Namibia is a soul-stirring country of startling contrasts whose attractions are unparalleled in Africa. It’s famed for its spectacular natural beauty, remote and intimate lodges, and rich diversity of cultures and wildlife. It’s blessed with a kaleidoscope of wide-open expansive landscapes, sun-drenched weather and starry nights. It is sparsely populated yet has inherited a solid modern infrastructure and features many appealing African and European-style towns. Here, the colorful uniquely African vigor blends in with the European influences on architecture, food, customs and art, creating a distinctive Namibian character.
What many don’t know is that Namibia has become a world-renowned blueprint for successful community-based conservation. Local people are empowered to manage and conserve natural resources within the social, cultural and economic context of their communities. This, in turn, provides unique opportunities to interact with local and indigenous people and become immersed in their cultural heritage. It has also resulted in thriving numbers of wildlife. Many of the country’s national parks and game reserves now boast huge varieties of wildlife some species of which are only found in Namibia.
Orange sand dunes rise a thousand feet high against a cobalt blue sky. Southern right whales migrate and cape fur seals colonize lonely beaches along the coast. Gemsbok descend impossibly steep red dunes at Sossusvlei. Giraffe amble gracefully across the blinding white salt pans in Etosha. Magnificent Kalahari lions stalk springbok, oryx, kudu and dik-dik who run to elude them in the Bushveld. Astonishing contrasts are everywhere for the visitor to savor and enjoy.
Namibia is very well-known for its rich ethnic diversity and strong cultural heritage. When you travel to Namibia you will discover that most of the culture results from the country’s history and those who settled there. Its residents range from hunter gatherers, herders and farmers to an urban population of semi- to highly skilled blue-collar and white-collar professionals.
Meet Herero women who wear colorful Victorian-style dresses and horn shaped hats, and the semi-nomadic Himba whose women wear intricate hairstyles and lots of ornamental jewellery made of shells and metals. Listen to the Nama or the Damara whose languages are extremely complex and feature intriguing clicking sounds. Visit the San people who are among the last hunter gatherers on Earth and have been able to preserve much of their ancient culture.
Although the official language is English, many Namibians speak several other common and home languages including Oshiwambo, Khoekhoegowab, Afrikanns, German, Herero, and Caprivi to name a few.
Over 70 percent of Namibians are dark skinned, Bantu speaking peoples like the Ovambo and Herero. Although small in comparison, the population of Khoisan, consisting primarily of San, is the largest in Africa. Other cultural minorities include the Damara, Afrikaaners, ethnic Germans, and people of mixed blood. They all form a fairly diverse population, sparse in much of the country, with only 2.1 people per square kilometer.
The vast majority of Namibians profess Christianity with Lutheranism and Catholicism being the most popular forms. Indigenous beliefs which follow animist traditions are not as popular except in the northern regions.
In preparing for your trip, take some time to learn about Namibia’s turbulent past, basic etiquette, and a few words of the local languages. This will enable you to greet people warmly and be greeted in return with warmth and most likely some curiosity.
Namibia is a biodiversity hot spot. For a place that may seem lifeless at first glance, the reality is astonishing. There are approximately 4000 species of plants, 422 grass species, 650 bird species and 80 large mammal species. In fact, approximately 75 percent of the mammal species that exist in Southern Africa live in Namibia. Reptiles are also plentiful with 240 species in total and 125 sun-loving, dune dwelling lizard species, making Namibia home to the richest lizard fauna in Africa.
Namibia is also a hot spot for endemism. Among its high concentrations of endemic species are 14 birds, 71 reptiles, 16 mammals, and 604 plants. This widespread pattern of biodiversity and endemism stems from species being adapted to arid conditions and confined by physical barriers. Spectacular examples of species that have adapted superbly to the harsh dry environment include Hartmann’s mountain zebra, the Dune Lark and Péringuey’s desert adder.
Namibia has 14 vegetation zones, ranging from several variations of desert vegetation to semi-desert, mopane, mountain, thorn bush, highland, dwarf shrub, camel thorn and mixed tree and shrub savannas and the forest savannas and woodlands of the north east. Many spectacular species can only be seen when specific weather conditions persist, and some tree, plant and lichen species remain unidentified or only seen in as much as fifteen year cycles.
