Travelling through Namibia is like a good red wine, it’s meant to be savoured, not rushed. Time should be taken to enjoy every detail. The more time you have to discover the finer intricacies, the more you will be able to unearth the hidden memorable tones and thus be greatly rewarded by the experience. Keeping this in mind, Namibia is a large country and if the time for your visit is limited don’t try to do too much. You will miss out on the hidden gems. For those first-time visitors this is an itinerary that showcases what Namibia has to offer while still allowing enough time to appreciate your surroundings and relax. It also makes for a great introduction to the country and will allow you to plan future Namibian trips in finer detail.
After a long and tiring flight you will not be too keen to immediately get into your car and drive to your next destination. Take time to explore the capital, Windhoek, with its historical monuments and buildings on foot. Visit the local museums or take a city or township tour to gain some first-hand knowledge about the country and its people, before setting off on your adventure. Taste local cuisine, like Oshiwambo chicken or spicy mopane worms, at Xwama Restaurant or if you are not so brave, head to Joe’s Beerhouse for their mouth-watering selection of game steaks and more.
Drive north on the B1 to your first stop, Waterberg National Park. Keep an eye out during this three hour trip, as you’ll be able to spot wildlife on the commercial farms on either side of the road. Towering above the surrounding landscape, Waterberg with its steep sandstone cliffs and lush vegetation on the plateau is the perfect wildlife sanctuary. Stretch your legs and go for a hike to the top to have a bird’s eye view of the landscape, or join a guided tour on the plateau to see some of the rare animals that reside there, i.e. rhino and buffalo.
Etosha National Park is your next destination and is reached by continuing north on the B1. History buffs can stop at the small town of Otavi and try to locate the Khorab Memorial where Imperial Germany surrendered to the Union of South Africa in 1915, marking the first permanent victory for the allied forces. Further north, some 20 km northwest of Tsumeb, is Lake Otjikoto. A sinkhole significant not only for its natural mystery, but also for the weapons dumped into the lake by the German Schutztruppe during World War I. A last 80 km trek will take you to the Von Lindequist Gate, the western entrance to Etosha National Park.
Experience wildlife from up close and watch the interaction between species at different waterholes dotted all along the road from Namutoni to Okaukuejo inside the park. The drive will also take you along the vast white salt pan that Etosha is known for. Spend the night next to the world-famous Okaukuejo waterhole where predators like lions and other species such as rhinos like to drink after dark.
Drive through the less frequented western part of the park and notice how the landscape and vegetation changes. Exit through the Galton Gate and drive south towards Kamanjab. From Kamanjab it’s only 100 km to Grootberg. Marvel at the view from the top of the Etendeka Plateau, looking down on the Klip River Valley. This will be one of the best views you’ll have in Namibia. Be sure not to miss the opportunity to track the famous desert adapted elephants.
A short 130 km drive south will take you to Twyfelfontein where one of Africa’s largest concentrations of rock engravings can be found. Interesting geological formations in this area are the Burnt Mountain and the Organ Pipes. Another fascinating site is the Petrified Forest with its 280 million year old petrified trunks.
Continuing south, another short drive will take you to Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain. Visit the mysterious White Lady rock painting deep in the mountain. Keep your eyes open for desert adapted elephants which are often seen browsing in the Ugab River just north of Brandberg.
The next leg of the journey, on the D1930, will take you to the Spitzkoppe, a striking group of bare granite peaks that seemingly rise out of nowhere. Take a swim in one of the natural rock pools when doing some exploration of the weathered granite domes. Have your camera and a sundowner drink ready, for when the sun starts dipping on the horizon the light reflected off the granite makes for a magical experience.
After enough time spent inland it is time to travel west on the B2 to visit the small coastal town of Swakopmund. This town with its German colonial architecture that dates back more than a century is best explored on foot or by bicycle. Also visit the surroundings and acquire a permit to drive into Namib-Naukluft National Park. The Welwitschia Drive will take you past fields of Welwitschia, a plant endemic to the Namib Desert that can live up to 2000 years. On this route you will also enjoy great views of the barren and inhospitable Moon Landscape. The more adventurous can go skydiving, quad-biking or sandboarding in the dune belt just south of Swakopmund.
Namibia’s main harbour, Walvis Bay, is 40 km south of Swakopmund. There you’ll find the Walvis Bay lagoon, a Ramsar site and birder’s paradise, with the main attraction being the lesser and greater flamingos foraging in great numbers in the shallow waters. Activities in and around the harbour town include boat cruises, kite surfing, kayaking and 4×4 trips into the dunes. A day trip to Sandwich Harbour, where the Namib dunes run straight into the Atlantic Ocean, is also a wonderful adventure. Don’t forget to visit the highest dune in the area, Dune 7, just outside Walvis Bay.
Travel deep into the desert on the C14 towards Sossusvlei. Be sure to get away early as the gravel road can be busy and in poor condition due to heavy traffic. The route takes you through Namib-Naukluft National Park and up the Kuiseb and Gaub passes note the sign marking the Tropic of Capricorn and eventually to the desert oasis of Solitaire, where good coffee and freshly baked apple crumble pie will fortify you for the last leg of the journey.
Have an early start to visit the much photographed Dead Vlei and its neighbour Sossusvlei. Get your heart pumping by climbing one of the big dunes, like Big Daddy or Dune 45. When the heat of the day subsides, take a hike down into Sesriem Canyon and uncover its hidden nooks and crannies. After a long day’s exploring enjoy a desert sundowner with barking geckos as your soundtrack.
Start your day with a sunrise balloon trip over the breath-taking scenery of the Namib Desert. This is a great way to appreciate the vastness of the Namib Sand Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which lies to the west. On landing you will be spoilt with a champagne breakfast in the middle of nowhere. Make sure to thoroughly absorb the freedom and space of the desert before you have to go back to reality.
Heading back home is always the worst part of any holiday, but at least the drive back to Windhoek will take you through some scenic surroundings. After driving up the escarpment which connects the desert with the Khomas Hochland, make time for a pit-stop on top of Spreetshoogte Pass. Take it easy on the last stretch of gravel road to Windhoek and start planning your next Namibian adventure.