some of the most popular cultural tours are the Katutura Face-To-Face tours where visitors are introduced to the lifestyle and culture of the people living and working in this area.
Safari Holidays and Wildlife - While hunting (during the official season, with the appropriate permits) is legal in Namibia, safaris that focus on photography and game viewing are more widely accepted and considered more “p.c.” Bird viewing here is an incredible experience, with over 600 species of birds, most of which are found in the northeastern regions of Kovango and Caprivi, along the coast in the Walvis Bay Lagoon, and, though more limited, in the Namib desert. One way to view wildlife is on foot, tracking larger species such as elephants and rhino with the aid of a professional and experienced guide.
Watersports - With a long coastal border with the Atlantic Ocean, there are a wide variety of water sports available in Namibia. One area, known as the tourist activity hub of the country, is Walvis Bay, is the second largest city and the country’s main port. Situated at the Kuiseb river delta, between the Namib Desert and the Atlantic Ocean, activities such as fishing, kayaking, boating, windsurfing and kite surfing are available in Walvis Bay. Fishing enthusiasts will be pleased to find coastal and freshwater angling, as well as fly-fishing available.
Experienced and certified cave-divers will enjoy unique speleology (study of caves and other karst features) opportunities in subterranean lakes such as Dragon’s Breath, the largest known underground lake in the world, and Lake Otjikoto, with its underwater museum of arms and weapons from WW1. Although scuba diving is offered, the visibility off the coast is poor and water temperatures are fairly cold (9C – 17C).
On the Kunene River, try white water rafting and don’t miss the Epupa Falls which are not only beautiful, but also surrounded by interesting vegetation and bird life. On the Orange River, you can canoe from Noordoewer to Aussenkehr, or Aussenkehr to the mouth of the Fish River.
Desert and Dune Adventures - Namibia encompasses parts of the Namib and the Kalahari deserts. The Namib Desert is the second largest in Africa (after the Sahara) and is considered to be the oldest desert in the world. Although largely uninhabited, it’s known as a “living desert” because of the large number of species of plants and animals that actually do live there (a few of which are unique to the Namib).
To experience something really different, while exploring the moon-like landscape of the shifting dunes, try one of the many dune activities available, such as dune hang gliding, dune boarding or 4x4’ing. One of the best places to experience sand skiing is the 30km of coastal dunes that lie between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. Quad biking (like an ATV), has become quite popular in Namibia and quad bike dune expeditions are offered as well.
With 4x4 vehicles prevalent on the African continent, it’s no wonder that Namibia has several excellent routes (either self-guided, or with reputable tour operators). For example, there are the Kalahari-Namib Eco Route, the Uri Desert Run which begins and ends in the town of Keetmanshoop and Saddle Hill, a 430 km guided trail that covers gravel plains and dunes.
Hiking and Climbing - Avid hikers and mountaineers be warned – summertime temperatures can reach 40C in parts of the country, and the challenging terrain and scarcity of water make hiking and climbing difficult, and downright dangerous at this time of the year. That said, the country has an impressive network of hiking routes, the most popular being Fishriver Canyon (considered among the top 5 in all of Africa).
Many of the hiking trails are multi-day engagements, such as the Namib-Naukluft trail which involves 4 days of strenuous hiking over 60km, or a less demanding 8 day route over 120km. Following the Ugab River in the southern part of the Skeleton Coast Park, a 3-day route takes hikers over 50 km through granite rock formations and riverside plains. The Waterburg self-guided trail is 50km long and hikers have been known to view black rhino and buffalo!
Experienced mountain climbers may want to tackle Namibia’s Matterhorn, called Spitzkoppe, which is a challenging 1,000 meter granite dome.
- Dunes activities (skiing, 4x4’ing and quad biking) in the Namib Desert
- Hiking, trekking and mountain climbing, particularly in Fish River Canyon.
- Safari and game viewing in Etosha National Park
- The Northern circuit with the Namib Desert and Etosha National Park
- The Southern Circuit with Fish River Canyon and the Skeleton Coast
- The Caprivi strip safaris
Geography - Located in southern Africa, the Republic of Namibia is a developing nation that borders South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Atlantic Ocean. Independent since 1990 after a 24 year-long guerrilla war for independence, Namibia was once a German colony known as South West Africa, and was later was administered by, and eventually annexed to South Africa. Before these modern-day power struggles, Namibia was home to several ancient African tribes, including the San (Bushmen).
Named after the Namib desert, Namibia is the 34th largest country in the world, but is the 2nd most sparsely populated country, after Mongolia, with approximately 2.5 people per sq. kilometer (6.5 people per sq. mile). Although the estimated population is a little less than 2 million inhabitants, this number is hard to verify due to an accelerated mortality rate caused by HIV/AIDS.
Lately Namibia has received a lot of tabloid press because celebrity baby Shiloh (daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) was born in the town of Swakopmund in 2006, but the country is known for much, much more, including diamonds (!), its abundance of wildlife and spectacular scenery.
