If there were a perfect introduction to Africa travel, a Namibia trip would be it.
As one of the safest, easiest to travel and somewhat least intimidating places on the continent, Namibia envelops travellers new to Africa with its nature-filled wilderness, vast and impressive landscapes and friendly, welcoming community.
That’s not to say that it’s not worthy of multiple visits; the country’s giant red dunes, fascinating Skeleton Coast, incredible wildlife viewing, endless starry skies and seriously good food, to name a few, will have you wanting to return again and again. If it is your first time, what a truly wonderful place to start.
Occupying the east is the world’s oldest desert and country’s namesake, the Namib, the Skeleton Coast that’s scattered with ancient marine carcasses and the stirring yet stunning dead tree valleys of Sossusvlei. Inland, the spine of glorious mountains leads on down to the mind-blowing Fish River Canyon. It certainly is a beauty that few African countries can match.
What’s more, the captivating natural beauty and remote wilderness of this country only enhance the spectacular daily scenes you’ll encounter: namely, the wildlife.
It’s no surprise that Namibia is one of Africa’s best places to view game. Whether that’s around the watering holes of Etosha National Park, spotting desert-adapted elephants or free-ranging rhinos in Damaraland or exploring one of the many private game reserves, it’s all here.
Somewhat less beautiful but equally as important to Namibia travel is its human history. Through museums, architecture and deserted desert towns, you’ll learn the complicated story of Namibia’s colonisation and oppression. Venture deeper and you’ll find that the rocks tell the story from before European interference. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Twyfeltontein’s rock paintings and engravings shed light on Southern Africa’s first people, the San, and their story.
In between the incredible roads to drive, some of the most incredible stargazing you’ll ever do and everything mentioned above, Namibia’s otherworldly appeal is tenfold. Read on to open your eyes and skies, to what’s to come on a Namibia tour.
The Best Time for a Namibia Holiday
Namibia is a year-round destination; however, like every year-round destination, there are some perks to certain seasons.
Being in the southern hemisphere, Namibia’s winter is from June to August, which also happens to be the dry season. If wildlife viewing is top of your list, then the winter months are the best time to visit as this is when the lands are dry, so watering holes bustle with life. During the rainy season, you may find yourself driving around Etosha for days seeing very few animals.
The flip side of winter is that it is also the busiest and most expensive time to go on a Namibia trip. Falling in line with the European summer holidays, July and August are extremely busy, with crowded tourist destinations and lodges often filling up far in advance.
For the best of both worlds, visiting Namibia just after or before the rainy summer months in the shoulder seasons (from March to May or September to October) means you’ll be able to enjoy the country with fewer crowds.
The Best Places to Visit in Namibia
Namibia will have you in complete awe of Mother Nature’s creations. Here’s the cream of the crop of places to go and things to do in Namibia;
Windhoek, Where Everyone Starts
Home to an international airport, Windhoek is the capital of Namibia, making it the perfect place to start and end your Namibia trip. Given that, it is often a place that travellers arrive into and scurry out of as fast as possible. However, if you’re not in a rush, Windhoek is worth a night or two of your time.
Besides stocking up on supplies for your road trip, Windhoek is a great place to learn about Namibia’s history and apartheid. On a guided tour of Windhoek, you’ll visit the grand Art Nouveau church of Christuskirche, a landmark dedicated to the independence of Namibia, Alte Feste, and possibly the Independence Memorial Museum. Between landmarks, you can laze in Parliament Gardens, one of many parks Windhoek is known for as one of the cleanest cities in Africa. For a dose of authentic local cuisine, you can head to Katutura township.
Etosha National Park, Namibia’s Pride and Joy
Few places in the world match Etosha’s wildlife-viewing opportunities. Covering 20,000 square kilometres, Etosha National Park is made up of a vast, flat, saline desert, a quarter of which is the Kalahari Basin which can be seen from space. It’s that big.
