Whether the Skeleton Coast’s decaying ships or Sossusvlei’s stunning rust-red sand dunes set against bleached white pans; from Dead Vlei’s petrified camel-thorn trees to Twyfelfontein’s nearby ‘Organ Pipes’ (ancient rock art); perhaps ‘Quiver Tree Forest’ near Keetmanshop or Burnt Mountain – a rock glowing red, black and purple at sunset; from Kolmanskop’s ghost town to coastal Bogenfels Rock Arch near Luderitz…Namibia delivers all!
From the seemingly endless sand dunes of the Namib Desert to the tropical wetlands of the Caprivi Strip, Namibia is a country of epic landscapes, bountiful wildlife, and few people. A vast land of mesmerizing landscapes, abundant wildlife and an astonishing array of natural wonders, Namibia promises adventure. Its defining feature is the Namib, an ancient desert that runs the entire 940 miles of the country’s wind-lashed coastline. Encompassing towering dunes, dramatic mountains and lichen-encrusted gravel plains, it’s populated by desert-adapted beasts, with flamingos and colonial German architecture bringing splashes of color to the waterfront.
Namibia’s Capital Windhoek has a distinctly European feel, but you won’t want to linger too long; from here tempting arterial roads reach out to geological wonders in the south, and the beguiling Kalahari to the east, inhabited by some of Africa’s most ancient tribes. To the north lie game-rich reserves, and the majority of Namibia’s elusive population, from where the country’s lush panhandle lures you to within touching distance of Victoria Falls.
Arguably the most impressive natural wonder in Namibia is the Fish River Canyon, in the far south, which affords breathtaking views across a deep serpentine chasm in the Earth’s crust, while in the northeast, the impressive sandstone Waterberg Plateau stands sentinel over the surrounding bush veld. At the very north of Namibia, the species-rich wetlands of the Zambezi Region, an almost 300 mile arm of lush subtropical forest that stretches out above Botswana towards Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls, provide an entirely different landscape.
While, traditionally, tourists have been drawn to Namibia for its wilderness terrains, the country is certainly attracting attention for its wildlife – specifically, the increasing numbers of rare large mammals that are thriving in the semi-arid areas. Beyond the game-heavy confines of Etosha – Namibia’s premier national park – the world’s largest concentrations of free-roaming cheetah stalk the plains, while desert-adapted elephant and black rhino lumber along the valleys and riverbeds of northwest Namibia. In many cases these beasts are protected by conservationists working hand in hand with local communities – communities that are also beginning to open up to visitors, who can learn more about these cultures and lifestyles.
The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal, and, very sadly, also Africa’s most endangered big cat. Uniquely adapted for speed, the cheetah is capable of reaching speeds greater than 70mph, which is as fast as cars drive on the highway. The cheetah can reach its top speed in just three seconds! With its long legs and very slender body, the cheetah is quite different from all other cats, and is the only member of the genus Acinonyx. The cheetah’s unique morphology and physiology allow it to attain the extreme speeds for which it is famous, and is often referred to as the “greyhound of cats”.
There are fewer than 7,500 cheetahs remaining in the wild today – compared to 100 years ago, when 100,000’s roamed through part of Asia and most of Africa. Problems like human wildlife conflict, habitat loss, and illegal wildlife trafficking have reduced its numbers to the point that cheetah’s are facing extinction. Without help, this amazing animal could disappear from our planet in less than 15 years. December 04 is ‘International Cheetah Day”, and will be an opportunity to stand up for this icon of speed and grace to win this race against extinction, by raising awareness. Further information at www.internationalcheetahday.org
The Namib also hosts many extraordinary succulent plants and dune-dwelling endemics – especially lizards – that have adapted to the harsh conditions, and which have featured in many a nature documentary. In complete contrast, the lush, subtropical Zambezi Region holds almost three-quarters of the country’s bird species and many large mammals not seen elsewhere in the country.
Towns and cities are few and far between in Namibia, thanks to its low population. Nestled among rolling hills in a valley created by the sloping Khomas Hochland Plateau to the west and the Auas Mountains to the east, Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, is scenically situated. At an altitude of almost 5,580 feet, the city avoids the excessive heat experienced in much of the rest of the country, with daytime temperatures rarely topping 80 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, or dipping under 50 F in winter. Whether due to meticulous German planning or serendipity, Windhoek lies almost in the center of the country, which makes it the perfect starting point for any tour of Namibia. The coastal town of Swakopmund, Namibia’s second “city”, enjoys a sunny charm of its own. Appearing like a mirage in the desert, the city is home to palm-fringed beaches, a gorgeous collection of colonial buildings, and a sizeable German-speaking population.
Namibia was largely spared the attentions of European powers until the end of the 19th century, when it was colonized by Germany. The colonization period was marred by many conflicts and rebellions by the pre-colonial Namibia population until WWI, when it abruptly ended upon Germany’s surrender to the South African expeditionary army. In effect, this transition only traded one colonial experience for another. In 1966 the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) launched the war for liberation for the area soon-named Namibia. The struggle for independence intensified and continued until South Africa agreed in 1988 to end its Apartheid administration. After democratic elections were held in 1989, Namibia became an independent state on March 21, 1990. To date, Namibia boasts a proud record of uninterrupted peace and stability for all to enjoy.
With one of the world’s lowest population distributions, Namibia is perfect for adventure and crowd-free travel. It’s not uncommon to see few or no cars outside towns. A popular self-drive destination with great infrastructure, the drive from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay will have visitors travel through one of the world’s most stunning and extraordinary road routes.
Best Time to Visit Namibia?
With a staggering 300 days of sunshine each year, Namibia is a year-round destination, although some may prefer avoiding the heat during the summer months. The cold Benguela current keeps the Atlantic coast of the Namib Desert cool and rain-free for most of the year, with a thick coastal fog that lends a mysterious edge to the area. January and February are the hottest months, when daytime temperatures in the heart of the Namib Desert can exceed 104 degrees F, but nights are usually cool. Winter nights can be fairly cold, and days are generally warm and pleasant.
AirlinePros partner Air Namibia is the national carrier of the Republic of Namibia. Headquartered at Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) in Windhoek, Air Namibia’s fleet is on average nine years old, making it one of the youngest fleets on the continent. Air Namibia operates non-stop service to Frankfurt (Germany), other destinations include Johannesburg, Cape Town, Luanda, Lusaka, Victoria Falls, Maun, and Harare.