The EA guide to Namibia safaris
Safari mavericks seeking new-found adventure in an ancient land will be enthralled by Namibia.
The sheer vastness of this magnificent country will overwhelm you – it encompasses 200 million acres of land and abundant wildlife in some 26 parks and reserves ranging from open bush with abundant wildlife to enormous sand dunes on an inhospitable and forbidding coastal strip. This is a vast, ancient and empty land – with one of the world’s lowest population densities, the sense of space and solitude you’ll experience on Namibia safaris will leave you in awe.
It’s home to iconic and richly rewarding safari destinations. Places like the game-packed Etosha National Park, Namibia’s flagship game reserve, and the Sossusvlei dunes in the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world. And then of course there are the other amazing drawcords; places like Damaraland, Fish River Canyon and the Skeleton Coast.
But this is a massive country – more than twice the size of Germany – and it’s a long way between the destinations you’re going to want to visit. That’s why one of the most popular ways to explore is by light aircraft. Namibia air safaris not only let you move effortlessly from place to place, giving you more time to spend on safari than in transit, but will also let you witness this extraordinary country from the skies. A bird’s eye perspective of Namibia’s natural wonders is something you’ll never forget.
Thanks to a brilliant road system and infrastructure, this is also the ideal destination for travellers who like to explore independently. Namibia self-drive holidays are gaining in popularity. A luxury Namibia safari with a private vehicle and guide offers you an effortless and rewarding experience that’s designed around your interests, needs and preferred safari holiday pace.
Group tours are also an option. While we don’t offer a vast array of Namibia group tours, the hand-selected trips we do offer are extraordinary. They feature custom-built vehicles, the best Namibia safari guides and nicely paced itineraries that visit enticing regions and utilise awesome Namibia safari camps and safari lodges.
As well as admiring impressive landscapes and witnessing a huge diversity of wild animals in their natural habitats, a Namibia safari also gives you the unique opportunity to interact with ancient tribes, such as the San Bushmen of the Kalahari and the nomadic Himba tribe that remain loyal to their traditional life as goat herders.
As well as the “big guns” of a Namibia safari holiday – the popular and world-famous destinations – there are other, lesser-known national parks and concession areas that also offer fantastic wilderness safaris. You can enjoy birding safaris, boating safaris, canoeing, fishing and wildlife sightings of animals such as desert-adapted elephant and rhino. There’s also a myriad of impressive landscapes to see on a Namibia safari, like quiver tree and ghost tree forests, dolerite boulders, meteorite depressions and underground caves. The list continues with wonderful untouched waterways and channels in the far northeastern corner with floodplains and magnificent baobabs, and eerie ghost towns in the south overtaken by shifting sands.
Namibia is a safe and friendly country that’s also one of the most diversely magnificent places on the planet. It has a wild beauty that’s like nothing you will have ever seen before and a Namibia luxury safari in this natural wonderland is a true bucket-list experience.
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The best time for Namibia safaris
The Namibian climate is typical of a semi-desert environment, with warm to extremely hot days and more often than not sunny and cooler nights. There’s little rain, other than in the first few months of the year (December to March). Even then it’s not enough to detract you from visiting (in our humble opinion!).
May to September are traditionally the best months for a Namibia safari. Etosha National Park is considered best in the drier season, June to October, when wildlife congregates around waterholes. Photographers prefer April and May when temperatures are moderate, the air quality is good (with little to no dust pollution), rainfall is nil and landscapes are green. If you don’t cope well with heat, make sure you avoid travelling between November and February!
Wildlife in Namibia
Namibia is home to diverse wildlife, and is one of the best places to spot some of the most amazing animals in Southern Africa. This is especially true in the north of the country, where Etosha National Park is home to black rhinos, elephants, big cats and plains game in abundance. The other main tourist attractions for wildlife in Namibia are Waterberg Plateau National Park and Cape Cross Reserve.
