Namibia is vast – yet, at times, it seems as if nobody else is there. Namibia, a huge nation in southern Africa, has sweeping desert, deep canyons and 1,572km of coastline, but a tiny population to fill it all. This makes a trip to Namibia truly wild – you might not see people, but you will see long-horned oryx amid the dunes, springbok sprinting by the roadside and baboons on the kerb.
Namibia is a spectacular conservation success story – it has the world's largest population of cheetahs, the largest population of black rhinos, and growing numbers of lions. While the famed pans of Etosha National Park (where you can self-drive around waterholes to spot lion, giraffe, elephant and more) are a good bet for wildlife spotting, most of the wildlife is outside of national parks in community conservancies. So successful are these conservancies that rhinos have been translocated out of the national parks and placed in the safekeepng of communities.
But there’s more to Namibia than wildlife: float above the ancient Namib desert in a hot-air balloon, careen down it on a sandboard, trot out to a sundown spot on the back of a trusty steed or simply enjoy the view as you drive by.
Hire a care with air-conditioning in Namibia – opening the windows not only lets in fresh air but a lot of dust. Don’t drive too fast – Namibia’s roads are often deceptively smooth and it’s tempting to speed, but you can easily lose control on the gravel.
Many local people get around Namibia by hitchhiking: if you feel comfortable doing so, offer someone a lift.
Summer temperatures are high in Namibia, often exceeding 30°C; Namibia is especially hot and humid from December to February. During the Namibian winter, between the months of March and October, days remain warm but nights are cold; this is a pleasant time to visit, just bring layers for the evening.
Winter is also an ideal time to visit Namibia’s Etosha National Park – low rainfall means animals are easily spotted congregating around waterholes. Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, hosts its own Oktoberfest beer festival in October.
Windhoek Hosea Kutako International (WDH) 45km from Windhoek
Public transport is limited in Namibia. Trains are mostly for freight, buses are slow and don’t necessarily go to the spots popular with travellers. Namibia has a network of internal flights, which are helpful and pretty efficient for long journeys if you are short on time.
By far the best way to explore Namibia is to hire a car. In the main, Namibia’s roads are good – a few are tarmacked, most are packed gravel; unless you are going offbeat a 2WD is sufficient. For any off-road desert explorations you must have a 4WD, and know how to drive it. Bear in mind that distances in Namibia are vast and petrol stations sparse – when you see one, fill up.
There is a wide range of accommodation in Namibia – you can pay peanuts to camp in the wilderness, several hundred dollars a night for the lap of luxury or somewhere in between for a government restcamp. Many farms offer a few guest rooms, too.
Accommodation can be thinly spread in much of Namibia – only in big centres such as Windhoek and Swakopmund is there much choice. Bear in mind that your accommodation in Namibia can be far more than a bed for the night – it will also be your gateway to local exploration, possibly offering tours or a unique viewpoint for that all-important sundowner.
Meals in Namibia tend to be meat-heavy, and German influenced. Steaks and sausages chucked on the braai (barbecue) are common mains; you might even see more exotic fare such as oryx, springbok and kudu on the menu.
Seafood is good; try the sweet-tasting oysters, cultivated offshore at Walvis Bay. Traditional Namibian food, such as mealie pap (a type of porridge), isn’t usually served to tourists; most lodges will offer more Western-style fare. Hygiene standards are generally good.
Vegetarians might struggle in Namibia, though if you prebook your accommodation and let them know you are vegetarian, you will be catered for. Many vegetables have to be shipped a long way, so will be more expensive.
Being an ex-German colony, the beer is good in Namibia: try Windhoek and Hansa. Wines are brought up from South Africa and are good value. The water should generally be purified before drinking. If you’re self-driving, invest in a cool box.
No specific jabs are required for Namibia but a certificate proving vaccination from yellow fever is needed if you are arriving from an area where the disease is widespread. Take sunscreen – the sun remains strong throughout the year. Avoid walking around Windhoek at night, or driving after dark.
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