A soulful sojourn in Namibia

By Natalia Thomson

You have to work hard to access Namibia’s extraordinary tourism potential, but there is little doubt that once you find these other-worldly gems it is worth every bit of effort made.

Our journey starts in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. By most travelers’ standards, Windhoek, which is located in the central part of the country, is nothing more than a town; often a transit point through which to access Namibia’s distant north, the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay or the southern deserts.

Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako Airport is located 28 miles from the town by tar road, and most tours will spend a day or two in the city incorporating such highlights as the landmark early 20th century Christ Church, visits to the Namibia Craft Centre and a trip to the local township of Katutura, where visitors can even participate in bike tours with local tour operator KatuTours.

Namibia Etosha GemsbokFor many visitors to Namibia, a particular highlight is the Desert Express train trip from Windhoek to the charming German-inspired coastal town of Swakopmund. The Desert Express is a luxury train experience through the Namib Desert.

Swakopmund for its part is a must-visit stop for travelers heading to Namibia. Unlike much of the rest of the country, Swakopmund enjoys a cool, moist climate and has gained great popularity as a seaside resort and base from which travelers can enjoy all-terrain vehicle excursions through the Namib Desert sand dune landscape and marine cruises.

It is also from this Swakopmund base that visitors can participate in a day visit to the Cape Cross Seal Colony, said to be one of the largest colonies of Cape fur seals in the world. In recent years, this area has come under fire for being one of the locations where seal culling occurs.

Heading through the Namib-Naukluft National Park southeastwards from the coast, visitors will arrive at arguably one of Namibia’s most iconic tourist attractions, Sossusvlei.

Towering red sand dunes, which so often come to mind when travelers think of Namibia, and desolate pans provide an incredibly striking backdrop for photographers; the dunes are touted as the highest in the world.

The 262-foot Dune 45, perhaps the most photographed of all Namib-Naukluft’s dunes in the Sossusvlei section of the park, is located near an area where cars and tour buses generally park and four-wheel-drive transfers are taken in to the desert.

Highlights inside the Sossusvlei area include Big Daddy, the highest dune at over a staggering 1,000 feet; Dead Vlei, a clay pan that used to be an oasis; Sossusvlei, a salt clay pan; and Sesriem Canyon, the smallest canyon in the world at less than a mile long and 98 feet deep.

Ironically, a few hours’ drive to the south of Sesriem, the gateway to Sossusvlei, visitors will encounter the Fish River Canyon, the second-largest canyon in the world at 100 miles long, up to 17 miles wide and in places almost 1,800 feet deep.

Although most visitors will settle for a quick stopover on the edge of the canyon for photographic opportunities, there are four- or five-day hikes down 53 miles through the winding canyon from Hobas to Ai-Ais Hot Springs.

If dusty desert settings and incredibly dry heat become too much, Namibia’s striking northern area of Etosha is an incredible option for wildlife viewing and arresting landscapes.

Etosha, which means place of dry water, is extraordinary in its size and array of wildlife and birdlife. At 13,670 square miles, Etosha is perhaps best known for its 3,100-square-mile saltpan, which attracts thousands of flamingos only a few days each year after the rains. Herds of zebra, impala, springbok and gemsbok and sable congregate around spread-out water sources, while some 340 species of birds are said to live in the park. There are also at least five camps offering a variety of accommodation options within the park.
 

What you need to know 

  • Getting there: Air Namibia, South African Airways and BA Comair offer several flights a day between Johannesburg and Windhoek, with a flight time of two hours.
  • Health: Namibia is a non-malarial area.
  • Seasons: April to October is Namibia’s dry season, while the main rainy season spans from January to March. Game viewing during the rainy season is more difficult as the vegetation thickens and water is still readily available which means wildlife are not forced to congregate around seasonal waterholes. Visitors for whom wildlife viewing is not important will enjoy visiting Namibia at any time of year, although self drive is difficult during the rainy season due to the condition of the gravel roads.
  • Currency: Namibian dollar although South African rands are readily accepted.
  • Visa: American citizens are not required to obtain a visa to enter Namibia for tourism purposes provided their stay is under 90 days
  • Language: English, Afrikaans and German
  • Driving: Distances in Namibia are vast. With the road network being predominantly gravel, it is advisable to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle with good insurance cover as the terrain can be quite difficult. Recommend self drive travellers carry plenty of water, spare gas and be prepared to drive hours without seeing any sign of civilization.

Visit www.namibiatourism.com.na/ for further information.
 

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