Namibia  Visitor Information

Human child meets giraffe child, Etosha National Park, Namibia, Africa

Kids of differing species go eyeball to eyeball in Etosha.

Vacations 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’!

San rock art in Damaraland, Namibia, Africa

San rock art in Damaraland.

Downsides

• 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 dirty wheels in occasionally challenging conditions.

• 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.

Swakopmund, a Bavarian town in the Namib Desert, Namibia, Africa

Swakopmund, a Bavarian town in the Namib Desert.

Length of stay

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.

Dune 45 in Sossusvlei National Park with walkers, Namibia

The magnificent Sossusvlei dunes, the world’s biggest accessible sand pile! Dune 45 in Sossusvlei National Park, pictured, is one of the smaller but shapelier piles, probably around 160m high. The dune opposite 45 is 360m high.

Main Attractions

Experienced travelers agree that the richness and diversity of Namibia’s tourist offerings make it one of the top exotic holiday spots in the world, if not the best.
We at bugbog rank Namibia alongside Peru and Myanmar/Burma in our top three most colourful, interesting and fun vacations ever.
Primary targets are the fantastically wildlife-rich Etosha National Park, the staggeringly huge and beautifully pink dunes at Sossusvlei, the massed horizon to horizon yellow dunes of the Namib Desert and its cute oasis towns such as Swakopmund, the bleak, seal-stuffed shores of the Skeleton, ancient rock carvings in Damaraland and Fish River Canyon hikes.
In addition the prices are reasonable, the weather is sunny, tourists are relatively few, the pictures are unbeatable and safety concerns not too bad, though drivers should take special care!

***Etosha National Park. As far as number of wildlife you can see, this may be Africa’s greatest game park. More

***Namib Desert, a sensational sea of rolling dunes, with activities galore. More

***Sossusvlei. Totally mind-bending 400m high pink dunes. More

***Swakopmund, on the coast, is a pretty, relaxed town in old German style, with plenty of activities on offer. More

**Skeleton Coast, bleak, blasted and eery with salt roads, seals and sand forever make this worth a look-see. More

**Twyfelfontein/Damaraland provides high quality 2, 000 year old San rock art and spectacular scenery. More

The Waterburg Plateau road warning in Namibia, Africa

The Waterburg Plateau is touted as main attraction but shouldn’t be a priority.

*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 from Katima.

*Opuwo area, the Kaokoland is home to the Himba tribe people who still wear red ochre body-paint and traditional dress. 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 panorama, Namibia, Africa

Fish River Canyon

***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.

Etosha National Park, elephant vs giraffe stand-off, Namibia

Sit safely and comfortably beside a waterhole and watch the action unfold. Here the giraffes want a drink but are intimidated by the elephant. Alternatively drive yourself wild on safari in wildlife packed Etosha

Activities

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.
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 in Namib Desert: not exactly eco-friendly but OK if you/your guide uses fixed routes and are very exciting.
Sandboarding can be lie down or stand up styles, but needs very dry dunes.

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, an overnight 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 and dune stops en route. And very expensive. $5, 000 return!

Swakopmund, on the edge of the Namib Desert is adrenalin 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.

 Namibia desert road to the Skeleton Coast, Africa

Take a quiet drive down to the coast, the Skeleton Coast.

Domestic transport

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, because:

• distances between sights are very long and tiring.
• gravel roads can be dangerous for inexperienced drivers, physically and financially.
• 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.

Self-Drive Car Hire

The roads are wide and empty, cars are not too expensive and the scenery – at least in the west half of the country – is staggeringly beautiful, at times reminiscent of USA’s Monument Valley. Throw in the must-see, self-drive Etosha wildlife park and car hire seems the obvious way to go. However. . .
Distances between major sights are huge, so you can expect to be driving at least 300 kilometres (200 miles) a day. If this was just on Namibia’s hardtop, straight roads, no worries, but most of the driving will be on gravel roads since only 11% are tarred roads.

But there are a couple of problems. . .

One, gravel travel is relatively slow, noisy and tiring.
Two, for those inexperienced in this kind of locomotion, it’s easy to find yourself hammering along a long, wide, empty road at 120kph (75mph) – there’s no traffic and it’s a long way to go after all, you’re cruising in a trance state enjoying the arid, rocky views, and then a bend appears – no worries mate, it’s a wide road – but, just a second, there’s no grip, you’re going sideways! Aaaarggh!
Which leads us neatly to Three, expenses incurred when returning your now substantially less smart vehicle. They could be huge. As a small example the previous owner of the Bug’s car was charged for $2, 000 damage after he drove too close to a car in front of him on a gravel road so his car got shredded by small but destructive road chips.

Moral of the story

If you rent a car in Namibia, get the fullest possible insurance, rent the most damaged car you can find and ensure that the damage is fully recorded.
And carry cash – South African Rand is fine – as gas stations do not usually accept credit cards.

Angry Bird attack on car, Namibia, Africa

Angry Birds attacking our hire car. Really he is, of course, attacking a competing bird in his territory – his own reflection.

Weather

Best: May-October (winter, up to 25C daytime, down to 0C possible at night)
Worst: Nov- March (excessive heat 35C+. Some rain – though not much – makes wildlife watching more difficult as they are not so dependent on waterholes). South African school holidays as well as Namibian ones can stuff up accommodation. African school holidays: Most of May, late August – early September, early December to about 20 January.

Various

Money

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).

Shopping

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 ‘offline’.
Other popular items are ostrich leather goods, wood carvings, masks and paintings.

Food

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. Vegetarian? Tough!

A zebra herd blocking a road in Namibia, Africa

Some zebra herds number in the thousands and they’re not concerned about cars nor human timekeeping!

Health

Protection against Malaria is advised if you will be in the north east other than in wintertime (June-Sept)

Visas

Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders and most other nationalities can get 90 days permit to stay on arrival at the airport.

Electricity

230v, 3 round pin (the same as South Africa).

Language

Like South Africans (Namibia’s southerly neighbours), Namibians are multi-lingual with English and Afrikaans at the top of the list.