Namibia has never been on my travel bucket list. After my friend’s move to South Africa, having explored most of the country, we were eager to discover bordering countries.
Our travel moto “discover as much as possible as freely as possible, as budget-friendly as possible”. For this adventure, we rented a fully equipped 4x4, and invited a couple of friends to join us. They came all the way from Taiwan, travelling 24h and were not disappointed!
We planned for 13 days’ itinerant trip, from end October 2016, with the itinerary shown on the map, covering most of the wonders of Namibia.
This involved driving more than the displayed 4666 km, between 5-6 hours practically every day, as we did some loops in the places we visited. Sounds like a lot!? It is definitely feasible, with a minimum of 3 drivers relaying each other. As you may guess, we did not choose an “easy-peasy” trip. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, so we were all very keen to embark on this seemingly crazy adventure.
The best of and some anecdotes of our trip
My friend and I have done game drives before, in South Africa, but seeing the animals in this vast panoramic landscape was quite a different experience... truly amazing! The photos speak for themselves.
We did the loop towards Okondeka waterhole, north of Okaukuejo: arriving around 8:30, there were lions (on the left, facing North), resting near bush on the left side, and Giraffes, Kudus, Impalas, Ostriches, Zebras drinking water. The predators most probably had a full stomach!
Continuing towards Namutoni, we stopped at the Salt pans view (white endless landscape), and did detours for about 5 waterholes before the camp. We drove a full day in the park and did not come across picnic points often (but that can be easily planned if you have a good printout of the map). We only had few snacks until we arrived, at a picnic site, around 3pm! At a couple of waterholes, we arrived just at the right time: giraffes in 3 different poses, preparing to drink and zebras all aligned... oh! And a whole family of elephants coming from a mud bath! We reached Namutoni campsite just before sunset, set our camp and went at sunset spot at the waterhole.
The Himba tribe visit
The route from Etosha to Opowo is superb, with flat white sand, landscape with Latanier palms, abandoned cars on the roadside, and small villages. The optical illusion created by the heat initially lead me to believe that the road went through a lake... at 120km/h, it can be quite destabilising!
|Approaching Opuwo, the landscape becomes more mountainous, with red soil. Himba and Herero people in traditional clothes can be seen in the small town, alongside those dressed in occidental clothes.
Seeing Himba ladies, bare breast, at the counter in the Supermarket is quite a contrast and it is hard to resist taking pictures- though we refrained ourselves as we read it was not much appreciated in town.
Despite being a bit divided on the idea of potential lack of authenticity of the Himba tribe visit, this was our only chance to meet indigenous Namibian tribes, so we made sure to book a local guide, without intermediary, in line with our philosophy and budget. Uvatera, nicknamed "Queen Elisabeth", our guide, recommended by George (who was himself recommended on a blog, but was taken on a long trip at the time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org). Uvatera used to be a Himba, but moved out of the traditional village to live in Opuwo, where she has been working as guide. Asked about what the others think about this move, she explained that at the beginning they were not happy, but afterwards, as she brought visitors, who in exchange of photos bring basic food, they embraced the idea. She taught us the basic greetings in Himba language and invited us to take as many photos as we wanted. We felt a bit uneasy at first, as we could not really communicate with the people, without Uvatera. However, they all seemed at ease with idea and wanted to see the shots every time.
There were also a Herero lady and people from Southern Angola (Ovahakaona tribe) visiting their families. Interesting cultural melting pot!
Thibault, had the brilliant idea to buy a Polaroid Camera for the trip, so we did not only take photos, but also gave something special back. It was amazing to witness the happiness of the people receiving their printed photo.
The visit included explanations of the customs of the Himba people, with demonstrations of how they prepare their basic staple (crushed maize), and their hygiene routine without using water but incense and ochre… We were quite surprised, as we did not notice any bad smell, so it definitely worked! It maybe something we will have to consider with the consequences of climate change as severe drought hits some regions! At the end of the visit, we gave the food (that Uvatera bought) to the people, appalled to realise that the children received sweets! None of us saw that she included this in the shopping trolley in the Supermarket… As I left the village, I wondered about the positive and negative impacts of tourism on the Himba people. I truly hope that they manage to keep what remains of the culture for generations to come.
