Deadvlei one of the top things to do in Namibia

Top Things To Do In Namibia

Namibia is not the first country that comes to mind when considering a trip to Africa, but there really are a lot of amazing and unique things to see and do here, making it very worthwhile.

You can climb some of the world’s tallest sand dunes, see one of the world’s largest canyons, learn about traditional tribal life, see ancient petroglyphs, visit a ghost town being reclaimed by the desert, take a safari to see Africa’s Big Five, and much, much more.

Namibia is really big, however. It’s twice the size of Germany and bigger than Texas, so depending on time, you need to decide what you want to see. I’ve listed the top sites below, along with some interesting stops from south to north to help you decide what’s right for you.

You also need to decide how to get around. Several companies offer overland tours, like Intrepid and G Adventures. I spent 13 days in Namibia with Intrepid as part of a 49 day tour, visiting 7 countries from Cape Town to Nairobi, Kenya. Although I’m not a tour kind of person, this was a great way to see this area, as it’s so vast. And I loved every minute.

Also, as Namibia is one of the safest countries in Africa, it’s relatively safe to self drive. You do, however, need to be comfortable with driving on the left. Self driving requires a 4 x 4 and the ability to change the tires yourself. See my Namibia Travel Guide to learn more about getting around.

Orange River, Namibia

Scenic Orange River, the longest river in Africa, acts as a natural border between South Africa and Namibia.

Orange River, one of the top things to do in Namibia
Orange River

It’s location, and beauty, make it a great place to stop if driving up from Cape Town (about 7 hours), heading towards Fish River Canyon.

There are rooms/campgrounds overlooking the river and areas for campfires to enjoy this relaxing area. Canoe rides on the river are a popular offering, which we did.

Orange River, one of the top things to do in Namibia
Orange River

We camped at Felix Unite Provenance Camp, about 8 miles (13 km) from the border. Cabanas are also available, as well as a swimming pool and restaurant.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Estimated to be 500 million years old, Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa.

Although there are debates as to which is the largest in the world, Fish River Canyon, at 100 miles (160 km) long, 16 miles (27 km) wide, and 1,800’ (550 m) deep, is consistency noted on lists of the biggest and best.

It’s not as big, or colorful, as the Grand Canyon (which surprisingly is also not the biggest), but equally impressive. And whereas the Grand Canyon gets 6 million visitors a year, Fish River Canyon gets less than 1% of that, making it more a intimate experience. Both are stunning.

My recommendation is to visit near sunset and walk along the rim. These photos are from near Hobas, the main entry gate.

Sun setting over Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Hells Bend at Fish River Canyon

You can also hike the canyon, although the top is so steep there’s a chain for assistance. The hike to the bottom (with return) is estimated to be about 10 hours. Or, there’s a 54 mile (88 km), 4-5 day hike that mostly follows Fish River. Hiking permits are required in advance.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia one of the top things to do
Fish River Canyon

How To Get To Fish River Canyon: Fish River Canyon is located here, near the southern end of Namibia. Hobas is the main entry gate.

Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia

Quiver Tree Forest is a couple hour drive from Fish River Canyon, making it an interesting place to stop along the way.

They’re known as quiver trees as the San Bushmen used the branches as quivers for their arrows. Technically, it’s not a tree, but a species of Aloe that grows up to 30’. The oldest can be up to 200 or 300 years old.

How To Get To Quiver Forest: Quiver Forest is 9 miles (15 km) from Keetmanshoop, there is a rest camp here to stay the night.

Kolmanskop Ghost Town

If you’re into photography, Kolmanskop ghost town is worth a stop. This town was quickly built in the early 20th century after diamonds were discovered here. It was just as quickly abandoned when those diamond mines were depleted.

Since then, the sand has slowly been reclaiming the town, making it very photogenic.

Kolmanskop | Damien du Toit

How To Get To Kolmanskop: Kolmanskop is 6 miles (10 km) inland from Lüderitz. Permits are required for entry and can be purchased at the gate.

Sossuvlei & Deadvlei

This sea of orange star dunes is the most popular attraction in Namibia. It’s in Namib-Naukluft National Park, which is the world’s 4th largest nature reserve (19,305 miles², or 50,000 km²), although much of it is inaccessible. For comparison, this is about the size of Croatia.

These dunes are formed from 5 million year old sand from the Kalahari. It accumulated around the mouth of the Orange River, then blew over from the ocean via strong winds, piling into dunes.

Since the wind blows in all directions, the dunes are formed like stars with ‘arms’, and are called star dunes. The multidirectional winds also means that they don’t move much. They look orange due to the iron content of the the sand, which oxidizes and gives them their warm, magnetic hue.

