holiday in Namibia?
This amazing south-west Africa country combines
the world's best mass-wildlife watching, stunning desert scenery, masses of
spectacular sand dunes which you can climb, sandboard down, quad
bike up and balloon over in a fairly primitive environment, yet
is supplied with life's essentials (good beds and cold beer) at key
points, and you have a truly superb exotic destination.
Then there are a couple of tranquil, attractive coastal oasis towns
- Swakopmund and Luderitz - sun that shines just about everyday
and 2,000 kilometres of beaches - unused except by a few hardy surfers
and 200,000 seals. What's not to like?
Well actually the San hunters who once wandered its bone-dry gravel plains and shifting sands called it 'the land God made in anger', while Portuguese sailors who were wrecked on the Skeleton Coast called it 'the sands of hell'!
- distances between main attractions are large (3 to 8 hours) and
many roads are dirt so expect to spend a lot of time on 4
- In a self-drive car you have a 1:4 chance of damaging the vehicle
in a single car accident (according to local sources). e.g. sliding
off on a bend, so that could be an expensive option. At least get
fullest possible insurance.
May-October (winter, up to 25C daytime, down to 0C possible
Worst: Nov- March (excessive heat 35C+. Some rain makes wildlife
watching more difficult as they are not so dependent on waterholes).
South African school holidays as well as Namibian ones can stuff
School holidays: Most of May,
late August - early September,
early December to about 20 January.
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: 10 days to do a fast
circuit of the highlights - Etosha, Swakopmund, and Sossusvlei.
Recommended: 4 weeks to visit the north and south areas.
***Etosha National Park. As far as number of wildlife you
can see, this may be Africa's greatest game park.
Pictures and Information
***Namib Desert - a sensational sea
of rolling dunes, with activities galore. Pictures
***Sossusvlei. Totally mind-bending
400m high pink dunes. Pictures
***Swakopmund, on the coast, is a pretty,
relaxed town in old German style, with plenty of activities on offer. Pictures
**Skeleton Coast, barely attractive,
but salt roads, seals and sand forever make this worth a look-see. Pictures
high quality 2,000 year old San rock art and spectacular scenery. Pictures
The Waterburg Plateau is touted as
main attraction but doesn't really deserve a lot of attention. Pictures
*Caprivi, a narrow strip of scenic
riverland sandwiched between Angola, Zambia and Botswana, with four
excellent but rarely visited game parks and various fishing and
river-adventure facilities. An ideal stopover for overland explorers
to/from Botswana and Zimbabwe, it's a 3 hour drive to Victoria Falls
*Opuwo area, the Kaokoland is home
to the Himba tribe people who still wear red ochre body-paint and
Himba settlements can be visited with a guide; do this with sensitivity
but do not expect culture without payment.
*Kalahari desert near Mariental, not
quite as exciting as it sounds, but provides good hiking and bird
watching opportunities, as well as photogenic quivertrees near Keetmanshoop.
**Luderitz, a bizarre Bavarian (German)
village stuck on a barren coast, it's a long drive south but the
endless beach supports seals, penguins, flamingoes and ostriches.
***Fish River Canyon, the world's second
largest after America's Grand Canyon, attracts keen hikers.
Hobas, at the north end, is the best starting point with masses
of camp sites, stunning viewpoints and good short walks.
A challenging, spectacular 85 km four-day trail is one of Africa's
toughest, but a fitness test is required to get permission! Reward
yourself at *Ai-Ais hot springs resort afterwards.
**Orange River, on the border with
South Africa is a terrific rafting spot.
Windhoek, Namibia's capital, has a
good climate but is a charmless hodgepodge of car-dominated, modern
mall culture, leavened with a frisson of potential muggery.
You may have no choice so ***Joe's Beer House is a superb place
to pass some time.
Minibuses are the main public transport system, but don't necessarily
go where tourists want to, as most of their customers are locals.
Although Bugbog generally prefers individual travel (in Namibia that means by rental car) to tours, this
is one country where touring with a group is probably the best option,
- distances between sights are very long and tiring.
- gravel roads can be dangerous for inexperienced drivers, physically
- accommodation is limited so pre-booking is useful.
- local knowledge, such as which is Etosha's wildest lodge (Okaukuejo!),
is the best way to make the most of your time.
Check guide books for precise dates:
21 March, Independence Day, with nationwide festivities.
26 August - the nearest weekend celebrates Maherero Day in Okahandja,
north of Windhoek. This is the place to see a whole lot of women
in their bizarre traditional Victorian dress.
Late October sees Oktoberfest nationwide, Germany's favourite festival
- beer and sausage overdose guaranteed.
some precise dates, more suggestions and information see:
Wildlife Safaris: there are many little game parks around
the country but Etosha (see right) is so superb, others are hardly
worth the cost unless you can get to see big cats up close.
Hiking: Waterburg Plateau, Naukluft
Mountains and Damaraland have some good walks but Fish River Canyon
is the place for serious hiking. See right.
Short dune hikes all over the Namib Desert are a good way to burn
off some energy and get tranquilised.
Quad Biking and Sand Boarding are not
exactly eco-friendly, but do use fixed routes and are very exciting.
Sandboarding can be lie down or stand up styles, but needs very
Scenic Drives: the west side of the
country provides endless stunning roadscapes. 4WD is unnecessary
though much of the time you may be on gravel roads. The best cruise
has to be the 75km drive down the Sossusvlei valley with massive
dunes on each side.
The Desert Express, a train from Windhoek to Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast. This romantic throwback to the fifties is a first-class sleeper that takes 22 stately hours to get to the coast. It's very classy, comfortable and includes brief safari stops en route. Cost about £200.
Swakopmund, on the edge of the Namib Desert is activity central
in this country.
Ballooning and flying: fantastic views
especially over Sossusvlei dunes, but expensive of course (and don't
expect ballooning to be quiet!).
Kayaking: Walvis Bay, near Swakopmund
is favoured for sea kayaking, with plenty of birdlife, including
flamingoes and perhaps seals or dolphins.
Horse riding: many private lodge/farms
offer guided rides.
Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders
and most other nationalities can get 90 days permit to stay on arrival
at the airport.
230v, 3 round pin (the same as South Africa).
Like South Africans, Namibians are multi-lingual, with English and
Afrikaans at the top of the list.
This country is not particularly cheap, with very limited accommodation
possibilities in some key locations.
There are ATMs around and credit cards are widely accepted.
Usefully the Namibia $ is fixed 1:1 to the South Africa rand, and
you can use rands in Namibia, but cannot use N$ in South Africa
(or anywhere, for that matter).
Unsurprisingly precious stones and funky mineral rocks are top of
the tourist shopping list and you can expect to be approached frequently
by "Pssst, mister, stones?" merchants. Many stones will
be less valuable than they look so do check in shops before buying
Other popular items are ostrich leather goods, wood carvings, masks
Local staples are corn or millet porridge with meat or fish stews,
but tourists will probably spend more time consuming fatty, dead
animals in the German or South African tradition, though Swakopmund
does do a good line in seafood.
Protection against Malaria is advised if you will be in the north east other than in wintertime
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