Under-The-Radar African Safari: Namibia
First-time visitors to Africa tend to gravitate toward well-known destinations like South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, but in this new travel series, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen sheds light on five of southern Africa’s other great safari destinations. The first two posts covered Zambia and Rwanda. Now we turn our attention west to Namibia.
As inspiration for travelers looking to experience something new, this series shares each country’s major safari areas and what wildlife you’re likely to see, as well as suggesting some places to stay. Be sure to consult Allied Passport & Visa for visa guidelines, and the CDC for info on vaccinations.
Though Brangelina might have put Namibia on the map in popular culture, this is an ancient landscape of extinct volcanoes, shifting sand dunes, and desolate coastline that feels like the end of the earth. It also happens to be one of the most exciting safari destinations in the world these days.
With a much lower-key tourism scene than neighbors like South Africa and Botswana, the easiest way to get from place to place is usually by plane. Indeed, there are few roads most places, so air is often your only option.
Among the must-see spots are the sprawling Namib Desert (one of the earth’s largest deserts – its name means “vast place” – and oldest landscapes), which runs along the Atlantic coastline, and the Kulala Wilderness Reserve, which contains some of the world’s most spectacular sand dunes. Visitors can also gaze upon the dramatic granite escarpments in the Naukluft Mountains and track rare mountain zebras through this unearthly landscape. The Sesriem Canyon in the southern Sossusvlei region of the desert holds a seasonal river that runs along a fissure in the landscape where visitors can swim during certain parts of the year.
Visitors have no shortage of lodging options including the Kulala Desert Lodge and Little Kulala, the upscale Sossus Dune Lodge, and the uber-luxe Wolwedans group of properties including the Dunes Lodge, Boulders Camp and Private Camp.
In the country’s northwest are the desolate Skeleton Coast and Kaokoland, a more verdant corner of the country. The Skeleton Coast is named for the whale bones and shipwrecks that litter its shores. It is a land of impossibly long beaches, untouched dunescapes and isolated villages of the indigenous Himba people, as well as cape fur seal colonies and herds of desert elephants, as well as black rhino, cheetah, giraffe, lion and zebra.
Along the Skeleton Coast, Skeleton Coast Safaris are the best-known operators, and have been organizing trips for over 20 years. Their guests have exclusive access to camps like the Kunene River Lodge and the Kuidas Camp. However, the hot new property is the rustic-chic Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, which opened in 2014, and Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, another luxury option along the Hoarusib River.
Kaokoland centers around the Kunene River along the border with Angola, and is an unparalleled setting for river boat rides, whitewater rafting, safari game drives and more.
Travelers can take a step back in time when visiting Bushmanland (this is the colonia-era name, but still widely used today) in the country’s north, which is part of the Kalahari Desert, and is home to indigenous tribes who, before Europeans came to the area, still lived much as they did in the Stone Age. Their way of life thankfully persists somewhat, and today, visitors can spend time with them learning about their cultures and traditional methods of survival and environmental stewardship.
In the country’s far northeast corner near the border with Botswana is Khaudum National Park, which is a prime wildlife viewing area for elephant, hartebeest and wildebeest, giraffe and antelope. Dry season is in September-October, so game is easier to spot around watering holes, but the January-March wet season is also interesting (though beware travel difficulties thanks to the extensive floodplains) when the landscape comes alive with greenery. You can also check out the expansive Nyae Nyae Salt Pan where flamingos and other water birds come to breed.
Stay tuned for the next posts in the series on Malawi and Botswana!