The arid land of Namibia, a forgotten country when it comes to safari, has emerged from oblivion into the forefront of adventure travel, catching the eyes of explorers, culturists, luxury travelers, and even Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show along the way. Take an extraordinary journey with Ker & Downey to find out what has made it so popular.
The country of Namibia, named after the vast Namib desert (the oldest on the planet), is celebrated for its wide open landscapes – a perfect place to breathe deeply while taking in the infinite supply of blue skies, sun-drenched weather, and cool starry nights. The diversity of nature, from red sand dunes to blue ocean water, creates an interesting juxtaposition as it surrounds the outlying cities.
National parks and game reserves only add to the collage of wildlife as giraffes saunter across the white Etosha Pan, gemsbok traverse up and down the dunes of Sossusvlei, and seals congregate on the western shores at Skeleton Coast.
Ker & Downey’s Discover Namibia is a great way to explore it all. With plenty of activity from safari to relaxation, this journey encompasses wildlife, beautiful landscapes, preserved culture, and ultimate style.
The Namibian adventure includes trips to Sossusvlei, Damaraland, the Skeleton Coast, and the great white Etosha Pan. If you saw “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” on the Today Show in November 2011, you saw Lauer slaloming down the iconic dunes of Sossusvlei to kick off his tenth annual five-day whirlwind jaunt around the world.
Home to the impressive red sand dunes and the Namib Naukluft National Park, Sossusvlei is a must-see destination for photographers and adrenaline junkies. “The geography of the place is simply astounding,” says David Jones, Ker & Downey vice president. The Namib is considered the world’s oldest living desert, a precarious place for life to thrive. Salty Atlantic seas are not fit to drink, but plants and desert-adapted animals are sustained by the mist that drifts in from the turbulent coast, using each droplet of moisture to its fullest.
The scene from the main deck of Kulala Desert Lodge is impressive, comprised of unobstructed views of the vast sand sea and a watering hole attracting gemsbok, springbok, ostrich, and jackal. The individual tents are elevated canvas and thatch “kulalas” – meaning “to sleep” in Oshiwambo – and sleep you will, either in the breezy open-air bedroom or on the rooftop bedroll beneath the thousands of glittering pinpricks in the Namibian sky. Ballooning is one of the best ways guests can take in the expanse of the dunes. Embark early to watch the region come to life and the sands change color as the sun rises.
The infamous Skeleton Coast is known for its scattered remains of shipwrecks and thousands of Cape fur seals. When the first European explorers landed on this unforgiving coast, they dubbed it “The Sands of Hell.” Many mariners of old lived through a wreck in the treacherous waters only to perish in the desert beyond. Even with modern technologies and safety precautions, ships today can still find themselves caught in the impenetrable fog and constant surge of waves, tossing them into one of the many jagged offshore rocks or shifting sand bars. Wrecked and rusted hulls pepper the coast, constantly weathered by the salty winds, standing half buried and waiting to eventually become one with the sand as dust. Faded ships aren’t the only skeletons you’ll find here – the massive bleached bones of whales stand as painful reminders of the days of mass whaling. Built 12 miles from the coast on an island in the dry Khumib riverbed, the Skeleton Coast Camp comprises Meru-style en-suite tents and provides a luxurious refuge to the visitors of the Skeleton Coast. This beautifully desolate region can be seen by taking drives in 4×4 vehicles, darting in and out of the windswept plains, towering canyons, and wide salt pans.
Damaraland lies in the northwestern region of Namibia, folded in by mountain ranges and cut through by rivers, including the northern Kuene. The mountains of Damaraland are home to some of Africa’s best rock etchings, with UNESCO World Heritage Site Twyfelfontein comprising a host of over 2,000 animal and human figures carved and painted across the rock. Situated in the Huab River Valley, Damaraland Camp is a contemporary eco-friendly destination of elevated thatch-roofed abodes with private decks and endless vistas over the rocky desert. Though animals do not congregate close to camp year round, skilled guides and trackers ferry guests throughout the gravel plains that are home to Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe, black rhino, and the truly unique desert-adapted elephants. Though no different genetically from their cousins elsewhere in Africa, these desert dwellers can travel much greater distance on less sustenance to be able to survive in the harsh conditions.
Etosha National Park is a rare sight of large salt pans and slight depressions carved by the powerful winds. Although life here is harsh, the area is one of Africa’s largest game reserves and is considered Namibia’s premier wildlife destination. Adapted elephant, wildebeest, springbok, and gemsbok, along with 340 species of bird, gather at the outlying springs and waterholes. This is one of the few places in Africa where visitors can also see black rhino and white rhino living together in the same region. Stay within Etosha’s confines at the incredibly exclusive Little Ongava, a retreat with only three suites, a private plunge pool and private decks for each suite.
Not only does Namibia have unique geography, it also has a one-of-a-kind culture. The Himba people of the northwest are one of the last semi-nomadic peoples on earth. Leading pastoral lifestyles, the Himba tend goats and cattle and have remained unaffected by westernization due to their isolation. The Himba women are known for their intricate hairstyles and beautiful jewelry. Most Himba wear little clothing and use a fragrant mixture of red ochre and fat rubbed on their bodies, giving them a distinct red appearance.
A great confluence of opposites, the forgotten country of Namibia has much to offer for adventurers, culturists, and travelers alike.