For a few days each year, Etosha is transformed into a shallow lagoon where an abundance of flamingos and pelicans flock. Contrastingly, in the dry season, wildlife viewing is made easy by the waterholes where hundreds of elephants, springboks, lions and more gather. Simply plan a route around the waterholes with one of our Local Designers in Namibia, park your car and wait. Chances are, even if this is not your first taste of an African safari, you’ll be in awe of this scene.
On this 10-day self-drive Namibia safari, you’ll spend not one or two but four days exploring Etosha National Park.
Sossusvlei & Deadvlei
Two epic pans sitting not far from one another, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, make up two of Namibia’s most visited tourist attractions. Although, once there, the isolation will make you think otherwise.
The gateway to the Namib Desert, one of the oldest and driest ecosystems in the world, Sossusvlei is characterised by an otherworldly landscape of towering sand dunes forever shaped by the changing winds and lifted to brilliance by the setting and rising of the sun.
Just beyond the sea of red, orange and yellow sand, lies the surrealistic Deadvlei. A giant clay pan flanked by towering sand dunes and punctuated by ancient (dead) trees make up an iconic landscape you may recognise.
If you can hack the heat, climbing to the top of the dunes, some reaching a height of 325 metres, will reward you with an incredible, seemingly endless view of ochre dunes like on this 10-day desert and dunes of Namibia trip.
Fish River Canyon
Nowhere else in Africa will you lay eyes on anything like the Fish River Canyon; it is the largest canyon in Africa, albeit slightly disputed, and comes only second in size to the Grand Canyon.
Measuring a whopping 160 kilometres in length, up to 27 kilometres in width and depths that reach up to 550 metres, Fish River Canyon is as impressive as its numbers make out.
To gain a perspective of its sheer size, head to one of the lookouts, which can be reached within a two-hour hike. An unforgettable way to experience this natural wonder is on a multiple-day trek that traverses over half of this great canyon, something our Local Designers in Namibia will be happy to organise for you.
Luderitz & Kolmanskop
Exploring the German colonial town of Luderitz and the eerie deserted ghost town of Kolmanskop should definitely make the list of must-sees in Namibia.
As if its location between the Namib Desert and the rugged South Atlantic coast wasn’t testament enough to this impressive town, the German Art Nouveau architecture incongruent with its surroundings will be sure to impress. Churches, cafes and bakeries line Luderitz streets, each one contributing to its time-warped atmosphere.
From a town that seems to have been paused in the 20th century to a town that was quite literally abandoned and left behind in 1954. Kolmanskop was once a thriving, lucrative diamond mining town, founded in 1908 when a railway worker in the Namib Desert first found a diamond. The town was established overnight, and extravagance became its defining characteristic.
The first tram in Africa was built, water was transported hundreds of miles by train for residents’ lush gardens, an ice factory was built for fresh lemonade, opera performers were flown in and pet ostriches were acquired; Kolmanskop verged on the obscene when it came to luxury living. As fast as it was discovered, it was deserted when diamond mining became difficult and other locations proved more lucrative.
From that point on, the desert slowly began to reclaim what once was its own. Today, you can explore this ghost town where sand fills every nook and cranny.
Swakopmund & Skeleton Coast
There’s no better way to describe Swakopmund than ‘the adventure capital of Namibia’.
Perfectly looped into one of the greatest drives of Namibia, between safaris in Etosha National park and spotting desert elephants in Damaraland, Swakopmund welcomes you with adrenaline kicks, German architecture and distinct African appeal.
A place where most end up staying longer than planning, in Swakopmund, you can go quad biking, on walking tours, whale watching and even skydiving. With an aerial view of the Atlantic Coast and impressive red dunes, it is rumoured one of the best places in the world to skydive. As well as acting as a colonial remnant, Swakopmund is a great launchpad to explore the Namib Desert and the iconic Skeleton Coast.
