Namibia combines desert, coast, wildlife and adventure better than any country on earth. Read on to discover the 8 best things to do in this extraordinary country…
Namibia combines desert, coast, wildlife and adventure better than any country on earth. From the butterscotch whip of the sky-scraping sand dunes to the magical wildlife parks, so it’s no wonder is was voted top country in this year’s Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards. Read on to discover the 8 best things to do in this extraordinary country…
Soussusvle's giant sand dunes (Dreamstime)
Glowing a rich ochre-red early and late in the day, Sossusvlei’s giant dunes rise to 380m. After driving through the Corridor (a natural dune-lined avenue in the desert), leave your vehicle at the road’s end and continue on foot, the Namib enveloping you in its sandy folds. There are head-spinning views from the dune crests, but the beauty of the desert also lies in its detail. Sink to your hands and knees and discover a graffiti of tracks scrawled in the sands – evidence of fleet-footed tok-tokkie beetles and sand-swimming shovel-snouted lizards.
Wildlife at Namibia's watering holes (Imagine Travel; Shutterstock)
Thirst is the driving force behind Etosha’s mesmerising wildlife spectacle. Covering 20,000 sq km of parched wilderness in northern Namibia, it promises some of Africa’s best – and easiest – wildlife viewing during the winter dry season. Simply park next to one of its many waterholes, then wait and watch as animals arrive to drink. Coated in the pale dust of Etosha’s immense salt pan, elephant and rhino mingle with large herds of springbok, zebra and wildebeest, while scrubby thickets conceal lions laying in ambush. If you prefer feathers to fur, visit in summer when rains transform the pans into seasonal lakes flushed with flamingos.
Hot air balloons over Namibia's red and yellow sands (Namibia Tourism Board; Shutterstock)
To fully appreciate the scale of the Namib Desert you need to get airborne. A dawn hot air balloon flight gives you a vulture’s-eye view of the vast sand sea. As the roar of the balloon’s burners fade and you begin to rise above the desert, the sun’s first rays enflame the scarlet dunes below. It’s eerily quiet as you drift with the cool morning breeze. You might spot gemsbok, walking single-file along sinuous dune ridges, or gaze down on skeletal camel thorn acacias clustered around clay pans. After an hour or so of Namib-induced hypnosis, you come back down to earth, toasting the experience with a champagne breakfast.
They're out there, somewhere… Desert-adapted elephant (with smaller bodies and proportionally longer legs than bush elephants), are rare, elusive inhabitants of Damaraland. For your best chance of encountering these legendary beasts, you need to emerge from your wilderness camp at dawn. A good guide will help you track the elephants’ platter-sized footprints along the dry riverbeds that snake across this region’s bewitching landscape of gravel plains and red-ochre mountains. With luck, you’ll encounter a small herd, resting in the shade, ears flapping, or striding purposefully across the rocky desert in that timeless, ground-swallowing gait.
As if Damaraland’s spectacular scenery and enigmatic wildlife weren’t reasons enough to linger in Namibia’s rugged north, there is another equally captivating facet to this rough diamond. Delve into its heat-shattered mountains and kopjes and you will find extraordinary art adorning rock faces, caves and overhangs. The work of ancestral hunter-gatherers, some of the engravings at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein are thought to be up to 10,000 years old. Look closely and you’ll see everything from giraffes, zebras and humans to geometric patterns and fantasy creatures hatched during ancient shamanistic rituals.
Namibia's big (and little) cats (Imagine Travel; Namibia Tourism Board)
There’s no better place in Namibia to view wild leopard than this family-run nature reserve, located halfway between Windhoek and Etosha National Park. Okonjima was established in 1991 by the AfriCat Foundation to ensure the survival of Namibia’s predators in their natural habitat. Game drives in the 20,000-hectare Okonjima Nature Reserve tingle with the prospect of encounters with notoriously shy leopard, while the Carnivore Care & Information Centre showcases Okonjima’s renowned rescue programme for cheetah and other carnivores. Spend a couple of nights at the luxury lodge here and you’ll also have time to find out about hyena and pangolin research projects.
Thanks to minimal light pollution and little cloud, Namibia’s night skies are some of the darkest and clearest anywhere in the world. In 2012, the NamibRand Nature Reserve was designated Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Gaze into the star-spattered cosmos and you can see the Milky Way arching over the Namib Desert. Take a more in-depth celestial safari, perhaps using one of the telescopes at a desert lodge, and you might well spot other stellar sensations, including Magellanic Clouds, the Coalsack Nebula, Jupiter’s red spot and the rings of Saturn.
Desert fun in Namibia (Namibia Tourism Board; Dreamstime)
Where defiant desert meets seething ocean, Namibia’s adrenaline-charged seaside town offers everything from fish and chips to sandboarding and skydiving. Join a 4WD tour and you can experience ‘singing dunes’ (when mini-avalanches of sand create a deep humming sound) or find ‘living fossil’ plants in the form of the weird and wonderful Welwitschia. At nearby Walvis Bay, prime time for birdwatching is between October and April when over 150,000 migrants (including greater flamingos and chestnut-banded plovers) join resident species such as Damara terns and great white pelicans.
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