Do a boat tour on Kwando River
One of the highlights of our stay in Namibia was a boat tour on Kwando River. It was organised by our lodge, Camp Kwando, and done by a very well-informed guide from South Africa. We started in the late afternoon at about 4pm and leisurely drove up Kwando River. The river is the border between Namibia and Botswana so that we were pretty much between two countries. While they looked alike, there is at least one really big difference: authorities in Botswana's national parks abide by a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy. If you happen to end up in a national park without a permission and you are caught, they will immediately consider you a hunter or poacher and shoot at you without warning. So our guide told us which side to swim to in case of a capsize... As the Caprivi Strip is rich in water, wildlife abounds - in particular birds. We saw lots of different kinds, from bee eaters and kingfishers to fish eagles and grey go-away birds. The latter is aptly named: it's cry sounds like "g' way!" in a very annoyed voice. Hippos were present as well. In order not to provoke them we raced past only to watch them from the other side. Our cruise ended when the sun set and coloured everything in gold.Related to:
- National/State Park
Village tours in northern Namibia
N'Kwazi Lodge is not only a great accommodation, but also offers guided tours through the local villages. These two-hour walks are a great way to get to know rural life in Namibia and they also support the community - all money earned goes directly to those people who open their kraal for visitors.
Our guide was Marcus, a man who grew up in the village himself, but went into local politics and is now a kind of link between the government and the people from his area. He is involved in all kinds of community projects and seemed to know pretty much everyone in the village. Walking through the village with him made us feel better - after all a tour like that could also be interpreted as a huge invasion of privacy.
Anyway, we started our tour at a small lake which hugely expands in size during the rainy season and covers the whole area. A couple of boys were having a swimming race there, and we were surprised how fast they could swim at an age of maybe 6 or 7 years. They swam over to us and were thrilled that some of our group had sweets for them. While this makes the children happy, it is generally not advised to give them sweets - there is no dentist anywhere and dental hygiene isn't exactly top-notch either.
When the boys had jumped back into the lake, we continued to the village's vegetable field. At a size of about 100x100m, the field was situated on a small hill so as not to be flooded in the rainy season. The locals grow different kinds of cabbage there. While we were there, quite a few women and girls came to the field with buckets filled with water being carried on their heads. What looks almost gracile is in fact hard work: a full bucket weighs about 20kg!
Marcus led us further to the village shebeen. A shebeen is a bar run by the locals and often also serves as a mini-market. Despite a sign forbidding the sale of alcohol to minors, the bar was just staffed by a 17-year old girl who had her 2-year old son with her. Marcus explained that the early pregnancy had pretty much ruined her life since she, as a single mom, couldn't continue her education and would probably have a second child in the foreseeable future. Teenage pregnancies are a big problem in the area.
After our bar visit we went to some kraals and learned about the way the locals live. Clay and reed huts were standard. They are small and dark, but this doesn't really matter: the locals spend the day outside anyway, and the lack of light also means that the sun doesn't heat the huts up too strongly. Around the huts, people were cooking food or baking bread or repairing stuff for future usage. Two girls aged 9 and 11 showed us how to pound sorghum - again, it looked easy but was terribly hard, in particular for small children. We met lots of other children as well, some of them proudly displaying their toy trucks made from wire and colourful plastic parts as wheels, others preparing for a bath in the lake, still others drumming on empty buckets and cans.
