Namibia may not be on your travel radar but I guarantee it might be after learning more! This country is now one of my favorites. After researching the best way to see Namibia, I reluctantly decided to do a tour, something I rarely do. However, this seemed to be the best option for a solo traveler as opposed to self-driving. Doing a small group Namibia Tour turned out to be the best decision I made. It exceeded my expectations and I loved every minute.
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Southern Africa on the west coast bordering Angola, Botswana and South Africa.
English is the official language. Afrikaans is widely spoken. There are many tribal languages including San Bushman, Himba, Herero, Damara, and Nama. I think there are 30 languages spoken in total.
Namibian Dollar. $1USD = $12.5 NAD ($100 NAD = $8 USD)
It is equal to the South African Rand and its rates fluctuate as the rand does. The two currencies can be used interchangeably. Many places only accept cash so do yourself a favor and get as much as you think you may need at the airport upon arrival. There were a few bigger towns here and there where we could get money but you would often go days without that opportunity.
The only airport is in the capital Windhoek (pronounced Vind-hook). There are direct flights from Amsterdam and some German cities. Also direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Getting around is done by either private car or tours. There is no public transportation.
The tour was organized by Global Basecamps. I chose this company because they offer specialized unique tours with great lodging and food. They work in a way to ensure that tourism does not have a negative impact on the destination and they help local communities. This level of social responsibility is very important to me.
There were a total of 7 people on the tour which was a nice manageable number. I can’t stomach large group tours. The safari Land Cruiser was brand new, luxurious and comfortable. It had a pop-up roof for game viewing. There was an unlimited supply of fresh water and they provided us with eco-friendly reusable bottles.
Arnold, our guide, came to collect me at my guesthouse in Windhoek. He was immediately likable with a huge smile. Arnold is of the Damara tribal background but spoke perfect English, Afrikaans, Himba and other languages. I was extremely impressed by this as well as his knowledge of flora, fauna, geology, history and even some astronomy! He was especially enthusiastic about geology and managed to get most of us to know the difference between a sandstone or basalt mountain but don’t tell my college professors!
The Namib desert is the oldest in the world dating back 18 million years. The area known as Sossusvlei is the most visited and iconic part of Nambia with the impressive red sand dunes. We drove 5 hours to arrive here on the first day from Windhoek.
We arrived at Sesriem Gate which is is the only access to the Sossusvlei area of the larger Namib-Naukluft National Park. Our lodge, the Sossus Dune Lodge, was the only one inside the park, which means that guests there have access to the road leading to Sossusvlei an hour earlier than those staying outside the park.
We did a sunset hike in the Sesriem canyon the day we arrived and the next morning woke before sunrise for the 45-minute drive to the great dunes of Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei is about 66 km past the Sesriem gate. The last 6 km can only be traversed with 4WD vehicles as the paved road ends and sand begins. There is a parking lot here for non-4WD cars to stop and get the shuttle the rest of the say. The highest dune in the Sossusvlei area is called Big Daddy and is about 325 meters (1000 feet) high. We climbed the arm of Big Daddy instead, which was quite challenging in itself. The sunrise views from here were fabulous. The sand was gloriously soft and cool at this time.
Looking down from Big Daddy is a large salt pan called Deadvlei which roughly translates to “dead lake” or “dead marsh”. Deadvlei used to be an oasis but the river that fed it changed course, leading the lake to dry up and the acacia trees to become petrified. This makes for a surreal stunning landscape that is a photographer’s dream!
In April when I was there, the sun rose at 7:30 am. We started our climb around 6:30 am. By 8:30-9:00 am the shadow from the dune had receded over Deadvlei, revealing the perfect photo opportunity. We walked down the dune (which looks scary but was actually easy and fun…I recommend taking your shoes off!) By 9:30 -10:00 the ground was becoming hot and it was time to get the heck out and go have breakfast under an acacia tree. Freshly prepared by Arnold of course.
The rest of the day was spent fighting the afternoon heat in the pool.
