From a deserted town to enormous sand dunes and sunset cocktails above the city, here are ten unforgettable things to see and do in Namibia.
Second only in size to America’s Grand Canyon, Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is one of Africa’s unsung wonders. Starting just south of Seeheim, it winds 161km south to Ais-Ais and plummets to depths of 550 metres. Watching the sun rise and set over its layers of sandstone and lava is epic, but fit travellers can up the adventure by attempting one of southern Africa’s greatest hikes: a 85km five-day trek along the riverbed. Talk about off the beaten track.
Rise early and drive 10km east of port town Lüderitz to watch the first fingers of sunrise reach across the desert and light up the sands that have piled up high and inhabited every nook of this once-thriving town. The honey-toned beams reveal peeling wallpaper in empty kitchens, ceramic bathtubs waiting forlornly for a filling and empty picture frames dangling from unsteady nails. Pay a little more for a photography pass: it allows you to enter early and beat the tour-group crowds so you can explore this ghost town with soul in peace.
Forget springbok steak or biltong, Namibia’s culinary highlight is its homegrown ultra-fresh oysters. Thanks to the cold Benguela current that sweeps up the coast from Antarctica, the nutrient-rich waters means these pearly beauties can be harvested in just eight months instead of the three years it takes to grow French oysters. Join a boat tour to visit the nurseries and nibble them onboard, or order a platter with a glass of chilled white wine at a dockside restaurant.
Namibia’s foremost attraction doesn’t disappoint. The sand dunes inside Namib-Naukluft National Park are some of the highest in the world and seeing them light up at sunrise is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. Sossusvlei is in fact only one dune, but the name is often used to collectively describe a handful of others. The most photogenic are the 170 metre-high Dune 45 and Deadvlei, whose dried up clay basin is punctuated with the sculptural silhouettes of long-dead acacia trees.
Few tourists venture northwards to visit this narrow finger of lush land that juts out into Botswana, Zambia and Angola – those that do will be rewarded. The landscape is dotted with rondavel huts, roadside stalls selling fruit, and women in colourful clothes going about their daily business. Plus, two of the region’s national parks – Mamili and Mudumu – are becoming good safari destinations.
Etosha translates as “Great White Place” – an apt description for this endless pan of silvery salt-encrusted sand, which is all that remains of a large inland lake that stood here 12 million years ago. Come dry season, its southern waterholes attract elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland, blue wildebeest, thousand-strong herds of springbok, and even the endangered black rhinoceros. A handful of luxury resorts have views over the pan, so the game viewing can continue long into the night.
The barren, mountainous landscapes of the northern Kunene region are home to the Himba people – a semi-nomadic, polygamous tribe famed for wearing ochre-stained dreads and copper-wire bracelets. A number of tour companies will run visits to traditional villages, but a more rewarding (and perhaps ethical) way to meet the Himba is to base yourself in Opuwo, a vibrant little town, and wander for more candid interaction with the locals. From here you can also organise visits to Epupa falls.
Seeing wild cheetahs on safari is unforgettable, but at times viewings are no more than a glimpse of spots. For an up-close encounter, book to stay at Bagatella Kalahari Game Ranch: attached to the property is a 12-hectare enclosure belonging to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and it’s home to three orphaned cheetahs – Etosha, Rolf and Tuono – that are being rehabilitated for release. Seated safely aboard an open-sided Jeep, you can watch their caretaker dole out the evening feed (four kilos of meat each) then enjoy a sundowner atop the famous red dunes.
This otherworldly strip of coastline earned its named from the treacherous fogs and strong currents that forced many ships onto its uncharted sands. Hemmed in by the high, searing dunes of the Namib Desert and lack of fresh water many sailors perished here. Explore the rusted hulls of stranded ships, marooned whale ribs and kilometre-long stinky seal colonies.
Namibia’s capital is a city on the move. Take in the sights while sipping a cocktail and watching the sunset at the brand-new Hilton hotel’s Skybar – a rooftop bar complete with heated infinity pool and panoramic vistas overlooking Independence Avenue and the Supreme Court. It’s the perfect way to toast your Namibian adventure.
Get more inspiration from Rough Guides here. Book hostels for your trip, and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.