Best of Namibia
Updated: Nov 18
Namibia is a country that captures the imagination. Its dramatic scenery, abundant wildlife, ancestral cultures and colonial towns, all attract travellers looking for an adventure-filled destination. Often referred to as "Africa for beginners", Namibia is a country that is easy to explore thanks to its well-maintained infrastructure and friendly people. It is also filled with gems, five of which should be included in any itinerary within this picturesque country.
Meeting the San people
With only 2.5 million citizens, the vast country of Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world (Mongolia is the least). Sharing the land are no less than 11 different ethnic groups, an incredible diversity of people for such small numbers!
Believed to have lived in Namibia and nearby areas for over 30,000 years are the Bushmen, or San people. A group of hunter-gatherers, the men traditionally went out bush to hunt for meat, whilst the women collected edible plants and sourced water.
Nowadays, the San people live a different life with modern comforts. They keep in touch with the traditions of their forebears via programs such as living museums. Visitors in attendance can travel back in time and see first-hand how the local people used to live, thanks to these individuals who recreated their ancestral lives.
For a couple of hours, the San people showed us how their ancestors lived in the bush. They speak a fascinating language that contains click sounds. To fully understand, we were accompanied by a bushman who could translate what was explained to us into English. In saying that, our lively guide used a lot of sign language and miming. His great sense of humour and boisterous personality created a fun and genuine atmosphere in which we felt like we were bonding.
He told us that when he was younger, he used to be a hunter and recreated a stalking scene for us where he took down an enormous kudu with his brother. He also showed us how the surrounding bushland provided his people with everything they needed. Plants, roots, bark, insects...everything was put to use in ingenious ways to nourish, treat ailments, create shelters, crockery, weapons or even clothes and tasteful jewellery.
The San people are extremely welcoming. Everyone was smiling and excited to share a piece of their captivating History with us. We were even treated to local chants and dances, which was a perfect way to end our experience.
Etosha National Park
A safari in Etosha National Park is unlike any other. "The Great White Place" as it's known in the local Ovambo language is characterised by its semi-desert, semi-savannah landscape and its distinctive salt pan which can be seen from space.
Perhaps the most unique feature of this park is its many waterholes. Some are natural occurrences, others are man-made, and all are a haven for the hundreds of animal species that share this area. Etosha National Park is home to four of the big five (minus buffalos) and offers incredible game viewing opportunities. Indeed, a safari around the park comprises stops at many of the watering holes, where wildlife gather in great numbers.
On our safaris there, we saw herds of elephants joyfully bathing in a pool at night, hyenas preying on wary herds of oryx, jackals surveying the water for a feathered breakfast, and towers of giraffes bending down for a drink.
The park also boasts camps built around waterholes, where viewing platforms can be used by guests to admire the local wildlife while enjoying a refreshing bath or drink. This means you can experience the best the park has to offer from your accommodation while sipping your favourite drink. Pretty amazing right?
Some of my favourite sightings whilst at camp include observing a dazzle of zebra come for a drink at the waterhole, and also seeing a male rhino court a female a mere 50-100 metres away from me!
It took us a couple of days to cross the width of the park. Driving along the flat lands with its eye-watering palette of white colours felt like a true adventure. Herds of wildebeest and impala were peacefully grazing along the sides of the road but the land is so vast that sometimes we could drive for half an hour without a sighting. But then our patience would be rewarded with amazing spotting like a rhino mum and her calf.
Cape Cross Seal Reserve
As soon as we opened the door of the truck to get out, a very distinct smell came wafting through, and a wave of nausea took hold of me. Welcome to the "smelly corner"! Unfortunately, there is no sugarcoating this, the smell of seals is pungent, and it feels like it sticks to you for hours on end (it certainly did to me!). BUT, don't let this deter you. The experience is worth it.
The largest seal colony in the world can be observed at Cape Cross, on the famous skeleton coast of Namibia. The seals are there year-round, with numbers that can reach up to 210,000 individuals. The breeding season between November and December sees their numbers at their highest. In August, the colony was probably at its lowest, with perhaps a tenth of the seals present. Visiting then has its advantages, including a less disturbing smell...
Seals lie down everywhere, even in the car park. Mums nurse their pups, youngsters play with each other, and males assert their territory with loud grunts, and sometimes even partake in a quick chest-to-chest fight. The bleating cries of the seal pups looking for their mother is an odd goat-like sound, like a "maa" cry. And the pair won't hesitate to shuffle over other seals to find each other amidst the hubbub.
Out in the distance, one can also see seals plunge into the cold waters to go hunting or see surf onto the beach. The view over the ocean is really beautiful, with giant waves that come crashing into the coastline.
A boardwalk facilitates the visit, which could take you between 20 minutes and an hour. It's not timed, but your visit will largely depend on your resilience to the smell...
The Namib Desert
Dating back around 55 million years, the Namib is the world's oldest desert. A sea of red sand, dotted only by very few succulent plants and cacti, it is the iconic landscape one might think of when mentioning Namibia.
The Namib desert displays shifting dunes, some of which are the highest in the world! It is also, quite incredibly, home to a wide array of wildlife that has adapted to the harsh living conditions such as lions, elephants, rhinos and oryx.
Sossuvlei, the main attraction, is a salt and clay pan surrounded by spectacular dunes rising to 300 metres. Hiking up one of these dunes at dawn is an amazing experience and one that is astonishingly challenging. Watching the first sun rays grace the landscape with hues of golden light is well worth the climb.
Another area that seems fixed in time is nearby Deadvlei. An area where the river Tsauchab once flowed through, is now completely dried up due to the shift of dunes blocking the river's path. Deadvlei is characterised by the camel thorn trees which died in the climate change process. Against all odds, they have remained standing for the past 900 years and now attract many visitors wishing to see this incredible natural wonder with their own eyes.
Reminiscent of the Australian outback, Spitzkoppe is perhaps lesser-known than Sossusvlei or Deadvlei but just as extraordinary. Nicknamed the "Matterhorn of Namibia" for its craggy peaks, the mountain is a striking feature that rises to 1,728 metres above ground. Withstanding the test of time, it's composed of granite that's believed to be more than 120 million years old!
While the mountain should not be ascended without a knowledgeable local guide, visitors can walk along many nature trails around the area in search of birdlife or the elusive rock Hyrax. Spitzkoppe is also the site of the Bushman Paradise Cave where ancient rock art depicting animal and human figures from thousands of years ago can be admired.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon in the USA) and an important landmark in Namibia. A soulful place, the canyon is bordered by an 85km long hiking trail which can be completed in the cooler months between April and September. Starting at Hobbas, the trail generally takes 4-5 days to complete, ending at the Ai-Ais hot springs.
The canyon can also be enjoyed in a day. Visitors can walk alongside it and admire the breathtaking views from the viewpoint, which is equipped with picnic facilities for sundowners. This is a great place to either start or end your Namibian itinerary.