The mesmerising sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes on the planet. Situated in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the biggest conservation area in Africa, Sossusvlei is one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia and delivers incredible photographic opportunities – best around sunrise and sunset.
- Visit the eerily beautiful Deadvlei (‘dead marsh’)
- Climb Dune 45 or Big Daddy (about 350 metres or 1 150 feet)
- Go on a hot-air balloon safari over the desert
2. Etosha National Park
Considered by many safari aficionados as one of Africa’s greatest wildlife reserves, Etosha is situated in northern Namibia and is a self-driver’s paradise – thanks to its great roads. Weighing in at 22 270 square kilometres (8 600 square miles), it’s home to four of the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion and leopard), as well as giraffe, cheetah and an abundance of plains game.
Etosha aptly means ‘Great White Place’ as it’s dominated by a colossal mineral pan, Etosha Pan, four times the size of Los Angeles. During Namibia’s dry season (May to October), the temporary water holes around Etosha Pan host animal numbers of biblical proportions and is undoubtedly the best time for a safari in Namibia.
- One of the best places in Southern Africa to see cheetah and black rhino
- Incredible game viewing between May and October
- Excellent accommodation in adjacent private reserves
- Easy and safe for self-driving
Arguably one of the most scenic parts of Namibia, Damaraland is a massive, untamed and ruggedly beautiful region. If you’re the intrepid kind, this incredible hinterland offers an adventure beyond compare. Prehistoric water streams with wide-open plains and grassland, granite hills and deep gorges are par for the course with Damaraland. The geography changes dramatically to the west: endless sandy wastelands eventually meet the turbulent Atlantic Ocean at the Skeleton Coast.
Damaraland is home to very unique animals that have adapted their lifestyles to survive in one of our planet’s harshest environments. Small populations of desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, ostrich, oryx and springbok (gazelle) can be seen here. Desert-adapted elephants can travel up to 70 kilometres (40 miles) a day through the desert in search for food and water – and unlike their savannah cousins, they don’t destroy any trees in their quest for nourishment.
The ‘fire mountain’ is the highest peak in Namibia at 2 573 metres or 8 440 feet. It’s named after the effect that the setting sun creates on its western face, causing it to resemble a burning slag heap. The Brandberg harbours one of the world’s richest collections of ancient rock paintings (including the famous ‘White Lady’) and is considered Africa’s biggest open-air art gallery. The area also has a number of archaeological sites and a fascinating variety of rare plant species.
Twyfelfontein (‘doubtful fountain’) is a World Heritage Site of about 2 000 ancient rock engravings and paintings, one of the biggest and most important concentrations of rock art in Africa. A visit to this alluring valley will reveal artwork produced by San hunters of the early Stone Age. The San people are members of different indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa and were likely drawn to the area’s only perennial spring during this prehistoric period.
The Petrified Forest
This prehistoric relic is located in the southern part of Damaraland, an area that was subjected to immense volcanic action. About 200 000 years ago, huge tree trunks were washed down ancient rivers and deposited in rich alluvial soils. These tree trunks became fossilised through a process called silicification that transforms wood into stone. Erosion has exposed many of the giant logs that can be seen in the area today.
The Organ Pipes
The Organ Pipes are a distinctive series of dolerite pillars and another well-known geological feature in Damaraland. Located near Twyfelfontein, The Organ Pipes were formed about 150 million years ago by the intrusion of liquid lava into a slate rock formation.
Considered one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Southern Africa, Kaokoveld is an otherworldly and mountainous landscape of rugged beauty. Like Etosha, the region is a refuge for rare desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, oryx and even lion. Silent, huge and for the most part empty, Kaokoveld is truly off the beaten path and best experienced as a fly-in destination.
Kaokoveld has a population density of only one person per two square kilometres (0.8 square miles) and about a third of the region’s inhabitants are the Himba: a semi-nomadic and pastoral people noted for their ability to survive in an arid and unforgiving environment.
- Experience one of Southern Africa’s last untouched wilderness areas
- Track rare desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe and lion
- Cultural interactions with the local Himba people
5. Skeleton Coast National Park
Usually associated with famous shipwrecks and fables of sailors walking for hundreds of miles in search of food and water, the Skeleton Coast is a mysterious place where the dunes of the world’s oldest desert meet the turbulent Atlantic Ocean to form one of the most dramatic coastlines on our planet. The San Bushmen called it ‘The Land God Made in Anger’ and the Portuguese explorers knew it as ‘The Gates of Hell’, but it’s believed to be named after all the bones that lined the beaches from old whaling operations and seal hunts.
