Why we love safaris to Namibia
Discover more about one of Africa’s most epic safari destinations
Other-worldly experiences await in the land God made in anger
Africa is dotted with vast tracts of arid desert – remote, often hostile places where the notion of life seems impossible and where the idea of a safari seems ridiculous. This is not the case with Namibia, where the breath-taking beauty of its stark landscapes and the uniqueness of its desert-adapted wildlife species have helped to position it as one of the sub-continent’s most sought-after destinations.
Wedged in the south-west corner of southern Africa, Namibia is a land like no other and offers some of the most incredible, life-changing safari experiences on the continent. It also holds a special place in our hearts. It was here, in 1989, that founder Shaun Stanley’s love affair with wild Africa began when he visited this mesmerizing desert nation with his family.
“We travelled to Sossusvlei, Etosha, Damaraland, Epupa Falls and the Fish River Canyon,” recalls Shaun. “It gave me my first taste of exploring the ‘real’ Africa and ignited a wanderlust in me that has never left,” he adds.
“I fell in love with the endless dunes of the Namib Naukluft, Damaraland’s petrified forest, the oasis of green around the Kunene River and the fascinating culture of the Himba people,” explains Shaun. “Now I am in the privileged position of being able to share my passion for the place that kindled my love of the African wilderness with my clients.”
So let’s look at what makes Namibia such a special, if not epic safari destination and why Shaun loves it so much…
Landscapes, landscapes, landscapes…
Out of this world. It’s a phrase that comes into its own in Namibia, where the scenery outshines virtually everything else about this incredible desert nation. It’s unlike anywhere else in Africa, and while you may think that vast arid landscapes may not hold much in the way of eye candy potential, think again – the vistas are both jaw-dropping and humbling.
From the Namib’s sea of sand, where endless dunes stretch like silent waves towards distant horizons and Damaraland’s towering, jagged mountain peaks that seem to slice through cloudless skies, to the shimmering white salt pans of Etosha and the verdant woodlands of the Caprivi Strip, Namibia is simply breath-taking.
The diversity is both astonishing and eye-catching – in one day’s drive you can experience incredibly different desert environments, each breathtakingly beautiful in their own right and inhabited by unique, endemic species that have adapted to the challenges such arid surroundings bring with them.
Here are the not-to-be-missed hotspots…
The Namib is the world’s most ancient desert and at the place where calcified white pans meet black petrified trees and soaring red sand dunes it has become the stuff of legend. This is where the seasonal Tsauchab River carves its way through the Sesriem canyon and is stopped in its tracks by walls of sand, causing the “dead-end marsh” after which Sossusvlei is named.
It’s here, in the heart of the Namib Naukluft National Park, that you’ll find Dune 45 – the most photographed sand dune on the planet – and Big Daddy, the father of all sand dunes that reaches some 325m in height, breaking records in the process.
Where to stay: Wolwedans – Located south of Sossusvlei on the NamibRand Nature Reserve, this one-of-a-kind destination offers conservation-centered sustainable tourism wrapped up in a wonderful, luxurious and thoroughly memorable package. Here, a collection of camps is nestled in between towering rocky mountains, grassy plains and rolling red sand dunes. The views are spectacular, the service exemplary and the experience just superlative..
Etosha National Park
Its name means “great white place” in the Oshindonga language, thanks to the boundless, flat Etosha salt pan which makes up the northern section of what is Namibia’s leading game reserve. It’s a stark, arid landscape, dotted with the occasional tree and man-made, pumped waterholes that attract a good diversity of endemic wildlife, including four of the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant and rhino.
Where to stay: Onguma Nature Reserve is the perfect base from which to explore Etosha and its surrounds. This 36,000ha private reserve is located adjacent to Etosha National Park and features a selection of accommodation options including the wonderful and distinctive Onguma The Fort. Alternatively, opt for the Mushara collection of camps along the eastern edge of Etosha. We can help you pick the perfect one for your needs.
Stretching all the way from the quaint and historic town of Swakopmund up to the northern border with Angola, this is one of the most desolate – and dangerous – coastlines in the world. It’s believed to have been named after the skeleton-like wrecks of ships that foundered in the cold and lethal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, littering the coast with their rusting carcasses.
It’s hard to distinguish where beach ends and the dunes of the Namib begin, but in spite of its barren appearance, the Skeleton Coast is filled with life, from colonies of Cape fur seals, jackals and brown hyenas to desert lions who occasionally prey on seals. It also brings life to the interior, thanks to the nutrient-rich fog that blows inland carrying moisture that’s critical to the survival of desert plants and animals alike.
