Namibia - the wild and wonderful west coast

Fascinating Namibia has all the elements required for an exhilarating holiday in Africa, especially for those who love the Great Outdoors. The country has some of the most unusual and spectacular landscapes to be found anywhere on the continent, including the breath-taking Fish River Canyon, which is second only in size to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the magnificence of the Sossusvlei sand dunes and the wildlife in the Etosha National Park.

Namibia takes conservation seriously, and is the only country in Africa to designate its entire coastline as a National Park, or Protected Area. This 2000km stretch of coastline includes a large part of the Namib Desert, which is thought to be the oldest desert in Africa, and the eerily deserted Skeleton Coast. It is a wonderful place to go to get away from shackles of civilization and lose your-self in a landscape that has survived almost unchanged for thousands of years.

Landscape and the National Parks of Namibia

Although the arid territory of Namibia may at first seem to be too barren to support life, quite the opposite is true and even the heart of the desert is bustling with life, if you know where to find it! Let us take you on a journey of discovery to find some of the most outstanding must-see places in this unique country, moving from south to north.

Fish River Canyon National Park

The Fish River Canyon of Namibia is the largest canyon in Africa.
The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa, it can be experienced either by driving around its breathtaking viewpoints or venturing for multi-day treks inside the canyon.

The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa at over 160km long and up to 500m deep in places. It straddles the borders of South Africa and Namibia in a harsh and rocky landscape that looks desolate at first glance, but will reward intrepid visitors with a glimpse of the wide diversity of animals and plants that are found here. The best way to discover the Canyon is to go on one of the hiking trails, which will take you about 80km into the heart of the Canyon. You need to be reasonably fit and adventurous enough to sleep under the stars and bathe in the rock pools, but you will be rewarded by a fantastic experience. The floor of the canyon has permanent water, and there is a good variety of wildlife to see as you make your way, including the Klipspringer, a fabulous sure-footed little antelope that leaps from rock to rock. The trails are only open during the cooler winter months from May to September, so plan your trip accordingly. If you cannot face a full hiking trail, there are three lookout points that will put the amazing landscape in perspective, or you can do a limited walking trail around the Canyon perimeter.

Coastal National Parks

The entire length of the coastline, with the exception of a small area around the towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, has been designated a National Park, and is roughly divided into 2 sections, the Namib-Naukkluft National Park in the south and the Skeleton Coast National Park in the north.

Namib-Naukluft National Park

You simply cannot visit Namibia without seeing the Sossusvlei Sand Dunes.
Sossusvlei is home to the most striking landscapes of the Namib Desert, with Dune 45, Deadvlei and Hiddenvlei some of its most iconic spots.

North of the Fish River Canyon lies the southern (Naukluft) part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and this is where you will find the world-famous sand dunes of Sossusvlei (a “vlei” is a shallow depression that becomes filled with water after the rains). You simply cannot visit Namibia without seeing the dunes, and since they are at their magnificent best at sunrise and sunset, you should spend at least one night at a lodge on the edge of the Sesriem Park, where they are located. This way you can be first in line to climb to the top of the largest dune, Big Mama for the thrill of a lifetime and an unforgettable desert experience. If your budget allows, a hot-air balloon excursion will give you a magnificent birds-eye view of sunrise over the dunes.

Walvis Bay and Swakopmund

Walvis Bay is a great place to spend a couple of days.
Despite being some of the most "urbanized" areas in Namibia, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund still have that wild and remote feel, with plenty of wildlife and adventure activities available.

Lying roughly half-way between the southern and northern extremes of the coastline you will find the coastal towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, which occupy the only part of the coastline that is not included in the greater Namib Desert National Park. The typical German architecture of this pleasant little sea-side town will have you thinking you are in Europe, but the façade hides the town’s major draw-card as Namibia’s adventure-sport capital. The recreational part of the desert surrounding the town offers everything from sand-skiing, sand-boarding and quad-biking to para-sailing and sky-diving and a whole host of other adventure sports. At nearby Walvis Bay, you can go on a kayaking tour of the lagoon or take a dolphin-viewing excursion, making it a great place to spend a couple of days.

Skeleton Coast National Park

Skeleton Coast named after the many “skeletons” of ships that ran aground along this coastline.
The Skeleton Coast is aptly named after the many “skeletons” of shipwrecks that adorn its coastline and it is also home to some of the most fascinating of Namibia's desert-adapted wildlife species.

