At A Glance
- Namibia covers over 800 000sqkm - most of it completely uninhabited
- It borders the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa, Angola, Botswana and Zambia
- The 49 000sqkm Namib Naukluft National Park includes the vast Namib Desert
- Windhoek is the capital city and is located slap-bang in the middle of the country
- The climate is hot and dry, with summer temperatures often over 40 degrees
Namibia Overland Travel
Namibia is truly a country of extremes. A brutally hot climate, arid grasslands, granite outcrops and ochre-red sand deserts make up its starkly beautiful landscape.
As a starting point or through-way for many Africa overland trips, Namibia is at the same time a country of compelling beauty and endless horizons, as well as a hugely attractive travel destination. From the vast expanses of Etosha National Park in the north, home to huge elephant herds and the mystical Etosha Pan, to the snaking Fish River Canyon in the south, the 2nd largest of its kind in the world, Namibia is an incredible country worth exploring on any overland adventure tour.
Namibia’s ‘adrenalin capital’ Swakopmund has become known for its amazing adventure activities, while the barren Skeleton Coast disappears northwards, a scary and treacherous stretch of uninhabited land. Read more about our featured Namibia destinations for more travel ideas.
If you’re overlanding through Namibia, make sure you sky dive over the Namib Desert, climb to the top of Dune 45 in Sossusvlei, meet the ochre-clad Himba people and encounter an elephant in Etosha. Namibia overland activities are all about the adrenalin rush!
Parks & Reserves
Nambia’s parks and reserves are diverse and scenic, ranging from the dry white pan of Etosha National Park to the red dunes of the Namib Naukluft.
Overlanders on a trip to Namibia are sure to visit the amazing Fish River Canyon, the 2nd largest in the world, and maybe take a trip to the desolate Skeleton Coast to visit the Cape fur seal colony at Cape Cross. Browse our amazing Namibia overland tours for more ideas.
Etosha National Park is one of southern Africa’s finest and most important game reserves, covering an impressive 22 27km², and home to the massive Etosha mineral pan, all that remains of an ancient lake.
A guaranteed few nights will be spent in Etosha when on a Namibian overland tour, usually in one of the rest camps, known for their exciting night time game viewing at the floodlit waterholes.
In the dry season Etosha is a flat white wilderness, aptly demonstrating its meaning: ‘Great White Place’. But come summer, the park is an explosion of colour, as the pan turns into an algae-rich lake attracting thousands of water birds including pink-tinged flamingos and pelicans.
Overlanding through Etosha is always rewarding: oryx, giraffe, zebra and springbok are regulars at the waterholes, while black rhino, huge elephants, cheetah and lion are often spotted.
Best time to go? The cool dry winters when animals stay close the waterholes. If you’re on a Namibian overland safari during this time, you’re bound to enjoy incredible game viewing.
The massive Namib Desert stretches along Namibia’s coastline from the Orange River in the south to just north of the Kunene River.
As the oldest desert on earth, it’s home to some truly bizarre life forms – animals, insects and plants that have somehow adapted to this inhospitable region.
For travellers on a Namibian overland trip, the 50 000km² Namib Naukluft National Park, which encompasses a huge part of the desert, is a popular destination, as it is most famous for its towering red sand dunes at Sossusvlei.
Overlanders can clamber up the dunes, visit the eerie Dead Vlei, go sandboarding or even see the desert from the air with a scenic flight, sky dive or hot-air balloon excursion.
Best time to go? Visit the Namib at sunrise, when the play of light and shadow give the landscape amazing tints and textures, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities.
The Skeleton Coast is a barren and hostile stretch of the Namibian wilderness, home to only a few hardy jackals and brown hyena, but it also marks the spot where Diogo Cao, a Portuguese sailor, set foot on what is now Namibia in 1486.
That area is now known as Cape Cross, a popular tourist attraction because of its huge 100 000 strong Cape fur seal colony. Most Namibian overland tourswill take a day excursion out to Cape Cross to view the seals swimming in the surf and sunbathing on the rocks.
Named for all the ghostly shipwrecks left abandoned on the beaches, the Skeleton Coast is a harsh place: inhospitable and one of the least visited places on earth.
Overlanders on a trip through Namibia will find this place a mysterious and unforgiving place, but just for that reason, it’s worth the visit.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is situated in the far south of Namibia, and is usually the first attraction overlanders will witness on their way north from Cape Town.
This winding ravine, at 160km long, 500m deep and 27km across at its widest point, is the second largest in the world, after Colorado’s Grand Canyon.
A Namibian overland tour on its way from South Africa to Victoria Falls will likely make a stop at the canyon; there are several viewpoints along the western rim with incredible views of the dramatic twisting cliffs.