The drive from Sesriem to Swakopmund take 5-6 hours. We stopped in a town called Solitaire for a break. This is a strange little place that kind of looks like a B-rated horror movie setting, but there is a bakery with apple strudel that is pretty damn good!
Further up the road you can stop and take a photo with the Tropic of Capricorn sign! I mean how often does one cross the Tropic of Capricorn? You’ll also drive by the Kuiseb canyon which is stunning.
We stopped for lunch at Dune 7, the highest dune in Namibia at 1256 feet (383 meters).
The town of Swakopmund is a beautiful German era town. This is the place to get your shopping done if you need anything. There are also cute cafes here to hang out in and have a treat. I particularly liked a place called Ice and Spice.
We stayed at the Beach Hotel, which was just a mediocre hotel. It did have a rooftop deck and pool with great sunset views. The restaurant had good seafood as well. The tour was supposed to stay at the Delight, which looked like a cute boutique hotel but apparently, it wasn’t booked early enough.
A highlight was our dinner at Tugs restaurant, famous for seafood. I have never been on a group tour before that allowed us a night out at a popular restaurant where we could choose any starter, main course and dessert! Very cool.
Walvis Bay is a little seaside town 20 minutes from Swakopmund where there is a large colony of Cape Fur Seals. Some of the group went kayaking with the seals while other opted for the boat trip. Both had their perks.
Kayaking with the seals was magical! They are curious and playful. It’s a completely natural experience. The seals live on the beach and the young ones choose to come out and play with the kayakers. They frolick and jump around and swim in your wake. If you stay still with your paddle out they come and rub their little heads on the paddle. It will melt your heart!
The boat trip also looked fun. The people on the boat had a pelican randomly join as well as a sea lion that jumped on the boat at one point. They also saw dolphin and were served champagne and oysters. Fancy huh? Some opted to do an additional tour of Sandwich Harbour which is riding dune buggies on the sand dunes that go right into the ocean.
You can see the seals as well as other parts of Namibia on this video:
From Swakopmund we drove north to Damaraland, marveling again at the constantly changing scenery. Arnold loved to joke and say “For your information, you are still in Namibia”. That’s how different the landscape looked every hour. Damaraland was Arnold’s homeland so he was excited to show it to us. This drive was 5 hours including stops. One of the stops was along the Skeleton Coast. This is a stretch of coastline that is full of shipwrecks.
We stopped at a place in Damaraland called Twyfelfontein where old San Bushman rock carvings have been found. Apparently, this was sort of a classroom or a way to teach others about various life skills such as identifying prints or various animals. Some of the carvings seem to indicate a map of the watering holes in the area.
Our lodging here was everyone’s favorite of the trip. Camp Kipwe. It was perfectly hidden in the rocky terrain and blended in perfectly. I especially loved the indoor-outdoor lounge area. The sundowner terrace had unreal views and the bar up there is a perfect touch. They always had yummy sundowner snacks which was alright with me.
The following day we were up early to track the elusive desert-adapted elephant. I was impressed how all the guides and trackers worked in unison to find these large creatures that hide surprisingly well.
After hours of tracking, we found them high up on the cliffs. Eventually, they came down, and faster than I thought they would!
We left Damaraland heading toward Etosha Heights with a visit to a Himba Village on the way. The Himba are a very interesting tribe that has existed for centuries in Namibia. Sadly when Europeans came, the Himba lost much of their land. Cattle farming is everything to them. The number of cows one owns is a symbol of status.
Because of lack of water, the women don’t bathe. Instead, they use a paste made from red ochre, cow fat and some cooked herbs that smell nice. This gives them a nice scent, and protects their skin from insects and the sun.
With ongoing drought conditions in Namibia, the Himba have suffered but their chief recently made the landmark decision to have the children start attending formal school in order to secure their future.