Where to stay: Shipwreck Lodge is the only lodge on a massive 146,600ha concession between the Hoarusib and Hoanib Rivers in the Skeleton Coast National Park. This makes it one of the most, if not THE most exclusive lodge in Namibia! Secreted amongst the dunes with views out over the Atlantic, Shipwreck Lodge takes its design cue from the wrecks that dot the coastline. Understated, elegant, simple and yet luxurious, it’s simply outstanding.
Expansive, rugged to the point of harsh and fearfully dry, this region of north-west Namibia is marked by wide, grassy plains and impressive mountains that have been indelibly marked by history, both geographic and human. This is where you’ll find unique rock formations caused by ancient volcanic intrusions and petroglyphs – unique rock engravings that are thousands of years old, carved by the San bushmen who inhabited the region around what is now Twyfelfontein.
Petrified forests also dot the landscape, which is interrupted by Namibia’s highest mountain – the impressive Brandberg, which towers 2573m high and is home to a wealth of ancient rock art.
Where to stay: Desert Rhino Camp in north-western Damaraland offers an immersive and exclusive wilderness experience combined with the chance to see some of the last remaining free-roaming desert-adapted black rhino in Africa, as well as Hartmann’s zebra, giraffe, and the odd but extraordinarily hardy welwitschia plant. You have the option of tracking rhino by vehicle or on foot, along with experts from the Save The Rhino Trust. Not to be missed
Kaokaland and the Kunene River
Even more remote than Damaraland, and further north, stretching up to the border with Angola, this awe-inspiring region of Namibia begs to be explored. It’s home to the fascinating Himba people, who to this day live a traditional nomadic way of life in this harsh and challenging environment.
The Himba women daub their bodies and their hair in a mixture of animal fat and red ochre, turning their skin a rich, deep red and creating distinctive, unique hair art in the process. This tradition makes them among the most photographed tribes in Africa.
Forming the border with Angola, the Kunene River snakes through the desert like a glistening, green snake. Its perennial waters give rise to oasis-like forests along its edges, complete with swaying palm trees and tumble down over the beautiful Epupa Falls – a series of impossibly beautiful cascades that end in an equally scenic gorge, where huge baobabs cling to the rocks as if hanging on for dear life. Crocodiles sun themselves on sand banks and birdsong fills the air. This region of Namibia is highly recommended.
Where to stay: Choose from the beautiful Serra Cafema on the Kunene River,
Okahirongo Elephant Camp and Okahirongo River Lodge at Marienfluss, wedged between the Kunene and the Skeleton Coast, Hoanib Valley Camp and Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, both located in some of the most beautiful areas of Kaokaland with the kind of views that are life-affirming. All these luxury safari camps immerse guests in a range of incredible activities, from searching for desert adapted elephants and other wildlife to meeting the Himba people and learning more about their culture.
Life, but not as we know it…
Namibia is not a place you go to for high-octane game viewing. Don’t expect huge concentrations of wildlife but do expect unique, desert-adapted species and spectacular sightings of iconic animals in enormously impressive landscapes.
From desert-adapted elephant, lion and rhino to leopard and cheetah, Namibia is blessed with its share of photogenic superstars. Add to the mix gemsbok (oryx), springbok, zebra, giraffe, brown hyena, jackal, Cape fur seals and even wild horses, and you’re still just scratching the surface.
The dunes themselves are home to some fascinating creatures, such as the palmato gecko, shovel-snouted lizard, sidewinder snakes, Namaqua chameleon, dancing white lady spider and tok-tokkie beetle. There are also some 680 recorded bird species that can be seen in Namibia, from lovebirds and raptors to ostriches and larks.
Add to these endemic, rare and endangered species like the black-faced impala, painted wolf (African wild dog) and black rhino, and you know that Namibia is going to deliver the goods when it comes to putting on a wildlife show par excellence.
Our Rhino and Elephants Safari takes in the best of Damaraland, Kaokaland, Sossusvlei and includes a stay at Wolwedans. Or try our most popular Namibian itinerary – the Flying Safari – including Sossusvlei, Damaraland, Kaokaland, Kunene and the Skeleton Coast all by private plane, giving you exclusive access to these incredible destinations.
If you feel like doing it yourself, then opt for our Self-drive Namibia Safari offering a circuitous route from Windhoek to Etosha, Damaraland, Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.
Many African countries also link well with Namibia, including Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and even Sao Tome and Principe! Check out two great itineraries here and here and get in touch to talk to us about putting together a bespoke Namibian itinerary just for you.