Specialist travel magazine Wanderlust recently surveyed its readers to find out where their favourite travel destinations for 2014 would be. Fighting off stiff competition from some worthy destination adversaries, the top country award was won by Namibia.
Namibia is no stranger to being in the top ten, having come sixth in the 2013 awards. In addition, one of its safari guides - Christiaan Bakkes (who we can hire for our tailor-made clients) - has recently been voted one of Africa’s top safari guides by Conde Nast Magazine.
So how did this small and relatively low-profile nation get to be so popular? We take a look at what Namibia has to offer the adventurous traveller.
The giant sand dunes at Sossusvlei
Coming straight out of one of Frank Herbert’s series of ‘Dune’ novels, Sossusvlei is a stupendous example of nature’s ability to create amazing landscapes. Towering piles of orange sand stretch to the horizon, unsullied by anything man-made. At some 300 metres, the dunes are reputed to be the highest in the world – continually moving, evolving piles of sand of epic proportions.
The ‘must-do’ item on most visitors’ lists is to climb to the top of dune 45 at sunrise or sunset – or preferably both. With each step forwards there is a slide of at least half a step back as the shifting sand makes you work for your prize. To sit on the sinuous crest of this soft, warm, natural behemoth makes the effort well worthwhile. During the day, cornflower blue skies contrast starkly with the yellow hues of the sand, punctuated only with the occasional tussock of grass. As sunset approaches, shadows deepen and stretch further into the desert, the colour of the sand changes from yellow to rich orange and photographers are provided with fantastic opportunities to capture the perfect shot. The silence and majesty of the rolling dunes make the atmosphere truly special.
There are plenty of accommodation options close to Sossusvlei to suit all budgets from desert camps to lodges. One of our favourite lodges comes complete with a roof-top sleeping deck so you have the option to sleep out under a blanket of stars.
The wildlife of Etosha National Park
The arid expanses of Etosha National Park support an astonishing wealth of large land mammals. During the dry season (June to November), vegetation is sparse and waterholes few and far between. This vastly improves the chances of viewing game as the animals congregate in the dwindling number of places they can go to get a drink.
Top of many peoples animal wish-list is the black rhinoceros; Etosha is one of the last strongholds of this critically endangered animal. Okaukuejo and Fort Namutoni rest camps both have floodlit waterholes where it is possible to watch black rhino and other animals come to drink.
Etosha supports healthy populations of plains game including zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, eland, black-faced impala, kudu, elephant and the striking Oryx. Where there are herbivores there are inevitably carnivores. Lion and hyena are regularly spotted in Etosha and less commonly, cheetah and even leopard, all on the prowl for their next meal.
With three well established rest camps within the borders of Etosha National Park and many private lodges on the periphery, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from. Book a few game drives and enjoy the wildlife in all its splendour.
Big cats at the AfriCat Foundation
If you like to get close to wildlife and wish to support a very worthwhile organisation, a visit to the AfriCat Foundation is very rewarding. AfriCat provides a home, food and care for young, orphaned or injured large carnivores such as leopard, cheetah and lion until they can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Animals which can’t be returned to the wild are given a new home in the Okonjima private reserve. The main aim of AfriCat is to conserve Namibia’s populations of large carnivores for the future.
AfriCat works tirelessly on a variety of education and research projects; one of the biggest threats to large carnivores is conflicts with humans and their livestock. AfriCat helps educate local farmers about alternative ways of managing these conflicts and funds ‘kraals’ which can be used to protect livestock.
To visit AfriCat, stay for a night or two at Okonjima. Okonjima has a range of accommodation options to suit all budgets from a private safari camp to safari lodges to a villa which comes complete with its own chef and safari vehicle.
Desert Rhino Camp
For a truly exciting safari experience a stay at the Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland is hard to beat. Situated in the Palmwag Concession in Damaraland, the area is home to Africa’s largest free-roaming population of black rhino. Accompanied by expert wildlife guides, it is possible to spot these animals on a walking safari as well as learn about the unique ecology of the region. This luxury tented camp is run in conjunction with the Save the Rhino Trust; the work of such organisations is increasingly critical to ensure the long-term survival of these persecuted animals. A stay here helps to raise vital funds towards their conservation efforts.
Cape Cross Seal Colony
If your route takes you to the Skeleton Coast, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to stop off at the Cape Cross Seal Colony. With Atlantic breakers rolling to shore, the largest breeding colony of Cape fur seals in the world go about their daily lives. Basking, fighting, feeding their pups, this noisy (and very smelly) spectacle is a sight to behold. Hungry jackals are often on patrol, hoping to take advantage of a sick or unattended seal pup during the breeding season.
If you have the time (and the budget!), a flight over the Skeleton Coast allows you a birds-eye view of rusting shipwrecks, expansive sand dunes and the bleached bones of whales and seals.
Ancient Rock Paintings at Twyfelfontein
In a harsh, rocky, desert region in north-west Namibia, lies one of the largest and most important concentrations of rock art in Africa. The site has over 2,000 rock carvings (petroglyphs) and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The carvings are between about 2,000 and 10,000 years old, perfectly preserved in the dry environment. The artists were the San bushmen; much of their artistic inspiration came from the animals which lived around them and many of the petroglyphs depict Africa’s iconic land mammals.
A guided tour will take you to some of the best carvings; it’s best to go early morning to avoid the fierce heat of the day. There is very little shade and the only way to reach the petroglyphs is on foot.
Fish River Canyon
The mighty Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world after the USA’s Grand Canyon. Carved by glaciers, aided by earthquakes and finished off by the ravages of the Fish River, the canyon plunges an impressive 550 metres at its deepest point. Approaching the canyon there is little sign of the mighty gash in the landscape until you are almost on top of it. Standing on the edge, its magnificence is revealed in all its jaw-dropping glory. Visit the main viewing points and take a stroll along the rim to enjoy the best views.
There are so many other highlights of Namibia which shouldn’t be missed. See Flamingos feeding in Walvis Bay, spend time in the coastal city of Swakopmund – where Namibians go to holiday - or head for the beauty of the Erongo Mountains.
If you’d like to see Namibia in all its glory, you can build your own itinerary using the expertise of Explore’s tailor-made team. Find out more about all that Namibia has to offer by contacting Africa Regional Specialist Anneli Rudiger on 0845 163 7781.
By Louisa Richardson