Why Namibia? We haven’t really traveled extensively in Africa, so we are not giving seasoned advice here, but we were told Namibia is one of the safest countries in Africa. Namibia is also one of the least populated countries. Most of the scenic areas are completely devoid of people, which makes for wide open panoramas, empty roads, desolation, and few traces of human impact. There aren't as many animals as maybe Botswana or Tanzania, but you can still see loads of animals if thats what you’re after. Another great attribute is the infrastructure, the roads are well marked and with a decent 4by4 rental car you can cover the entire country reliably. Lastly, the NamibRand desert in Southern Namibia might be one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you like deserts, this is going to be heaven for you. To us the magic of Namibia wasn’t was it had, but what it didn’t have, and the calm sense of clarity that we obtained from our ten day journey
If you wanna make this happen, please check the weather first and just make sure you avoid the rains in the north, and the extreme heat in the south. We used EXPERT AFRICA to scan through various countries and check the climate for the dates we had in mind. The peak season is June July August, but this is only because most of the tourists from Europe come at that time, so perhaps avoid this time. Your best bet is to fly into Windhoek from either Cape Town or Johannesburg, and hire a 4by4 from there. We used ASCO CAR HIRE in Windhoek and we had a great experience with their top line camper truck for around $100 USD/day. Some people we know hired private planes to get them to the smaller towns around Namibia and this is a reasonable option as well if you’re short on time. Make sure you get a reliable 4by4 with an extra gas tank, and no driving at night, that seems to be the only rule. If you want, you can get a truck with a pop-up camper on the roof. These cars often come with full camping gear, mattresses, blankets, stoves, cooking supplies, etc. Just add water, fire up google maps and go out and explore. The traffic in Windhoek was minimal and once you’re about 20 minutes outside, the city, you’ve got open roads and badass warthogs patrolling the shoulder of the highway.
You will find lots of options in terms of nature reserves, luxury lodges, and safaris depending on your desires and budget. There are a number of great sites for browsing high end luxury safari camps. Have a look at &BEYOND, SANCTUARY RETREATS, and KIWI COLLECTION. Just keep in mind, the more organizational work they do for you, the more you’re going to spend. Be wary of companies who are going to book your entire trip and all your flights for you, they may set up a nice vacation, but you’re definitely going to pay gringo prices for that service. In Namibia, you can spend as little as $50 a night car camping at a game reserve, or go all the way up to $1000 per night for an all inclusive luxury lodge. The first lodge we hit after landing in Windhoek was the OKONJIMA BUSH CAMP which specialized in big cats such as cheetahs and leopards, in addition to the rest of the native animals in the area. The game drives were stimulating, not only seeing the animals in their natural habitat, but learning about their behaviors was really educational. At the end of the day, its a great feeling to head back to the lodge and trade stories with the other interesting people in the lodge over some beers. Dinner was usually by candlelight and the quiet of the night was pierced by lion roads and jackal calls. The other game reserve we hit was ERINDI OLD TRADERS LODGE, which was packed with a enormous variety of wild animals and really well trained guides. We saw all your typical “big five” animals and more in two days at a very relaxed comfortable pace and could have stayed for a few more days. Once we had seen a few lodges we wanted to visit all of them. The ones we missed which we will definitely catch next time are ONGUMA and MOWANI. We also neglected to check out the coastal town of SWAKOPMUND, which we cannot comment on, but its on the list for next time.
Heading south, we racked up ten hours in our Toyota Land Cruiser, going from the lush forested regions straight into the desert. This was a drive that we will never forget as long as we live. The vistas just kept getting more and more unreal, and eventually we were on mars. We made a brief pitstop at a gas station lost in time in a town called Solitaire for gas and their famous apple pie. This gas station appeared largely unchanged since the 70′s, and has almost a twilight zone feel about it. Was it real?
Next stop south was a basic government run hotel called SOSSUS DUNE LODGE. Not a fancy place, and since its government run the lodge sort of lacked the enthusiasm that many of our previous lodges had. This lodge however is the only lodge inside the park that contains Deadvlei, which is the scenic petrified desert forest that you simply have to visit. Staying here allows you to beat the throngs of tourist that descend on the dunes daily, and gives you about a 2 hour headstart in the morning, and allows you to stay until sunset. If you stay till sunset, you can be the only ones in the petrified forest. It’s a photographers wet dream, and even with an iphone3 with a cracked screen you can take mindblowing pictures that will make you seem like a pro. Get there as early as humanly possible, climb the dunes, and soak up the extreme beauty this place has to offer.
Continuing further south, about 90 minutes south of sossusvlei, we reached Wolwedans, the climax of our trip which absolutely lived up to the hype. Wolwedans is roughly 500,ooo acres in the NamibRand nature reserve, owned by a single family. The base lodge has maybe 12 rooms total, and all the rooms are made of wood, rope and tarp. There’s no A/C or even a fan, and at night you are supposed to raise the walls and let the desert breezes blow through your room. The sun rises in your face in the morning and your private nature safari guide takes you on a drive whenever you like.
The aesthetic at Wolwedans really spoke to us on a deep level. The place just oozed vibe, the entire lodge ran on solar, it was quiet, expansive, , and the minimalistic natural construction blended seamlessly with the powerful wide open views. The game drives featured long drives into the expansive reserve, all the while mesmerized by the perfect simplicity of it all.
As the sun rose on our last morning at Wolwedans, we started the 36 hour journey back to our respective civilizations, feeling small, insignificant, humbled by the majesty of this sacred place.