Namibia: So Much More Than Just Sand Dunes

Giraffes drinking in Etosha National Park

Trip report from our own Jervin Randria, Africa Expert, Africa and Middle East

Last month, I had the good fortune to visit Namibia for the first time. Taken back by the country’s beauty, I found everything from history, to culture, to wildlife. The scenery is just spectacular, from the Etosha pans, to the desert, to the ocean, to the dunes.

I arrived into the capital city of Windhoek for two nights at the Avani Windhoek hotel, a 4-star property with a great location in the city, walking distance to the Independence Memorial Museum which is dedicated to the struggle for Namibian independence. I felt very safe walking around Windoek city and enjoyed exploring the old churches, craft stores, and sidewalk cafés.

My trip started off in Etosha National Park about a six-hour drive from Windhoek. The park’s main characteristic is a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. It has various waterholes throughout the park where wildlife congregate, especially in the dry season. We spent the first night outside the park and the next two nights inside the park exploring all the different waterholes. It was exciting to see different animals gathered together in one spot at the same time like elephant, zebra, gazelles, and so on.

Looking fashionable in Himba Village

Leaving Etosha, we headed south to Otjikandero where we visited a Himba Village, getting a glimpse into the everyday life of this distinctive tribe. The Himba have many unique customs. The women wear jewelry made of metal, bone and skin.  They rub ‘otjize’ over themselves, which is a mixture of butter fat and ochre powder.  It gives their bodies a glowing orange tinge and protects them from the sun and insects. Himba women don’t bathe with water, instead, they burn herbs and use the smoke to cleanse themselves like a smoke bath or sauna. Himba hairstyles tell a lot about the person; identifying their social status.  Each Himba village has what is known as the Holy Fire. This fire is kept smoldering and never allowed to go out.  It is used for daily rituals and special ceremonies like births, deaths, marriages and circumcision, and it is through this medium that they communicate with the ancestors and God.

Our next stop was Damaraland where we visited Twyfelfontein – a world heritage site that boasts impressive rock etchings estimated to be over 2,000 years old depicting an extraordinary diversity of wild animals – rhino, elephant, giraffe, Oryx, zebra etc. They are believed to have been made by local San hunter-gatherer people.

Welwitschia Mirabilis

The Petrified Forest was fascinating – an accumulation of huge fossilized tree trunks about 280 million years old.  Scientists believe that the trees washed down a river when one of the Ice Ages ended on the Gondwana continent. A huge flood carried the trunks to where they lie today.  The trees lay buried and conserved and with enormous pressure over millions of years wood has been dissolved by silicic acid and replaced by quartz, which is silicic acid in crystalline state. The result is perfectly conserved and completely petrified trunks. The other interesting geological features in Damaraland were the burnt mountain and organ pipes.  We also saw the Welwitschia Mirabilis, a plant endemic to the Namib Desert and the national flower of Namibia. Some Welwitschias are said to be 1500 years old and even older.

Leaving Damaraland, it was a long drive through the desert to get to Swakopmund, which was an experience in itself. But what a delight it was to finally see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance and be told it was not a mirage.

Swakopmund is a picturesque, charming coastal town with amazing seafood and lots of fun activities to do like sand boarding, skydiving, quad biking etc. Just walking along the beach barefoot and watching the waves roll in was such a pleasure. I enjoyed a marine cruise with lots of dolphin and seal sightings – we were served snacks and oysters and sparkling wine – it was just gorgeous.

Swakopmund: A delight to see the Atlantic Ocean

Our last stop was Sossusvlei which for me was the highlight of the trip as for the longest time I have seen pictures of the dunes and could not wait to see them in reality. Watching the sunrise over the dunes and all the changing colors of the sand was a really special experience. Climbing to the top of Big Daddy for me was tougher than climbing Mt.Kilimanjaro! But I made it and the view was totally worth it. Descending the dune barefoot into the deadvlei was so much fun, I would do that part again and again! The colors of the clear blue sky and the orange dune with the whiteness of the vlei were just amazing – Namibia is such a beautiful country, a photographer’s paradise with vibrant colors stunning contrasts. I would go back in a heartbeat.

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