The one-of-a-kind Shipwreck Lodge is the only property situated in the Skeleton Coast National Park. Here you can track desert-dwelling animals on 4×4 excursions or go on guided beach walks to explore the debris from centuries-old ships that fell victim to the Skeleton Coast’s shifting sandbanks, dense fog and perilous currents.
- 4×4 excursions into the Namib Desert and Hoanib River Delta
- Track desert-dwelling elephants, the elusive desert-adapted lion and brown hyena
- See the rich birdlife – nearly 250 species
- Scenic flights over a hauntingly beautiful coastline
6. Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi Strip)
Considered by many as Namibia’s answer to the Okavango Delta, the Caprivi offers an incredible water-based safari experience within its riverine forests and vast wetlands. The region’s big drawcard is that it’s surrounded by four perennial rivers – Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti and Zambezi – which makes it a haven for elephant, buffalo, hippo and crocodile. The birdwatching is also superb: the region has recorded a staggering 600 plus species. Caprivi is home to several intimate game reserves with excellent lodges that offer boat safaris and fantastic sunset cruises.
- Outstanding bird-watching destination
- Fantastic game drives, boat safaris and fishing excursions
- Excellent safari lodges in serene riverside settings
The quaint seaside holiday town of Swakopmund blends its German colonial heritage with a distinctive African character, one of Namibia’s most surreal and unique destinations. Its palm-lined streets, seaside promenades and pleasant summer climate make Swakop a great stop-over during a Namibia safari and the perfect place for self-drivers to restock and get some rest.
Swakopmund has become Namibia’s leading adrenaline destination and offers a wide range of activities like sandboarding, quad biking and 4×4 driving in the dunes. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can also enjoy boat excursions to look for seals and dolphins or simply explore Swakop’s restaurants, cafés, art galleries and museums.
- A great stop-over during your safari moving between Skeleton Coast or Etosha and the Namib Desert
- Explore quaint cafés, restaurants and art galleries
- Namibia’s adrenaline capital – enjoy activities like sandboarding and quad biking
- Guided tour to see the Little 5 of the Namib Desert: Namaqua chameleon, sidewinder snake, Namib dune gecko, Fitzsimons burrowing skink (a legless lizard) and the white lady dancing spider
8. The Fish River Canyon
Located in the south of Namibia, the Fish River Canyon is the world’s second largest canyon and features a colossal ravine of about 160km (100 miles) long, up to 27km (17 miles) wide and almost 550 metres (1 805 feet) at its deepest. The immensity of this magnificent landscape is truly breath-taking: a flat plateau that suddenly drops half a vertical kilometre into a twisting kaleidoscope of hues formed over millions of years by erosion.
This spectacular environment provides refuge for mammals and an abundance of reptiles, insects and fish. Natural hot springs on the canyon’s floor form pools of water which also attract many types of water birds. Other canyon residents include mountain zebra, kudu, oryx and gazelle that attract predators like leopard, jackal, brown hyena and bat-eared fox.
- Explore the world’s second largest canyon on foot or by horseback
- Visit the popular Ai-Ais: natural hot springs on the canyon floor
- Some of the best hiking trails in Southern Africa
The country’s most famous ghost town is situated in the Sperrgebiet (‘forbidden territory’) of southern Namibia. After a diamond was discovered in the area during the early 1900s, fortune hunters moved into Kolmanskop causing a huge and frantic diamond rush. The small town soon developed into a bustling centre featuring elegant houses, a hospital, ballroom, school, casino and an ice cream factory. Development reached its pinnacle in the 1920s, but the town started declining after World War One when diamond prices crashed.
Within a period of 40 years, Kolmanskop flourished and died. The Namib Desert is slowly but surely swallowing this ghost town’s crumbling ruins which bear very little resemblance to its former affluent glory. Today, Kolmanskop delivers eerily beautiful photographic opportunities and is a popular destination for film shoots.
- Take a tour through a real-life ghost town
- A one-of-a-kind photography experience
10. Okonjima Nature Reserve
konjima lies halfway between Windhoek (Namibia’s capital) and Etosha National Park, making it a convenient stopover between the two. The reserve is well known for its fantastic cheetah and leopard sightings, and it’s home to The AfriCat Foundation – a non-profit organisation that makes significant contributions to the long-term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores like leopard, cheetah and brown hyena in their natural habitat.
- One of the best places to see leopard in Namibia
- Track cheetah and brown hyena on game drives
- Fantastic birdwatching destination