Namibia does not enjoy as much renown as it neighbors, South Africa and Botswana, but its wilderness is just as beautiful and its safari wildlife just as diverse. Namibia is largely dominated by the Namib Desert with its vast dunes and desolate plains. But there are also regions of lush vegetation, bush savannahs, dense woodlands, majestic canyons, and rugged mountains and plateaus.
Namibia extends about 1,000 miles along the southern Atlantic coast of Africa. Its northeast region is known as the Caprivi Strip and extends all the way toward the Zambezi River. The interior of country is lined north-south by a large plateau with average elevations of 3,600 feet. This is the most populous region of Namibia. The plateau eventually merges into the Kaokoveld Hills, which is crowned by the mountain of Brandberg; its 8,550 feet high peak is the highest point in Namibia. West of the plateau sits the endless Namib Desert, which encompasses the entire west coast of the country. Southeast of the plateau is also desert country, home to the Kalahari Desert.
Namibia is best known for its national parks and game reserves. Its largest national park is the Etosha National Park, which is the third largest in Africa. It has an enormous salt pan covering 8,500 square miles that is edged by waterholes in the south. This unique landscape roamed by abundant stocks of safari animals makes it easily one of the best wildlife sanctuaries for game viewing in the world. In Etosha, you’ll find herds of elephants, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, lions, zebras, antelopes, and wildebeest running around the bushes, grasslands, and open plains.
The Mamili National Park, Mudumu National Park, Mahango Game Reserve, and the Waterberg Plateau Park are four other areas in Namibia where wildlife can be viewed. The Mamili National Park and the Mudumu National Park offers game viewing in the attractive setting of swamps and floodplains in the northeast region known as East Caprivi, which is bordered by Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti, and the Zambezi river. There are charming safari lodges in Mudumu and Mamili. And if you get bored with game viewing, you can go fishing, hiking, or boating.
The Mahango Game Reserve is located in the West Caprivi region, where the Okavango River streams. You’ll find elephants, lechwes, and buffalos in the game reserve, as well as hippos and crocodiles basking in the river. There are also campsites and lodges in the area.
The Waterberg Plateau Park is another game park, except this one is set uniquely in the mountains. The park’s red sandstone cliffs decorated with exotic and colorful plants provide a striking habitat for rare and endangered animals. The rich sights of this park are best enjoyed by hiking any of the ten trails that traverse the Waterberg.
Bird-watchers should definitely visit the Caprivi Strip. The region’s reserves have the highest concentration of birds in Namibia. The strip is rated consistently as one of the top birding destinations on the continent, featuring a number of endemic species found nowhere else.
If the national parks and reserves do not provide enough wildlife viewing, you can check out the AfriCat Foundation in Okonjima, where a luxury lodge and rehabilitation center nurse lions, leopards, cheetahs, and endangered wild dogs back to health. Or visit the Huab and Ugab rivers in the north, where you’ll find rare elephants that are adapted to a desert environment.
Namibia also has many stunning natural features, including the world’s highest sand dunes near Sossusvlei. And at Sesriem, deep gorges filled with feeding pools provide a fun place to trek and camp.
Many visitors are also amazed by the Fish River Canyon, the world’s second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon in the United States. In ancient times, the canyon’s vicinity was the home of the San people who used the bizarre quiver trees known as kokerbooms in the Kokerboom Forest to craft arrows. The canyon is best visited by hiking and trekking with a group tour or by hiring an experienced guide.
Another natural spectacle is the Namib Desert. Some believe it is the oldest in the world. It is home to the Namib Naukluft Park, which is a conservation area designated to protect the Mars-like dunes with their bright apricot and reddish colors. You’ll find snakes, hyenas, jackals, geckos, oryx, and unusual insects in these dunes.
Another desert area is the Skeleton Coast region, where nature trails are marked out along gravel plains to permit visitors a close-up view of ancient plant species such as the lichens, lithops, and welwitschia.
Outdoor sports enthusiasts should check out the seaside resort of Swakopmund, where Germanic architecture dominate. Here, the desert provides a popular arena for sandboarding, dirt-biking, and dune buggy racing.
On the historical side, Damaraland encompassing the Brandberg area features ancient rock engravings and paintings. The best known of the art work is the White Lady of the Brandberg. More ancient legacies can be seen at the Aba-Huab Petrified Forest with its collection of 250 million year old fossilized trees.
Generally, Namibia is extremely hot and dry. Most of the rainfall occurs during the summer months. There are frequent periods of drought in the winter months, but when rain does come, it pours.
The San and Khoikhoi were the original inhabitants of the Namibia and lived there for centuries before other African groups moved in. The first Europeans to visit were the Portuguese who landed along the sandy coast in 1484. More European missionaries and merchants followed in the ensuing centuries. In 1884, Germany declared a protectorate over Namibia. After WWI, the Germans were forced to surrender the territory to British-South African troops. South Africa continued to rule Namibia until a guerrilla war supported by the Soviets and Cubans resulted in the country gaining independence in 1988.
The first president was the SWAPO leader, Sam Nujoma. His party won a majority of the seats in the assembly. Nujoma has won every democratic election ever since. Several issues face Namibia today. For one, there are 13,000 Angolan refugees who fled to the country during the Angola Civil War and still remain. The other is land reform, which is a major concern of the western world. Namibia’s colonial and apartheid past has left 75% of the land in the hands of 20% of the population – mostly white minorities. There is a need for land reform, but Nujoma has not indicated how he intends to deal with it. Thirdly, a rebel group known as the Caprivi Liberation Army has fought to secede the Caprivi region from Namibia. Since 1999, when many of the Caprivi Liberation Army forces and supporters were arrested, this issue has been quieted, but the threat of reawakened armed conflict still exists.