Thinking about traveling to Namibia? (Hint: If not, you should be!) If you are, look no further! After reading an article or two about Namibia's Skeleton Coast years ago, I knew I had to travel there. I've traveled to South Africa six times (for doctoral research in libraries there, leading a university group, and holiday) and Swaziland once, and so am familiar with this part of the world... or so I thought! Namibia is very different from South Africa and Swazi but just as amazing, with incredible landscapes, warm people, and an abundance of wildlife. More posts on this trip will be coming soon but for now, check out where we went, what we saw, and what we did!
Windhoek is a growing city with lots of new construction occurring but the historical charm is still there to explore. One place to take in is the Christus Kirche (Christ Church), the oldest evangelical church in Namibia, built in 1896. You can also explore the Namibia Craft Centre for souvenirs and the National Museum of Namibia for a history lesson. Visit the Parliament Gardens for some serenity and beauty as well as the Trans-Namib Railroad Museum if you are a railway buff. We stayed at the Hilton Windhoek (only because I was on business for part of our stay) which was comfortable and centrally located but as a Western-style hotel, it lacks some originality and charm. You may choose to explore alternatives such as hostels or Airbnbs. As far as restaurants, try the Hilton Skybar for a city view, Gathemann for German food, Joe's Beer House for a fun vibe, or Cafe Balalaika (also known as Cafe Zoo) for delicious game choices.
After picking up your rental car, head a bit southeast of Windhoek towards the Kalahari Desert. This is probably the first time you will say, "This looks like another planet!" but it certainly won't be the last. The city landscape will give way to desert scrub and sand in beautiful reds, oranges, and browns. Take it all in and have your camera ready! That night (or maybe two!), be sure to stay at the beautiful Kalahari Anib Lodge, part of the Gondwana Collection of properties. They offer a phenomenal sunset drive as well as delicious dinner and breakfast. Kalahari Anib was one of our favorite accommodations during this trip.
After an amazing morning drive provided by Kalahari Anib, jump in the car and head west to the Namib Desert. Landscapes will change again but be no less beautiful. You will also start wondering, "How can anything live in this climate?" The folks at the Namib Dune Star Camp, another Gondwana Collection property, will be able to tell you when they lead you on a desert walk that uncovers secrets of insects, lizards, plants, and larger mammals. Sleep under the stars at Dune Star Camp, as each of the nine cabins has a deck onto which the double bed can be rolled out onto in order to enjoy fresh air, sights, and sounds of the Namibian nighttime. What a relaxing and unique experience!
After being transferred from the Dune Star Camp, have breakfast at the Namib Desert Lodge to prepare for the day exploring Sossuvlei, the iconic red dunes of Namib-Naukluft National Park. Be sure to take plenty of water, sunscreen, and sunglasses for the walk to Deadvlei or hiking the other dunes in the area. If you are up for it, make a stop at Sesriem Canyon, an incredible display of rock formations to explore. When your adventure is complete, head back to the Namib Desert Lodge in time to take in their sundowner drive followed by a delicious al fresco dinner.
After enjoying a breakfast in the company of weaver birds and oryx at the Namib Desert Lodge, pack up and head north to the oceanside resort towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. On your way, a stop in Solitaire for Moose Macgregor's famous apple pie. Explore Walvis Bay and Swakop that afternoon and evening and choose from a variety of accommodations depending on your preference. We stayed at an amazing beachfront Airbnb between the two towns in an eco-c0mmunity called Dolphin Park. If you are interested in more information about this property, contact me and I will be happy to answer any questions.
After a relaxing dinner in Swakop and a good night's sleep, it's time for adventure! For our first excursion, we went kayaking with seals with Eco Marine Kayak Tours. Owner Jeanne Meintjes is a spectacular guide and even if you have never kayaked before, this is an accessible must-do tour for you! You get up-close and personal with these seals as they frolic, jump, and swim. They are such curious animals, they will want to check you out as well! Be sure to book this excursion in advance so you don't miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As Walvis Bay and Swakop are known for their adventure sports, be sure to book another excursion while there! From sandboarding to dolphin boat tours, it was hard to choose, but we are so happy we went with Kuiseb Delta Adventure's Historian quad-biking tour! Again, book any of these excursions in advance so you are not disappointed and come prepared with camera, water, hat, sunscreen, and any other items your guide suggests so you will be ready for anything. We had never been on quad bikes before but Fanie du Preez, the owner of Kuiseb Delta Adventures, was patient and thorough. He made sure we were confident and safe the entire time (4+ hours!) and the tour was nothing short of spectacular! More than just a romp through the desert, this tour is informative and fascinating; Fanie shows you fossilized footprints from animals and humans that are over 2000 years old as well as peeks into the plant and animal life you wouldn't discover on your own. Exciting, focused on history, and dedicated to being environmentally responsible, I can't recommend this tour enough!
After a relaxing night's sleep at Cape Cross Lodge, we hit the road again for what I had been waiting for... the famed Skeleton Coast. Aptly named, the Skeleton Coast is an unforgiving stretch of coast that is known for its diminishing shipwrecks and barren landscape. After a stop at the gates for a permit, you proceed along coast and one or two shipwrecks, an abandoned oil rig, and the otherworldly landscape offer haunting photo opportunities. We went about as far as Torra Bay before turning east to exit the park and head to Twyfelfontein to see the ancient rock carvings of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be aware that this tour requires some hearty shoes and the ability to scramble up and over some rocks and terrain that may be a bit challenging to some. But it is worth it - the tour guides are informative and charming and the carvings are fascinating. In the interest of time, we skipped Burnt Mountain and Organ Pipes but if you had time, these would be interesting additions and are very close by Twyfelfontein. Instead we made our way to our next accommodations, Damara Mopane Lodge, another wonderful Gondwana Collection property.
Etosha National Park is Namibia's best-known park and is a must-visit while there. There is a shocking abundance of wildlife especially because again, you will wonder how anything could possibly live there, in such a harsh climate. But you will see oryx, springbok, wildebeest, giraffe, elephants, as well as lion and leopard if you are as lucky as we were. Spend a couple of nights but be sure to book accommodations well in advance if you want to stay within the park. I highly recommend staying at Mopane Village Etosha, about 14 kilometers outside of the park. Seriously, Mopane Village Lodge was our favorite place of the entire trip because of the personal attention, accommodations, food, and atmosphere. Take guided as well as self-driven game drives into the park but be sure to bring cash because there is no ATM at the Etosha entrance and when electricity goes out, you won't be able to pay with plastic.
After having breakfast at Mopane Village, we got an early start in order to get to the Cheetah Conservation Fund by mid-morning. CCF does such valuable work in the conservation of cheetahs, it is really a must-visit while traveling in Namibia. Be sure to read our post about Cheetah Conservation Fund to learn more about their work. Depending on where you stay on this night, take in an evening sundowner or game drive before getting a good night's sleep for beginning your trip home tomorrow.
As all good things must come to an end, on this day we left the Waterberg Plateau area and drove back to Windhoek to start the long journey home.