There are eight mammal species endemic to the country, including the black-faced impala, while endangered species include wild dog, black rhino and the oribi and puku antelope. There are more than 20 species of antelope, plus loads of small mammals including mongoose and jackal. Namibia also has the largest population in southern Africa of cheetah not contained within national parks. Meanwhile, the Namib Desert harbours some 30 endemic species of dune dwellers, while there are 11 endemic bird species in Namibia, and of the 887 bird species listed for southern Africa, an incredible 630+ have been recorded in Namibia.
Etosha National Park
Without doubt, Etosha National Park is Namibia’s top wildlife destination. Located in the north of the country, Etosha’s name translates as ‘Great white place of dry water’. It surrounds an enormous salt pan that’s so large it can be seen from space. Around the mineral pan are waterholes and perennial springs that attract hordes of wildlife, which congregates here and provides incredible game viewing and photographic opportunities. Viewing the abundant plains game at the waterholes is always exciting, watch in anticipation as the animals approach caution, checking for predators before quickly drinking and moving on. Etosha has three floodlit waterholes and viewing the action at night is a particular treat.
There are more than 110 different mammal species found in the park, several which are rare and endangered. This is one of the best places in the world to spot rhinos, in particular black rhinos – the park is home to about more than a third of the world’s global population. Predators are here in strong numbers, too, including leopard, lion, hyena, cheetah and caracal. You’ll also see the majestic elephant – Etosha’s elephants are also reputed to be some of the largest in Africa – but it’s important to remember you won’t see buffalo, so this is not a Big Five destination. Other animals that can be seen in Etosha National Park are giraffe, zebra, roan antelope, eland, red hartebeest, oryx, kudu, springbok, gemsbok and the endangered black-faced impala.
Birdwatching in Etosha is also rather special, with 340 different species, including 46 raptors. During the wet season the pans gather water, encouraging the growth of a blue-green algae which attracts huge numbers of flamingos, as well as impressive flocks of birds such as queleas.
Etosha Safaris are possible and, importantly, fantastic throughout the year. Game-viewing at Etosha during the dry winter months (June to September) when the animals congregate more around the waterholes. November to March herald the rains – this time of year is ideal for birding, births and to witness young species fighting for survival, but keep in mind it can be very hot.
The country gets its name from the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, which dates back some 55 million years. And in the heart of the Namib Desert lies the Sossusvlei dune sea. Some of the dunes are among the tallest in the world, reaching up to 300 metres. And thanks to a crazily high iron content the sand here is the colour of crushed ochre and a vivid contrast against the deep blue of the African sky.
The ever-shifting dunes are constantly changing formation with the winds. They also change colours according to the time of day, morphing from yellow-gold and ochre to purple and deep red. Watching the transformation at sunrise and sunset is an amazing highlight of a Namibia safari. There’s nothing like gazing out at these towering dunes as dawn breaks and banishes the darkness, making way for an initial daubing of the palest hues before the sun finally appears over horizon and the sky explodes in a riot of brilliant colours that bounce all around and paint the dunes. It’s truly spectacular.
Climbing the dunes is another must. The most photographed dune in the world would have to be Dune 45. Summiting this iconic 170-metre-high peak early in the morning, in time to watch the sunrise and be rewarded with spectacular views, is an opportunity not to be missed. Want more? If you’re feeling really adventurous – and fit – you can tackle Big Daddy, which stands 325 metres tall.
Other highlights include Sesriem Canyon, shaped by the Tsauchab River over millions of years, and the eerily beautiful dead-tree valleys at Deadvlei, a long-dry oasis filled with camel thorn tree skeletons. Scorched by the sun the dark trees rise from the bone-white clay pan floor, sitting against the red dunes and blue sky in a perfect still-life of primary colours. Like the rest of Sossusvlei, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Christened by the San Bushmen as “The Land God Made in Anger”, the Skeleton Coast conjures up images of an eerie coastline shrouded in mist, beaches littered with bleached whalebones and rusted shipwrecks. This is a haunting and evocative destination on a treacherous stretch of wild Atlantic coastline, stretching along one-third of Namibia’s western coastline, from southern Namibia all the way up to Angola.