Culture - While the ethnic majority is composed of black Africans, about 6% of Namibia’s population is Caucasian, which makes the country second only to South Africa in number of whites residing in Africa. It’s important to understand that, since Namibia was ruled by South Africa during the 20th century under a system of apartheid, race is common topic of conversation and Namibians are very colour conscious, although for the most part, the various races peacefully co-exist and racial tensions are relatively uncommon.
Afrikaans and German were the official languages of Namibia until its independence in 1990, when English was declared the official language. Still, Afrikaans and German are more commonly spoken by the older generations who were not taught English in school. Additionally, there are! The majority of the population is Christian (mostly Lutheran).
Know Before You Go - Visitors from the United States and the majority of European countries may enter for up to 3 months with a valid passport. Citizens of other countries should check with the Namibian embassy or consulate in their home country regarding entry requirements and visas.
Currency - The official monetary units are the Namibian Dollar (NAD) and the South African Rand (ZAR) which are pegged 1:1 according to an accord linking these two currencies with those of Swaziland and Lesotho. When departing visitors should be prepared to show proof that money they are taking out of the country is money they arrived with (ATM or bank receipts are fine). ATMs and banks are available in the larger cities, and in some small towns. While prices in shops and restaurants are fixed, bartering is welcome with street vendors and at open markets. Many establishments are closed on Sundays, or are only open half day. Visitors may claim a VAT refund at the airport upon departure.
Although Namibia is a peaceful country, street crime rates are fairly high and visitors should be careful when using ATM machines, avoid walking or taking taxis alone at night, and should always be mindful of their wallets, passports, cameras and bags.
Visitors Should Bring
- Malaria tablets, if travelling to the north of the country (check with health authorities before travelling for information about other concerns, recent outbreaks and recommended precautions)
- Mosquito repellent
- GSM mobile phone
- Power converter and adaptor for electronics (for the European standard 220V/ 50Hz current and outlets taking the round, three pin type plugs)
- Sun protection
- Layers of clothing and appropriate clothing for tours and activities (note: Safari “costumes” such as head-to-toe khaki and pith helmets are not appreciated by locals – just tone it down a notch and you’ll blend in better).
Time Zone - Namibia’s time zone is either WAT or WAST, depending on daylight savings time. Standard time is UTC/GMT + 1 (wintertime), and daylight savings time is UTC/GMT + 2 hours (summertime). Remember that Namibia is in the southern hemisphere and therefore seasons are opposite to those in North America and Europe.
Travel In Namibia - International flights arrive into the Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH), about 45 minutes east of the country’s capital city, Windhoek. Should a more convenient or affordable itinerary require a stop-over or connection in, for example, Johannesburg, South Africa, you may arrive instead into Eros airport (ERS), a municipal airport located closer to the city center and very popular with business travelers. There is no departure tax due when leaving Namibia.
Domestic flights are available, but are not a very common way to move around the country. Better options include car rentals, kombi services, trains and busses.
Although Namibia is a very large country, most locals travel by car, as the roads are quite good and are either paved or well-graded gravel. Visitors should remember to drive on the left, and should pay particular attention when driving at night, due to wildlife. An international drivers’ license is required.
Kombis (also spelled combies) are van-like vehicles and are a very common and affordable method of long distance transportation in Namibia, although perhaps not the most comfortable by western standards. For people without a car, it’s said that you can get just about anywhere in the country from Windhoek by kombi!
For those who are not in a hurry to reach their destination, another option for travelling around the country is by train, and the railway station is conveniently located in Windhoek’s city center. TransNamib’s passenger service is called StarLine (the same company also manages the busses), and there’s also a luxury tourist train called the Desert Express which runs between Windhoek and Swakopmund. The trip lasts nearly 20 hours, but makes several stops during which passengers can see the Namib Desert and walk in the dunes.
When it comes to traveling around Windhoek itself, visitors will be pleased to find most hotels are conveniently located within the relatively small city center, within walking distance of restaurants, shops, government buildings and points of interest. Locals rely on a network of shared taxis which run from the suburbs and townships and the industrial and commercial areas of town. Unlike long-distance kombis or busses, these shared taxis do not operate on a set route, and passengers who flag down a shared taxi simply inform the driver of their destination, agree to a price, and then hop in. Although the taxi might make a few stops along the way, it’s an affordable way to travel, and is a truly unique experience! Of course on-demand taxis are also available for those wanting a more traditional point-to-point ride.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are two World Heritage Sites in Namibia;
- Namib Sand Sea
1 January - New Year's Day
21 March - Independence Day
March/April - Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday
1 May - Workers' Day
4 May - Cassinga Day
May - Ascension Day
25 May - Africa Day
26 August - Heroes' Day
10 December - Human Rights Day
25 December - Christmas Day
26 December - Day of Goodwill
By Julie Bowman