Deep-red dunes, big blue skies and a tortured Atlantic coastline – pack an extra memory card when you come to Namibia. Self-drive your way through the country’s arid landscapes, with the vast Namib Desert as your constant companion. Stop off to eat strudel and sauerkraut in German colonial towns, meet tribal clans in parched desert-scapes, or to surf, sandboard and skydive on route. Barren yet beautiful, the Skeleton Coast is an absolute must, as are the mountainous sand dunes of the Sossusvlei salt pan. If time is tight, take it all in from a hot air balloon or flying safari and swoop down on shipwrecks, soar over sand dunes and hone-in on elephant herds.
Flying into Namibia over yawning desert sands, the capital city of Windhoek is a welcoming place to touchdown and begin your adventure. Here, you can stroll along tree-lined streets, tuck into traditional meat stews or German schnitzel, and watch the sun sink over Bavarian-style buildings from the Hilton’s Skybar. To get to grips with the city’s indigenous roots, spend some time in the Katutura township and learn about local tribes in the National Museum. When you’re ready to escape the city, hire a car or join a game-drive and spot zebra, giraffes and wildebeest in one of the local reserves.
The greatest ship graveyard in the world, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast stretches from Swakopmund to the Angola border. Swirling storms, pounding surf and rolling fog sealed the fate of the thousand shipwrecks that litter this shoreline along with whalebones, seal colonies and human skulls. Enter with an organised group or buy a permit in advance, and heed the restrictions of entry/exit times and off-limit areas within this foreboding reserve. Travel inland to Damaraland to meet some of Namibia’s oldest inhabitants. One of the only places on the planet where black rhinos roam free, look out for zebra, giraffe and booted eagles as you drive across these gravelly plains to reach the iconic Spitzkoppe mountain or the prehistoric rock engravings of Swakopmund.
Travel west to the seaside adventure hub of Swakopmund and book yourself in for dune driving, sand boarding or sky diving, then exit Swakop on the dune-lined coast road to arrive at Walvis Bay – a laid-back town with a shimmering lagoon that’s home to dolphins, pelicans and one of the largest flocks on flamingos in Southern Africa. Next, head inland to the arid Erongo Mountains and clamber past bizarre granite boulders while minerals twinkle and cooled lava glows red in the setting sun. Discover the rock-paintings of the San Bushmen, listen for snorting warthogs and look up for black eagles. Stay at a local lodge or camp and fall asleep to the sounds of the Namibian night.
Arid and seemingly empty, the landscapes of the south are truly spectacular. Take a tractor-trailer across the sands to Sossusvlei and gaze up at some of the world’s tallest dunes. Climb Dune 45 at sunrise, or stay until sunset to watch the acacia trees cast eerie shadows, then head to the lonely outpost of Big Moose Bakery for its famous apple pie. Further south, an isolated road between the dunes and sea leads to the diamond town of Lüderitz, where German bakeries line the streets and penguins hop off the rocky peninsula. East of here, beyond the Namib Desert, you can hike through the depths of Fish River Canyon, Africa’s largest gorge, or get an eagle’s eye view from Hobas viewpoint.
Safari across Etosha, one of Africa’s greatest national parks, and watch white and black rhinos roaming across the plains. See zebra, lions and springboks shoving for space around the waterholes, and film African elephants sauntering across the surreal Etosha salt pan. To avoid the biggest crowds, spend a night in a nearby private concession, like Hobatere, and experience free-roaming wildlife from a tented camp or wooden lodge. Travel south of Etosha to the city of Otjiwarongo to laze in a beer garden or visit Namibia’s first crocodile farm. Nearby, take a bushwalk at the Waterberg Plateau and spot more than 200 species of birds, or visit the Africa Foundation and track rehabilitated cheetahs, hyenas or wild dogs