Namibia is the second-least-densely populated country in the world, It has a population of 2.58m million across an area of 824,000 square km, meaning there is on average 3 persons for every square km. Compare this to the United Kingdom that has 281 people per square km. It was this sparsity and desolation, along with Namibia’s wildlife that incentivised me and Vanessa to travel there in November 2022. As we knew fairly little about the country, and wanting to take some of the stress out of planning, we decided to travel within a small group tour to get around.
Namibia was Germany’s most important colony in Africa, with their official involvement starting in 1884. There were 3700 Germans living there by 1903 and by 1910 their numbers had increased to 13000. Previously known as German South-West Africa the evidence of this colonisation is still evident today with street signs and in many places, such as Swapokmund, Bavarian style architcecture prevalant. Around the year 1908 diamonds were discovered, meaning the area formerly seen as dry outpost, gained much more European interest, particularly by the British. During World War I the area was ceded into South Africa control, who were themselves under the rule of the British Empire. It wasnt until 1990 Nambia gained full independence.
We flew into the capital Windhoek were we met up with the rest of our 10 person group. Windhoek is a functional capital where most trips will start and end. Other than a few museums and Joes restauarant there is little reason to stay longer than 1 night.
Our first stop away from the capital was Sesriem, the gateway to the Namib Desert and specifically the Namib-Naukluft National Park. This was ‘big dune country’. The area gets less than 10mm of rain per year. The aridity is caused by the descent of the dry Hadley cell, cooled by the cold Benguela current along the coast. These dry conditions along with strong wind patterns sweeping across the clay, created by the Tsauchab River, forms some of biggest sand dunes in the world, the highest reaching up to 383 metres high.
Also in the park, and the most prized destination for many visitors, is Sossusvlei. Meaning dead-end marsh this large, elliptical-shaped, salt-rich pan surrounded by acacias, grasses and the odd shrub, and enclosed by those giant dunes is one for Instagrammers everywhere. Nearby is the eerily beautiful Dead Vlei. This was once the end point of the Tsauchab River, until the climate changed and the watercourse became blocked by dunes, leaving the camelthorn trees – some of which are estimated to be 900 hundred years old – to wither and die.
On our way back to our nearby lodge we stopped at Sesriem Canyon which was nice enough but after spectacular scenery we had already wtinessed that day it was a little underwhelming.
After a couple of days in Sesriem we headed towards the coast and to the very German looking town of Swapokmund. Self styled as the adventure capital of Namibia, here you can undertake such activities as sky-diving, dune buggying and sand-boarding. The nearby port of Walvis Bay means a steady stream of cruise passengers adding to the overland touring groups make the the town fairly lively, by Namibian standards anyway. Here our group fragmented with some going off to sky-dive, a couple taking a boat trip to see some marine wildlife and a few including myself taking the sand dunes to try our luck at sand-boarding. Here you can try stand-up boarding (akin to the more traditional snowboarding) as wel as lie-down boarding. The latter took a lot less skill as you lay stomach down on the ‘high-speed machine’ (aka a piece of flimsy varnished board). Here we clocked speeds of up to 70 km/h as we raced down the steep dunes!
Whilst in Swapokmund we also visited the Mondesa Township. This gives a personalised introduction to the life and community in one of Nambia’s poorest neighhbourhoods. We vistited a non -governmental kindergarten, a charity-driven after school care centre as well visiting the local market and sampling some local cuisine. The township is home to many different tribal groups including the Nama, Damara and Herero people. Very interesting and well worth a visti but make sure you book on a guided tour.
For our next stop we headed back inland and North to Damaraland. Part of the Kunene Region in the north-west of Namibia here you find the Twyfelfontein engravings. One of only 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Namibia (the other being the sand dune landscapes of the Namib desert) these rock engravings depict animals such as rhinoceros, ostrich, giraffes and elephants, there are also drawings of humans and footprints inside rock shelters. According to archaeologists, most of the items that were excavated from two sections of the site date back to the Late Stone Age (approximately 40000 years ago).
After 1 night in this region, much like the migratory birds at our lodge, we quickly had to move on, in our case to Etosha National Park. The most famous place in the whole country for wildlife this national park also encompasses the huge expanse of the Etosha Salt Pan. Covering an area of approximately 4,800 square km at an elevation of about 1,030 m. This enormous expanse of salt, glimmering green in the dry season, is the largest of its kind in Africa.
The safari was excellent here too, with a huge array of animals to be found, such as Kirk’s Dik Dik, Hartebeests, Leopards, Jackals, Lions, Giraffes, Rhinoceros and Elephant. You have a good chance of seeing 4 of the Big 5 here, with only the Buffalo absent. We were lucky to see a recent lion kill as they tore apart a poor zebra piece by piece! Similar to South Africa’s Kruger National Park you can self drive around for a small entrance fee of around 300 Namibian Dollar (£20 / $25) per vehicle.
After 4 hour drive back to Windhoek our whirlwind 10 day tour of Namibia was over. An amazing country where tourism is only likely to grow and grow over the next decade. It is still off the beaten track enough to have a real overland experience, stay in some amazing lodges, see some incredible landscapes and experience an array of different cultures and wildlife.
Getting There and Around:
Lufthansa fly a direct service from Frankfurt to the capital of Windhoek year round, however the majority of people will choose to fly via Cape Town or Johannesburg to get to this fairly remote country. Many people, like us, use a small group operator to get around. If you plan to self-drive then I would highly recommend renting a 4×4 vehicle as the roads are mainly unsealed, and often in a poor state. We were fortunate that we had a 30 seater air conditioned coach between the 10 of us. so we could stretch out on the long and bumpy roads. Public transport does not really exist, trains are mainly used for cargo purposes. There are minibuses between the main cities but they exist to take the local populace around rather than tourists.
Because the country is so sparsely populated, the majority of places you’ll stay at will be lodges that feel as though they’re in the middle of nowhere. because they are. The majority of these will typically offer an evening buffet dining option and occasionally a la carte. Alcohol is everywhere with a bottle of beer costing £1.50 / $2 and a glass of wine costing £2.25 / $3. Food is varied and of a good standard, although it can be a bit strange eating game meat of Zebra and Kudu after you have just seen them close up on a safari (note the game meat is farmed and not taken from any of the national parks!)
We stayed at the following places:
Windhoek Country Lodge Resort
Sesriem – Sossusvlei Lodge
Swapokmund – Hansa Hotel
Damaraland – Damara Mopane Lodge
Etosha – Taleni Etosha Lodge
Dont rely on having good connectivity with data roaming or wifi. The signal is often very weak or the whole system, even in 3-4* lodges, can crash for days on end
Drives between the main sites can be very long, bumpy and extremely remote. Stock up supplies and if self-driving have a plan on where to fill up for petrol.
English, German, Afrikaan and many native languages are widely spoken
If you have enought time head further South than we did to the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa.