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Namibia - When and where to visit
Most of Namibia is classified as an arid to semi-arid region (the line being crossed from semi-arid to arid when evaporation exceeds rainfall). Most of it has a sub-tropical ‘desert’ climate, characterised by a wide range in temperature (from day to night and from summer to winter), and by low rainfall and humidity. The northern strip follows the same pattern, but has a more moderate, less dry climate. Note that although the terms ‘summer’ (November to April) and ‘winter’ (May to October) are sometimes used, they are not as applicable as, say, in a European maritime climate.
Temperatures range widely from very hot to very cold, depending on the height of the land above sea level and the month. From April to September, in the ‘dry season’, it is generally cool, pleasant, clear and dry. Temperatures average around 25ºC during the day, but nights are much colder. Frost is possible in the higher areas and the deserts. October and November are still within the ‘dry season’ but then the temperatures are higher, especially in the lower-lying and more northerly areas.
Most of Namibia’s rain falls in the summer, from around December to March, and it can be heavy and prolonged in the northern regions of Ovamboland and the Caprivi Strip. The further south or west you go, the drier it becomes, with many southern regions of the Kalahari and the whole of the coastal Namib Desert receiving no rainfall at all some years. In this ‘rainy’ season temperatures occasionally reach above 40ºC, and sometimes you may find it humid in the north.
The dry season is a great time to see Namibia's resident bird species © Tricia Hayne
So, Namibia always seems deserted. That said, it becomes busier around Easter and from late July to the end of October. Then advanced bookings are essential.
Many of the lodges and restcamps in and around Etosha, and in the Namib-Naukluft area, are fully booked for August by as early as the end of April. Avoid coming during the Namibian school holidays if possible. These are generally around 25 April–25 May, 15 August–5 September and 5 December–15 January. Then many places will be busy with local visitors, especially the less expensive restcamps and the national parks.
The main season when overseas visitors come is from around mid-July to late October. Outside of this, you’ll often find the lodges delightfully quiet and have some of the attractions to yourself.
While there really are neither any ‘bad’ nor any ‘ideal’ times to visit Namibia, there are times when some aspects of the country are at their best. You must decide what you are primarily interested in, and what’s important to you, and then choose accordingly. See the Climate section for a more detailed discussion of the weather – perhaps the biggest influence on your decision. Then consider your own specific requirements, which might include some of the following.
The latter parts of the dry season, between July and late October, are certainly the best time to see big game. Then, as the small bush pools dry up and the green vegetation shrivels, the animals move closer to the springs or the waterholes and rivers.
During and after the rains, you won’t see much game, partly because the lush vegetation hides the animals, and partly because most of them will have moved away from the waterholes (where they are most easily located) and gone deeper into the bush. However, many of the animals you do see will have young, as food (animal or vegetable) is at its most plentiful then.
The last few months of the year witness the arrival of the summer migrant birds from the north, anticipating the coming of the rains. Further, if the rains are good the natural pans in Etosha and Bushmanland will fill with aquatic species, including huge numbers of flamingos. This is an amazing spectacle. However, bear in mind that Namibia’s ordinary feathered residents can be seen more easily during the dry season, when there is less vegetation to hide them.
Daytime temperatures occasionally top 40ºC in October and November, and heavy rainstorms are likely during the first two or three months of the year. Hence walkers should try to come between about May and September, when the temperatures are at their coolest, and the chances of rain are minimised. Note that most of the long trails in the national parks are closed between November and March.
Driving usually presents few problems at any time of year. However, visitors in January and February, and occasionally even March or exceptionally April, may find that flooding rivers will block their roads. These usually subside within a matter of hours, and certainly within a day or so, but do provide an extra hazard. A 4x4 may be useful at these times, although taking another route is usually a cheaper alternative! Those mounting 4x4 expeditions to the more remote corners of the country should certainly avoid these months, when large tracts of Bushmanland and Kaokoland, for example, become totally impassable in any vehicle.