Namibia vacations travel guide

Namibia travel guide


2 minute summary

Namibia is a destination that you want to zoom out from to really get a sense of just how massive and empty this country is.



Evocative names - the Skeleton Coast, the Namib Desert, the Kalahari - describe these otherworldly spaces, mainly comprised of sand seas, salt pans, inhospitable coastlines and bleak, rocky outcrops. You'll need a wide-angle view to really appreciate the scenes during your Namibia vacation - from the crest of a dune, the basket of a hot air balloon, or the window of a light aircraft.
But the details are well worth zooming back in on - ancient cultures preserved in remote regions; tracking radio-collared big cats or critically endangered black rhinos; wildlife-documentary-style scenes at a floodlit Etosha waterhole; 6000 year-old rock art preserved by the parched climate.
Namibia is...

"Post-apocalyptic" , according to the crew who shot the latest Mad Max film there in 2012.
Namibia isn't...


Nambia or Zambia

What we rate & what we don't


Our best & worst of Namibia

Underrated

Township tours Stargazing Living Culture Museums Tiny wildlife

Township tours

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.

Stargazing

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.

Living Culture Museums

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.

Tiny wildlife

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.

Rated

Etosha National Park Rhino tracking Himba village tour Sossusvlei

Etosha National Park

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.

Rhino tracking

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.

Himba village tour

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.

Sossusvlei

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.

Overrated

German architecture "Street" photography Vegetarian meals 4WD vehicles

German architecture

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.

"Street" photography

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.

Vegetarian meals

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.

4WD vehicles

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.

Food, shopping & people


Travel like a local with our Namibia travel guide

Eating & drinking in Namibia


Namibia has inherited Germany's beer, bread and cakes.
Sling a game steak on the braai - oryx, ostrich or springbok?
Share a bowl of spicy fried mopane caterpillars - a taste of Ovamboland.
Stock up on kudu biltong before a long road trip.
Namibia is the third least densely populated country in the world, after Mongolia and Guyana.

People & language


Namibia has 13 main ethnic groups, including indigenous tribes, coloureds and Basters, and whites of Afrikaner and German origin.
Thank an
Afrikaner:
"Dankie"
Say hello to a
Himba:
"Moro!"
Ask how is a
Damara:
"Matisa?"

Gifts & shopping


Himba jewellery.
Locally produced organic wine.
!Nara seed oil products - fabulous for the skin in the dry desert climate and a sustainable source of income for rural communities.
Women's community group crafts - these create income for impoverished women in townships who have few alternatives.

Fast facts


The San are believed to be
the ancestors of
all the world's
human beings
,
due to their high
genetic diversity.

How much does it cost?



Half a litre of local beer: 95p
Cup of rooibos tea: 60p
Litre of petrol: 75p
Game steak in a restaurant: £6-10
Six local oysters: £5

A brief history of Namibia


For much of the 20th century, Namibia fought to escape colonial control. In 1904, German troops massacred around 80,000 native Namibians, including up to 70 percent of the Herero population. In 1915 Namibia was given to South Africa, who refused to recognise the country and called it South West Africa, despite the occupation later being declared illegal.

From the 1950s onward, South Africa's apartheid government separated Namibia's white, coloured and black populations with the creation of townships outside the main cities, including Windhoek's Katutura - meaning "the place we don't want to stay". Ethnic groups were further separated within these townships, reinforcing the divide and rule policies of apartheid.

Namibia was finally granted independence in 1990, and although full integration remains a long way off, the country has achieved a remarkably peaceful transition to democracy, with fair elections and land reforms.
Photo credits: [Living Culture Museums: The Living Cultural Foundation Namibia] [Tiny wildlife: Snap®] [Himba village tour: Ilan molcho] [Street photography: Martijn Munneke] [Gifts & shopping: Amy Schoeman]
Written by Vicki Brown
Namibia biking vacation

Namibia biking vacation

Wide open spaces, endless skies & sand dunes

From US $2695 13 Days ex flights
Namibia vacation, safari & desert discovery

Namibia vacation, safari & desert discovery

9 day Safari designed to show you the best of Namibia

From £1880 9 Days ex flights
Namibia and Botswana safari holiday

Namibia and Botswana safari vacation

Namibia & Botswana lodge safari Caprivi Etosha Okavango

From US $3290 21 Days ex flights
Namibia safari and vacation

Namibia safari and vacation

A fabulous small group guided trip in Nambia

From £2600 13 Days ex flights
Vacation to Namibia

Vacation to Namibia

Discover 'The Big 5' in a stunningly diverse landscape

From £2845 14 Days ex flights
Namibia small group vacation, sand dunes & safari

Namibia small group vacation, sand dunes & safari

A hidden gem of contrasting landscapes and amazing wildlife

From £1350 8 Days ex flights
Diverse Namibia vacation

Diverse Namibia vacation

An active, exciting adventure, exploring iconic Namibia

From £2250 12 Days ex flights
Namibia self drive vacation, big cat conservation

Namibia self drive vacation, big cat conservation

Self drive trip taking in Namibia's highlights

From £2715 15 Days inc UK flights
Namibia safari

Namibia safari

Desert scenery & game-viewing

From US $2075 13 Days ex flights
Namibia desert dune safari

Namibia desert dune safari

Explore the Deserts and the Dunes in Namibia

From £4015 11 Days ex flights
Namibia small group vacation

Namibia small group vacation

Daylight discoveries and nights spent under the stars

From US $3255 13 Days ex flights
Cape to Windhoek Namib desert small group camping safari

Cape to Windhoek Namib desert small group camping safari

Camping safari from Cape Town to Namibia, Sossusvlei, Etosha

From US $2065 14 Days ex flights
Cape to Windhoek Namibia Desert small group lodge tour

Cape to Windhoek Namibia Desert small group lodge tour

Lodge safari from Cape Town to Namibia, Sossusvlei Etosha

From US $2460 13 Days ex flights
Convert currencies