We nearly skipped it considering the long drive, not sure it would be all worth it, but a French guide we met highly recommended it to us, and it was truly one of the highlights! The road crossing Kaokoveld to Epupa is beautiful: mountainous, with dried out rivers, and Himba villages.
It took us about 3 hours, on gravel road to reach Epupa falls, which despite the dry season was impressive. We loved both the hilltop viewpoint and the view at river level (about 50 m further). Dipping in the rock pools at the edge of the waterfall is possible, and desirable considering the heat! We followed the road parallel to the river, going upstream, until we found a nice spot to chill, under Latanier palms on the river banks.
Weary of crocodiles, hippos and snakes, we carefully looked around, ruling out, we thought, the possibility of being attacked… after all, we did not recall any explicit warnings against that in Lonely planet, my phone was dead, we did not bother double-checking, and the water was too inviting to restrain ourselves. Still cautious, we only dipped in, staying near the banks and watching out for any potential danger. A few minutes later, two young Herero men, seemingly curious, came to us. Unable to speak the language, we tried to speak with signs. They showed us something, on the river banks far away, that we could not distinguish from the rocks. Thibault tried to imitate crocodiles and hippos: they nodded… Back in the car, I checked and the Epupa falls section confirmed that we took a huge risk by swimming in the river! Silliest thing we ever did in Africa!
I however still find it very bizarre that it is not mentioned in “survival tips”, nor do they mention the deadly sand spider I saw on the internet (apparently very rare, but still!). We continued on the road, turning right at the first village we saw, to get back on the road to Opuwo. It roughly took us 4 hours to drive back from the falls, just in time for sunset drinks at the Opuwo Lodge pool. Lazy to cook after the day’s adventure, we decided to go for the restaurant’s buffet, which was good, but pricey relative to prices we have seen in South Africa (not Europe!) ... So it was still very affordable and good value for money!
Incredible history and sight of tree trunks turned into rocks. It’s worth the stop as it's not something you see every day! Our guide was a very energetic and lady, full of smiles, who tried to say a few words in French now and then. She also taught us some words of Khoisan (San Bushmen language), from which I long remember the tong clicking. We were delighted to feel, such positive energy!
Twyfelfontein & Aabadi Camp
A world heritage site, with its ancient rock engravings, is definitely worth a visit. Our guide, appointed by the office, had a great sense of humour and spoke perfect English. Finishing his last tour with us, he suggested that we could have a beer in his village, which, of course, we accepted. Clever man, with a plan to build a lodge in the region- he already fought for 9 years to have land from the government. He is working as a guide, to better understand his target market (and as we understood, possibly find investors). If this a project that interests you, you can find him on Facebook (Fora Huseb). We stayed at Aabadi Campsite, surrounded by mountains in the semi-desert landscape. It was our best camping experience in Namibia!
Skeleton Coast & Swakopmund
With the cold sea breeze and slightly foggy landscape, driving through seemingly endless desert and sand dunes (somewhat different from the usual image) was an interesting experience. Leaving our car on the road, we walked to the sea, over the dunes in the beautiful ghostly landscape… it seemed shorter than it was, but we enjoyed the break from the sound of the car engine. We saw a couple of shipwrecks and mine ruins, slightly disappointed to miss the impressive shipwrecks we saw on the internet, which we did know that these were not in this area, but further North, where individual day visits were not allowed.
Despite being very low on fuel, unsure about whether we would make it to the next filling station, we made a detour to the Cape Fur Seal reserve. Very smelly, to say the least, but it was nice to see so many seals on the beach!
At Swakopmund, we stayed at Tiger reef campsite close to the beach - no sea views, but we could hear the waves. We enjoyed a nice morning walk at the seaside, on the Jetty and through the small German style town. There is a restaurant at the end of the Jetty, which would have been worth a Sundowner.
On the way to Sesriem, after the dessert plains, somewhere on the left side of the road, we unexpectedly found a Cave (Grotto), while looking for a tree/shady area for lunch. It was not sign posted, but the is small gravel road leading down (4x4 compulsory!). We were delighted and grateful for this amazing lunch spot!
