Namibia has been on my bucket list for the longest time. Besides being the second least densely populated country in the world, it also holds the oldest desert, tallest dunes and most ancient tribes on the planet. That’s a whole lot of firsts, if you ask me, and enough reasons to be intrigued by the versatility of this African gem.
For this trip I get to travel with my favorite duo of photographers @helloemilie and @jasoncharleshill, who know the ins and outs of this magical place like no other. It turns out to be quite a struggle for me to get to Windhoek. The airline I fly with can’t afford the fuel to leave Cape Town. What!? Apparently this happens all the time. Locals who know this, come prepared with a handful of healthy snacks, a good read and fully charged phones. Coffee in hand, I watch the day go by, hungry for my adventure to begin.
I arrive in Namibia around sunset and after only five minutes of driving from the airport I get to meet an Oryx. Yeey, it has happened, I’m officially out in the wild! Our driver gives me that ‘If you’re already impressed’-look, knowing I’ll be totally blown away by the end of this trip. The first thing that strikes me about Nambia is… the calmness of the place. It can get literally get dead quiet at times. You can easily drive around for hours without seeing another person, animal or car. It’s sort of scary at first but certainly refreshing in the long run. Off-the-beaten-track destinations are definitely my favorite, I decide.
The magic of Namibia: Sossusvlei
The journey officially kicks off at the Namib Naukluft National Park, where the iconic Sossusvlei and the surrounding dunes turn us into daydreamers. No picture does it justice. The so called Deadvlei looks so much bigger and better in real life. With little to no water in the Namib-desert, the trees in the Sossusvlei did not survive the heat. Instead of decomposing they dried out without vanishing from the earth.
The surreal setting of the pitch-black skeletons in contrast with the most spectacular light emerging from behind the burnt orange colored dunes won’t leave a single soul untouched. If you like a good hike, you will definitely enjoy Dune 45 and Big Daddy, the most popular ones. We swop the climb for a helicopter flight above the Sossusvlei. My first heli flight ever! The excitement is real. So are the views.
At night we gaze at the stars. With almost no light pollution, the night skies in Nambia are the darkest on Earth. Good to know as well: Camping out in Sesriem goes hand in hand with hungry wild animals looking for food. The howling jackals scare the bejesus out of me, but I’m equally excited to hear them again the following night. Perks of sleeping in the desert, I guess.
Swakopmund & Spitzkoppe
Next up is Swakopmund. This vibrant town is nested between the desert and the sea. It shows a totally different, more luxurious side to Namibia. The seaside promenades, fresh fish restaurants and colonial buildings attract many tourists and ginormous flocks of flamingoes. Spitzkoppe is about 2 hours away from Swakopmund. If you like dramatic landscapes, you’re in for a treat. The Spitzkoppe mountain range as often referred to as ‘The Matterhorn of Namibia’, exists of 120 million years old granite peaks. There are no tourists around, just us. What a powerful and liberating feeling that is!
Etosha National Park
We see many animals along the way, but the official game drive starts in Hobatere at the Etosha National Park. It’s my first safari experience and it won’t be my last. Seeing animals in the wild is an indescribable feeling. Picture zebra herds, steenboks, ostriches and giraffes all drinking from the same waterhole. It’s just like an image from a children’s book. The same day we witness a family of elephants bathing at sunset.
An other showstopper are the Twyfelfontein rock engravings. They are situated in Aba Huab and belong to the Unesco World Heritage. I find it interesting to learn about the ancient tribes and their advanced communication skills while visiting the open air museum. What a beautiful legacy.
Meeting the locals
One of our guides sets up a meetup with the ancient Himba tribe. It’s not a tourist trap, but the real deal. It becomes my favorite memory of Namibia. Talking to the Himba women in particular opens my eyes. The Himba thrive on human connection and live in harmony with nature. They live in the now, not worrying about later. The Himba women are always supportive of each other, even though they often share the same husbands. The red paste they put on their bodies smells divine and accentuates their beauty. I find it fascinating to participate in their beauty ritual.
Namibia is a country of many superlatives, also when it comes to contrast. I notice a lot of poverty but also a lot of joy and compassion. For many locals farming and tourism are the only source of income. Some will sell precious handcrafted (art) work or gemstones, others will sell wild animals. That’s unfortunately the brutal truth. However, the locals I meet are helpful, spontaneous and show genuine respect towards their country.
It’s the people we meet along the way who make your journey special… It’s our fantastic tour guide, Mr. T, sharing our lunch with the poor local farmer or that little boy at the gas station smiling from ear to ear after receiving a bag of crisps from us. Little acts of kindness like receiving skittles from a student at the airport ‘because you missed your flight’ or being gifted a bracelet from the Himba’s, these tiny moments mean so much.
Know before you go
It gets chilly at night in Namibia, so pack enough layers. Beanies, fleece and water bottles help! Also, bring lip balm, lots of it. Somehow my lips get extremely dry in the desert. If you want to keep your camera alive, you need to clean it. Fine sand can cost severe damage to your gear. Drones can be used in some parts of Nambia but definitely not in Etosha National Park, make sure you do some research before you fly one up. Last but not least: keep your shoes inside the tent. If you forget to bring them in, wild animals will most probably chew them up thinking they are food.