Jungle or desert – which are you? It’s the type of question Wanderlust loves. If you’d asked me 15 years ago, I’d have said jungle, without a moment’s hesitation. Why would I pass up a lush, humid, bird-rich tangle of green for the austerity of gravel plains, rocks and dunes? But that was before my first visit to Namibia. It was a trip that blew my prejudices to smithereens.
Namibia’s deserts offer vast, time- sculpted panoramas, packed with drama, beauty and subtle colour, from the spiky kokerboom groves of the Quiver Tree Forest in the far south to the NamibRand’s ginger-and-bone grasslands, to Sossusvlei’s curvaceous dunes and Damaraland’s boulder-like rock formations, scattered with prehistoric art. To my relief, the arid heat was entirely manageable, and there were relatively water-rich areas, too, in the north-east.
But the biggest revelation was that, despite their unforgiving climate, the deserts are intriguingly rich in life. As a safari destination, they’re a sophisticated choice. Every species I encountered had adopted a fascinating survival strategy, prompting me to view familiar creatures such as elephants, lions and beetles with new respect. And there were plenty of animals to see.
While many Namibian species are masters of camouflage, the landscapes they inhabit are so open that if there’s an ostrich, oryx or desert-adapted zebra within a couple of kilometres, then chances are you’ll spot it. So far, my adventures in this peaceful, progressive and conservation-focused nation have been escorted, but Namibia is also ideal for a self-drive holiday in a rented 4WD camper or a well-equipped high-clearance car.
While it helps if you’re experienced, the road network is easy to navigate. By travelling independently, you can just set your own pace, lingering at favourite campsites and sampling different homestays with local tribes along the way. If you can, treat yourself to a few nights at Namibia’s supremely elegant rustic-luxury safari lodges as well. Built out of natural materials and artfully decorated with found objects and plenty of African art, most of them look as if they’ve fallen straight out of the pages of a lifestyle magazine.