The Flamingos at Walvis bay
There were so many of them! If you’ve never seen flamingoes, it is worth the little detour. You can also see them in the lakes between the Dunes, on the left, before Walvis bay.
On the way to Sesriem, we stopped at Solitaire gas station, where we had fun taking pictures of and in the old broken cars and lorries which were exhibited at the entrance. The way to the bathroom is also interesting with the vintage deco. We noted, but forgot to stop at the well-known baker.
At Sesriem, we visited the small Canyon, then headed to Elim Dune for Sunset. The timing was perfect- we planned at least 30 min to climb up to the dune’s summit. Flip flops are definitely not recommended! I wore hiking shoes, which filled up with sand, so I had to empty them a few times. I was scared to go barefoot, but couldn’t resist removing them to run down after sunset!
The next day, we hit the road at 5.30 am for sunrise at Dune 45 - apparently the best for sunrise or maybe just because it takes 45 minutes from the Gate and you wouldn’t have time to go further! On the way up, there were a lot of people hiking up in a straight line for a 15min hike. It was a nice view, though if we had to do it again, we would head straight the Dead Vlei/Big Daddy dune… you would miss the rise itself, but I the early morning light would still be perfect for photos.
After Sunrise, we went to Sossusvlei- 4x4 definitely required for the last 4km, though there are shuttles if you only have a 2x4. We then drove back to Big Daddy dune (just beside Dead Vlei), wondering where we could find the forest of dead black trees commonly seen on postcard photos of Namibia... it was not specifically mentioned in our travel guide. We were nicely surprised as we hiked up to see the forest in the dried up pans on our right. The hike to the summit of Big Daddy dune (325m) took about 1 hour. The last part is quite steep and you feel like you are on a steep sandy treadmill, moving, but staying in the same place...
It was well worth it though! The 360° view is, according to me, the best: overlooking the myriad of dunes, the otherworldly pans and the dead trees. We then ran down the dune to the pan (as recommended by a guide) and had a lot of fun, though I did wonder whether if everyone does this the Dunes would be still up in a few years… I believe (and hope) the winds shape them constantly. Hiking up in the scorching sun, requires at least 1L of water per person (I was the only one who thought about it, so had to share my 1L with 3 others!), and a hat! Otherwise you can also head straight to Deadvlei, which is only a short walk from the parking.
Back to Sesriem camp, we spent the afternoon chilling by the pool, washing our clothes, having fresh drinks at the bar, and napping (at least tried to) in the rooftop tent, set under a huge shady tree, with the view of the desert.
No.14 was the second best camping site in Namibia! No wonder we had to fight for it! When we arrived the previous day, a group of Chinese people and their Namibian guides were starting their barbecue on our site, mistakenly thinking it was the one allocated to them. Lucky that our friends spoke Mandarin as we had no intention of swapping this site for a less appealing one!
Kolmanskop Ghost town
On the way to Luderitz, we made a short stop at Duwisib Castle, then continued to Aus (there is a filling station in the village) and stopped at the Wild horses’ viewpoint, on the right, some kilometres after. We only saw a couple of horses and a few ostriches by the waterhole - the plain is so vast that the herds could be anywhere… You do wonder how they survive in such a hot and an arid environment. Continuing to Luderitz, we stopped at Kolmanskop ghost town in the afternoon, not sure we would get out of the car as the wind was blowing sand all over. We realised it was opened only in the morning until 11 am, most probably due to the afternoon gusts. Luderitz is a very small town with nice German architecture, though I don’t think it’s worth the stop if you are not visiting Kolmanskop. There is a nice view of the town from the small peninsula - where the campsite is located. Glad that we did not choose to camp as it was way too windy. We stayed at Kratzplatz and ate at their pub-restaurant, The Barrels. The ambiance was great and the buffet was very good value for money. It is worth coming early to have a table, they don’t book in advance.
