Off the beaten track: Namibia

nicknamed ‘the land God made in anger’, Namibia rewards the intrepid with rare wildlife and rugged landscapes

Namibia is not for the faint-hearted. At twice the size of Germany, this wild, desolate country is largely comprised of vast swathes of punishing red deserts and jagged, colossal topography that can only be navigated in bouncy, minuscule aircraft. Then there are the harsh elements to contend with like hell-hot heat; dry desert air; and searing sunshine—not to mention the very rocky roads. One look at this punishing, isolated terrain and it becomes clear why Namibia is called ‘the land God made in anger.’ However, those with a taste for adventure and an eye for the infinite may just call this country some of his best work. Only gaining independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia is still conspicuously untouched by mass tourism, making now a good time to visit. Here’s why:

The Landscape

Namibia’s surrealist Skeleton Coast is probably the country’s best-known reference point. Like a backdrop for a Salvador Dalí painting, this nearly uninhabitable coastal desert is characterized by mind-bending, rust-coloured sand dunes and weather-beaten shipwrecks. It’s a land of superlatives: The Skeleton Coast is part of the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert, and you can find the world’s largest sand dunes in Sossusvlei. As this is a coastal desert, the impressive Atlantic surf draws adrenalin-hooked surfers and photographers also flock to the clay pans of Deadvlei with its otherworldly blackened, long-dead acacia trees set starkly against the waves of dunes. (This area is also one of the world’s best diamond-mining sites.)

Damaraland, home to some of Namibia’s most spectacular wildlife

As you move further inland from the coast, the terrain morphs into semi-desert, where water is available several meters unground, leading to bursting blooms of greenery and grasslands. In the central north of the country, you’ll find the dramatic saltpans of Etosha National Park, which is home to a huge population of endemic wildlife—especially during the wet season.

The Wildlife

Most first-time safari-goers in search of the Big Five head to South Africa for a glimpse of lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalo. In South Africa’s Kruger National Park, these iconic animals can found relatively easily and en masse. But Kruger’s convenience factor can also lead to congestion: Sometimes, several safari vehicles surround one poor beast in hopes of getting a good view.

Serra Cafema, home to the desert-adapted mountain zebra

In Namibia, the wildlife is harder to find and different species aren’t commonly seen together—but this shouldn’t be a deterrent. Namibia is actually home to Africa’s largest free-roaming population of desert-adapted black rhino, which can be found in the remote Palmwag Concession. Wilderness Safaris, Africa’s leading eco-minded safari experts and one of the first safari companies to operate in Namibia, works very closely with Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) to protect this critically endangered population. At Wilderness Safaris Desert Rhino Camp, you can go trekking on foot with SRT trackers to see the rhinos up close and learn about their conservation efforts. In the Palmwag Concession, you’ll also find desert-adapted lions, giraffes, and spotted hyenas.

About twenty minutes away aboard a Wilderness Air plane, the wildlife changes dramatically. Around Wildness Safaris Damaraland Camp, there are herds of desert-adapted elephants with very short and/or brittle tusks, which prevents them from being the target of poachers. These elephants tend to favor the areas around dry riverbeds, and they like to munch on the seed ponds of ana trees, which the locals call “elephant popcorn.” Throughout the grassy areas of Damaraland, you may also see sleek little steenbok zipping by sports cars, oryx, or even ostriches, flocking together in huge harems of 50 birds or more.

Serra Cafema

Up north on the border of Angola, there’s a literal oasis in the desert that attracts different wildlife. Wilderness Safaris Serra Cafema is a 100 per cent solar-powered camp located on the whooshing Kunene River. The river is home to Nile crocodiles that can grow up to six meters in length, and the surrounding mountainous territory also boasts dazzles of desert-adapted Hartmann’s mountain zebras with thick black stripes to attract the warmth of the sun. (And yes, a group of zebra is really called a “dazzle.”)

The Culture

Members of the Himba tribe, Namibia

Namibia is home to at least eleven major ethnic groups, many of which with their own unique Khoisan language, which is characterized by click consonants. One Africa’s most interesting but elusive tribes are the Himba, a nomadic population of cattle herders found in the north of Namibia. Wilderness Safaris Serra Cafema is located near several of the Himba’s temporary communities, and the camp actually employs some Himba people and leases its land from them. It’s possible to visit the Himba with a Wilderness Safaris guide who speaks the local Otjihimba language and grew up within these isolated communities. With this insider access, you’ll learn about the Himba women’s distinctive hairstyles determined by their place in society and status, as well as the red ocher used on their skin as a part of a beauty ritual, and also as a sun protectant.

Plan a trip

Africa Travel Resource creates tailor-made trips to Namibia and other African destinations, www.africatravelresource.comsales@africatravelresource.com

UK : 01306 880 770

6 nights at Wilderness Safaris Damaraland Camp, Desert Rhino Camp & Serra Cafema (2 nights at each camp), including air transfers from Windhoek starts from GB £ 4,741 / US$5,966  per person during low season based on 2 people sharing. Please note that these prices do not include international flights.

 


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