Temperatures in the summer can reach some 50 degrees and the canyon is closed to hikers at this time. If your group is doing a short hike through the canyon in the cooler months, a stop at Ai-Ais hot springs at the bottom end of the canyon is well worth it!
Ideal as a setting for striking photography, the Fish River Canyon is not to be missed on an overland adventure through Namibia.
Namibia is a place of endless horizons and stark, wild beauty. From scenic Damaraland to the lush river-strewn Caprivi strip, Namibia’s landscapes are diverse and striking. Capital city Windhoek and charming ‘adventure-central’ Swakopmund are also great places to visit on any Namibia overlanding tour.
Damaraland is situated to the north of Swakopmund and to the south of Etosha National Park. It’s an incredibly scenic part of Namibia, with a dramatic landscape of wide open sandy plains, massive granite koppies and red hued mountains.
Home to the elusive desert elephant and the endangered black rhino, Damaraland is also part of the Community Wildlife Conservancy: a powerful community-based tourism venture aimed at protecting the wildlife of the area.
Most Africa overland tours that travel through Damaraland will take a trip to Twyfelfontein, which holds the largest known concentration of Stone Age and San Bushmen cave paintings and engravings in southern Africa.
Popular things to do in Damaraland on a Namibian overland safari? Track rhino on foot, visit the engravings in the late afternoon and take photographs, and meet the local Himba people.
In a country most known for its desert dunes, the lush Caprivi Strip sticks out like a sore thumb, literally. It’s that oddly-shaped panhandle that stretches between Angola and Botswana in far-northern Namibia.
Enclosed by permanent water, the Caprivi Strip starts at the Kavango River and follows the Zambezi River to the border junction of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Most overland tours travelling through Namibia are on their way to Chobe, the Okavango Delta or Victoria Falls, so you’re bound to travel through the Caprivi at some point!
The Caprivi Strip is a lush, watery paradise, with a few small game reserves, rushing rivers and a surprisingly large number of villages.
Whether you’re travelling into Botswana from Namibia or the other way round, the Caprivi Strip has a number of great campsites and lodges in which to relax and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere.
Although Windhoek is Namibia’s capital city, it’s often bypassed in favour of the coastal town of Swakopmund, once a sleepy town of Bavarian beer maidens and German patisseries, now challenging Victoria Falls as the ‘adrenaline capital of Africa’.
It’s an odd little town; the harsh Atlantic pounds its shores, fog shrouds it most mornings and shipwrecks lie scattered just off shore. But its huge appeal to Namibian overland travellers is that it’s right on the edge of the Namib Desert.
From sandboarding to sky-diving, Swakopmund is an obligatory ‘yes’ on every adventure-seekers Namibian trip. Scenic flights, deep-sea fishing, quad-biking and hot-air ballooning should all be on an overlanders agenda! Read more about our featured Namibia adventure activities.
Just to the south of Swakopmund is the tiny town of Walvis Bay, while the north-bound road takes you to Cape Cross in the Skeleton Coast National Park.
Namibia’s capital is Windhoek, and thanks to a brilliant stroke of German planning, it’s located slap bang in the middle of the country. Although an extremely small capital by global standards, it is the gateway to the spectacular scenery and landscapes of Namibia.
Most Namibia overland travellers will visit Windhoek, either as a pit-stop en-route to Etosha National Park, or as the start or end point for a trip. If you are making a stop, be sure to check out the colourful markets and the decidedly delicious German cuisine.
Joe’s Beerhouse is probably Windhoek’s most famous restaurant, and is a overlanding must-do! After camping in the desert, a gigantic piece of eisbein and a draught of Windhoek Lager will go down well at any time of the day.
It’s a peaceful and relaxed city – so much so it verges on the slightly dull. It doesn’t have too much to offer the visitor, but the shops sell pretty much anything you might like to buy and there’s a good European café culture.
Namibian overland tours tend to use Windhoek either as a springboard into the country, or as a good safe base to start a multi-country trek into Botswana and Zambia.
Like a carpet of multi-coloured textures, the Namib Desert is really best viewed from the air. What better than jumping out of a plane with a parachute strapped to your back and enjoying The View to top all others?
Skydiving is a popular overland adventure activity, and in Namibia, a true highlight! Swakopmund offers tandem free-fall jumps for novices wanting to feel a burst of pure adrenalin.
Jumps take place daily, normally in the late morning after the fog has lifted. After a safety chat, you’ll board a plane for a scenic flight over the coast and desert before making your jump.
Although nerve-wracking (you’ll tumble earthwards for 30 seconds of freefall before releasing your parachute), it’s an amazing experience – worth experiencing on your Namibian overland tour.
