Sandwiched between the Southern Atlantic Ocean and the Kalahari Desert, Namibia was one of the last countries in Africa to attain independence from colonial/apartheid rule. A country that is almost the same geographical size as the continent’s most populous nation Nigeria, it is home to less than three million people.
But where the country falls short in sheer human numbers, it more than makes up for it in its vast tourist potential. Considered being one of the best kept holiday secrets in Southern Africa, this country dominated by the Namib and Kalahari Deserts, though offering much more, is seeing a rapid growth in visitors drawn from all over the world.
Namibia’s fascinating landscapes, imposing mountains, desolate deserts, rich wildlife, abandoned mining towns and colonial cities are the stuff of many photographers’ dreams. The country’s topography can be roughly divided into 4 – the coastline and Namib Desert to the west, the Central Plateau, the Kalahari Desert along the Botswana and South Africa border, and the dense bushveld of the Caprivi and Kavango regions.
Despite the inhospitable climate, Namibia is home to some of the most picturesque wildlife ranges on the planet. This coupled with miles upon miles of desert dune fields and the country’s seaside vacation epicentre Swakopmund mean the country virtually has a little bit of everything.
And even better for tourists, Namibia is one of a select few countries in the world that are fortunate to have their administrative and commercial capital virtually at the geographic centre of the country. When you fly into Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, you are dead centre of Namibia.
Tourists to Namibia can expect to experience a unique blend of cultures. Some of the top attractions in Namibia are listed below.
The country’s name is derived from this desert that stretches over more than 600 miles of Namibia’s South Atlantic coastline. Believed by some to be the oldest dry desert on the planet, the height of its tallest dunes is the stuff of legend. The rust coloured sands appear to change colour at dawn and dusk. Soussuslvei is the best place to see the massive desert dunes. The Namib Desert is also the place to see the amazing Welwitschia plants – a species that can live for more than a thousand years relying on nothing but humidity from ocean breeze.
Fish River Canyon
The world’s second largest canyon and the largest in Africa, the Fish River Canyon is 100 miles long and plunges 1800 feet from the plateau above at its deepest. It is towards the south of the country near the South African border. Carved by the seasonal Fish River, a hike along the canyon’s length usually takes 5 days. But because more than 90 percent of the canyon falls within privately owned land, there are no hotels along the hiking trail – hikers spend the night in tents. The trail ends at the Ai-Ai hot springs that are said to be therapeutic.
The undisputed beach holiday capital of Namibia, Swakopmund’s town streets are neatly lined with gently swaying palm trees and dominated by colonial-era architecture. Typical of such a heavily tourism-dependent town, there are numerous restaurants and hotels. The peak season runs between November and January. Though the heat would seem to make swimming an irresistible proposition, remember that this is the Atlantic – the waters are too cold for the average person to enjoy taking a dip. Instead, revellers make do with fishing tours, dolphin spotting and whale watching. Away from the beach, Swakopmund’s backdrop is the Namib Desert and this is a growing attraction for adventure sport enthusiasts. Sand boarding and quad biking down the dunes are a must for every visiting adrenaline junkie.
A vast desolate rocky shoreline in the country’s north whose heavy fog was notorious for causing many shipwrecks along. And evidence of ships that had to abruptly end their journey here is everywhere.
Kaokoland is the arid, rocky, sparsely populated and remote homeland of the indigenous Himba people. Ideal for hiking, the landscape is flavoured by several mountains, rivers and waterfalls. This is one of the places where one can catch a glimpse of desert elephants.
Etosha National Park
A famous wildlife park in Namibia’s north whose salt pan is a source of precious water for many animals during the dry season. The 7.722 square miles of Etosha are home to more than 90 of the most impressive animal species, including elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards, cheetahs and the rare black rhinos. There are few places in Namibia better than Etosha when it comes to capturing exceptional wildlife photos.
The country’s capital is known for its German-built buildings among whom many are more than a century old. Those include the Christ Church, the Old Train Station, Namibia’s parliament Tintenpalast and three castles. Windhoek is also home to Namibia’s version of Soweto – the Katutura Township.
Nyae Nyae Conservancy
The San Bushmen are one of a select number of peoples worldwide whose culture has remained little changed over thousands of years. The Nyae Nyae Conservancy is an excellent place to see firsthand the Bushmen’s daily life. Sadly, this San homeland shares the same abhorrent history with other San territory when successive national governments attempted to force the Bushmen into a different lifestyle.
An abandoned mining town that has since been invaded by sand dunes. The sight of magnificent mansions half-buried in sand is a testament of how drastically the fortunes of a mining town can change.
Luderitz is better known for its proximity to Kolmanskop and the departure point for guided tours of the ghost town. But Luderitz has well preserved German era buildings that make it worth a visit on its own.
If you are familiar with the rest of Namibia before seeing Caprivi Strip for the first time, you may be forgiven for understanding why the region has perhaps considered secession. Unlike, the greater Namibia where dry desert and sparse population is the norm not the exception, Caprivi Strip is green, fertile and significantly populated. It is a narrow strip of land that the German colonialists claimed as a means of easy access to the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls and the East Coast of Africa.
At 8,550 feet, the Brandberg Mountain in the north western fringes of the Namib Desert is the country’s tallest mountain. The many caves on the mountain conceal treasures of San rock art dating thousands of years. The paintings depict everything from epic hunting scenes to legendary tales of ancient San life. The highlight is the 2000 year old ‘White Lady’ painting depicting a hunting scene.
Waterberg Plateau Park
The site of what is thought to be the most violent event in Namibia’s modern history, the Waterberg Plateau is where German colonial forces massacred thousands people from the indigenous Herero peoples effectively wiping out close to two-thirds of their population. But thankfully, the plateau is now a peaceful and beautiful location that was designated a nature reserve in 1972. The park is a conservancy for rhino, cheetah, sable and buffalo.