Towards the end of our tour, we also met some teenagers coming back from school. They were of Angolan origin - Angola being just across the river Okavango - and their families had fled from the war which raged in the country between 1975 and 2002. It was interesting to see that Portuguese, the national language of Angola, was also spoken in this part of Namibia. According to Marcus, those of Angolan origin were much poorer than the "real" Namibians which we could observe when some Angolans showed us that they had bought used vegetable oil for cooking - they couldn't afford the fresh oil. Our tour ended with the sun setting over the Okavango.Add to your Trip Planner
The Petrified Forest(s)
Nothing new to those who have been to Chemnitz, Germany, but for all the others a site not to be missed: the Petrified Forest near Khorixas. Scattered among the rocks and stones of the desert are some rocks that look like trees - and, in fact, were trees 300 million years ago! But Araucaria araucana, the tree in question, didn't grow here, but some thousand kilometres further north in central Africa. A massive flood swept the trees down south until they ended up some 40km west of Khorixas, were covered with sand and earth and thereby deprived of air so that they couldn't rot. Instead, over the course of some million years they turned to stone. What is fascinating, is that they have kept the look and structure of wood, in some cases even the colour. You can actually count the age rings on them! Two trunks, one of them more than 20m in length, are very well preserved, but there are also lots of smaller pieces of petrified wood. The site can only be visited with a guide. There is a souvenir shop attached to the site, which sells some very nice crafts.
In case you were wondering why I named this tip "The Petrified Forest(s)": if you continue west on the road from Khorixas you will come across at least three other petrified forests. These are no official protected sites, but are located on private land. We didn't stop at any of them, but according to our guidebook they are worth a stop as well - and not very different from the "real" one.Add to your Trip Planner
Located in the barely developed region Kunene and thereby very difficult to get to, UNESCO World Heritage site Twyfelfontein was one of the unexpected highlights of our Namibia stay. The area is incredibly dry and barren, but full of interestingly-shaped mountains (or rather gigantic piles of rocks). We drove through it on some of the words roads one can imagine and eventually reached Twyfelfontein in the midday heat. A guide took us on a tour of about 45 minutes, and we schlepped along the rocky paths, more or less only yearning for some shadow.
But what a surprise: suddenly we came across the rock engravings for which Twyfelfontein is famous. Our guide mentioned in passing that they are 6,000 years (!) old - and now she had our attention! Twyfelfontein's rock engravings, created by the bushpeople over the course of centuries, show mostly hunting scenes and animals. It is assumed that the bushpeople used these engravings to indicate to others where there are good hunting grounds, to teach their children about the different types of animals, but also for spiritual reasons.
One animal is particularly striking - a giraffe. According to our guide, the giraffe was the holy animal of the bushpeople as it always knew where water can be found. It was said to be in direct contact with the gods as its head was high enough to have a good rapport with them. On the picture you can also see a lion with hands instead of paws - another indication of the mythical character of that animal. It is also surprising that seals are depicted, which can be found at Cape Cross some 200km away, but not here, in the middle of the desert. Even more astonishing is the engraving of penguins which are found some 600km further south, near Lüderitz!
Twyfelfontein's rock engravings can only be visited with a guide in order to prevent vandalism. The entrance fee is about 50N$, with children paying only half of it. As mentioned above, we visited in broad daylight. However, the best light conditions for photographs can be had in the late afternoon.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Stinking, loud, cold - but definitely worth a stop
Cape Cross is a cape about 100km north of Swakopmund. Named after the cross that Diego Cão, the first European to set foot on land this far south on the west-African coast, placed here in 1486, Cape Cross is now more famous for its seal colony. Up to 250,000 seals (!) of the species Arctocephalus pusillus live here during the peak season (October / November) when they give birth. Outside the main season, there are still several 10,000 seals, so it's possible to go there at any time of the year to watch seals. Ideally, you bring a clothes peg to close your nose - the smell of thousands of seals is disgusting and so overpowering that one would want to race away again immediately. Furthermore, the seals may look cute when bobbing about in the sea, but at Cape Cross you can get very close to them and will see them in all their ugliness. Their teeth are black and rotten, their bodies show wounds from fighting with each other or with hyenas and jackals, they neither care if they wobble over another seal, nor if they start peeing when doing that. Seals are very loud animals, too. The air at Cape Cross is filled with the constant moaning, screeching, snarling and whimpering of seals. Some may sound like sheep, others like animals in their death struggle. Add to that the constant wind and the comparably icy temperatures, and you might wonder why anybody at all wishes to see Cape Cross. Well, it's fascinating. Disgusting, but definitely fascinating to see thousands of seals just a couple of metres away from you. A wooden U-shaped pathway leads through the seals, and as it allows them to crawl underneath it, you can get close-up photos of seals which you would never have believed possible. Whatever they do, they are as close to you as hardly anywhere else. And in the course of time, you'll even get used to the smell...Related to:
- National/State Park
Sossuvlei & Deadvlei
The Sossuvlei/Deadvlei area is one of the few accessible parts of the Namib Naukluft National Park. It is a great place to experience the Namib desert and to hike on dunes. After entering the park and getting your tickets at the visitors centre, you can drive on a well-maintained tar road with a normal car to the 2WD parking lot, from where a shuttle takes you to the trailheads of Sossuvlei and Deadvlei for a small fee.
