Namibia: Unexpected Africa

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Herd of elephants in african savanna at sunset


By Stacy Weigant

The first time I considered traveling to Africa, was to visit the cosmopolitan areas of South Africa. I was not very interested in “going on safari”, but an opportunity came up to visit Cape Town, and a safari to Botswana happened to be included in the program. From the moment that the small plane landed on a dirt airstrip in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, my entire concept of what Africa was about changed forever. The safari experience became ingrained in my soul and even though I’m a travel expert that’s hard to impress, I became passionate about returning time and time again, not only to Botswana and South Africa, but also to Zimbabwe and Namibia.

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Cape Town, South Africa

Africa is such a life-changing experience for all ages, hard to convey to those who have not had the chance to travel there, but once people visit, their perception of the region changes in a very positive way. Because of this, I wanted to share the journey with family, and see Africa through the eyes of a child. I took my nephews, in their mid-teens, to Botswana to see the wildlife and to Namibia for the culture and the desert.

Imagine a place that is so hauntingly beautiful and remote that it takes your breath away. Traveling in Namibia is a journey unlike any other. It is as if you are playing in the sandbox of the gods, traversing spectacular dunes both in hues and dimensions. Game drives there are exciting but there’s so much more to Namibia! The real draw of Namibia is the amazing landscape that includes dramatic, sweeping desert dunes in the oldest living desert, and a vibrant bushveld that’s home to the “big five” safari animals, namely the African elephant, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lion, and leopard. Its harsh coastline is scattered with rocks, dunes, old shipwrecks and the bones of sea-based animals, giving it the name “Skeleton Coast”. There are eight national parks here and many private game reserves. Namibia is in the southwestern coast of the African continent, bordered by Angola and Zambia to the north, South Africa to the south and east, and Botswana to the northeast.

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Most visitors to Namibia arrive in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, located near mountain ranges in the center of the country. South African Airways and Air Namibia fly there by way of Johannesburg or Cape Town, South Africa. Settled by Germans in the late 1890s, this quaint city of 300,000 people features colonial architecture and cultural activities cultural activities. West of Windhoek and on the “Skeleton Coast” are Walvis Bay and the town of Swakopmund. This German town is a haven of art galleries and museums. In the desert just outside the city, adventure activities abound. Try sand boarding, sand skiing, or ATV tours.  On the bay, you can book dolphin cruises or take kayak tours.

You’ll want to visit the Namib Desert, south of Walvis Bay, to see the salt and clay pans of Sossusvlei. This is one of the most photographed places in southern Africa, where you’ll be wowed by some of the tallest sand dunes in the world.

For the more adventurous and fit, you can climb to the top of the 325 meter high “Big Daddy” dune and slide down to its base which ends at a salt pan that has a haunted feel, where dead trees have been fossilized in a dried-up lake.

For those wanting to include the wildlife safari experience, Etosha National Park can provide game viewing which won’t disappoint. Established in 1907, this park north of Windhoek is the place to see the “Big Five” plus many other species, including zebras, wildebeest, giraffe, springbok and the spectacular cheetahs. Viewing is excellent due to the sheer number of animals and their comfort around safari vehicles.

Local culture in Namibia incorporates traditional ethnic groups, Bantu and Khoisan, with Germanic and Dutch influences that arrived on Namibian shores in the 19th century. One culture that is a must to experience is the Himba people. They are an ancient tribe of semi-nomadic herders, tall in stature, living in one of the most extreme environments in the world. The women are quite striking and very distinctive. They cover their skin and hair each morning with a traditional makeup paste of butter, fat and red ochre, giving them a distinctive red tone. Some people believe they do this to protect their skin from the harsh sun or the insects, but the Himba say it is done for aesthetic reasons. You can interact with them at one of the most remote camps, located just outside the extreme north-west Namib Desert, in the Hartmann Valley, on the Kunene River. In addition to the cultural experience, you can also take an eco-excursion via quad-bike through the dunes, or you might cruise down the river in search of crocodiles and waterbirds.

If you plan to visit other African countries during your trip, a good jumping-off point is the Caprivi Strip in northeast Namibia. This unspoiled area is at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers and is the gateway to Victoria Falls in Zambia, and Zimbabwe and Botswana’s Chobe National Park. This 248-mile-long, narrow strip of land shares borders with Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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Wildlife, Etosha National Park

Namibia’s incredible landscapes and people define the country and will enchant you to return.

For more information:

Contact Stacy Weigant at Forest Travel. 1-800-432-2132