Namibia is a country that was meant to be admired from the air, and scenic sightseeing flights are probably the best way of doing this. Flights vary from 1 and a half hour flips along the coast of Namibia near Swakopmund to all-day safaris in the north.
From the air, the desert landscapes, moonscapes, rocky formations, gravel plains, mountains and riverbeds are like a tapestry of changing colours and textures. Spot flamingos and pelicans down at Walvis Bay, and thousands of seals at Cape Cross during breeding season.
The treacherous Skeleton Coast is lined with gloomy shipwrecks, while inland lies a spectacular sea of dunes reaching all the way down to Sossusvlei and beyond. In the north, a flight over Damaraland and the Kaokoveld heralds even more visual delights.
For an overland adventure activity with a difference, a scenic flight over Namibia’s dunes and desert landscapes is sure to take your breath away.
The Namib Desert is famous for its giant dunes and there’s no better way to conquer these towering beauties than to zoom down them head first on a traditional Swakopmund sandboard, or carve up the dune with style and skill on a snowboard adapted for sand.
The beauty about sandboarding is the sand is not abrasive, and as it’s obviously not cold, you can board in shorts and t-shirts. The worst that can happen is that you walk away covered in sand!
As an overland adventure activity, this is definitely one of the most popular! For the lie down option you’re supplied with a large flat piece of waxed hardboard, safety hat, elbow guards and gloves before heading off to climb a dune.
The idea is to lie on the board, push off from the top and speed head first down the sandy surface. Speeds easily reach 80 km per hour and some of the dunes are very steep though first you’ll do a few training rides on the lower dunes. No experience is necessary; it’s exhilarating and lots of fun.
Stand up boarding requires more skill. It is exactly the same as snowboarding, but on sand, using standard snowboarding equipment to surf your way down the dunes. If you’ve got snowboarding experience then this is an opportunity to try out those turns, free-style jumps and big spray curves.
As overlanding activities goes, it’s also an environmentally friendly activity. The dunes are constantly shifting and can move ten metres in a week, so sand board tracks soon disappear.
Another way to explore the dune field near Swakopmund is by quad-bike; a 4-wheel all terrain motorbike. This is one of the best overland adventure activities giving access to parts of the Swakopmund sand dunes that even 4x4s can’t reach.
For those who are a little unsure of their biking prowess there are 160cc semi-automatic bikes. Those who wish to go hell for leather and have some idea of what they are doing can ride the 200cc manual quad bikes. Helmets, goggles and gloves are provided.
Tours are multi-guiding with slow and fast groups in the same tour, catering for both the adrenaline seeker and the complete novice. This exciting excursion starts on the edge of the Swakop River bed, crosses some gravel plains and goes into the dune belt where the fun starts.
There are some awesome photography opportunities to be had out in the Swakopmund dune belt, so remember to bring along your camera! You’ll be glad to know that this overland adventure activity keeps to one area of the dunes, thereby minimising environmental impact on the fragile desert ecosystem.
Ballooning over the Namib Desert and seeing the red dune field around Sossusvlei from the air is a captivating experience – and a true highlight on an overland tour in Namibia.
It’s a fabulous way to view the immense and extraordinary panorama of the contoured dunes and stark desert plains, as the rising sun paints the sand in warm red light.
Most desert flights start at Sesreim, which is close to the monstrously sized dunes of Sossusvlei and thus gives some of the best views in Namibia. Because of the strong thermal movements over the desert, the balloon has to take off at dawn.
Balloon rides usually last for one hour and are followed by a celebratory champagne breakfast at a landing spot in the middle of nowhere – definitely something to look forward to if you’re hitting the truck for a long day’s drive!
The Namibian coast, known for its unique scenic beauty, is also regarded as one of the best fishing grounds in the world. Fishing is good from Sandwich Harbour, south of Walvis Bay up to Terrace Bay, in the Skeleton Coast Park.
If you’re overlanding in Namibia, fishing trips can be done arranged on arrival in Swakopmund or up in the Caprivi, and can be enjoyed by boat or from the shore with no previous experience is required. Remember though, certain types of fish are strictly on a ‘catch-and-release’ basis!
Deep-sea fishing boats are fully equipped with all the necessary angling equipment, bait, fish-finder equipment and experienced guides, while o n the shore, the surf angling potential of Namibia’s Atlantic coast is regarded as one of the best in Africa.
Namibia’s best time for angling is between November and March. Prized catches include kob, steenbras, galjoen and blacktail. In other parts of the country, tiger fishing is just one of the types of freshwater fishing that can be done in the Caprivi Strip.
