As vast as Namibia is, so too is the array of endless experiences and adventure to be had when visiting. The real question is what of these are the must-sees and must-dos, that you simply can't leave out.
Yes, the strudel at Solitaire is sublime and the Black Forest cake at Café Anton is legendary but let's face it: you're not going to fly half way around the world for a pastry.
This is our take on what you should fly around the world for. Unique and exhilarating experiences that will last a lifetime in no particular order because they are all amazing and you will need at least two visits to get them all in.
At 80 million years by some estimates, the beautiful Namib is the world's oldest desert. That means two things: 1) this is not a man-made desert and 2) life has adapted to its arid conditions. At 81,000 square kilometres in size, it is indeed vast and therefore it’s no surprise that it gives the country its’ name, which in itself means “vast place”.
So it goes without saying, if you’re visiting Namibia, you need to include a visit to the desert boasting some of the world’s highest dunes. The view from the top is well worth it, which says a lot when the climb is, well, 325 metres up, in thick sand.
If you’ve seen any pictures of Namibia you’ll have surely come across one of Dead Vlei, the dry pan scattered with eon old trees against a red dune backdrop. That dune, is the monster we’re talking about. Hello Big Daddy. It’s impressively large at its base and even more impressive from its peak. Take a moment to catch your breath from the climb, then have your breath taken at the sheer extent of that view.
Conquer Big Daddy, Dune 45 or Elim Dune in the area of Sossusvlei and if that wasn’t enough for you, you can always take on Dune 7 (at 383 metres high). As you make your way to the coast from the south, it towers over Walvis Bay. A different view, that much higher, equally as impressive and just as rewarding.
When thinking about Namibia, of course the first image that comes to mind is of the dunes. The ones we’ve just revelled on above, but for all its jaw-dropping scenery, astounding adventure activities and unique experiences - Namibia remains a prime wildlife safari destination.
Etosha National Park is one of the greatest game reserves in Africa with enormous elephants, plenty of lion even black and white rhino, in fact the only animal not in attendance is the buffalo. But don't worry there's plenty of those in the Caprivi.
Vast private reserves offer exclusive game viewing around Etosha and on the plains of central Namibia. Luxury lodges, open-air safari vehicles, professional guides and abundant game make a Namibian safari something special.
The Skeleton Coast is an area that stretches almost the length of the country, where dunes trundle into the sea. It’s remote for the most part (as a National Park) and that’s its charm.
By an ironic twist of nature, the cold Atlantic current responsible for 2,000km of desert on Africa's west coast is itself teeming with life and abundance. Micronutrients by the billion blown north and upwards from the south pole sustain the highly productive Benguela ecosystem.
The Skeleton Coast of Namibia, so rich in life and activity, is an open-air, all-natural aquarium. Marine cruises in the Walvis Bay lagoon bring you into close contact with dolphins, seals, mola molas, penguins, turtles and humpback whales (from July to November). Birdlife is prolific as well with flamingos, pelicans, cormorants, petrels, gannets and oystercatchers swooping down on you. For an even closer encounter join an early morning sea kayaking tour of the lagoon or you can combine a marine cruise with a desert tour in the same day.
The Walvis Bay lagoon is a RAMSAR Wetlands Site meaning it's got lots and lots of birds including plovers, grebes, egrets, herons, sandpipers, teals, geese, gulls, terns and many more. The lagoon is also a reliably windy spot and its flat-ish waters offer excellent kite surfing for a more adventurous Skeleton Coast experience.
Sandwich Harbour is a must to get that real skeleton coast experience. Drive along the desolate beach to Sandwich Harbour Bay and explore the rolling dunes as they meet the cold Atlantic along the way.
Further north on the Skeleton Coast at Cape Cross along a stretch of salt road, bordered by desolate gravel plans and fog-shrouded dunes on one side and the roaring shipwreck-dotted Atlantic coast on the other, is one of the largest Cape fur seal colonies in the world. About 100,000 seals inhabit a rocky outcrop patrolled by sharks and presided over by a rather tactile stench.
There’s plenty to do and loads to see from Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, both central towns on the Skeleton Coast. This is the country’s hub for activities.
If the Skeleton Coast has led you to dream about one of the isolated lodges in the area of the Skeleton Coast National Park which is otherwise inaccessible. Take a peek at Shipwreck Lodge and Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp.
Perhaps the most striking difference between Namibia and pretty much anywhere else on Earth is the vastness of our open skies. Horizons disappear into the future and the unpolluted night sky into the distant past. Be humbled, it's quite liberating.
Turn the tables and experience the scale of Namibia's landscape from the sky. Discover just how big, how empty and how spectacularly beautiful this great country is.
Top of the airborne activities has to be hot air ballooning over Sossusvlei. Colours, patterns, changing light and the eerie silence of balloon flight combine to make this an almost surreal experience. Do it. Save up, break into the college fund, raid Grandma's "cookie jar" or sell the Eiffel Tower. Whatever. Just do it.
If your itinerary intervenes or you’re not the balloon type, you can also take a scenic flight from Swakopmund over the Skeleton Coast to Sossusvlei and back. You'll see more and be back in time for happy hour. Either way, make sure you budget for either of these activities or do both. Why not? After all, these are the experiences that will take your itinerary up a notch (excuse the pun).
Not that you'll notice the scenery much but exhilarating all the same is a tandem skydive out of a perfectly good aeroplane at 10,000 feet or, for the (slightly) less insane, some low-level paragliding over the dunes at Swakopmund.
Victoria Falls is not technically a Namibian attraction but as it's one of our most popular add-ons we'd be remiss to leave out the Flight of Angels - an aerial view of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. At one mile wide, Victoria Falls is almost too big to appreciate. From the air, you can appreciate the scale and majesty of this World Heritage Site and understand just why it is one of Africa's most-visited attractions. Those who have done it swear the Flight of Angels is the only way to experience the might of Victoria Falls.
