So this is where all the people are in Namibia... Local guides bring visitors to homes, bars and restaurants to reveal the diverse native cultures that still thrive here despite the "divide and rule" system imposed during the apartheid era. Eye-opening tours in townships outside Windhoek and Swakopmund reveal much about southern Africa's violent past, as well as the challenges still faced today.
The Namib-Rand Nature Reserve sits beneath one of the darkest, clearest skies in the world, and astronomers are on hand with giant telescopes to help you make sense of it. Peering at the stars, moons and planets of Namibia's skyscape is every bit as fascinating as discovering what lies beneath them.
Namibia's San, Bantu, Okavango and Damara communities recreate traditional villages in these five museums across the country. Learn how to hunt, fish, dance and weave using knowledge passed down over centuries. These tours contribute to local incomes and community projects, while encouraging traditional skills, music and dance to be shared with the next generation.
Bigger is not always better. Ditch the Big Five during your Namibia vacation in favor of a dune tour: discover dancing lizards, sand-coloured sidewinder snakes, tumbling spiders and dew-drinking beetles which have developed astonishing ways of surviving in the seemingly inhospitable Namib Desert.
A visit to Etosha National Park is probably the closest you can get to standing in the middle of an Attenborough documentary. During dry season, animals cluster around the park's numerous small waterholes - with elephant, zebra, jackals and giraffe jostling for drinking space. By night, floodlights reveal lions, leopards and endangered black and white rhino.
Tracking desert-adapted black rhino through the wilderness of the Kunene is absolutely thrilling: the animals are completely wild, rather bad-tempered and much larger than you'd think. The rarity of seeing them in their natural habitat - and the awful possibility of their extinction - makes your Namibia vacation even more special, and tracking fees support rangers and research which help conserve this species.
With so many artificial "indigenous" tours existing solely for the benefit of tourists, Himba villages are wonderful in their authenticity. This semi-nomadic community has long worked with tour companies to offer a cultural exchange which avoids exploiting both travelers and villagers, and offers a genuine insight into a way of life far removed from anything you are likely to have experienced before.
The classic Namibian backdrop - parched white clay, petrified trees and cloudless blue skies stand in contrast to enormous, rust-red dunes. While other parts of the desert offer less crowded dune experiences, the tourist hordes arise before dawn to see Sossusvlei with good reason. Just be sure to squeeze in a trip to a more remote part of the Namib as well for a full desert immersion.
Despite the hype, the colonial buildings in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Luderitz are very poor tributes to their European counterparts. Finding German-inspired architecture in the middle of the dunes of southern Africa during your Namibia vacation is certainly a curiosity, but it would not be worth remarking on at all were it not for the unusual setting.
As tempting as it may be to take photographs of elaborately adorned Himba or Herero women on the street, or of people you encounter on a tournship tour, it's incredibly invasive to do so without asking permission first. If the Himba are selling crafts, for example, purchasing items from them is a fair way to compensate them.
Many lodges usually offer two to three dinner options for guests. Unfortunately, the meat-free dish almost always consists of a tuna salad, which will soon start to become tedious on a ten-day Namibia vacation.
While necessary to reach certain regions, such as parts of the south and Damaraland - particularly during the rainy season - the paved roads across much of Namibia mean that 4x4s are not always necessary, as long as you have good ground clearance. Check your Namibia vacation itinerary, consult your tour operator and you might just be able to save both time and fuel in a standard car.