Top 10 Things To Do in Namibia
Ruacana Falls, at the end of a long bumpy ride, could well be one of Africa’s great waterfalls if the river wasn’t plugged for hydropower. And don’t get me started on the tragically named Popa Falls: beautiful they are, waterfalls they are not.
Yes, the strudel at Solitaire is sublime and the Black Forest cake at Café Anton is legendary but let's face it: you're not going to fly half way around the world for a pastry.
The guide books aren't wrong, they're just, well, misguided. They make a mockery of the unique experiences Namibia has to offer by serving up the routine piffle of the well-worn tourist paths.
Here then is our take on what you should fly around the world for. The top ten things to do in Namibia. Unique and exhilarating experiences that will last a lifetime in no particular order because they are all amazing activities and you will need at least two visits to get them all in.
The Sky's the Limit
Perhaps the most striking difference between Namibia and pretty much anywhere else on Earth is the vastness of our open skies. Horizons disappear into the future and the unpolluted night sky into the distant past. Be humbled, it's quite liberating.
Turn the tables and experience the scale of Namibia's landscape from the sky. Discover just how big, how empty and how spectacularly beautiful this great country is.
Top of the airborne activities has to be ballooning over Sossusvlei. The great sand sea of the Namib Desert tops our Best Places to Visit in Namibia list with good reason. Colours, patterns, changing light and the eerie silence of balloon flight combine to make this an almost surreal experience. Do it. Save up, break into the college fund, raid Grandma's "cookie jar" or sell the Eiffel Tower. Whatever. Just do it.
If the cookie jar is empty or your itinerary intervenes, you can also take a scenic flight from Swakopmund over Skeleton Coast to Sossusvlei and back. You'll see more and be back in time for happy hour at the Brauhaus.
Not that you'll notice the scenery much but exhilarating all the same is a tandem skydive out of a perfectly good aeroplane at 10,000 feet or, for the (slightly) less insane, some low-level paragliding over the dunes at Swakopmund.
Victoria Falls is not technically a Namibian attraction but as it's one of our most popular add-ons we'd be remiss to leave out the Flight of Angels - an aerial view of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. At one mile wide, Victoria Falls is almost too big to appreciate. From the air, you can appreciate the scale and majesty of this World Heritage Site and understand just why it is one of Africa's most-visited attractions. Those who have done it swear the Flight of Angels is the only way to experience the might of Victoria Falls.
Scratch the Desert
At 80 million years by some estimates, the beautiful Namib is the world's oldest desert. That means two things: 1) this is not a man-made desert and 2) life has adapted to its arid conditions.
Namib Desert tours reveal an astounding assortment of life straight out of a fantasy novel: a diamond-boom ghost town and feral horses near Luderitz; transparent geckos, cartwheeling spiders, legless lizards, endemic birds and 2,000-year-old single-species plants near Swakopmund; and of course, the stars of the show, the extraordinary desert-adapted elephants of Damaraland and Kaokoland.
By an ironic twist of nature, the cold Atlantic current responsible for 2,000km of desert on Africa's west coast is itself teeming with life and abundance. Micronutrients by the billion blown north and upwards from the south pole sustain the highly productive Benguela ecosystem.
The Skeleton Coast of Namibia, so rich in life and activity, is an open-air, all-natural aquarium. Marine cruises in the Walvis Bay lagoon bring you into close contact with dolphins, seals, mola molas, penguins, turtles and humpback whales (from July to November). Birdlife is prolific as well with flamingos, pelicans, cormorants, petrels, gannets and oystercatchers swooping down on you. For an even closer encounter join an early morning sea kayaking tour of the lagoon or you can combine a marine cruise with a desert tour in the same day.
The Walvis Bay lagoon is a RAMSAR Wetlands Site meaning it's got lots and lots of birds including plovers, grebes, egrets, herons, sandpipers, teals, geese, gulls, terns and many more. The lagoon is also a reliably windy spot and its flat-ish waters offer excellent kite surfing for a more adventurous Skeleton Coast experience.
Further north on the Skeleton Coast at Cape Cross along a stretch of salt road, bordered by desolate gravel plans and fog-shrouded dunes on one side and the roaring shipwreck-dotted Atlantic coast on the other, is one of the largest Cape fur seal colonies in the world. About 100,000 seals inhabit a rocky outcrop patrolled by sharks and presided over by a rather tactile stench.
Cruise the River
While most of this massive country is permanently parched, the north-eastern reaches of Namibia are lush sub-tropical wildlife paradises with perennial rivers winding through the Caprivi in languid splendour.
Three great rivers cut through this narrow strip en route to great ends: the Okavango becomes the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe river system flows through Chobe National Park and joins the big one - the Zambezi River - adding its significant weight to Victoria Falls.
Swamps, floodplains, woodlands and open savannahs surround the rivers and several game reserves protect the whole biosphere. Filled with Africa's famed wildlife including lions, elephants, buffalos, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, hunting dogs and many antelope species, the Caprivi is genuine safari territory.
And what better way to enjoy a safari than floating gently down the river? Options include traditional dug-outs, poled by a local guide in silence through the channels and around islands, canoeing, sunset cruises and luxury houseboats with air conditioning and haute cuisine. You can stay in a luxury lodge on an island, overnight on a sandbank on a boating safari or take daily game viewing cruises from any number of safari lodges themselves an experience of wild beauty.
