Desert Landscapes and Endless Horizons
Some travellers say that the moment you realise Namibia has changed you is when you’re standing atop Big Daddy at sunrise, witnessing new dawn colours shift over ancient sands. Others will tell you the transformative moment takes place in the ghost town of Kolmanskop. Here, the desert sands all but swallowed a once thriving community, together with the abandoned hopes and dreams of its long-ago citizens.
The fact remains: if you are the type of traveller who wants more, a Namibia safari will give you a new perspective. It is culturally-rich and kaleidoscopically diverse, and whether you’re travelling to the country for authentic encounters with its local people or to capture its countless photographic opportunities, Namibia will leave you changed.
Namibia is the very definition of the great outdoors; only greater. It’s a country of soul and scale, drama and serenity. Here, the sky seems bigger and the horizons wider. Indeed, a Namibia safari promises a larger-than-life experience.
A journey through Namibia will take you through a land of contrasts. Sprawling dune seas, mist-shrouded spectral shores and hauntingly timeless horizons. Etosha National Park takes centre stage for its extraordinary wildlife sightings, which are practically guaranteed around its namesake, the Etosha Pan. Swakopmund scores top marks as Namibia’s most charming coastal destination and launchpad for adventure experiences. Sossusvlei boasts the world’s tallest dunes, and Damaraland is home to Namibia’s elusive desert-adapted elephants.
When to Go:
The best time to visit Namibia for wildlife sightings is during the dry season between June and October. May and November are mild in climate, but November can experience the occasional shower as the rainy season approaches. During the rainy season from December to April, expect high humidity and soaring temperatures. However, this is the best time to visit Namibia for birdwatching.
Travel to the ancient ochre-red dunes of Sossusvlei to watch the sunrise over the world’s oldest desert.
Encounter the vastness of Etosha Pan in the north, home to a multitude of predators, elephant and gazelle.
Damaraland is a mystical region known for its desert-adapted wildlife, and ancient San rock art and engravings.
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A herd of white-dust elephants suddenly appear, hazy, on the horizon. They are meandering along the edges of the dry, cracked surface of Etosha Pan to one of the waterholes on the rim to quench their thirst. A group of anxious gazelle linger at the water, while two jackals gaze warily at each other from each end.
This is Etosha National Park, the largest wildlife reserve in Namibia and well known for its vast pan, which takes up much of the interior. Dry and mud-cracked through most of the year, it does absorb and retain a little water during the rainy season when birds frolick there in their multitudes, but most of the animals visit the pan to enjoy the salt licks on the edges.
Predators find their place in Etosha and make for fantastic game viewing. Long-limbed cheetah stalk the grasslands, lions laze around in the shade of acacia trees and lone spotted hyena lollop through the woodlands. But find yourself in the right place at the right time, and you’ll witness the frenzied action of a kill at a waterhole.
These are raw, unfiltered wildlife encounters. This is an Etosha safari.
When to Go:
The best time to visit Etosha National Park for game-viewing is undoubtedly the dry season between May and August when animals congregate at the various waterholes on the edge of the pan. The rainy season, between November and February, is when the park comes to life. While some of the animals disappear into the further reaches of the park with more readily accessible water sources, this is the best time for bird-viewing. Flamingoes, pelicans, storks and herons all descend on the salty pan, now dotted with pools of water.
If you think of Namibia, the first images that come to mind are most likely the rolling dunes of Sossusvlei. It’s no surprise considering you’ve seen them countless times before in films, commercials and fashion shoots. In fact, Sossusvlei is the most photographed landscape in Africa. But seeing the world’s highest dunes on screen is nothing compared to experiencing them in person. Indeed, a holiday to Namibia is not complete without a Sossusvlei safari.