That’s right. We’re talking about the elephants you will find in the arid regions of northern Namibia. Being only one of two countries in the world with desert-adapted elephants, it makes perfect sense to include this when visiting Namibia, unless of course you have plans for Mali anytime soon and even then, no two experiences are the same.
Track the elephants in the dry ephemeral river beds. In an area as rugged as these parts they inhabit, the wonder is not just seeing them, but knowing they survive in this environment. It’s hot. It’s hard and sparse. It’s dry and yet there they are. They’re majestic and they’re not alone out here either. Be on the lookout for rhino, lion, oryx, springbok, ostrich and many, many birds. All this in the stunning open Damaraland and Kaokoland landscapes. Now we're back on familiar territory: Namibia's unique landscape and wildlife.
From the fascinating ochre-stained, braided Himba living off the land and in harmony with the wildlife and the extraordinary Victorian-garbed Herero women to the charming San hunter-gatherers and their ancient rock art, Namibia has its fair share of distinctive and interesting cultures.
There are 11 ethnic groups, to be exact, and exploring their differences, not only sees you learning about them but discovering yourself. The people in part, a large part at that, are integral in making a country what it is. They are the soul and heart, so while the landscapes are spectacular and the wildlife prolific, the people are friendly, unique and equally as much a reason for visiting the country.
Explore the rich history of Namibia, a confluence of German influence juxtaposed onto an African setting. It's a strange old place this Namibia. You'll love it.
While most of this massive country is permanently parched, the north-eastern reaches of Namibia are lush sub-tropical wildlife paradises with perennial rivers winding through the Caprivi in languid splendour.
Three great rivers cut through this narrow strip en route to great ends: the Okavango becomes the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe river system flows through Chobe National Park and joins the big one - the Zambezi River - adding its significant weight to Victoria Falls.
Swamps, floodplains, woodlands and open savannahs surround the rivers and several game reserves protect the whole biosphere. Filled with Africa's famed wildlife including lions, elephants, buffalos, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, hunting dogs and many antelope species, the Caprivi is genuine safari territory.
And what better way to enjoy a safari than floating gently down the river? Options include traditional dug-outs (Mokoros), poled by a local guide in silence through the channels and around islands, canoeing, sunset cruises and luxury houseboats with air conditioning and haute cuisine. You can stay in a luxury lodge on an island, overnight on a sandbank on a boating safari or take daily game viewing cruises from any number of safari lodges themselves an experience of wild beauty.
The ghost town of Kolmanskop is an eerie remnant of the diamond era at the beginning of the 20th century. This sand-filled skeleton of a town about 10km from Lüderitz was once a prospering community with a clubhouse, restaurant, bars, saloons, a concert hall and a free block of ice per household every day. You can buy diamonds here and join a guided tour for a detailed look at the history of the diamond boom.
Another peculiarity of this area is the feral horses that have settled near the man-made waterhole at Garub Pan. Numbering about 150, these horses have adapted to the harsh conditions and roam at will across the Sperrgebiet (Prohibited Area).
Stand at the edge of the world's second largest canyon and explore the rocky outcrops to experience the sheer scale of this enormous 170 million year old fissure.
If you're feeling brave, join a 4-day hike of the canyon. This Fish River Canyon hike is an 85km boulder-hopping, sand-trudging, river-fording monster of a trek, easily one of the world's greatest wilderness hikes. The hot springs at the end make it all worth it.
Namibia is a hiker's dream: unique and spectacular scenery devoid of humans or predatory wildlife and dry almost all year round.
If the Fish River Canyon hike is too daunting, pick your landscape and there's a hike for it: you want mountains and streams, there's the 17km Waterkloof Trail in the Namib-Naukluft Park or the Waterberg Plateau Trail; you want to experience the Namib Desert by night there's the unmissable Tok Tokkie trail, portered and luxurious; or if you want wildlife, there's the Mundulea Nature Reserve walking trails.
From slackpacking sojourns to multi-day, self-guided treks, Namibia's hiking options are legion.
Namibia, being as vast and predominantly uninhabited as it is, is almost entirely void of light pollution over its great expanses and has one of the darkest night skies you could ever imagine. And we’re not just saying it. The NamibRand Nature Reserve in southern Namibia, is actually a certified International Dark Sky Reserve. Ahem. As for the rest of the country, the skies are equally as impressive in all remote areas.
If you’ve never seen the Milky Way, you can’t miss it and constellations have never been so vivid. Star gaze, marvel at the skies and the best part, you can even do it from the warmth and comfort of your bed. Just roll it out onto your private deck at Namib Dune Star Camp and Kwessi Dunes or camp on the roof at Le Mirage Desert Lodge or Desert Homestead Outpost, to name a few. Gaze through your very own skylight above your bed in lavish luxury at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge or above your bubble bath at GocheGanas. From a bed roll on a sleep-out excursion, if you’re more the adventurous type, on the Tok Tokkie Trail in the Namib Rand Nature Reserve itself. Or from your very own tent on a wild camping expedition into the northern reaches.
Whichever way you decide, you’ll be amazed and bewildered at the sheer magnificence. Take a closer look by telescope with a resident astronomer, allow your guide to point out the wonder with a laser or simply take it all in. It’s almost always guaranteed to see a shooting star or even spot a passing satellite, floating up there in space. In the silence, if you listen close enough you can almost hear the stars twinkling.
Why not the top 9 things to do in Namibia? Or 13? Truth be told if we could list all the amazing activities Namibia has on offer you'd be overwhelmed by choice. Like a farmboy in a mega toy store. And maybe, just maybe, we'd include the apple strudel at Solitaire.