Ancient deserts, tropical forests, and some of the best game viewing in Africa: it’s little wonder that Namibia, in the southwestern part of the continent, is becoming known as a top tourist destination. The country’s topographical beauty and commitment to wildlife preservation (environmental protection is mandated in its constitution) are immediately evident, no matter whether you travel to the red sand dunes of the Namib Desert or the fertile, densely wooded northern regions. Also, since Namibia gained its independence 20 years ago, it’s been politically stable, so it is one of the safest places to visit in Africa today. Game parks, river cruises, shopping, and some of the best eating on the continent await you as you make your way to Namibia.
1. Etosha National Park: One of the best game reserves in Africa, Etosha, in northern Namibia, is home to all kinds of wildlife, from some of Africa’s largest elephants to rare black-faced impalas. Sightings of leopards and lions are almost guaranteed.
2. Swakopmund: Both a picturesque, seaside town with German, colonial-era architecture and a top destination for thrill seekers (skydiving, paragliding, and more), this large region along the northwestern coast is definitely worth checking out.
3. Namib-Naukluft Park: Composed of one of the world’s oldest deserts and an isolated mountain range, this 50,000-square-kilometer park along the southwestern coast offers infinite possibilities for exploring. Don’t miss Sossusvlei, the dramatic, brightly colored red sand dunes, which are especially majestic at sunrise and sunset.
4. Crafts Shopping: In the northern areas of Omuthiya and Onenongo, shop for traditional palm leaf baskets, earthenware bowls, and other handmade goods at the small craft initiatives popping up all over the region. Many were started by NGOs in an effort to generate income for local women while preserving traditional skills.
5. Khaudum Game Park: In northeastern Namibia, near the Botswana border, this remote, densely forested park shows another side of the country’s varied landscape. Giraffes, rare wild dogs, and hundreds of birds are among the wildlife.
6. Local Cuisine: Feast your way through Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, sampling everything from traditional West African dishes to German-inspired fare.
7. Sandboarding: You shouldn’t leave Namibia without sandboarding; the Namib Desert, along the western coast, boasts some of the largest sand dunes in the world. Try it standing up or lying down, but don’t do it alone. Sandboarders can reach speeds of 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) per hour, so it’s essential to arrange an expedition with a professional sandboarding company.
8. Fish River Canyon: Often compared to the Grand Canyon, this massive landform in southern Namibia is split by the country’s longest river and is home to mountain zebras, baboons, and more. There are few visitors, and it is an excellent place for camping and hiking.
9. University of Namibia Choir: Singing in both English and indigenous languages, choir members belt out lively melodies and use call and response in their moving performances. The university is located in Windhoek.
10. River Cruise: Glide down the Zambezi River, along Namibia’s northernmost coast, on a houseboat. Be on the lookout for hippos and crocodiles.
The ideal time to visit Namibia is from June to November, when interior temperatures range from 65 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 to 25 degrees Celcius) and you’re more likely to see plenty of game animals. Namibia’s rainy season lasts from October to April; during that time, average interior temperatures span 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 32 degrees Celcius.) (In certain parts of the country, temperatures spike to more than 100 degrees (37.8 degrees Celcius) during this season.) If you’re traveling at the end of the rainy season, or you plan to camp outdoors, it’s advisable to bring a mosquito net and insect repellant with you. Malaria is not prevalent in this area, but having these on hand will make life a little easier.
Visas: A passport with at least two unstamped pages and a visa are required to enter Namibia. Travelers with U.S. passports who plan to visit the country for fewer than 90 days can obtain visas at the airport. Tourists traveling to or from Namibia via South Africa are encouraged to have five or more unstamped pages in their passport.
Transportation: In/Out and Within Namibia: Namibia’s national airline, Air Namibia, offers flights from New York City and Europe as well as flights within the country. British Airways, South African Airways, and LTU also fly to the Namibia. In Windhoek, you’ll find a local bus service, a fleet of taxis, and a luxury bus line that connects to many of the country's regions as well as to South Africa. Rental cars are available at the airport (WDH) as well as in Windhoek’s city center. An international driving permit is required for renting a car.
Mobile Phones: You can use a GSM mobile phone, if you have one, in Namibia. Most international phone companies provide roaming coverage to the country’s urban areas.
Travelers looking to cross into Angola from Namibia should do so only at official border crossings. Crime directed at foreigners is unusual in Namibia, but travelers should still remain aware of their surroundings at all times. Look for taxis that display the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (NABTA) logo.
The U.S. Department of State’s consular website has a great deal of information about safety and security in Namibia. It can’t be repeated often enough: be sensible when you travel. Be alert and aware of your surroundings.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Namibia or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
The San (Bushmen) are thought to be Namibia’s earliest inhabitants. By the 14th century, the Nama, Damara, and Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero peoples had also settled in the area. Starting in the early 1800s, white farmers, mostly Boers, began jostling for land and power too.
Around the same time, a succession of travelers, traders, hunters, and missionaries began trickling into Namibia, and soon Britain and Germany seized different parts of the country. By 1900, Germany had consolidated its power over Namibia and began snatching up its most fertile land. That action led to a rebellion by the Nama and Herero people, who put aside past differences and joined together to drive out the Germans. The Germans squelched the rebellion after a brief battle and went on to destroy about 75 percent of the Herero population.
As a result of World War I, Germany lost control of Namibia (then called West South Africa), and, through a United Nations mandate, the country became a South African territory. South Africa quickly imposed its power on Namibia and further stripped native peoples of their land and rights, creating an apartheid state. During the 1960s, as European powers granted independence to their colonies, international pressure built for South Africa to do the same. In 1966 the UN revoked South Africa’s mandate.
Meanwhile, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) began its armed struggle to liberate Namibia, partly through bases abroad. In 1978, UN Resolution 435, a proposal worked out by the United States, a number of European and African nations, including South Africa, and members of SWAPO, called for South Africa’s withdrawal from Namibia. Despite its having agreed to the proposal, South Africa refused to budge, and implementation of Resolution 435 didn’t actually begin until 1989. Over the next several months, political prisoners were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was repealed, and South Africa withdrew from Namibia. On March 21, 1990, Namibia officially achieved its independence.
1. Located in southwestern Africa, Namibia is a large country the size of Texas and Louisiana combined. It shares borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east, and South Africa to the southeast and is divided into 13 regions: Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Okavango, Caprivi, Kunene, Otjozondjupa, Erongo, Khomas, Omaheko, Hardap, and Karas.
2. Namibian dollars (NAD) are the local currency, but South African rands are also used within the country. (Namibian dollars may not be used in South Africa, however.) One American dollar is equal to approximately seven NAD.
3. Freedom of the press is not an issue here; in fact, Namibia is one of the more press-friendly countries in Africa. The major newspapers are the Namibian, a private, English and Oshiwambo-language daily; Namibia Economist, a daily; Die Republikein, an Afrikaans daily; New Era, a government-owned daily; Windhoek Observer, a private weekly; and Allgemeine Zeitung, a German-language daily.
4. The official language in Namibia is English. Afrikaans, German, Oshivambo, Herero, Nama, and other indigenous languages are also spoken throughout the country.
5. Smoking in public places has recently been banned in Namibia.