Discovering Namibia's heartbeat along the Omulunga Palm Route

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A waterhole in Etosha National Park, part of the the King Nehale Experience along the self-drive Omulunga Palm Route in Namibia.
A waterhole in Etosha National Park, part of the the King Nehale Experience along the self-drive Omulunga Palm Route in Namibia. Photo Credit: Paula French/Shutterstock

The far north of Namibia is largely undiscovered and unexplored. However, the area is definitely worth a visit as it will enable travelers to veer off the beaten track and discover the authentic heartbeat of the southwest African nation.

The region is best explored along the self-drive Omulunga Palm Route, which takes its name from the distinctive Makalani palm trees travelers will encounter along the way. This route, which stretches from Ruacana in the west to Nkurenkuru in the east, was launched a few years ago by Open Africa (an organization that promotes sustainable tourism ventures) in conjunction with the Namibian Tourism Board and the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia. The aim of the route is to get travelers to discover the undiscovered sides of the country.

Offering a kaleidoscope of attractions from heritage and culture to wildlife and traditional food, the route can be split into two authentic experiences called the Roof of Namibia Experience and the King Nehale Experience.

The Roof of Namibia Experience is 290 miles long and roughly runs parallel to the Angolan border. The route leads through numerous pans and flooded channels known as oshanas that move from Angola toward the Etosha salt pan. The journey traces the Kunene River from the Ruacana Falls across to the Okavango River.

This part of the Omulunga Palm Route is not just about rural wildlife, as there are several urban settlements along the way, with attractions such as the Outapi War Museum, Ombalantu Baobab Museum and the Eenhana Shrine.

The King Nehale Experience takes travelers along a 400-mile journey through the colorful towns of Oshakati, Ongwediva and Ondangwa and the starkly contrasting rural villages that surround it. Travelers will have the opportunity to visit the Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead and the Ongula Cultural Village as well as Lake Oponono and the wildlife of the Etosha National Park.

The Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead forms part of one of the seven traditional kingdoms of Owamboland and affords travelers the incredible opportunity of experiencing the ways and traditions of Owambo imperial families. King Taapopi reigns in this area and is passionate about encouraging local youths to be trained as tour guides.

Travelers can experience traditional African royalty with tours through the homestead, and traditional meals may be served if requested in advance. There are a few tour operators that promote this route. However, since it's a self-drive route, travelers can also find all the contact details, maps etc. on the following website: www.openafrica.org/experiences/route/142-omulunga-palm-route.

Further along the route, the Ongula Cultural Village provides visitors an introduction into the traditional lifestyle of the Owambo people as well as the opportunity to participate in the preparation of local traditional drinks and meals. Travelers can discover the art of basket weaving and pottery and explore the beauty of the region.

It is possible to spend the night at the village in one of four traditional rondavels with rooms built in a homestead style. Travelers can embark on day tours to open-air craft markets where they can taste anything from Mopani worms to traditional beer and local delicacies. Visitors can also attend some of the seasonal events, such as the Marula Festival or a traditional wedding.

The route meanders further to the Lake Oponono Wetlands. After the rainy season, visitors will see a variety of birdlife here, including saddle bill storks, crowned cranes, flamingos and pelicans.

For avid wildlife enthusiasts, the route meanders farther to the Etosha National Park and the Etosha Salt Pan. The salt pan is so large it can be seen from space, yet there is abundant wildlife that congregates around the waterholes, giving travelers almost guaranteed game sightings.

For an exceptional overnight experience, travelers can stay in any of the 15 chalets at Onkoshi Camp right on the border of the salt pan. The sunrises and sunsets at this low-impact, environmentally friendly camp are simply incredible.

According to the Namibian Tourism Board, it takes roughly between one and a half and three days to complete the Roof of Namibia Experience, between two and four days to take in the entire King Nehale Experience.

For more information, there is a very handy brochure with contact details and maps on the Namibia Tourism website.

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