Moving still further north through the Namib Desert you will reach the notorious Skeleton Coast, so named for the many “skeletons” of ships that ran aground along this treacherous coastline. The southern parts of the park are accessible by 4X4, but the extreme northern parts are very remote and inaccessible except by air on a fly-in safari, which will give you the best possible overview of the area. Annual visitor numbers are restricted in the most remote northern area of the Skeleton Coast National Park in order to preserve the environment, but it is possible to spend a few nights in one of the most breath-taking parts of the Park where you can track Rhino and desert-adapted Elephant on foot and savour the solitude. Dolphins, Seals and Whales are commonly seen along this coastline and a good selection of antelope and other animals can be found along the dry river beds. Hyena’s have learnt to hunt the Seals and sometimes Lions have been observed feasting on a washed-up whale carcass.

One company offers flying safaris along the Skeleton Coast to give visitors a birds-eye view of one of the world’s most interesting sections of coastline, and can include visits to Damaraland to meet the Himba tribes. These tours can be anything from a couple of hours enjoying a scenic low-level flight along the coastline to extended 3-4 day safaris that combine flying and 4X4 explorations. Just think! You could be one of the very few lucky people to leave a footprint here!

Etosha National Park

Four of the Big Five (no Buffalo) can be found in the Etosha National Park.
Etosha National Park is the most popular safari reserve in Namibia, famous for its massive gatherings of animals around the waterholes that dot its arid landscape.

Etosha is Namibia’s premier wildlife Park, in the interior of the country. The Etosha Pan is an enormous shallow depression that is completely dry and covered in powdery white sand in winter, but becomes transformed into a shimmering sheet of turquoise water after the summer rains. The Park offers fantastic wildlife viewing all year round. In winter the animals congregate around the 15 permanent water holes, and this is where you need to be to see all the action. The Park has made full use of this and most of the camps are built on or near a water hole, and some are even flood-lit for some extraordinary night viewing without leaving the comfort of your camp. Four of the Big Five can be found here (no Buffalo) and you have an excellent chance of seeing some of the biggest Elephant in Africa, (they get especially big here due to the mineral content of the water), endangered Black Rhino and regular sightings of Lion, along with a good selection of other wildlife. In summer the Etosha Pan is just bristling with both local and migrating birds, including many Flamingo, and is a favourite with all bird watchers.

Bwabwata National Park

Bwabwata National Park is situated on an ancient animal migration route between Angola and Botswana and is still used as such by many animals each year, especially elephant.
Bwabwata National Park is situated on an ancient animal migration route between Angola and Botswana and is still used as such by many animals each year, especially elephant.

Bwabwata National Park is the most northern of Namibia’s wildlife areas, and also one of the best places to see large game. The park is situated in what was previously known as the Caprivi Strip, a long narrow piece of Namibian land that stretches east towards the Okavango Delta, between Angola and Botswana. The numbers of animals in the Park declined sharply during the Angolan conflict due to rampant poaching, but after the ceasefire in 2002 a community initiative has been set up in this Park to provide protection for the animals and revenue from eco-tourism for the local people. It has been very successful and animal numbers are once again on the increase and some rare species such as Red Lechwe and Sitatunga have been introduced. The Park is situated on an ancient animal migration route between Angola and Botswana, and is still used as such by many animals each year, especially Elephant. From this northern-most corner of Namibia it is very easy to get to the sensation Okavango Delta in Botswana – a most fitting end to any Namibian safari.

The best time to visit this Park is October, when water is becoming scarce and most of the animals are forced to congregate near the few permanent watering holes on the river. Be warned though, it will be very hot!

The People of Namibia

The oldest inhabitants are the San people, also known as the Khoisan or Bushmen.
The oldest inhabitants are the San people, also known as the Khoisan or Bushmen.

The people of Namibia are just as unique and colourful as the landscape, and the population is comprised of no less than 11 tribes and sub-tribes. The oldest inhabitants of the area are the San people, (also known as the Khoisan or Bushmen) who led hunter-gatherer lives here up to 30,000 years ago. The Bushmen’s ancient rock-art is still a national treasure which you can see at Twyfelfontein and Mount Spitzkop, among other places. The Himba Tribe are one of Namibia’s most interesting ethnic groups who continue to live a traditional nomadic life in some remote pockets of the country, where you can visit them to learn about their lifestyle at first hand. The rest of the population is made up of a diverse mixture of people of all races who like to collectively simply call themselves Namibians.

Fascinating Namibia

Fascinating Namibia should be on everyone’s holiday and safari wish-list. The abundance of activities on offer make this an ideal destination for people with a wide range of interests, and even the most demanding tourist will find something to enjoy. Being in the desert, Namibia can be extremely hot in summer and the best time to visit is definitely the cooler winter months from May to September.