Much of the Skeleton Coast is protected within an eponymous national park. While the coastline is beautiful, with enormous dunes plunging violently into the Atlantic, its inland landscapes are truly spectacular and ever-changing, thanks to weather’s impact on geology. Still comparatively unknown to travellers, this region boasts sensationally dramatic scenery, small populations of wildlife and the Himba people, who continue to eke out a living in one of the world’s most formidable environments.
The Skeleton Coast is home to only the most adaptable flora and fauna, among them desert-dwelling elephants, black rhino, sea and shore birds including vast numbers of migrant waders, prolific fish species, rare reptiles and bizarre plants. You might even get to spot an elusive desert lion stalking one of the hundreds of thousands of Cape fur seals that line these shores.
On the don’t-miss list for any Skeleton Coast holiday is the desolate coastline and endless and impressive dunes, Ugab rock formations, ancient bushman rock art, nomadic Himba people, Hartmann Valley and its pretty vistas, the living fossil tree called Welwitschia Mirabilis and the sandstone landscape of the Huab environment. Wildlife is here – elephant, zebra, oryx, springbox, ostrich, giraffe and even cheetah – it’s just harder to spot as it moves around seeking water and shelter from the elements. Each animal is so well-adapted to the desert conditions, which is just one of the exciting things to see and learn about on your Skeleton Coast holiday adventure.
Fish River Canyon
The jaw-dropping Fish River Canyon is Africa’s largest canyon, second only in size to America’s Grand Canyon. Located in the south of Namibia, close to the border of South Africa, it was formed more than 500 million years ago, carved out by the longest interior river in Namibia, Fish River. Twisting through the desert for 161 kilometres, the canyon is 27 kilometres wide in parts and 550 metres deep, and is one of Africa’s greatest natural wonders.
It’s also one of the most memorable places you can go hiking on the continent. The famous Fish River Hiking Trail is approximately 85km long and usually takes between four and five days to complete – but you can only do it during the dry, cooler months of May to September, as the heat and risk of flash floods makes it too dangerous at other times of the year. The trail runs along the canyon floor, and as well as incredible views you’ll also have the chance to spot wildlife such as baboons, klipspringers and hyraxes. And at the end of the hike, there are some lovely accommodation options to choose from. Be warned, though: this route is a real adventure and not recommended for novice hikers. You’ll have to carry all your provisions yourself, and once you’re in the canyon the only way out is to keep walking – or be airlifted in the case of extreme emergency. Hikers also have to present a recent medical certificate of fitness and sign an indemnity form before setting off.
If this all sounds a bit too much, don’t worry as there are other ways to view this incredible canyon. There are fantastic day-long hikes, or you can go horse riding close to the rim, or take a scenic flight over the canyon for an aerial perspective of this wonder. A scenic flight can also be combined with a longer aerial safari above Sossusvlei, for an unforgettable flight showcasing some of Africa’s most inspiring sights.
The lovely coastal town of Swakopmund is located in central Namibia, between the ocean and the Namib Desert. This laidback spot is one of the most popular places in the country – once you visit you’ll understand why. Its German heritage is reflected in everything from its architecture, culture and cuisine, to the annual Oktoberfest celebrations. Resembling a small German town, it has colonial charm, palm-lined streets, seaside promenades filled with art galleries, museums and restaurants, cafés and beer houses where you can sample traditional German food and beer.
Swakopmund is the perfect base for exploring the coast – from here you can also get a glimpse of the Skeleton Coast. It’s also an adventure playground, with activities like quad biking, kayaking, skydiving and fat-wheel biking all on the cards.
One of Namibia’s best-known rock art areas is Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in Damaraland, in north-western Namibia. With Stone Age San Bushman carvings that are up to 6,000 years old, this is one of the most important rock engraving sites in southern Africa and the largest collection on the continent. The engravings depict wildlife such as rhinoceros, ostrich, giraffe and elephant, plus drawings of humans. They’re evidence of the nomadic hunter-gatherer life of the San and their ritual practices. This is also the region where you can experience a unique wildlife safari in search of the rare desert-adapted elephant and black rhino. As well as the rocky landscapes that shelter these ancient rock engravings, the region also boasts impressive petrified forests, cave networks, granite formations.