The hiking on the dunes is spectacular. I especially recommend to hike up the "Big Daddy"-dune in the Deadvlei area (the highest dune of the area) and the "Big Mama"-dune in the Sossuvlei area. The view over the Deadvlei and Hiddenvlei from "Big Daddy" is fantastic. And to race downhill once you finished your hike is just hilarious. In the Sossuvlei and Deadvlei pans, the white saltpan and the bizarre petrified dead trees make a a great contrast to the red-brown dunes.
Along the tar road, the so-called "dune 45" (sign-posted) is also a very worthwhile destination for a hike or a photostop. If you are short on time I would only hike the Big Daddy-dune though.
A few tips on hiking here:
1. I recommend removing your shoes and hiking in your socks. The shoes will fill up with sand anyway, even if you`re wearing boots.
2. bring plenty of water and salty snacks
3. navigation is easy; you should always be able to see the dirt road and the parking lot from the ridge
4. it can be quite cold and windy in the desert up to midday. Dress in layers (like t-shirt + light hoodie)
5. start early - it is less exhausting to hike in the cool morning. Hike your favourite dune first - the hike might sap your energy so you won`t finish another one on the same day.
The Sossuvlei area was also good for wildlife watching. We saw springbock, ostriches, oryx, jackals and a snake eagle here.Add to your Trip Planner
Zebra River Canyon
If you are staying at the Zebra River Lodge (see seperate accomodation tip) - which is a great place to unwind and located halfway between Sossuvlei and Namib Naukluft Mountain Park - a hiking path of ca. 5 hours walking time and moderate difficulty starts right behind the property. Along the way, you have great vistas of the Zebra River Canyon and its rugged, inhospitable landscape.Add to your Trip Planner
Little-Five & Desert Tours from Swakopmund
Many Swakopmund tour operators offer "Little Five Desert Tours", as the Namib desert starts right a Swakopmunds doorstep. Basically it works like this: The aim is to see as many different small desert species as possible. You join a tour, the guide takes you into the desert with a 4WD car and looks for signs and prints. Once he discovers an animal, he points it out to you and explains the lifestyle and habits of the animal. We were very lucky in having a small group and a very competent guide from close-up-Desert Tours: he was able to show us White Lady Spiders, Palmato Geckos, Desert Lizards, Chamaleons, a Horned Viper and even a Sidewinder Snake.
