I’ve been to Namibia more than 30 times and I still want to go again. It’s so diverse, with deserts, rivers and floodplains, wildlife big and small, spectacular landscapes, a place that touches your soul. People often ask for my tips on Namibia, so here’s my pick of places to visit and things to do in Namibia: south and central. I’ve written up the north elsewhere.
For that reason I suggest concentrating on either the south or the north unless you have at least four to six weeks to explore Namibia's points of interest. It's better to take it slow and enjoy what you see and do to the fullest instead of trying to stuff everything into a hectic fortnight. If you do that, you'll spend most of your time driving rather than adventuring and experiencing, and you'll be too exhausted to enjoy any of it properly.
1. Fish River Canyon and Ai-Ais National Park
- Stand and marvel
See Namibia’s spectacular 160km long and 27km wide Fish River Canyon, which starts in the Naukluft mountains and ends in the Ai-Ais National Park. Its deepest point is 549m.
More about the Fish River Canyon
- Do a 4-5 day hike through the canyon
You can also do a four- to five-day, 85km hike here between May and September. It starts at the main viewpoint, 10km from Hobas campsite, and ends at Ai-Ais resort to the south. Book with Namibia Wildlife Resorts.
- Go slack-packing
If the idea of carrying a heavy pack for days doesn’t appeal, do the Canyon Klipspringer Trail (3 days, 4 nights). Here your gear is lugged for you and all you have to carry are your camera, water and snacks. You also get cooking and bathroom facilities at each overnight stop.
- Explore the Ai-Ais National Park
To explore the national park further and enjoy some of its uncompromising desert mountain scenery, spend a night at the hot springs at Ai-Ais or at the Hobas campsite. This is a Transfrontier Park with the Richtersveld over the border in South Africa.
- Visit the Canyon Roadhouse
Don’t miss stopping at the Canyon Roadhouse on your way to the Fish River Canyon. You can have a drink or a meal here (even sleep over in the lodge or the campsite) but the highlight are the posters, memorabilia and old cars in the barnlike structure and some rusting hulks in the grounds outside. Petrol-heads will love it.
- Climb a giant dune
In this part of the Namib-Naukluft Park some of the sand dunes are 80 million years old. Two of the most popular to climb are Dune 45 to see the sunrise and Big Daddy for superb views over Dead Vlei.
Read more about climbing Big Daddy
- Discover fairy circles
See mysterious naked circles in the veld in the Namib Desert. Nothing grows inside these clear-cut circles of one to three metres diameter, a bit like crop circles. It’s thought that termites shed a chemical that prevents grass from growing – though the notion of fairies is more romantic.
Read more about fairy circles of the Namib
- Walk on Dead Vlei
Soak up the sight of the white clay pan of Dead Vlei with its ancient camel-thorn skeletons surrounded by an amphitheatre of dunes. The dead trees are some 900 years old but the climate is so dry that they haven’t decomposed. This and the whole of Sossusvlei is a photographer’s dream.
- Fly in a hot air balloon
Hot-air ballooning at dawn is a surreal and soulful experience. Look down on animals like gemsbok, springbok and ostriches, as well as fairy circles. It comes at a hefty price but remains one of our best-ever experiences so if you can scrape together the cash you won’t be sorry.
Read more about hot-air ballooning at Sossusvlei
- Explore Sesriem canyon on foot
Shaped by the Tsauchab River, parts of this canyon near Sossusvlei are 65 million years old. The river last ran in a flash flood during Oct 2018.
- Sleep under the stars
Choose from the luxury Little Kulala Camp (pictured below), mid-range Namib Dune Camp or the budget-friendly Namib Desert Campsite or Sesriem Campsite.
- Stay on the reserve
This 200 000 hectare reserve shares a 100km border with the Namib-Naukluft National Park and is one the largest private nature reserves in southern Africa. It’s a place of red sand dunes, golden-yellow grass plains and mauve mountains. You can’t get access to the private reserve without staying there. There’s luxury accommodation at Wolwedans but The Family Hideout offers off-the-grid campsites and a self-catering cottage for the more budget-conscious.
Read more about the NamibRand Nature Reserve
- Go hiking in style
For a really special adventure, book a three-day, fully catered walking trail in the NamibRand with Toktokkie Trails and learn more about desert ecology.
- Enjoy star-gazing and fairy circles
Indulge in some star-gazing in this Dark Sky Reserve and see mysterious fairy circles, which look similar to crop circles but are the work of termites.