Namibia is approximately 825,418 square kilometers and is comprised of a wide variety of geographical and geological features. Its landscape consists of nine primary geographical areas, which range from extremely arid vast expanses to lush, subtropical wetlands.
The Caprivi Strip is a narrow protrusion set between Botswana on the south, Angola and Zambia to the north, and the Okavango Region to the west. This relatively flat landscape consists of mopane and terminalia broadleaf forest and vast wetlands all surrounded by four perennial rivers—the Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti and the mighty Zambezi. There are also traces of the omurambas, parallel sand dunes which are remnants from a drier climate, that are located throughout the Caprivi.
For years this area was the domain of the South African Army—wildlife suffered as a result—but with soldiers long gone, wildlife populations have recovered. Now the Caprivi is rich in wildlife resources, attracting over 600 species of birds, four of the big five mammals (excluding rhino), and boasts several National Parks including Bwabwata, Mamili, Mudumu and Mahango. Many travelers also choose to experience the Okavango River and the Caprivi strip where one can visit Ruacana Falls. Nearly 200 kinds of plants, shrubs, trees and fruits, complement the wildlife and amazing geography.
The regional capital is the town of Katima Mulilo, which is located on the Zambezi River. There are no other major towns in the area, although it is fairly densely populated and travelers will find that there are numerous villages spread throughout the Caprivi.
The Kavango Region is one of Namibia’s thirteen administrative regions.The population distribution in Kavango region is very uneven,with most of the population clustered along the Okavango River in the northern-most parts of the region. The region is dominated by the Kavango River and its broad flood plains, which makes the area considerably greener than the rest of Namibia. The river forms a natural border between Namibia and Angola for more than 400 kilometers and is the lifeline to the Kavango people. The Kavango people make a living from fishing, tending cattle and cultivating sorghum, millet and maize. They originate from the large lakes of East Africa moving to Kavango between 1750 and 1800. Today the Kavango Region consists of five tribes each led by a traditional chief and assisted by a traditional headman.
Northwestern Namibia encompasses the wondrous desert wilderness of Damaraland and the Kaokoveld. Damaraland is sparsely populated by the Damara people and is known for its wild desert mountains, unique geological features and ephemeral rivers and springs. Wildlife is plentiful here, and there are many natural attractions, including the Brandberg massif and the prehistoric rock paintings at Twyfelfontein, as well as volcanic mounds, petrified forests and rock mesas.
The Kaokoveld is one of the least developed regions of the country and is even more remote than Damaraland. It represents Namibia at its most primeval and is home to the Himba people and to wildlife that has adapted to the arid conditions, including the desert elephant, black rhinos, mountain zebras and many other species of game.
The Kunene’s rocky desert, arid grasslands and dry riverbeds provide a sparsely populated corridor for iconic wildlife, including many uniquely adapted animals and plants. Here, the frigid waters of the southern Atlantic collide with the Namib desert along the infamous Skeleton Coast. The Region gets its name from the Kunene River, which forms the border between Namibia and Angola. The landscapes, with their spectacular desert mountains, gorges, plains and ephemeral rivers are stunning. These seasonal rivers create a focus for wildlife—particularly desert adapted elephant and rhino. Zebra, giraffe and various species of antelope and even lion also thrive in this region. Etosha National Park lies inland and is one of the world’s largest wildlife refuges due in part to the Etosha Pan. This dry lakebed offers a fleeting oasis during the rainy season for myriad wildlife, including enormous flocks of flamingoes. The Region is home to three main ethnic groups—the Damara, Herero and Himba people, all of whom have a rich cultural heritage.