The next day we drove to Safarihoek, a luxury game lodge in the private game reserve called Etosha Heights, right next to Etosha National Park. We did a sunrise game drive here and had the great surprise and pleasure to see 8…yes 8…critically endangered black rhino. I almost cried since I had hoped to see a rhino. We saw a mother and baby as well as a pair of siblings. One young male even mock charged our vehicle. So cute.
Even scarier was how close this angry looking ostrich came to the jeep!
We left Safarihoek and drove through Etosha National Park. We saw many types of antelope, zebra and giraffe, however, the highlight of the day was seeing a massive male leopard just meters from the car, chilling under a tree. Lucky safari moment right here!
After driving through Etosha we entered the Onguma Reserve and stayed 2 nights in the Onguma Tree Tops Lodge, which I thought was the coolest place ever! Being in the treetops with a watering hole right outside the balcony was a dream. I loved the open design of the place.
After too many early mornings, I skipped the morning game drive, stayed in and “worked” while everyone else went back to Etosha. I saw so many animals at the watering hole right outside my room, that I didn’t feel any FOMO.
This evening we did a sunset game drive followed by drinks at the “bush bar”. I couldn’t have asked for a better last night.
On the final day, we drove back to Windhoek with a stop at the Afri-Cat Foundation, a large sanctuary specializing in rescued cheetahs. We took a mini game drive here to see the resident cheetahs and learn about what they do. They are a very impressive organization that is striving to end human-wildlife conflict via education of local people, particularly the next generation of farmers.
Some of the group opted to stay here an additional night. There is a very nice lodge here for people who want to spend more time.
There’s probably no absolute wrong time to go to Namibia but know that the rainy season is roughly from Dec to March. April is the first month after the rainy season and typically the landscape will be as green as it is going to get! It also is significantly less dusty. Namibia famous for its dustiness! The pros of this season are that prices tend to be a tad lower but game viewing in Etosha and the game reserves is more challenging. With dense bush and high grass, those animals can be hard to spot. Also, with more water available, the animals are less concentrated near the watering holes. If you go during a dryer season it can be cooler and dustier.
You have to be ready for many weather conditions. The mornings and evenings can be chilly and you should always be prepared for rain. A fleece jacket will keep you warm on early game drives. Perhaps a light scarf as well. A combination of lightweight pants and shorts and shirts with various sleeve lengths will be the main chunk of your safari wardrobe. There aren’t many dressy occasions usually on a safari so you can be casual. You may want one nicer outfit for dinner. The desert is extremely hot during the day. You will want lightweight breathable fabrics for this. Also, don’t forget a swimsuit. Most lodges have a refreshing pool!
This one is the absolute best and it’s environmentally friendly.
Insect repellant (many lodges provide this but always good to have your own)
I am all for the natural stuff but once I get so many bites I’m like “give me the poison”!
Refillable Travel Water Bottle
Camera with a zoom lens (you need really good zoom to photograph the wildlife)
You really only need 2 pairs. There are many times you are out of the car on rough terrain walking so a rugged closed toe shoe is necessary. Either a hiking boot or trainer. Note that there is lots of sand and the low shoes tend to get more sand in them. There are scorpions and snakes in some places so open sandals not always ideal. Bring a pair of sandals or flip-flops for the pool or evenings.
These are great for game drives and short hikes.
Comfortable Walking Sandals
I swear by the Born brand for comfort and style. The feel like walking on a cushion.
Columbia Women’s Fast Trek II Full-Zip Fleece Jacket
Can be used for warmth, to protect your face from dust or the sun and just for some style.
This one comes in many colors and is super lightweight and packable
Linen Safari Shorts
Comfy linen drawstring pants
Great for travel days, game drives or just about anything. They are very quick drying as well.
Lightweight quick dry fabrics are the name of the game
A Namibia Safari is an easy and fun way to visit many different places throughout Namibia. Places that can be hard to reach on your own.
This has one of my favorite countries I’ve visited. Thanks to Global Basecamps for organizing this perfect tour!
*Disclosure. I was given a discount on the tour but as always, these opinions are 100% mine.
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