Read more about dark skies and fairy circles
Be part of a love story at the pint-sized Duwisib Castle about 70km southwest of Matahöhe in southern Namibia, not far from the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Here you’ll discover a love story about a dashing army captain with a passion for horses, a wealthy heiress, a journey to a faraway land, and a castle at the edge of a vast desert. You’ll be fascinated by the sophisticated fireplaces and fittings imported from Europe and brought here from the port at Luderitz by ox wagon. Today it’s run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts and you can stay here and pretend you’re part of a fairy tale.
Read more about Duwisib Castle and its story
The desert near Aus, about halfway between Keetmanshoop and Luderitz in southern Namibia, is home to a special herd of wild horses that can often be seen at the waterhole near Garub. They have adapted to desert life but still face a number of challenges, not least a clan of hyenas that moved into the area.
Read more about the wild horses of the Namib
If seeing crumbling buildings and taking unusual photographs is your thing, you’ll love the ghost town of Kolmanskop in southern Namibia. Back in the 1900s when it was a diamond boom town, you could pick diamonds off the ground by the fistful. But the boom went bust and today all that’s left is a haunting fascination. There are daily guided tours or get there early to catch the best light for photos.
Read more about Kolmanskop
Since Luderitz is on the Namibian coast just 10km west of Kolmanskop, it’s worth a short detour. It’s not beautiful, with stark sands and rock, but there’s some interesting Germanic architecture, a church built on a rock and some dark history at Shark Island (it was used as a concentration camp during the Nama and Herero wars of 1904-1908).
Outside the southern Namibia town of Keetmanshoop is the Quivertree Forest, a collection of some 200 of these unusual aloe trees. Try to be there early or late to catch the golden light of sunset pinks for your photographs. Nearby at Giant’s Playground, huge boulders form strange patterns like massive children’s building bricks.
Read more about Quivertree forest and Giants Playground
The Kalahari Desert sprawls across some 900 000 square kilometres of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It’s a fascinating semi-arid area of red sand dunes where a surprising number of plants thrive, as well as animals like long-horned gemsbok, huge eland and tiny meerkats. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular and the night skies are jewelled with thousands of stars.
Read more about the Kalahari
By European or American standards, the capital of Namibia is small with just 325 000 people. There are a number of interesting landmarks like the Christuskirche, the Alte Feste fort and the National Museum of Namibia. Daan Viljoen Nature Reserve is just 24km to the west. For a dash of Namibian culture, experience a guided tour of Katutura township and don’t miss a stop at the popular Joe’s Beerhouse for an atmosphere that’s quirky and different.
Once a whaling station and now the centre of Namibia’s fishing industry, Walvis Bay is worth visiting for its desert landscapes and wetlands. It’s a RAMSAR wetland of international importance where some quarter of a million birds gather, including pelicans and flamingos looking for food in the shallows. Go kite surfing, kayaking among Cape fur seals, or climb Dune 7 for views of the surrounding dunes and the sea.
- Travel back in time to see old buildings
Walk the streets of Swakopmund to appreciate buildings that date back to the early 1900s. They have ornate features and a lyrical style typical of Art Nouveau or Jugendstil. Haus Hohenzollern, Woermann House, the old post office, old railway station (now a hotel) and the fort-like Kaserne barracks are just a few of them to look out for.
Read more about Swakopmund
- Knock yourself out on adrenalin sports
Swakopmund is also Namibia’s adventure capital, offering quad biking, microlighting, paragliding, sand boarding and more.
- See ancient welwitschias and moonscapes
Drive the 140km route outside town to see strange welwitschia plants, lichen fields and moon-like landscapes. Get a permit from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism office first.
- Experience the Living Desert
Don’t miss a Living Desert tour to meet some amazing desert-adapted creatures in the sand dunes around Swakopmund – great for kids too.
Read more about the Living Desert tour
The Skeleton Coast is nature in the raw – nothing soft or gentle about its rough seas, dense fog or rusting shipwrecks. Here, tiny fishing villages are the pinnacle of civilisation and the place to be if you’re a keen fisherman. Visit the Cape Cross Seal Reserve 120km north of Swakopmund to see an enormous colony of Cape fur seals. Depending on marine conditions, there can be up to 200 000 of them, and they give birth to pups in November and December. Wander along the boardwalk to enjoy the spectacle, but expect an overwhelming smell and thundering noise.
Like it? Pin this image!
Places to visit and things to do in Namibia: the north
15 Namibia campsites: a guide for camping in Namibia
Best African countries in Africa for epic things to do
Copyright © Roxanne Reid - No words or photographs on this site may be used without permission from roxannereid.co.za