As the name suggests, Skeleton Coast is a rugged, rocky and sandy stretch of Atlantic Coast littered with rusting shipwrecks and whale carcasses backed by unforgivable soaring dunes. For a long time, it has been known as a graveyard for ships, and of course, their crews. Once washed ashore, there was only one ending.
Damaraland & Twyfelfontein
At the exact point you thought Namibia’s landscapes couldn’t get any better, the red rock, wild wind-shaped rock formations of Damaraland will prove you wrong.
A truly spectacular collection of landscapes, as you make your way through Damaraland, you’ll be in awe. Beginning in the south, you’ll find Spitzkoppe, a series of rock formations referred to as the ‘Matterhorn of Africa’ where sleeping under the stars is a must. Further north, Brandberg, Namibia’s tallest mountain, invites climbers to tackle its rocky trails.
Carry on north, and you’ll come to two of the most famous attractions of Damaraland, the roaming desert elephants and the ancient rock paintings of Twyfelfontein, which are said to date back over 6,000 years and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to Get Around Namibia
To put it plain and simple, Namibia is a destination that you’ll need a car for. Besides local buses between the major cities and towns, public transport is virtually non-existent in this African country, but you do have a couple of options when it comes to getting around by car;
Hiring a car and driving yourself is the easiest, most popular and straightforward way to get around Namibia. Known as the land of endless horizons, it is the perfect destination for an epic road trip.
Truck and car hire are available in the major cities and easy to arrange through one of our Local Designers in Namibia. It is recommended that you start your trip in Windhoek, where you’ll pick up your car and drop it off in the same place when you’ve finished a full circle of the country.
When planning a self-drive tour, it’s worth bearing in mind the vast distances between destinations. Namibia is a country where you should take your time travelling; it’s better to see fewer places than spend all of your time travelling and not fully appreciating the journey. After all, that’s what it’s all about!
Whilst the roads are well signposted, you will be driving through deserted landscapes with varying terrain, so be prepared for a bumpy ride. Opting for a 4×4 will help comfort-wise. Plus, if you don’t want to be eating dust, a hire car with air conditioning will be a worthwhile add-on.
If the thought of driving yourself around Namibia terrifies you, fear not. There’s a solution.
You can hire a car and a driver through one of our Local Designers in Namibia. Your driver can also act as a guide so that you can fully experience all of the destinations without the worries of getting lost or having to drive yourself!
Where to Stay in Namibia
Similar to many African countries, Namibia is not too budget-friendly. Outside of the cities, you’ll find you have the pick of three options: luxury lodges, guest farms or camping, with the odd tourist hotel or budget hostel thrown into the mix.
Much of Namibia’s accommodation is thinly spread and rather remote; make sure to book well in advance to secure your bed for the night. Often, you’ll find that it is much more than a bed, it is your invitation to learn more about this country, a gateway to local tours and that all-important hidden viewpoint you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
Hotels, Family-Run Bed and Breakfasts & Guest Farms
Although you may find the odd one around popular tourist destinations, hotels are generally concentrated in Namibia’s urban areas. The good news is that in Namibia, by law, all hotel rooms must be en-suite and have a window. If you’ve ever travelled to Asia on a budget, this will be music to your ears!
More common than hotels, especially in cities and scattered around smaller towns on popular routes are family-run guesthouses or bed and breakfasts. These options present a more personalised stay and usually include breakfast or other meals. It’s worth noting, with German colonial history and the traditions left behind, most accommodation favours twin beds over double beds, so if you are particularly bothered, make sure to communicate this in advance.
Guest farms are large working farms run by Namibians, usually of German or white South African heritage, that supplement their income through tourism. At this type of accommodation, you can expect to dine communal style with your hosts, be surrounded by nature and have a wealth of hiking trails on your doorstep. Be wary though; some guest farms are hunting farms which we do not encourage as options for accommodation.