Since independence in 1990 the north-central area is subdivided into the four regions of Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati and Ohangwena with altogether 780,000 inhabitants, according to the 2001 census. This part of Namibia is lush in vegetation, rivers and wildlife. The jewel amongst Africa’s reserves, Etosha National Park, is located here. It draws visitors from across the globe to it’s unique beauty and splendor. To the east, near Grootfontein, you will find a meteorite—weighing in at 60 tons, the biggest known meteorite in the world. The ground is mostly sand—rocks and stones are rare. The numerous elongated depressions which dissect the plain and fill up with water during the rainy season are called Oshanas. Originally this area was a mix of grassland, shrub savannah and dry forest. Save for a few patches on the periphery, however, because of clear-cutting the forest has disappeared; all that remains are the many fences of the homesteads.
The Namib Desert is the oldest desert on the planet, and Namibia has the highest percentage of coastline under protected status of any country in the world. Its sea of sand stretches along the country’s entire Atlantic coastline, and varies in width from 100 to many hundreds of kilometers. This region is stark yet beautiful. In the north, it features long stretches of sandy beaches along the dramatic Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld, and along the central coast, the extensive Namib Sand Sea, which is home to the largest sand dunes in the world. Here, there is little vegetation except in the extensive gravel plains and in dry river beds.
The Namib is home to some of the rarest and most specialised plant and animal species in the world, including the Welwitschia mirabilis, large lichen fields and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. One of the major attractions here is the Namib Naukluft Park, which is one of the largest national parks in Africa, covering much of the central Namib Desert and the Naukluft Mountains. The park’s main attractions are Sossusvlei, Sandwich Harbour and the Naukluft hiking and four wheel drive trails. The park has had a long history—with a large part of it originally being designated to protect the diamond reserves and other areas being added over time. The area is just under 50,000 square kilometres.
Known as the Sandveld to many, the eastern region is home to several indigenous groups. This area offers some excellent game viewing on savannas dotted with majestic camelthorn trees. By and large, the region is sparsely populated, largely by tribal groups such as the San, Nama and the Herero, due to its poor sandy soil, but it is a major cattle-producing region. Aside from Gobabis, which is the main centre, this 80,000 square kilometer region is fairly isolated. All the other population centres in the region are linked with Gobabis by road. Many services are rendered from Gobabis to the region, including the Police Divisional Head Quarters, hospital and clinics.
Central western Namibia encompasses the Erongo regions and is one of the last true wildernesses in Africa. This region is named after the Erongo mountain range, a well known landmark in Namibia and in this area. All the main centres within this region are connected by tarred roads. This part of Namibia and is well known for its colorful volcanic landscapes, rock art, desert elephants and black rhino.
The Erongo region is covered by linear, apricot colored sand dunes interspersed by dry pans, gravel plains and isolated mountain ranges. The dunes are famous as they’re considered to be among the tallest in the world. The region is also home to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. Originally established as port towns in German-colonial times, they’re now known respectively for their natural attractions and adventure sports opportunities.
The central region features a large plateau that is relatively level and gravely with dotted areas of acacia and scrubby grasslands, and the occasional isolated inselberg (stand-alone mountains). Inselbergs are a fascinating feature of Namibia. These isolated mountains create micro-climates and habitats for organisms not adapted to life in the surrounding desert.
The region is home to the majority of Namibia’s population and economic activity. The nation’s capital, Windhoek, is located here as well, along with most of the arable land and the country’s highest point at Königstein which rises to an elevation of 2,606 meters (8,550 ft). Nearly half of Namibia’s population is employed in agriculture in the region even though arable land only accounts for 1% of the total landmass.
Encompassing almost half of Namibia’s territory, this region is known for its barren landscapes. Here you will find the Fish River canyon, the second largest in the world, as well as endless plains and the dramatic formations of the big escarpment. The quiver forest near Keetmanshoop, the red sands of the Kalahari, and the many forgotten German villages in the region are also attractions.
In fact, the Kalahari Desert is one of Namibia’s best known geographical features—well known for its incredible biodiversity. It features a dazzling array of localized environments that range from areas that defy the common notion of what a desert is, to those that define desert, which are extremely arid and sandy. One of the most well-known areas is the Succulent Karoo, home to over 5,000 species of plants of which almost half of which are endemic, and one third of the world’s species of succulents.