Dune 45

Dune 45, 262’ (80 m) is the most accessible and most photographed dune, as it’s positioned along the road. It’s called Dune 45 simply because it’s 45 km from the Sesriem Gate.

Dune 45 | Diego Delso

The best way to experience the dunes is to hike them. We arrived well before dawn and hiked up Dune 45 to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise at Dune 45 one of the top things to do in Namibia
Sunrise From Dune 45
Sunrise at Dune 45 one of the top things to do in Namibia
Sunrise From Dune 45

Almost as spectacular was the mostly full moon setting behind us (and the fact that our chef was making pancakes for us at the base of the dune).

Moon Setting Behind Dune 45

Something to know is that hiking sand dunes is very challenging as you sink into sand above your ankles and slide backwards with each step. Because of this, it’s best to hike before the heat of the day. Also, I suggest closed-toe shoes and plenty of water.

Big Daddy Dune

Big Daddy, 1,066’ (325 m) is another popular dune to hike here. This is the tallest dune in Sossuvlei. It overlooks Deadvlei from its peak.

Deadvlei

Deadvlei is a clay pan witching walking distance of Dune 45. It used to be an oasis with acacia trees, until climate change dried it up.

This surreal landscape is dotted with artfully twisted, 600 – 900 year old, long-dead, acacia trees. A fascinating place to explore and take photos.

Deadvlei one of the top things to do in Namibia
Ancient Acacia In Deadvlei

The trees are not petrified, but they also don’t decay due to the dry conditions. Many of the trees are black, scorched by the sun.

How To Get To Sossuvlei: The entrance to Sossuvlei National Park is in Sesriem. Once past the gate, there is a 60 km drive on decent roads to the parking lot.

A permit is required to enter the park. If you want to arrive before sunrise, buy your permit in advance. Kolmanskop to Sossuvlei is about 6.5 hours. Swakopmund is about 5. Sesriem is 37 miles (60 km) away, making it a convenient place to stay.

Solitaire

Solitaire, 51 miles (83 km) from Sesriem, is charming for a quick stop. There’s a bakery, a cafe, and the only petrol station between Sossusvlei and Swakopmund. It’s also full of picturesque, desert-worn relics…so get your camera ready.

Tropic of Capricorn

The Tropic of Capricorn is an imaginary line around the globe 23.5 degrees south of the equator. It’s the southern-most point where the sun is still directly overhead at noon on winter solstice.

It’s located along the way from Sossuvlei to Walkvis Bay. A place in the middle of nowhere to stop and take a photo.

Tropic of Capricorn in Namibia on elf the top things to do
My Overland Tour Group

Walvis Bay, Namibia

Stop by Walvis Bay, just before Swakopmund, to wander around Walvis Bay seafront and see the multitude of flamingos in the bay.

Swakopmund, Namibia

Swakopmund is a beach town on the western coast of Namibia. It’s a popular place to stay for a few days when touring, or use it as a base for day trips.

There are plenty of tourist activities, like sand boarding, quad riding, and horseback riding. You can also experience local culture with restaurants and nightlife, where we quickly learned what bad dancers we were!

Tours to Mondesa Township and the DRC are available. They provide insight to the lingering impact of apartheid in Namibia.

Mondesa Township

Mondesa was built during apartheid for 3 tribes; the Damara, Herero, and Owambo. Each tribe was segregated and provided different quality of housing, so they would fight amongst themselves, rather than government. Despicable, right?

Although apartheid ended in the 1990’s, a large percentage of Swakopmund’s population still lives here.

The Democratic Ressetlement Community (DRC)

Intended to be a temporary resettlement for people waiting for subsidized housing in 2001, this area has unfortunately continued to grow. The current population is about 20,000.

DRC Homes

Homes are creatively constructed from refuse scraps. There’s no running water and the toilets are chemical toilets, which require pumping out. The only electricity is from street lights, set up by the government.

Residents move here to live inexpensively and save for homes in Mondesa, or send money back home, but sadly, few leave.

Skeleton Coast Park

North of Swakopmund is the eerie Skelton Coast. Although the name stems from the numerous whale and seal bones here at the peak of the whaling industry, today it’s littered with shipwrecks from rough seas and heavy fog.

Shipwreck at Skeleton Coast Park one of the top things to do in Namibia
Zeila Shipwreck at Skeleton Coast

We stopped to see the Zeila shipwreck south of Henties Bay, not too far north of Swakopmund. This desolate coast, however, continues all the way to the northern tip of Namibia.

To learn more about the various shipwrecks, see this article on the click shipwrecks of skeleton coast.

Cape Cross, Namibia

This is a Fur Seal reserve on the Skeleton Coast about 75 miles (120 km) north of Swakopmund.

Although the guy below looks cute, there are literally 1000’s of fur seals here, and they’re cute little stinkers. Really! Bring a bandana, or something, to cover your nose.