I recommend to look out for tour operators with small group sizes; if the group is to big it spoils the fun and you won`t see much of the animals. I am not sure if other operators outside Swakopmund offer Little Five Tours, but possibly in Sossuvlei.Add to your Trip Planner
The Neuras Vinery - located on D850 road between Büllsport and Mariental - is one of the few Namibian vine-producing estates, with an output of 3000 bottles a year (soon to be increased up to 15.000 bottles). Their brands - right now a Shiraz and a blended Red Wine - are not widely available, so your best bet would be to buy directly at the vinery if you are in the vicinity (the Shiraz was my personal favourite). Vine tastings can be arranged, and Neuras also offers lodge accomodation.Add to your Trip Planner
Cheetah Conservation Centre
One of the major attractions of the Waterberg area, the Cheetah Conservation Centre is dedicated to care for hurt or orphaned cheetah cats and also develops strategies to avoid conflicts between cattle farmers and cheetahs (most cheetahs in Namibia live on farmland). The daily activities offered usually include a jeep ride into the spacious cheetah enclosures where you can watch them from a short distance and the safety of a car. If you are an early riser, you could visit the feeding demonstration and watch cheetahs run; sometimes Game Drives are on offer (pre-booking necessary).Add to your Trip Planner
The Waterberg Plateau Park is a great place for hiking. The best trail leads up to the ridge, with astonishing views on the surrounding country. This hike is easy, with some scrambling at the very end. If you have only time for one hike, I recommend you do this trail. The other (often intersecting) hikes are for the most part short and can easily be combined. The Aloe trail has interesting plants, good views on the Waterberg Mountains and if you are lucky, you can spot a Duiker Antelope or a Warthog (as we did).Add to your Trip Planner
Namib Naukluft Park: Olive Trail
The Namib Naukluft park consists of the area between Swakopmund and Kuiseb - the desert part - and a mountain part (Naukluft area) - the entrance to the latter is on the minor road D854. The Naukluft area has multi-day-hikes (permit necessary) and also dayhikes, among them the Waterkloof Trail (about 7 hours) and the Olive trail - about 5 hours hiking time. We did the Olive trail as we arrived at the park at 10 a.m. and had no time for the longer dayhike. You drive to the gate and then further on to the rangers office where you pay your entrance fee and register. Please remember to check in and out at the office, otherwise they might search for you on the trail.
The Olive Trail itself has medium difficulty - you should be fit, and be prepared to scramble often. The path is marked with a yellow hand and stone men. The path starts with a moderate ascent to a ridge, followed by an ascent into a canyon. After two thirds of the trail comes a rather difficult part secured by an iron chain where you have to climb above a waterpool (there is no way around). This requires some agility as there are only few footholds here.Add to your Trip Planner
If you are driving from Swakopmund or Walvis Bai to Southern Namibia, you can`t really avoid to stop in Solitaire. It is ca. 260 miles southeast of Swakopmund on gravel road C14 in the middle of now and where. Solitaire is basically a petrol station with a few rusty oldtimers buried in the sand, a bakery with unmissable Apple Crumble Cakes, a shop, and plenty of ground squirrels.
Surely worth a stop and surprisingly well-visited despite its remote location.Add to your Trip Planner
Cape Cross Seal Reserve
If you follow the C34 road towards Henties Bay and then Cape Cross for ca. 1 1/2 hour, you will come to the Cape Cross Seal Reserve which is worth the effort. Thousands of seals congregate here near the fish-rich waters of the Benguela stream. They are extremely loud and smelly, but a sight to behold. You can watch the seals from a boardwalk.
Near the parking lot, a replica of the Southern Cross which Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao placed here in 1486. The original cross was transferred to Germany in 1884 and replaced by this replica cross.Add to your Trip Planner
Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and where most tours will start. That said, Windhoek is not a spectacular destination, but a good place to get accustomed to traveling in Namibia.
A possible Windhoek itinerary would start at Independence Avenue, where most of the shops and a few malls are located. Go past the clock tower and turn left at the Zoo Park into Fidel Castro Avenue, which will lead you to the Christuskirche church. Visit the gardens of the Tintenpalast - nice views from here - and continue past the Independence Museum to the historic German fortress.The monument of a German cavalry soldier which stood here since 1912 has been moved inside the fortress recently; it has been replaced by a statue of two Namibians breaking their chains.
A great place to eat is Joe`s Beerhouse - 160 Nelson Mandela Avenue.Add to your Trip Planner
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