A recent 10-day road trip to southern Namibia ended up being one of my best travel assignments, ever. I love Namibia – it’s easy to travel in, there’s lots of awesome stuff to do and it’s like no other place I’ve ever been to. In a relatively short trip my travel partner (my boyfriend) and I managed to do and see some pretty cool stuff.
These are my top 10 favourite things to do in southern Namibia:
1. Hot air ballooning over the Namib Desert
This had to be the top of my list. I think it’s probably on a lot of people’s bucket lists somewhere, and for good reason. Taking off at dawn, we watched the sun rise over the Namib-Naukluft National Park, flew over dunes that looked like play-dough and startled ant-like gemsbok. It’s definitely better seen than described though – look at the photos and you’ll be tempted to book your flight right now. The only complaint I had was that the short flight felt like it was over in seconds. We had an exciting ‘sports landing’ (we had to hold on to the basket as we tipped over on impact) and then a lavish champagne breakfast was laid out for us at the foot of some dunes. We sipped bubbly and munched on zebra salami, smoked salmon and croissants in the middle of the desert. In a word, it was awesome.
Contact: Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, tel +264-63-683-188
Cost: R3950 a person
Info: The cost includes pick up and drop off from several hotels near Sossusvlei, as well as breakfast.
2. Walking trail with Tok Tokkie
Sleeping under the stars in the desert was my favourite night of the trip. After walking for the day over sand dunes and in vast landscape of the NamibRand Nature Reserve, led by our knowledgeable guide, Mike, our group of four reached ‘camp’ – a semi-permanent kitchen set up on a hill with ‘bedrooms’ spread out from it. Our ‘bedroom’ consisted of two stretchers with bed rolls and a paraffin lamp. After drinks and snacks, we sat down to a three-course meal prepared by the chef and then tucked ourselves into our bed rolls (warmed with hot water bottles). I fell asleep staring at the milky way and woke up just before dawn and watched the sky lighten slowly from inside my warm and comfy bed roll in the oldest desert in the world. I’ll go back to Namibia just to do that again.
Contact: Tok Tokkie, tel +264-61-264-521
Cost: For SADC residents it costs R1452 a person a night in the high season, which is July, August and September (the walking trail is two nights and three days). Low season rates (all months except July, August and September) start at R1386 a person a night. The rates include a guide, meals, drinks and equipment.
Info: You don’t need to take anything with you other than your bag (which is transported for you) and your camera. All the sleeping equipment, linen and towels are provided.
3. Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei
This is what most visitors to Namibia come to see – the iconic red dunes of the Namib. It’s one of the most touristy places in Namibia but because we went in the afternoon rather than at sunrise we practically had the place to ourselves. We couldn’t stop taking photos of everything, but my favourite spot was Deadvlei – it’s unbelievably beautiful. It’s a big cracked mud plain dotted with dead trees. That doesn’t make it sound particularly impressive, but it’s the setting among the apricot dunes and the silence and the other-wordliness of it that makes it so unusual.
Contact: You need to get a permit to enter the park from the NWR office, before the gates to the park.
Cost: The permit costs R60 a person (for SADC residents) and R10 a car.
Info: The park opens at sunrise and closes at sunset so you have to time your trip well – it takes an hour to get from Sossusvlei to the park gates.
This eerie ghost town just outside of Luderitz is another pretty unique spot. The town sprung up in the desert when diamonds were found littering the dunes, but when bigger diamonds were discovered elsewhere in Namibia, the town’s inhabitants moved on. The last people left around 50 years ago and since then, the desert has taken over the buildings. We went on a tour of the bowling alley, dairy, butchery, town hall and some of the houses, learning about how the 300 Germans lived in the inhospitable environment. We then spent ages exploring the town ourselves, shooting reams of photos.
Contact: Ghost Town Tours, firstname.lastname@example.org, +264-63-204-031
Cost: It costs R55 a person for a permit to visit Kolmanskop, which includes a tour with Ghost Town Tours. You need to buy your permit before you get to Kolmanskop from Ghost Town Tours, located in Luderitz.