Cape Fur Seal at a Cape Cross
Fur Seal at Cape Cross

This area was named Cape Cross after a stone cross was positioned here by 16th century Portuguese explorers. The cross here is a replica, as the original is in a museum.

Spitzkoppe, Namibia

Spitzkoppe, which means ‘pointed dome‘ in German, is a group of beautiful, bald granite peaks estimated to be more than 120 million years old. At one of Namibia’s highest peaks at 2,220’ (670 m) it’s also called the ‘Matterhorn of Africa’.

Spitzkoppe in Namibia, one of the top things to do
Top 17 Things To Do In Namibia

This area is perfect for landscape lovers to wander and explore the giant boulders, the natural rock bridge, see ancient San Bushman rock art, take one of several guided hikes, including the challenging scramble up the ‘Spitzkoppe Matterhorn’, and stargazing.

This is a lovely area to stay in. Both campsites and lodging are available. See Click Skitzkoppe.com for more details on activities and camping, or skitskoppenlodge.com, for lodging.

Spitzkoppe in Namibia, one of the top things to do
Natural Bridge at Spitzkoppe

Note that the rocks here absorb the heat of the sun during the day, so can be quite hot in summer. We camped here in September, when evenings are cool, and the rocks kept us warmer at night.

How To Get To Spitzkoppe: Spitzkoppe is located about 2 hours east of Cape Cross.

Twyfeltontein

This UNESCO World Heritage site is 3 hours north of Spitzkoppe and has the largest concentration of engravings and paintings in Africa. Over 5,000 images have been recorded.

Twyfeltontein | Mosmas

How To Get To Twyfeltontein: Twyfeltontein is located about 3 hours northeast of Spitzkoppe.

Damara Living Museum

The Damara Living Museum recreates the traditional life of the Damara people, a hunter-gatherer tribe of Namibia.

Although this is just a show for tourists, a quick stop here educates both tourists and future generations. It’s located about 6 miles (10 km) north of Twyfeltontein.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Etosha National Park is approximately 8,600 square miles, which means it’s bigger than Hawaii!

You can experience 4 of the Big Five here (elephant, leopard, lion, and rhinoceros). African buffalo is the only one missing. More than making up for this is the fact that Etosha has the most black rhino in the world, which is an endangered species.

You can self drive through the park, book a game drive, or take a tour. This massive park is a fenced-off area where you can see wildlife in their natural surroundings. Be aware that you must stay on the roads here, so sometimes the game is a distance away. This is unlike private game parks where jeeps drive right up to the animals. It’s just a different kind of beauty.

Waterhole at Etosha National Park

Waterholes

One way to see game here is to visit one of the waterholes. You can sit in your car, or safely behind a fence. The main waterholes are:

  • Okaukuejo – best for black rhino and elephant
  • Okondeka – best for lion sightings
  • Sueda and Salvadora – best for cheetah sightings
  • Halali and Goas – for elephant, black-faced impala, wildebeest, and zebra, as well as an occasional leopard.
Lion and Lioness in Etosha

We did several drives here and saw a lot of wildlife, including several herds of elephant, 9 or 10 black rhino, zebra, giraffe, impala, springbok, wildebeest, ostrich, dic-dic, and more. We also saw a leopard as well as a lion walking with a lioness. Amazing, but mostly at a distance.

When To Visit

May to October is the dry season, and best time to visit as the weather and game viewing is ideal. It’s also the busiest, so book in advance.

November to April is the rainy season, so the animals are less likely to come to the waterholes. Temperatures can also get quite hot.

Jo’/Hoansi – San Bushman Living Museum

This is a living museum of the San Bushmen, indigenous hunter-gathers in the Kalahari Desert.

Due to hunting laws, the San Bushman can no longer live their traditional lifestyle. Their descendants work here to showcase their traditional life for tourists, as well as future generations. Although an act, this is still an interesting and educational stop.

San Bushmen Living Museum one of the top things to do in Namibia
San Bushmen Living Museum

How To Get to Jo’/Hoansi Living Museum: The museum is located between Grootfontein and Tsumkwe.

Caprivi

In contrast to the desert landscape of much of Namibia, the Caprivi Strip in northeastern Namibia gets a lot of rain, making it lush and green. This panhandle in the only place in the world where 4 countries meet; Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

This area is rich with wildlife, including hippos, elephants, and more. As it’s just across the border from the Okavango Delta, many say it’s a budget version of it.

We spent a night here on a deck on the southwestern side of the Okavango River. It was a perfect place to watch the sunset, try some Amarula (a South African liquor), and watch for hippos cresting the river before we headed to Botswana for a river safari,

Sunset Okavango River on Caprivi Strip

Finally, for more information on Namibia, including how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more, see my Namibia Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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