Luxury Lodges & Tented Camps
Now, the good stuff. If you really want to experience Namibia in the most wonderful way, luxury lodges and tented camps deliver spectacular scenery, a real ‘in nature’ feel and superb hospitality at all budget levels.
Lodges inside the parks are run by a state-owned company; on the borders of the national parks, you’ll find a number of private concessions that cater to a range of budgets. In the last decade or so, luxury lodges have boomed, so there are wonderful options to choose from.
Another step up is remote, luxury wilderness tented camps, some so remote that a private charter flight is needed to reach them. The spectacular desert landscapes and the sounds you fall asleep and wake up to are the highlights of these camps.
If you’re really looking for that all-immersive wild camping experience with a dose of luxury, then this 11-day Namibia holiday is perfect for you.
Budget Hostels, Camping and Community-Run Camps
Namibia’s backpacker hostels are few and far between but mainly confined to Windhoek and the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Luderitz. Here, you’ll pay as little as US$11 (N$170) for a dorm or US$33 (N$500) for a private room.
It’s clear that camping is one of the best ways to experience Namibia’s wilderness and as the scenery, sounds of the bush and spectacular sunsets come for free, there are some very reasonable options. Generally speaking, you can pay as little as US$7 (N$110) per person per night for a campsite with additional luxuries such as hot water showers, electricity and food preparation areas.
Community-based tourism is on the rise in Namibia through its progressive conservancy system. Whilst there will be the odd challenge, such as lacking electricity, these community camps enable you to engage with rural populations, positively impact communities through tourism and learn about other cultures. You can connect with one of our Local Designers who will take you off the beaten track.
The Best Food to Try in Namibia
German and South African heritage combined with traditional African cuisine makes for an appetising range of dishes. Unless sought out, you’re unlikely to encounter the traditional dishes eaten by Namibians on the menu, but here’s what you will eat;
Meat, Meat & More Meat
Whilst vegetarians will have a hard time; meat lovers will be in their element in Namibia. German colonial influences mean sausage, and many variations of them, scatter the menus and are widely available.
With vast amounts of wildlife and game available, meat is the star of most meals, especially when cooked on the braai (barbecue). Typically, a huge fillet steak will set you back no more than US$6 (N$100) in most restaurants or lodges. A level up sees exotic game meat, springbok, oryx and kudu, as a particular highlight on the menu.
German-Inspired Sweet Tooth Satisfaction & Desserts
The biggest German influences in Namibia you’ll find are the abundance of konditoreien (cake shops) where pastries and desserts like apple strudel and rich chocolate cakes provide your fill of sugar and sweets.
On the flip side, African deserts in Namibia show up to the table too. Sticky, sweet and delicious doughnuts smothered in honey known as koeksesters and melktarts, which are creamy milk tarts, are must-tries.
With a long stretch of coast to call its own, seafood in Namibia is highly rated and can be found throughout the country. Varieties of kingklip, kabeljou, sweet oysters and other types of shellfish best represent what you’ll find on the menu. For the catch of the day, make sure to sample seafood in Swakopmund and Luderitz.
Road Trip Snacks, Vegetables & Seasonal Highlights
If self-driving, you’ll have the luxury of stopping off to buy food from markets and shops in built-up areas. If you’re not a vegetarian, your trusty road trip snacks will be biltong and boerewors (South African spiral sausage).
Namibia is a vast desert so fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t readily available in abundance. Shipped up from South Africa or further afield, you can expect to pay over the odds for fresh fruit and vegetables. Available locally, gem squashes and pumpkin varieties such as butternut squash tend to make the menu as the vegetable side.
In season, Namibian oranges are a sweet, citrusy delight and if you venture to the top-right corner of Namibia, the Kavango region, papayas with a squeeze of lemon or lime are the perfect antidote to a hot day.
Beer & Wine
German influence means damn good beer. Make sure to sink a few pints of Windhoek and Hansa during your time here. If you’re staying in Windhoek for a day or so, visiting a beer house is a must. You’ll find wine at most restaurants and lodges; it will be South African and is often very good value.
