From ancient engravings and ghost towns to silvery saltpans and untrammeled desert, Namibia is a land of bewitching variety.
Marvel at herds of zebra at Etosha’s great saltpan
One of Africa’s best game reserves, Etosha National Park protects a vast shallow bowl of silvery sand the size of Holland and its surrounding bush. It excels during the dry season when huge herds of animals can be seen amid some of the most astonishing and photogenic safari scenery on the continent. All of the park’s roads can be travelled in a normal car, and it was designed for self-drive visitors. Put a few drinks, a camera, a couple of memory cards and a pair of binoculars in your own car and go for a slow drive, stopping at the waterholes. Etosha is so special because of the concentration of waterholes that occur around the southern edges of the pan, which increasingly attract game as the dry season progresses. In fact, the best way to watch animals in Etosha is often just to sit in your vehicle by a waterhole and wait.
Dust cloud in Etosha National Park © Yathin S Krishnappa, Wikimedia Commons
Venture along the treacherous Skeleton Coast
Although it is now difficult to visit the northern Skeleton Coast, accessing Namibia’s coastline anywhere will give you a feel for just how wild and windy it can be. Expect empty, desolate landscapes and large colonies of Cape fur seals. The occasional remaining shipwreck serves as a reminder of the impenetrable fogs and strong currents found offshore. At first sight it all seems very barren, but watch the amazing wildlife documentaries made by the famous film-makers of the Skeleton Coast, Des and Jen Bartlett, to realise that some of the most remarkable wildlife on earth has evolved here. Better still, drive yourself up the coast road, through this fascinating stretch of the world’s oldest desert. You won’t see a fraction of the action that they have filmed, but with careful observation you will spot plenty to captivate you.
© Tricia Hayne
Learn about Namibia’s diamond boom
Kolmanskop, now a ghost town, was once the principal town of the local diamond industry. It was abandoned over 45 years ago and now gives a fascinating insight into the area’s great diamond boom. In its heyday, the town was home to over 300 adults and 44 children, and luxuries included a bowling alley, iced refrigerators and even a swimming pool. A few of the buildings, including the imposing concert hall, have been restored, but many are left exactly as they were deserted, and now they are gradually disappearing under the encroaching dunes. It’s a very photogenic spot.
© Matej Hudovernik, Shutterstock
Ponder ancient engravings at Twyfelfontein
The slopes of Twyfelfontein, amid flat-topped mountains typical of Damaraland, conceal one of the continent’s greatest concentrations of rock art. When you first arrive, they seem like any other hillsides strewn with rocks. But the boulders that litter these slopes are dotted with thousands of paintings and ancient engravings. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Unusually among rock art sites in Africa, Twyfelfontein has both engravings and paintings, though only engravings can be seen today. Many depict animals and their spoor, or bear geometric motifs. Nobody has been able to establish why they were made: perhaps they were part of the people’s spiritual ceremonies, perhaps it was an ancient nursery to teach their children, or perhaps they were simply doodling.
© Jan-Dirk Hansen Shutterstock
Visit a Himba village
The Himba are a minority group in Namibia (numbering less than 1% of the population), and live almost entirely in their traditional areas in remote Kaokoland. Cattle are central to their way of life, with the size of the herd an indication of wealth and prestige – but overgrazing of the poor soils is a major problem. Thus these people are semi-nomadic, moving with their cattle in search of suitable pasture. Their society is traditionally polygamous, with men having up to eight wives. Of all Namibia’s ethnic groups, the Himba – or at least, Himba women and children – are probably the most photographed. Himba women adorn their skin and hair – and often that of their children – with deep-red ochre powder mixed with fat, both for protection against insects and the sun, and for cleanliness; water for washing is a rarity. Their striking appearance is further enhanced by elaborate headdresses and jewellery, much of it symbolic, while their clothes are limited to a simple goatskin skirt, and – for warmth – a rough blanket. As in many traditional societies, the men tend the cattle, so are usually absent during the day, leaving the bulk of the work to the women.
© Emma Thomson
Want to find out more? Check out our new Namibia guide: