Namibia feels like a lost world, an endless expanse of phantasmagorical landscapes that have never lost their primitive majesty. Towering orange sand dunes dominate the west, rising hundreds of meters and subtly changing color beneath the sun. Dusty plains and parched riverbeds stretch to the horizon, punctuated by rusty sandstone outcrops – many engraved with enigmatic Stone Age carvings. Herds of elephants, zebras and unicorn-like oryxes plod between isolated waterholes, while nimble bushmen stalk springbok on the horizon. Many people call these landscapes a photographer’s dream – yet photos struggle to capture either their elemental power or their delicate nuances.
There’s something paradoxical about witnessing Namibia up close. Initially it’s the vast scale of the land, the 360-degree panoramas that deliver new definitions of beauty. Yet everyone sees a different angle. Every curve of sand is subtly changing, each safari crosses new terrain, and the experience is never shared. In some countries people talk of destinations where you can escape the crowds. Just spotting another person in Namibia usually brings a brief moment of shock. In places like Sousevlei and Fish River Canyon, the otherworldly landscapes are the attraction, enthralling and captivating, pulling visitors into their hypnotic world. But wherever water flows animals invariably follow. Etosha National Park and the country’s numerous private reserves all appear stark and desolate, yet their dusty plains teem with Africa’s great mammals. The action is easily spotted, as the herds instinctively swarm to lakes and immense salt pans.
Few people get the opportunity to explore these epic vistas. They arrive like a dream, a visual array of colliding colors and contradictory superlatives, perhaps best epitomized by the unearthly landscapes of Damaraland: desolate yet exquisite, confusing but profoundly simple, impossible yet electrifyingly real. And hidden amongst it all are quintessential experiences that are never forgotten. Watch teams of lionesses ingeniously stalk prey across dusty plains. Sand-board down 300-meter dunes. Gaze upon the world’s second largest canyon. Explore historic shipwrecks and villages half buried in sand and shrouded in ocean fog. Follow the footprints of Africa’s largest elephants. No two journeys in Namibia will ever be the same. It’s not just a question of getting lost. In most of Namibia, it’s often difficult to know precisely where you are. On the southwestern edge of Africa? Or in Nature’s greatest art gallery…
- The world’s highest sand dunes burn red across the southern part of the Namib Desert. They stretch for hundreds of miles across the Namib-Naukluft, Africa’s largest national park, sparkling and twinkling as the wind brings infinitesimal changes to this 43 million-year-old landscape. A dawn climb up Dune 45 rewards visitors with a stunning sunrise over the sands of Sossusvlei, while more intrepid hikers may want to challenge themselves on the vertiginous slopes of ‘Big Daddy’ – which soars more than 350 meters above one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes.
- Water is king in Namibia, the wildlife perennially roaming in search of a drink. Etosha National Park is one of southern Africa’s greatest game reserves: a vast, dusty land centered around the 4800km² Etosha salt pan, which holds seasonal rains and permanent waterholes that draw a steady stream of wildlife. Giraffes and rhinos wander across the plains, lions and leopards rest beside the shallow pan, and a huge array of antelope and zebra tentatively sip from the waterholes lining its southern edges. You’ll need a few days to fully experience the breathtaking scale and authenticity of this vast wilderness, where the big game are always etched against wonderfully vivid backdrops.
- Namibia has never been tamed by human hands, but its semi-nomadic tribes have harmoniously survived in these desert lands for thousands of years. The San bushmen are believed to have lived here for nearly 50,000 years, hunting various antelope species and gathering fruits, nuts and roots deep in the desert. The Himba tribes herd cattle and lounge in natural herbal steam baths, while the Ju/’hoansi bushmen continue to perform traditional healing dances and find medicine in the bush. These are some of the world’s oldest indigenous tribes, and spending time with them is always a humbling and awe-inspiring experience.
- Coastal Swakopmund is the country’s greatest urban oasis, lined with palm trees and sparkling beneath the sun. This quaint town is covered in splendid German colonial buildings, but the main attraction is the unique experiences that start from here. Go sand-boarding down the nearby dunes, ride a horse or a quad bike into the desert, or take a microlight flight or a hot air balloon ride – and witness one of the world’s wildest landscapes from the sky.
- Dramatic granite outcrops or ‘inselbergs’ rise from the sweeping plains of Damaraland in northwestern Namibia, creating surreal archways, domes and pointed peaks held sacred by the San people. This region embodies the incomparable nature of Namibia’s vast and bewitching landscapes. Giraffes stand lonely beneath shimmering red mountains, hiking trails pass through desolate overhangs adorned with vibrant rock art, and the silence is punctuated by the lonely footsteps of desert elephants and rare black rhinos. Losing yourself in the immense freedom and solitude of Damaraland is what Namibia is all about.
- Namibia has very few roads and almost nothing to disrupt the migratory routes of its giant nomads. Elephants and rhinos leave great footprints as they wander through sand and scorched salt pans. Tracking them on a walking safari is a thrilling experience – one that instils a stunning harmony with nature and an unforgettable immersion in wilderness. Follow their trails with skilled bushmen, and then marvel as they stand just meters away, with nothing but a lonely acacia tree between you.