The first people to inhabit what is now Namibia were the San people, otherwise known as the Bushmen. They are hunter gatherers who roamed southern Africa’s plains for thousands of years. There’s still a population of around 27 000 living in Botswana and Namibia. You’re likely to see them around the northern town of Rundu, though in the modern world they are struggling to retain their traditional lifestyle. The Namas and the Damaras came from the north from the 12th century, pushing the Bushmen into the Kalahari Desert. They were followed by the Owambos and the Herero from the 14th century, and by the Ovambo in the early 19th century. Several kingdoms sprouted on both sides of the Kunene River.
The first European to arrive was a Portuguese sailor, Diogo Cao, who briefly landed at Cape Cross in 1486. A few hundred years later, whilst the rest of the African continent was being carved up by the colonists, Namibia’s treacherous coastline and the inhospitable Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier. It effectively staved off potential colonisers until the mid-19th century. German missionaries arrived in the 1840s and set about building carbon-copy settlements of their towns back home and introducing other idiosyncrasies such as clothing the native people in Victorian dress. Today Herero ladies can still be seen in the villages dressed in antiquated dresses, bustles and frills.
Meanwhile in 1878, the British annexed the natural deep harbour of Walvis Bay. The area was incorporated into the Cape of Good Hope in 1884. A German trader, Adolf Luderitz, claimed the surrounding region. Negotiations between the British and the Germans resulted in Germany controlling the whole coastal region, excluding Walvis Bay, which remained in British hands. The German protectorate of South West Africa was established 1894, after a bizarre agreement. The British allowed Germany to add the Caprivi Strip to its territories (and thus get access to the Zambezi River) in exchange for Zanzibar and Heligoland, a remote island in the North Sea.
The next three decades of German rule were marked by bloody conflicts between the Europeans and the Africans, mainly the Herero. Between 1904 and 1907 around 60 000 local people were killed, many were ruthlessly driven into the Kalahari Desert to die, and Germany introduced racial segregation. In 1908 diamonds were discovered near the coast, bringing a stampede of Europeans to the newly established diamond towns such as Lüderitz, which for a few years in the 1920s was the wealthiest town in the world. After Germany’s defeat in World War I, South West Africa was handed over to South Africa who ruled it until independence in 1990. For a long time South Africa saw it as the fifth and wealthiest province in their country. South Africa instituted some Apartheid-inspired laws, moved coloureds and blacks into townships and gave the arable land to the whites.
After World War II the United Nations made repeated attempts to persuade South Africa to relinquish its power over the territory but South Africa refused and continued to govern it from Pretoria. Then in the early 1960s, black Namibians united under the banner of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) to fight for their independence. Over the next two decades they used guerrilla warfare against South African targets, infiltrating the territory from secret bases in Zambia and southern Angola. Throughout the 1970s and early 80s, the UN continued to pledge that South West Africa was to become an independent Namibia, reaffirmed by a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1971. SWAPO used more underground methods of demonstration. But South Africa only dug its heels in further. In 1977 South Africa adopted a new constitution that upheld apartheid policies and established 10 African homelands, tying Namibia even more closely to South Africa. Meanwhile SWAPO stepped up its guerrilla activities and managed to take control of parts of the north.
Finally, after another decade or so of badgering from the UN and international community, South Africa conceded and agreed to hand over government to an independent Namibia. Elections were held in November 1989, with SWAPO led by Sam Nujoma taking 57% of the votes. Namibia achieved independence in March 1990. South Africa, however, did manage briefly to hang on to the important deepwater port of Walvis Bay. This was only yielded to Namibia in 1994. While continuing to be economically dependent on South Africa (especially for foodstuffs), Namibia is better off than many other countries in the region, particularly because of its diamond wealth. President Nujoma has remained president, but his policies have been criticized in recent years. He conveniently changed the constitution enabling him to run for a third (and possibly future fourth) term and has introduced radical land policies similar to Zimbabwe where white-owned farmland is to be reverted back to black ownership.
Today Namibia is a peaceful country and its tourism industry, being only just over a decade old, is well organised and forward thinking. It’s one of the few African countries to promote eco-tourism, and there are many initiatives that both care for the environment and involve local people.
Read more about Namibia’s destinations, parks and reserves or adventure activities, or browse our featured Namibia overland tours.
Sossusvlei The highest dunes in the world, and most definitely the largest, Sossusvlei is simply breathtaking.
Desert Landscape Namibia's stark and striking desert landscape is worthy of a thousand photograph albums!!
Cheetahs The world's fastest land animals at ease.
Sand-boarding One of the most exhilarating experiences ever! Sand-boarding down Namibian Dunes is a must for the adventurer.