The 12 best things to do and places to explore in Namibia

Posted by Matt Sterne on 14 May 2021

Garth Owen-Smith once said of the Kaokoveld, one of the wildest places in Namibia, ‘The region is stark and hostile, but in the early morning and late afternoon light, when the basalt rocks turn to the color of rust, and the distant mountains to soft shades of purple and blue, it can also be breathtakingly beautiful.’ Its places, and descriptions, like that which have long lured South Africans to our northern neighbour. We go for the surreal landscapes, roadside cafes, unusual wildlife, and the sense of exploration that comes with a road trip into that vast and dazzling wilderness. If you feel its pull, consider all of these as well worth your time.

 

1. Explore the deserted town of Kolmanskop

Credit: Getaway

This ghost town just outside of Luderitz is as eerie as it gets. 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 60 years ago and since then, the desert has taken over the buildings. You can go 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.

 

2. Hike the Fish River Canyon

Credit: Teagan Cunniffe

As one of the largest canyons in the world, the Fish River Canyon makes for one of the most unique hiking trails in Africa. Its surreal landscape will make even the most blasé of travellers fall in love with this place. The canyon is a whopping 160km long and almost 30km wide, giving you some of the most dramatic scenery in the world to enjoy. There are a few trails to hike and vary depending on how tough you’d like your hike to be.

 

3. Spend a morning or three at an Etosha pan

Credit: Werner Reyneke

Etosha National Park covers more than 20, 000 sq-km and is one of the most unique reserves in Africa. Everything revolves around the watering holes bringing all animals close together to drink. At dusk, you’ll find all kinds of species of animals making their way to the waterhole for a drink. The wildlife activity goes on all night with elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and even lions if you are lucky.

 

4. Just drive

Credit: Teagan Cunniffe

The D826 and C27 are considered the most scenic roads in the whole country. Think long, straight, red, dusty roads surrounded by mountains, silvery swathes of grassy plains punctuated with terracotta dunes. And silence. You’ll only pass a car occasionally. 

 

5. Hike the Tok Tokkie trail

Tok Tokkie Trail

Credit: Melanie van Zyl

This three-day desert experience will see you walk for the day over sand dunes and in the vast landscape of the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Camps include a semi-permanent kitchen set up on a hill with ‘bedrooms’ spread out from it, which consist of two stretchers with bedrolls and a paraffin lamp. Think three-course meals, fantastic guides, hot water bottles, stargazing and waking up to a sunrise from bed. 

 

6. Hot air balloon over the Namib desert

Credit: Andrew Chislett

Taking off at dawn, you’ll watch the sunrise over the Namib-Naukluft National Park, fly over dunes that look otherworldly, gaze down on gemsbok and drift over the endless spans of orange dunes contrasting with a large white salt pan island. A bird’s eye view of the massive desert and both its rocky and sandy character puts Sossusvlei into perspective. 

 

7. Climb a dune at Sossusvlei 

Credit: Melanie van Zyl

Dune 45 is 148 metres of burning orange sand dune in Sossusvlei. Hiking to the top won’t be the easiest morning you have in Namibia but the sunrise from the top is worth it. This is what many visitors to Namibia come to see – the iconic red dunes of the Namib. The nearby Deadvlei – a big cracked mud plain dotted with dead trees – is just as captivating. The trees are thought to be around 1,000 years old. They’re not petrified, but rather haven’t decomposed because the air is so dry here. 

 

8. Check out Swakopmund

Credit: Getaway

Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, but this seaside city of 44,000 people is a must-visit while in the country. The town has a relaxed atmosphere with lots of local eateries and specialty shops. It’s an excellent place to base yourself for a few days with lots of top attractions nearby.  


9. Wonder at the rock art at Twyfelfontein 

Credit: African Travel Resource

ǀUi-ǁAis is the official name for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein and is the largest concentration of rock carvings (2,500) in all of Africa – and totally worth a visit when you’re in Namibia. With prehistoric hunter-gatherer rock engravings that date back more than 6000 years and petrified forests at its doorstep, Twyfelfontein makes an obvious choice for travellers wanting to explore one of Namibia’s most enigmatic locations. Just make sure to pack lots of water and an umbrella and hats. There’s little to no shade around there and it can get very hot around midday. 

 

10. Marvel at the Cape Cross seals

Credit: Erlo Brown

It’s not just lions and elephants that you can see in Namibia – the coast is famous for the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, a place where you can come and see 100s of Cape Fur Seals. The Benguela current is home to a big population of fish so you can rest assured that the seals aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

 

11. Ogle at Spitzkoppe

Credit: Rust Brand

Known locally as the Matterhorn of the south, Spitzkoppe is a 120 million-year-old chunk of granite that springs out of the desert floor. It’s a 1,784-metre tall rock formation surrounded by nothing but miles and miles of flat desert. If you make a visit, staying the night is a must and choose between a chalet at Spitzkoppen Lodge or the campsite. 

 

12. Stargaze in the desert

Credit: Teagan Cunniffe

The dry cool desert air at night is perfect for gazing up into the night sky. Without moisture in the air, the night sky is crystal clear and stars are very visible. If you want to stargaze, try plan your time during a new moon as the less light in the sky will make the stars shine even brighter.

 






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