Info: You can also get a photographer’s permit, which allows you to visit Kolmanskop at sunrise and sunset.
These are supposed to be the most scenic roads in the whole country. We drove on them from just past Aus all the way to the NamibRand Private Nature Reserve, on the border of the Namib Naukluft Park. Think long, straight, red, dusty roads surrounded by mountains, silvery swathes of grassy plains punctuated with terracotta dunes. And silence. We only passed a couple of cars on the entire three-hour drive. We often stopped the car to take photos of the scenery and couldn’t stop marvelling at the glorious, wonderful silence.
6. Wild horses of Garub pan
No one knows exactly where the wild horses of the desert come from – there are speculations that they belonged to the South African military or to a local farmer. So, according to Wikipedia, a group of feral horses is called a band, mob, harem or a herd. I think these horses are a harem. We couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful wild creatures in the golden sunset light.
Info: Find the horses on the B2 from Aus to Luderitz – they can often be spotted at the waterhole on the right hand side of the road (if you’re driving towards Luderitz) or follow the signpost marked ‘Wild horses’ to the lookout point.
7. Sand boarding in Swakopmund
Despite being absolutely useless at sandboarding in Swakopmund, I actually enjoyed it. What was more fun was going down a steep sand dune at a speed of 74km/hr lying on my stomach on a piece of hardwood. The beer afterwards, provided by our sandboarding company, went down rather well after that.
Contact: Alter-Action, tel +26464402737
Cost: R385 for stand-up boarding and R280 for lie-down boarding
Info: The cost includes pick up from and drop off at your hotel/backpackers, several hours of boarding, lunch and beer – it’s a great deal.
8. The Fish River Canyon and hot springs at Ai-Ais
After a really, really long drive from Swakopmund, we arrived at the Fish River Canyon just in time for sunset. I know that it’s not actually the second largest canyon in the world, but it is pretty big and rather spectacular. It’s a short drive from the canyon viewpoint to NWR’s Ai-Ais Camp, which has a couple of hot springs underneath it to provide relaxing hot, steamy soaks. Chilling out in the camp’s heated pool after a 12-hour day in the car was brilliant.
Contact: NWR, +264-61-285-7200
Cost: It costs R125 to camp at Ai-Ais.
Info: Ai-Ais Camp is a great place to spend a night or a few days before driving back to South Africa – it’s only a couple of hours from the border.
9. Camelthorn beer
Swakopmund Brauhaus was the ideal place to drink Namibian micro-brewed beer, Camelthorn. We downed a couple of pints of Weizenbocks and felt we could have been in Germany, what with all the German people tucking into eisbeins and schnitzels and drinking Erdinger. The Camelthorn beer was delicious and we went on to drink more of it at Swakopmund’s most popular restaurant, the Tug, later that evening. We were just disappointed to have only discovered it on our last night of the trip (we drank good ol’ Windhoek the rest of the time).
Contact: Camelthorn, tel +264-61-411-250; Swakopmund Brauhaus, tel +264-64-402-214; The Tug, tel +264-64-402-356
Info: You can find Camelthorn beer all over Namibia and in selected liquor stores in South Africa. They produce weissbier, ale, lagers and flavoured weissbier (for the ladies). Book ahead for dinner at the Swakopmund Brauhaus (you can have drinks at the bar) and book at least a week in advance for dinner at the Tug in peak tourist seasons.
10. Apple pie in Solitaire
The little oasis at Solitaire is one of the best roadside stops I’ve ever been to. There’s a petrol station, accommodation, campsite, general dealer, restaurant, and, of course, the bakery where the legendary Moose sells his famous apple pie. This is a great place for a pit stop before you hit the long road to either Swakop or Windhoek. Even if you aren’t hungry, stop in at the bakery and stock up on their delicious treats – especially the wedges of moreish apple pie.
Cost: A hefty slice of pie is R20.
Info: Find Solitaire at the T-junction of the C14 and C19 roads, north of Sossusvlei. It’s on the road to both Swakopmund and Windhoek from Sossusvlei, so you’re likely to pass it – don’t miss a stop here.