Although there were too many people, I really enjoyed the guided visit of the Kolmanskop Ghost town and learning all about the town built around diamond in the early 1900s. I found the history very interesting, and the abandoned buildings in the desert make for great photos. If you plan on visiting, wear closed shoes as there are snakes around... well, not sure that really helps, but I wish someone had told me, as I was freaking out in my flip flops!
Fish River Canyon
We arrived at Fish River on time for Sunset over the Canyon. The best viewpoint, for us, was unofficial- somewhere midway between the main viewpoint and the hiker’s viewpoint. We stayed in the Hobas camp and, in the morning, went back to the main viewpoint and walked along the path on the right. The view of the Canyon is definitely best in the morning light. Sadly, there were/are no day hikes possible.
Then, we drove to Ais-Ais, enjoyed the mountainous landscape view, but arrived too late to hike to the summit (too hot, they wouldn’t allow). We started walking along the river, quickly realising that the 11 am heat was unbearable. Back to the outdoor pool, we had lunch and enjoyed the swim in lukewarm water (the temporary fresh feeling after getting out was much better!). We saw one hot spring which was fenced and not very attractive… Based on this experience, I would not recommend the detour to Ais-Ais: we were quite disappointed as we expected natural hot springs in a scenic place. It may be worth it if you arrive very early for the hike or if you want a spa break.
Brukkaros: extinct volcano crater
Before Brukkaros, we made our way towards the North to Quivertree Forest. We were disappointed to realise that they were charging 750 N$ for 4 of us just for camping & being in the forest (more than we paid in any park sofar). The straw that broke the Camel’s back was that for night photography, we had to pay an additional 200 N$ per person so that they turn OFF the lights! All of this was served on a very “cold platter” by the receptionist (seemingly the lady from the family who owned the land). We drove towards the Giant’s playground, took some photos from outside and continued to Brukkaros (an extinct volcano crater), unsure about what we would find as we could not contact the camp... but trusting that everything will be fine.
We arrived at the Brukkaros (or Bruckaros) Campsite at Sunset, there was no one at the gate which was opened and seemed abandoned… we made our way up on a relatively good gravel road to the first campsite. Thereafter, it gets quite bad and we were again glad to have the 4x4, but the 3 km drive up was still extremely difficult, especially at night. It was well worth it though, despite the facilities being very basic- no water, but braai area and dry toilets. The camp was definitely abandoned, and we had the luxury of being alone at the foot of the Crater.
The spot was amazing for shooting stars (on a clear night) and watching shooting stars for that matter!
I would advise to only go if you are a hard-core adventurer, want to be alone/ with friends in the middle of nowhere, and are keen to hike inside an extinct volcano crater in the heat, AND have a good 4x4...Stop at the first campsite if you don’t have a 4x4! You don't want to venture further in a 2x4 or less!
To get to Brukkaros: about 80 km after Quivertree, take the road going to Berseba, on the left. About 1km before the village, turn right and follow the road.
Joe’s Beer house in Windhoek
Joe’s Beer House was the highlight in Windhoek! loved the decor and atmosphere and the food was very good (we tried all the game meats). The restaurant was very busy, so it’s better to book beforehand. Great atmosphere and game food! Springbok, Kudu, Crocodile, Zebra… They also have veg options 😉
During the day, we did not find much to do in Windhoek- we walked around windhoek city centre, went to the Craft market and visited the museum, where we learned more about the different Namibia tribes and their lifestyle, including the Himba.
Considering the duration of our holidays and itinerary, we did not get to interact much with locals. 3 instead of 2 weeks would have probably been more chilled out; or boring, depending on the types of holidays you are looking for!
The only downside of the country: in general, we found that receptionists at hotels/parks were not very warm and hospitable, especially for a country whose economy depends also largely on Tourism. On the other hand, our guides (appointed at Petrified Forest & Twyfelfontein) were extremely friendly, and we felt welcomed by the Himbas as well as the Herero guys we met by the river.
Well “the best” of our trip seems to be all of our trip! I do wonder why Namibia is not more popular as a travel destination. It has topped my list sofar… well 2nd after Madagascar, which I will talk about in another article! Follow Nomad Nia on Facebook for updates 🙂
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