If Namibia is ‘Africa for beginners’, as is often said, what a wonderful place to start.
Few countries in Africa can match Namibia’s sheer natural beauty. The country’s name derives from its (and the world’s) oldest desert, the Namib, and there are few more stirring desert realms on the planet, from the sand sea and perfect dead-tree valleys at Sossusvlei to the otherworldliness of sand dunes plunging down to the sea at Sandwich Harbour and the Skeleton Coast.
Inland, running through the heart of the country, a spine of mountains creates glorious scenery – the Naukluft Mountains, the Brandberg, Spitzkoppe, Damaraland and the jaw-dropping Fish River Canyon. With rivers and wetlands in the Caprivi Strip and the endless gold-grass plains of the Kalahari, it’s difficult to think of an iconic African landscape that Namibia doesn’t possess.
Make no mistake: Namibia is one of Southern Africa’s best places to watch wildlife, at least in the country’s north. Etosha National Park belongs in the elite wildlife-watching destinations – big cats, elephants, black rhinos and plains game in abundance. Two other areas are emerging as complements to Etosha. Damaraland is a wonderful place to see desert-adapted elephants and lions, and also happens to host Africa’s largest population of free-ranging rhinos – rhino tracking is a real highlight here. Over in the Caprivi Strip, the wildlife is returning, with Bwabwata and Nkasa Rupara becoming wonderfully rich parks to explore. This being Namibia, there are private reserves (Okonjima and Erindi premier among them) as well as game farms that serve as havens for rescued wildlife.
At some point during your stay in Namibia, you may well look around and wonder if you’ve fallen off the end of the earth. This tends to happen most often along the country’s barren, sandswept coastline. From Walvis Bay to Lüderitz, the desert that forms the Sperrgebiet National Park is almost a truly trackless waste for much of its territory, but tours out of the latter can take you across it. Away to the north, along the Skeleton Coast to the Angolan border, shipwrecks along the shore only heighten the sensation that humankind is here very much at the mercy of the elements. Then there’s the Kalahari, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy…
Namibia’s human story is every bit as interesting as that written in the rocks, soil and sand of the country. Through their architecture and museums, Lüderitz, Swakopmund and Windhoek tell a complicated story of colonial settlement and oppression, while elsewhere the chance to interact with the many traditional people who call Namibia home will likely provide you with some of your most memorable moments. The Himba, in the country’s far northwest, and the San in the east, in particular are soulful people with whom an encounter carries an older, deeper wisdom.