Top Festivals in Namibia
Namibia is a culturally rich nation, one that is extremely proud of its diversity and German roots. This heritage is celebrated through a number of colourful events where dancing, great food and entertaining costumes are standard. Here’s a selection of the best festivals in Namibia;
Bank Windhoek Arts Festival
Every February, the city of Windhoek comes together to celebrate local artists through a series of visual and performing arts shows in venues across the city. The celebration encourages artists’ development and the rise of local artists, helping them to establish a name in the industry.
From dance to theatre and visual art shows, the festival continues for months climaxing in September before returning the following February.
Enjando Street Festival
As the name suggests, Enjando Street Festival is a colourful, loud and vibrant display of national costumes, traditional dance, live music and plenty of fun. Taking over the capital, Windhoek, for a month each March, Enjando Street Festival, also known as Mbapira, celebrates Namibia’s rich cultural traditions.
Groups from all over the country come together to perform dance traditions which are typically showcased as social events like births and marriages. The nation’s riches are centre stage for visitors from all over the world to marvel at, including you.
Karneval – Windhoek & Kuste
With much of the same energy and enthusiasm demonstrated by similar carnival-style events across the world, Karneval (or Karnewal) is where music, dance, tradition, fun and food come together for an incredible annual street party. Karneval in Namibia is a remnant of the German occupation, and if attended, you’ll notice the distinct German vibe throughout the festival.
Held in April in Windhoek, it is the country’s biggest cultural event. The plentiful events include musical performances, a masked ball and an Independence Avenue Parade. Down on the coast in Swakopmund, Karneval arrives in August and is known as the Kuste Karneval. Here, you can expect parades, all-night parties and lots of street food!
Taking place once a year, Africa Day is a celebration of the rich and diverse history of the African continent as its people. In Namibia, this day is a chance to raise political awareness and reflect on the discrimination its people suffered throughout previous decades. On Africa Day, local communities gather together to promote peaceful coexistence.
Things to Know Before Travelling to Namibia
Don’t get caught out, here are some top tips for your Namibia trip;
Visa: Most nationalities need a visa to enter Namibia, which also requires you to have at least six month’s validity on your passport. Check with your country’s visa requirements for Namibia before travelling.
Currency: Both the Namibian Dollar and the South African Rand are used and widely accepted in Namibia, both currencies are equal to each other. At the time of writing, June 2021, 10 Namibian Dollars is equal to $0.67 US Dollars.
Language: The official language in Namibia is English, although German, Afrikaans and Oshiwambo dialects are also spoken.
Safety: Namibia is one of the safest countries in Africa with a low crime rate and political stability. Safety concerns come in another form; the country’s vastness and distance between destinations mean that having the knowledge on how to change a tyre will get you a long way (literally).
History: Namibia was categorised as the fifth province of South Africa during the Apartheid so came under the same awful regime. Today, the social divide is still evident. Namibia’s history is something you should be aware of before travelling there.
Vastness: Namibia has the second-lowest population destination after Mongolia and is incredibly vast, with dry, arid desert covering much of it. Take your time travelling here and don’t underestimate the distances between destinations.
Sand: There’s going to be plenty of it and it’s going to get everywhere. The best thing to do is prepare as much as you can, don’t pack your nicest clothes and just go with it.
Is It Time to Plan Your Namibia Holiday?
The perfect introduction to Africa awaits!
To begin planning your Namibia trip, the first step is to head to our impressive range of fully customisable trips to Namibia and see the wealth of travel experiences that are possible. Any of these trips can be customised to your liking, tailored to suit your budget and adapted to whatever your needs may be by our Local Designers in Namibia.
If you’d prefer to start from scratch, ‘design your own trip’ by entering a few key details or as much information as you like and you’ll soon be hearing from one of our Local Designers who will handcraft the trip of your dreams!