The best value safari in Africa? Undoubtedly Namibia! This extraordinarily beautiful country, with dramatic and colourful sand dunes, crystal-clear starry skies and great walking and balloon safaris, is now delivering amazing value for money. Here are some ideas for my favourite places to visit…
Due to the Namibian Dollar having parity with the South African Rand, Namibia now delivers amazing value for money and one is paying 50% less than a year ago.
Namibia is an extraordinarily beautiful country with breath-taking vistas at every turn. This is the perfect safari for somebody not wanting to spend huge amounts of time game viewing by vehicle, but rather, seeing it as it should be seen – on foot or by air. This gives one some perspective on this truly diverse country, the size of France, with its arresting scenery.
Damaraland / Kaokoland
Go in search of the desert dwelling black rhino, whose homeland is the Damaraland/Kaokoland region. Once you have glimpsed this magnificent beast, get out and stalk it on foot, getting as close as possible downwind.
This unique experience provides travellers with an opportunity to join trackers on foot while they patrol black rhinos in the desert. A portion of the tourism revenue goes back into Save the Rhino's operating costs, including fully supporting the tracking team based at a wonderful tented camp in this barren landscape. Look out for meerkats too!
NamibRand / Sossusvlei
Then, onto the Namib desert, where the NamibRand Nature Reserve and Sossusvlei Reserve are found. The scenery is ever changing with lots of mountainous outcrops which are just perfect for klipspringers. There is spectacular scenery in the Namib-Naukluft Park which is the largest conservation area in Africa.
The NamibRand covers 202,200 ha and there are some truly gorgeous lodges where the rooms are open sided, allowing the outside world in, including the aspiring sunrises and sunsets!
The best time to view the dunes is at sunrise with the colours being extremely strong and forever changing. The ultimate way to see the sand dunes is at sunrise by hot air balloon. This is the finest experience imaginable – the dunes turning from hues of orange, to pink, purple and blue.
The silence is deafening as one peers over the basket, watching oryx or springbok beneath. The dunes are reddish in colour due to the garnets in the sand. They all fall off at 35 degrees (the angle of the slopes).
Plants in the area include the !Nara plant with prickly branches and fruits which provide water for
animals and humans alike, and the Welwitschia mirabilis, a unique desert dwelling plant that comes into flower at the beginning of each rainy season.
Carbon dating tells us that on average, welwitschias are 500-600 years old, although some of the larger specimens are thought to be 2000 years old. Their estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years. Growth occurs annually during the summer months.
The Sesriem Canyon is so named because the Afrikaner trekkers had to use six (ses) ox-thongs (riemme) in order to lower their buckets into this narrow gorge incised into the Tsauchab River. A visit here is a must, as well as to the Naukluft Mountains where there are beautiful natural streams.
The bird life is superb and mammals include eland, oryx, blesbok and springbok. Perhaps split your time between the NamibRand concession and a private concession of 21,000 ha bordering the Namib Nauklift Park, allowing one to visit Sossusvlei.
Stay at a lodge that offers a rooftop ‘skybed’ – an absolute must, as the star studded sky in the Namib desert is unlike anywhere else I have seen in Africa, wonderful for stargazing enthusiasts!
Another region which should be included, is the Hoanib area where a magnificent lodge has been built. However, with 98% occupancy for a relatively new establishment, getting in is not so easy! This jewel is in the Palmwag concession in Kaokoland.
This offers travellers an excellent chance to see the desert dwelling elephant as well as the brown hyaena. There is fabulous walking here and one can also fly over the Skeleton Coast. They occasionally have researchers in camp that enhance one’s stay.
And then my personal favourite - the Skeleton Coast! This must be one of the world’s most inhospitable but beautiful places. It is absolutely wild, desolate and uninhabited.
The area has everything from roaring dunes, windswept plains, towering canyons and saltpans to seal colonies and shipwrecks. Over much of the past decade, access to this private, northern region of the park has been restricted.
Skeleton Coast Camp is located north of Mowe Bay, in one of the region’s dry riverbeds. There are 6 luxury meru tents with the main ‘mess’ tent in the front. All have great views and an area in the front of the tent where you can sit and read a book.
Little extras like hot water bottles in your beds at night are very welcome even in the height of summer, because fog rolls in most evenings from the sea and reduces the temperature. This fog usually disappears or burns off at around 10 in the morning.
The typical routine at Skeleton Coast is quite different from that of most other safari camps. There is an incredible amount to see and do, so breakfast is enjoyed in camp and you then head out into the park for a full day’s excursions returning to camp at sunset.
There are a few different ‘circuits’ which try and make the most of this amazing place. The Northern Circuit incorporates Stone Circle Village, Cape Frear (seals), desert plains, the coast with all its shipwrecks, Southern Right whale bones and graves.
The Eastern Circuit offers a traditional Himba village, Purros School, the canyon and some clay castles. The Southern Circuit has clay castles, shipwrecks, Hoarusib Canyon, Rocky Point (where you can fish) and springs. This is where you go down a ‘roaring’ dune. Spectacular!
While here I saw desert elephant, black backed jackal, masses of Cape fur seals, signs of a desert lion and mongoose families. In this area you find the Hoodia currorii, a purple flowering plant which is endangered and used as an appetite suppressant, and the incredible Welwitschia mirabilis.
An exciting development has been the return of the desert lions to the area. The pride returned about a year ago and are now establishing their territory in the Hourasib Canyon, not far from the Skeleton Coast Camp – near to the Clay Castles.
Because of the diversity offered at the Skeleton Coast Camp, safaris here are either 3 or 4 nights - nothing less would be enough!
And finally, Serra Cafema, located in my favourite area of Namibia. This is one of the most remote camps in southern Africa, located in the extreme north-west of the country on the banks of the Kunene River in the Hartmann's Valley. An intimate, peaceful camp, one can visit the Himba people, take a boat down the Kunene River, bird watch and walk.
For those that would like a mix of experiences, then why not try some private camping in the dramatic Damaraland/Kaokoland regions – renowned for their desert dwelling rhino and elephant.
My own suggestion would be to have a private guide accompany you throughout, which not only ensures that your safari goes smoothly from beginning to end, but moreover, that you have the finest guides with the very best information that really elevates your safari from good to outstanding!