The oldest desert in the world. The tallest sand dunes on Earth. Some of the roughest seas and most extreme environments, all harboring an astonishing variety of wildlife. Namibia holds endless fascinations and intense natural beauty the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else. And in a Discovery Tours small group, we’ll reveal it all to you at an easy pace that lets you drink it in with pleasure.
Namib-Naukluft National Park
Wind-sculpted sand below. Sea of stars above.
About the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined, the Namib-Naukluft National Park along the Atlantic Coast is the largest game park in Africa. All in all, it is comprised of a huge swathe of the Namib Desert—considered the world’s oldest—and the Naukluft mountain range. For such a harsh environment, this unspoiled corner of the continent is home to many creatures great and small, including hyenas, jackals, gemsboks, snakes, geckos and countless insects.
The park’s most spellbinding region is Sossusvlei, a vast stretch of undulating red-hued dunes shaped over millennia by ocean winds. Remarkably, some dunes soar to 1,000 feet, the highest in the world. Their fiery deep-orange colors are explained by their age. In this 55-million-year-old ecosystem, iron in the sand has oxidized, much like rusted metal. The brightest colors in this magnificent topography signify the oldest dunes. One mountain of sand, in particular, gets much attention for its rich and sloping beauty: Dune 45. Named for its location on the road to Sossusvlei (at the 45th kilometer mark), it has been formed through the ages by sands from the Kalahari Desert that were carried down the Orange River and blown here from evaporated beds.
These landscapes are at their most mesmerizing at sunset, which you will witness during an adventurous drive by 4×4 vehicle. Yet, thanks to a unique phenomenon not fully understood, the dunes can also be downright hypnotizing: Throughout your visit, keep your ears trained for the region’s famous singing dunes. Silica content, grain diameter and humidity merge to create the ideal environment in which sand will sing, emitting a roaring, booming or squeaking sound caused by wind shear, by a sand-slide, or merely by the disruption of footprints.
Over millennia, the towering dunes, of course, have had a dramatic effect on surrounding environments, particularly in the expanse known today as Deadvlei. In the shadow of the dune known as Big Daddy, a water-rich marsh formed here after heavy rainfall, sprouting a small forest of camel thorn trees, a species similar to acacia. As the climate shifted, the desert’s merciless drought took hold, sand dunes encircled the marsh, and the land became parched. The trees still stand, believed to have died six or seven centuries ago. Black and scorched from the scalding sun, they are a haunting reminder of the marsh’s former abundance.
Nearby, the Sesriem Canyon is a stark counterpoint to the sands of Sossusvlei. Rather than soft and sensual slopes, the canyon is made of rough-cut sedimentary rock walls carved by the Tsauchab River. But it is no less beautiful than the dunes, a striated canvas of oranges, reds and violets stretching a half mile long and yawning to 100 feet deep. The canyon’s name translates into “six belts,” coined by passing settlers who, in order to reach the water that once flowed through, tied six belts together so their bucket would reach the bottom of the ravine.
Calm Ocean Haven for Marine Life
Namibia’s Skeleton Coast gets its name from the treacherous waters that have sunken vessels off the coast and littered the beaches with the hulls of ships and the carcasses of whales. Portuguese explorers called these shores “The Gates of Hell” and even the San Bushmen believed they were “The Land God Make in Anger.” The rough seas are partly to blame. But a cold ocean current heading up the coast from South Africa is also a culprit as it creates dense ocean fog much of the year. It’s been said that sailors can certainly land on shore here, but they’ll never get back out to sea over the violent surf.
So Namibians are lucky to have Walvis Bay. Called Ezonrongondo by the indigenous Herero people of Namibia, Walvis Bay is one of Africa’s few large natural harbors. Sheltered from the rough waters of the Atlantic, it is not only a calm place from which to launch a ship. It is also a prime habitat for magnificent wildlife. Heaviside’s dolphins frolic in these waters. Leatherback turtles drift with the current. Cape fur seals lounge on beaches and swim out to greet visitors. Humpback whales breach the water’s surface. The coastal lagoon, too, is a menagerie of feathered creatures, including pink flamingoes and great white pelicans.
Immense Beauty and Ancient Art
In Namibia’s northwestern corner, the Kunene region—once known as Damaraland under German rule—covers a vast terrain of mountains, dramatic rock formations rising from plains, and low scrubland. This is a rugged place, and hospitable only to those who have adapted to its landscapes and climate over centuries. Yet its beauty is unrivalled. Monolithic walls of rock stand like colossal sentinels and dry valleys host unique succulent flora that’s fed by the mists floating in from the Atlantic.
The centerpiece of Damaraland, however, is a man-made spectacle created 2,000 to 2,500 years ago—the Twyfelfontein petroglyphs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts more than 5,000 individual rock carvings and other depictions of animals and humans etched into sandstone slabs, one of the largest concentrations of its kind in Africa.
Etosha National Park
Big Game Amidst Plains Made of Salt
The nation’s largest concentration of wildlife thrives in Etosha National Park, the third largest game reserve in the world. Throughout this massive semi-arid savannah grassland, waterholes allow this predominantly desert environment to support a remarkably diverse array of wildlife, including some 144 mammal species and more than 300 bird species. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, leopards, cheetahs, and more make this fertile grassland their home.
The center of Etosha is the vast, glittering Etosha Pan, from which the place gets it name (“Great White Place”). The dry salt lakebed stretches 75 miles and supports only the most unique wildlife adaptable to hyper-saline conditions. But when it rains, thousands of flamingoes descend on its waters.
You can witness some of the most captivating natural beauty in Africa for yourself during our Namibia, Naturally itinerary.