Take a Hike
Namibia is a hiker's dream: unique and spectacular scenery devoid of humans or predatory wildlife and dry almost all year round. From slackpacking sojourns to multi-day, self-guided treks, Namibia's hiking options are legion.
Pick your landscape and there's a hike for it: you want mountains and streams, there's the 17km Waterkloof Trail in the Namib-Naukluft Park or the Waterberg Plateau Trail; you want to experience the Namib Desert by night there's the unmissable Tok Tokkie trail, portered and luxurious; you want wildlife, there's the Mundulea Nature Reserve walking trails; you want to break your back? The Fish River Canyon is an 85km boulder-hopping, sand-trudging, river-fording monster of a trek, easily one of the world's greatest wilderness hikes. The hot springs at the end make it all worth it.
The list of hiking options is long. You can hike in Sossusvlei, the Fish River Canyon, Brandberg Mountain, Spitzkoppe, Damaraland, Caprivi and Kaokoland and every option is guaranteed first-rate.
Just like the hiking options, pick your terrain and there's a ride ready for it. Multi-day rides take you through the achingly beautiful Namib Desert, Fish River Canyon, the Caprivi, Damaraland and the Khomas Hochland Mountains. Overnight under the stars, at rustic cabins or in luxury lodges.
Whichever route you chose and however you choose to do it, a mounted safari through Namibia is really what riding is all about. Landscapes, untouched by humans, wildlife unafraid of your presence and great open stretches of land. It's magical.
And for a saddle of a different kind, Namibia is experiencing a growing demand for cycling tours and safaris. You can ride almost all of Namibia's amazing attractions including Sossusvlei, the Namib Desert, Skeleton Coast, Damaraland, Kaokoland throwing in a safari in Etosha for good measure.
For all its astounding adventure activities and unique experiences Namibia remains a prime wildlife safari destination. Not entirely unique - although the desert elephants might object - a safari in Namibia is the genuine, big five, wild west, bucking bronco article.
Etosha National Park is one of the greatest game reserves in Africa with enormous elephants, plenty of lion even black and white rhino, in fact the only animal not in attendance is the buffalo. But don't worry there's plenty of those in the Caprivi.
Vast private reserves offer exclusive game viewing around Etosha and on the plains of central Namibia. Luxury lodges, open-air safari vehicles, professional guides and abundant game make a Namibian safari something special.
Even more special are the unique desert-adapted species of elephant, rhino, lion, oryx, springbok, ostrich and many, many birds. All this in the stunning Damaraland and Kaokoland landscapes. Now we're back on familiar territory: Namibia's unique landscape and wildlife.
Watch the World Go By
From the fascinating ochre-stained, dreadlocked Himba living off the land and in harmony with the wildlife and the extraordinary Victorian-garbed Herero women to the charming San Hunter-gatherers and their ancient rock art, Namibia has its fair share of unique and interesting cultures.
The German influence is equally fascinating juxtaposed onto an African setting. Ludwig Koch Strasse takes you along Swakopmund's beachfront to Bismarck Strasse and the Brauhaus where native German speakers swill giant tankards of golden ale brewed according to the German Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot.
It's a strange old place is Namibia. You'll love it.
Make a Difference
Namibia has many excellent volunteer programmes offering the avid voluntourist something special, something rewarding and something genuinely beneficial to the local communities.
Work with community-run conservancies, the San bushmen, healthcare providers, orphanages, desert elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, lions, vultures and general wildlife.
Namibia makes award-photographers of every novice. Colours, patterns, textures, wildlife, birdlife, people. And of course, if you partake in any of the aforementioned not-to-be-missed adventures, your pictures will tell a thousand stories and bring back memories of your most amazing Namibian holiday. Or holidays, because you'll be back, that much we know.
Etosha is a particularly good game reserve for photographic safaris with its waterholes attracting a tableau of Africa's wildlife. Sossusvlei, the Dead Pan and the Great Sand Sea are obvious targets that will reward your early morning rise.
Subject matter is as varied as the day is long: damaraland's soft colours, an elephant against a sand dune backdrop, the graceful straight-horned oryx staring down its nose at the world, the colourful Himba and Herero, the wrinkly San, shipwrecks against a brooding sky, sunsets and reflections, waterfalls (real ones, real big ones), eerie moonscapes, night shoots and everywhere great open spaces and open roads.
We love Namibia. Your camera will too.
Why Only Top 10 Things To Do in Namibia?
Why not the top 9 things to do in Namibia? Or 13? Truth be told if we could list all the amazing activities Namibia has on offer you'd be overwhelmed by choice. Like a farmboy in a mega toy store. And maybe, just maybe, we'd include the apple strudel at Solitaire.
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Namibia has some beautiful, unique and extraordinary scenery. Attractions abound and activities are limitless. But it's the whole journey that is the most extraordinary attraction of them all. Just driving through the country will be an experience quite unlike any you've had before. While parts of Namibia resemble other places - like the Kruger Park and Okavango Delta - no other place on Earth comes close to resembling Namibia.
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