Of all the ways to comprehend the vastness of the desert and marvel at the play of light on the dunes, it’s hard to beat the truly magical experience of witnessing sunrise over the Namib from a hot-air balloon. True, it doesn’t come cheap but if you only splurge on one activity during your trip, this should be it. Though you’ll only spend around an hour in the air, the whole event lasts several hours, starting with a pick-up around an hour before dawn, followed by a safety briefing, then the balloon envelope is inflated, you clamber aboard and lift off. To the west the dune sea ripples away towards the coast while the Naukluft Mountains stand guard to the east. As you float upwards, you can clearly make out the shapes of the various inselbergs below and track herds of springbok or solitary gemsbok as they trek across the desert. On landing you can enjoy a sumptuous champagne breakfast before being driven back to your lodgings.
Two companies operate balloon safaris in Namibia: Namib Sky Balloon Safaris (N$4,950; annual closure 15 Jan–15 Feb; t 063 683188, w namibsky.com) is based just south of Sesriem, and predominantly flies over the Namib-Naukluft National Park and NamibRand Reserve; Swakop Ballooning, based in Swakopmund, flies over the northern section of the Namib-Naukluft, and sometimes even further north towards the Spitzkoppe and Brandberg. It offers slightly cheaper safaris, depending on the time of year. Itineraries for both depend on the wind.