Namibia: a desert adventure

If I close my eyes and think about my past trips to Namibia, my mind is flooded with memories so vivid I can smell the dry fragrance of the desert and feel gritty sand crunching under my shoes. I remember when I stood on a camel thorn, stifling a gasp lest I threaten the silence of the game-packed Okaukeujo waterhole, and when we climbed a Spitzkoppe peak at dawn, my rubber shoes gripping the granite, as the sun bathed the campsite below us in a soft pink light...

In Namibia, the sense of space and stillness permeates every horizon view.In Namibia, the sense of space and stillness permeates every horizon view.

Whether it’s the dramatic scenery of the Sossusvlei dunes or the hauntingly beautiful beaches of the Skeleton Coast, Namibia is a country of unique landscapes, something that Go2Africa Product Manager Liesel found out on her safari into this often parched but always memorable landscape. I asked Liesel what impression immediately stood out for her:

‘Definitely the space’, Liesel answered, even though she’d worked in Namibia's Etosha National Park many years before. ‘I don’t think you ever get over the space and the stillness of Namibia. So many of its destinations are wild and remote – only once before have I felt like I was dropped in the middle of nowhere and that was in one of the most remote parts of the Amazon rainforest. The landscapes and the space stand out the most. For me the Namib Desert – particularly the Wolwedans region – is unforgettable. It’s something you really can’t experience anywhere else.’

Light aircraft is the most efficient way to get around this vast country.Light aircraft is the most efficient way to get around this vast country.
Water is the most valuable resource in this parched landscape.Water is the most valuable resource in this parched landscape.

Exploring Sossusvlei, home to the planet’s highest sand dunes

Liesel explored Namibia from top to toe. One of the highlights was a stopover at Sossusvlei – home to the highest and biggest dunes in the world.

‘We stayed at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge’, says Liesel, ‘and while it is an hour’s drive from the main Sossusvlei dunes, it's still really well located.’

Her advice is to get to the dunes at dawn to climb and photograph them, then explore nearby Deadvlei. This fascinating destination is actually a petrified lake dotted with skeletal trees so ancient, they form dramatic statues that seem ready to crumble at a touch.

While Liesel took on the dunes, guests can also go quad biking from the lodge. It’s a brilliant family activity – no experience needed – and a great way to explore the sand dunes. 

More superb places to stay in Sossusvlei:

Other activities in the area:

  • Hot-air balloon safaris
  • Stargazing evenings
  • Horse-back adventures
The massive dunes invite your inner child to come out to play.The massive dunes invite your inner child to come out to play.
Startling yet eerie, Deadvlei is just a few minutes from the dunes.Startling yet eerie, Deadvlei is just a few minutes from the dunes.
Sossusvlei is an impressive sight on any day, but it's a photographer's dream at sunrise.Sossusvlei is an impressive sight on any day, but it's a photographer's dream at sunrise.

Meeting the Himba of the untouched Kaokoveld

Leaving one desert landscape behind, Liesel headed north into one of Africa's most remote and wildest places, the Kunene region in the Kaokoveld. She stayed right on the Kunene River, which carves a bright slash of living green against a landscape of burnt orange sand, bound in the north by the Angolan highlands.

‘This whole area is just so isolated. Such a highlight for me!’, reminisced Liesel. ‘We were supposed to land the plane directly onto a landing strip but we struggled to even find the windsock!’

This remote area delivered one of her most memorable Namibian experiences: an encounter with the Himba people. This semi-nomadic people group still roam the northern Namibia wilderness, the women famously covering themselves with ochre clay which protects them from the desert sun and gives their skin a rich red tone. But is meeting with the Himba an authentic experience?

‘I found it completely genuine’ says Liesel. ‘I found that the women were quite relaxed and not bothered by our presence, although the children were quite shy. It’s such a remote area that not many people manage to get up there. This makes the interactions honest and culturally respectful.’

Magical places to stay in the Kaokoveld:

Other activities in the area:

  • Birdwatching along the Kunene River
  • Game drives in search of rare desert-adapted animals like rhino, lion, elephant and giraffe
Liesel chatting to some of the Himba women.Liesel chatting to some of the Himba women.
The children were shy and stuck close to their mothers.The children were shy and stuck close to their mothers.
The Himba are famous for the red ochre clay they spread all over their bodies and hair, protecting them from both the harsh sun and insect bites.The Himba are famous for the red ochre clay they spread all over their bodies and hair, protecting them from both the harsh sun and insect bites.

Damaraland, boasting some of Africa's most spell-binding landscapes

Although Liesel named the Sossusvlei experience and the Himba encounter her Namibian highlights, there were plenty more: she saw desert-adapted elephants in Damaraland (these long-legged elephants are able to survive for days without water), marvelled at the changing landscapes of the Wolwedans Private Reserve, and flew over the vast Etosha Pan.

Breath-taking accommodation in Damaraland:

Other highlights of Damaraland:

  • Otherworldly geographical features like the Burnt Mountain, Doros Crater, the Petrified Forest and the Organ Pipes
  • Around 5 000 prehistoric carvings and rock paintings at Twyfelfontein, a World Heritage Site
  • Game drives to encounter rare desert-adapted wildlife like elephant, mountain zebra and black rhino
Damaraland is still home to many of the large mammals drawn onto the prehistoric sandstone rocks of the area.Damaraland is still home to many of the large mammals drawn onto the prehistoric sandstone rocks of the area.
Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland contributes directly to the Save the Rhino Trust, a lifeline for the region's endangered black rhino.Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland contributes directly to the Save the Rhino Trust, a lifeline for the region's endangered black rhino.

Would she go again? A resounding 'yes' from Liesel, ‘Namibia is a country you can visit more than once – in fact, it’s almost impossible to do it all in one go. I recommend choosing one or two destinations and experiences and doing them properly. But if you have the time and have booked a fly-in safari, you can do and see a great deal. There are flights to Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, from Maun in Botswana and also from Victoria Falls, so you can combine a Namibian adventure with a Botswana safari quite easily.’

Namibia’s great infrastructure means that you can easily hire a car and enjoy a self-drive vacation – ideal for independent and flexible travel. Just bear in mind that Namibia is not a small country and driving will take up quite a bit of your time:

While Liesel dreams of visiting the Fish River Canyon and the Skeleton Coast, she’s really keen to discover the wetlands of the famous Caprivi Strip. She would also love to join the local San Bushmen on a walk north of the Waterberg – but that’s for another trip... Maybe next time I’ll join her too!

After her safari in Namibia, Liesel chatted to Expresso (one of South Africa’s favourite lifestyle breakfast TV shows) and shared some more of her expert tips on travelling to Namibia – watch it here:

Dreaming of your own sensational safari vacation in Namibia? Get inspired by our recommended tours – all flexible around your unique travel wishes.