One of the oldest and driest ecosystems on earth, Sossusvlei is Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction. However, you needn’t worry about overcrowding here. The dunes form part of a 32,000 square kilometre sand sea that covers much of the country’s southern region. As for getting up close and personal with the dunes themselves, the only way to truly get the measure of Sossusvlei is to hike one of its dunes and watch the sunrise over the Namib, the world’s oldest desert.
Photogenic beyond words, the wind is forever altering the shape of the dunes while its colours move according to the shifting light, transforming from pastel pinks into fiery reds. If you’re visiting Namibia for a transformative travel experience, Sossusvlei is an excellent place to start.
When to Go:
You can enjoy a Sossusvlei safari at any time of the year, but to capture the best photos of the landscape, the dunes are best visited at sunrise and sunset.
If you long to feel the dust on your skin, the giant skies above you and the stars within reach, a Damaraland safari is for you. Dramatic, inspiring and remote, Damaraland is without a doubt one of Namibia’s most visually spectacular landscapes. It’s also one of the most ancient.
Discover the famous collection of authentic San rock art and engravings among the red-rock mountains of Damaraland. From the vast expanse of the Brandberg to the eerie formations of Spitzkoppe and on the cave walls of Twyfelfontein. Encounter real-life experiences etched into the rock on a Damaraland safari.
Damaraland is also home to the elusive desert elephant, specially adapted to the water-scarce terrain. These mighty giants share the landscape with gemsbok, rhino, zebra and even lion, all of whom manage to thrive amongst the rocky outcrops and rough-hewn plains. This raw, survival-first feel, is what makes a Damaraland safari particularly attractive to adventurers.
When to Go:
The best time for a Damaraland safari is during the dry season (May to October). However, it remains an exceptional year-round destination, although rather hot during the summer months.
Sandwiched between the Namib Desert and the Atlantic Ocean, Swakopmund is a city which straddles two of Namibia’s great extremes. It’s a favourite seaside destination for locals as well as the country’s hub for all things adventure – plus its the main launchpad into the Skeleton Coast. Take your pick of adventure: sandboarding, skydiving or paragliding. How about horseback riding across the moon-like landscapes which surround Swakopmund? Strong Atlantic waves at Walvis Bay, south of the city, make it popular for surfing, kiteboarding and sports fishing, while the wind-carved rock formations of the surrounding Namib Desert are great for climbing.
For wildlife enthusiasts, Swakopmund does not disappoint. The bay’s Bird Island is an artificial nesting area where resident seabirds such as flamingos and Cape cormorants can be spotted, while inland, the red dunes, granite mountains and desert-adapted wildlife of Namib-Naukluft National Park await eager game watchers.
Let’s not forget the history buffs and culture vultures on tour in Swakopmund. From the Lighthouse and the Mole (an old sea wall) to the sidewalk cafés, art nouveau buildings and trendy bistros, Swakopmund still retains the charm of its 1892 beginnings as a German colonial town. The leisurely pace and laid-back locals of Swakopmund will make you want to hang around for a while. Here, there’s no rush. Swakopmund invites you to take your time.
When to Go:
Swakopmund is a year-round destination, but the drier months between May and October are ideal to combine with safaris in greater Namibia. This is because winter offers the best wildlife sightings.
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There’s nothing more inspiring than floating over the multi-facetted Sossusvlei landscape in a hot air balloon, culminating in a champagne breakfast in a scenic spot.
The vast white expanse that is Etosha Pan dominates the heart of the park. It is Africa’s largest salt pan and remains dry most of the year, yet it attracts a variety of wildlife who come to nibble on the mineral-rich salts.
Probably the most famous rock art and engravings site in Namibia, Twyfelfontein contains at least 2,500 engravings and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
Set out on a guided night drive into the heart of Etosha National Park; your vehicle is armed with a high powered flashlight which may just glimpse shining eyes in the dark…
Take a short drive to nearby Walvis Bay and you’ll come across a sudden shock of pink on the banks of the lagoon. Flamingos regularly land here to feed on their way north to Etosha Pan to breed.