Namibia is quick to unveil its inimitability, the capital city of Windhoek running at a wonderfully leisurely pace. Nothing in Namibia is hurried or impersonal. This is a land where there’s always time to say hello and start a conversation with strangers. At Windhoek International Airport you’ll be met by a representative and taken to your vehicle. This itinerary includes two options to explore Northern Namibia. Choose to self-drive or be driven by an experienced local driver. The excellent quality of Namibian roads comes as a surprise to most and there is virtually no other traffic on the road. However, road signs warning of crossing elephants indicate the sort of adventure you’re going to have. There will be some short sections on unsealed roads as well as a full day of rugged trails when you drive through Etosha. Namibians drive on the left and a choice of geared and automatic vehicles are available for self-driving. Or sit back and let someone else do the driving, leaving you free to ogle at the scenery.
After getting comfortable in the vehicle you head into Windhoek and rest up in the sumptuous Olive Exclusive, an idyllic boutique lodge that exudes tranquility.
Day 2 - 3
Propelling you straight into the wilderness are the otherworldly landscapes of Damaraland, less than three hours north of Windhoek. These inexhaustible expanses of glimmering mountains provide two thrilling days of quintessential Namibia. Guided walks meander through outlandish rock formations, the weathered sandstone sculpted into peculiar shapes that litter the horizon. Sharing the trails are the odd antelope herd, a melancholy desert elephant searching for water, and the telltale towers of migrating giraffe. Nestled into this unfathomable environment is the Ugab Terrace Lodge, another charming accommodation full of coziness and serenity.
Over these two days you choose the adventure, exploring Damaraland through a range of activities. Guided walks are tailored to your interests and fitness levels, the landscape holding hundreds of evocative possibilities. Mountain bike trails take you into valleys that rarely see human footprints. Choose to simply sit back on your balcony and admire the fluttering colors of Damaraland’s vibrant bird collection. Or get in the car and tour the wilderness in search of elephants, giraffe, and an assortment of those who travel on four legs.
Day 4 - 5
The Western world has a tendency to visualize tribal Africa into one all-encompassing stereotype. Yet simplistic preconceptions can’t come close to portraying a continent with some 2000 different languages and almost as many ethnic groups. This itinerary offers a genuine opportunity to interact and experience two very different tribal groups. In recent centuries, tribal culture has been heavily diluted and lost in many parts of the continent. However, the Himba and San Bushmen of Northern Namibia continue a lifestyle that is relatively unchanged from their ancestors, and they’ve inhabited the land for many millennia.
Drive further north into Damaraland and spend your first afternoon with the Himba people, semi-nomadic herders that greet you with an enthusiastic display of color. Earth-toned red paint covers many bodies, a natural mixture of butterfat and ochre with a multitude of purposed including sunscreen, skin cleanser, and mosquito repellent. Intriguing hair styles are the norm, deep red braids flowing down past traditional headdresses. This first meeting is relaxed and informal, allowing you to gently soak up a culture that couldn’t be further away from your own. It often takes a couple of hours to get used to how the Himba dress and interact.
The desolateness of the landscape has played a huge role in the Himba maintaining their traditional lifestyle. This arid and scorched wilderness has enabled isolation from outside influences. On day five the experience is much more in-depth, offering an indelible immersion into their lifestyle and traditions. A local interpreter helps provide answers to all your questions, although it’s not often required as the Himba are well versed to communicating through gestures and expressions. Unless you own cattle, you’ll be considered poor by Himba standards, the local signifier of wealth indicative of their subsistence lifestyle. This is a non-intrusive experience so don’t expect every member of the tribe to stop their chores and smile for the camera. Relax and enjoy the low-key opportunity, taking time to say hello and learn about each aspect of their lifestyle.
Day 6 - 7
By now you’ll understand why Namibia remains so untamed. The land is dusty and dry, the evident lack of water dictating the lifestyle of Himba tribes and local wildlife. The scenic journeys hold a strange captivation; each moment offers a new panorama of scale and beauty, yet you struggle to describe why or how it’s different from the last. The aridity has also helped preserve Etosha as one of Africa’s most seductive national parks. Enter through the Anderson Gate and begin your safari adventure, weaving into the mopane woodland and shrieking with excitement as an elephant herd stands on the trail. They’ve torn down a huge swathe of trees and they’re not stopping the destruction, macho males bumping bums against trunks, and endearing babies swinging their trunks at branches. Note that you can choose between self-driving or being driven through Etosha by an experienced local guide.
Emerge from the forest and the Etosha salt pans crackle beneath your eyes. A mirage of blurred white dominates the horizon, disguising the footprints that wander in the distance. For a couple of months this pan is flooded, and the Etosha residents enjoy their annual feast. Then it shrivels and bakes, forcing the wildlife to drink from a collection of waterholes. So there are no prizes for guessing where you’ll find the iconic safari scenes. Tour the waterholes, admiring the elegant antelopes as they bashfully drink. Hartebeest impress with their subtle colors, black-faced impala provide charm, while springbok and kudu skip away to find grazing land.
It’s all so, well, picturesque. Yet a predatory presence always lurks nearby, lucid leopard eyes and lazy lion tails also inspecting the thirsty antelopes. A hyena scuttles past, bringing brief alarm in the sentry but failing to scatter the herds. Crisis averted? Not likely. Keep watching the waterhole and a dramatic interaction between carnivore and herbivore plays out, the voracious cats also benefiting from the lack of water in Etosha. It’s easy to spend hours admiring one water hole and that’s very much a part of the safari experience here. It’s not just a case of getting personal with the great African mammals; you’re continually watching the unique interactions. And it doesn’t stop when you’re back at the lodge. Suggestive silhouettes mark the horizon, lion roars interrupt your dinner beneath the stars, and there’s never a dull moment when you’re submerged in the wilds of Etosha.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
After two days of safari you’ll have a lifetime of memories, the delights of Namibian wildlife all playing for your camera. Perhaps you can’t stop thinking about the sleepy lion pride you photographed from unforgettable proximity. Or the cheetah that accelerated with effortless grace. Yet you’re still just grasping the scale of Etosha. Its dwarfs some U.S states and it would take half a lifetime to see it all. Today’s cross-park drive helps brings some semblance of Etosha’s true size, taking you from the western edge and the Dolomite Camp to Halali in the heart of the park, and then onwards to the isolated eastern ranges. It’s the ultimate in scenic drives, so go slow and stop whenever and wherever you like.
Watch as a critically endangered Black rhino decides to inhabit the trail with her small calf, or when a gang of spotted hyena follow the vultures’ circling and scavenge a meal in the bush. Take a picnic and spend two lazy hours at a waterhole, indulging in the delights that have arrived for a drink. If you're self-driving, the park gates are well signposted, so it’s easy to follow lions down a random trail and then find your way again. Nestled in the far east of the park, Mushara Outpost offers an idyllic final night of big game revelry, the intimate tented suites often engulfed by a gaggle of four legged locals.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 9 - 10
Black rhinos, lions, leopards, elephant herds; yesterday certainly wasn’t a time to get out of your vehicle and explore on foot. Yet the San Bushmen have been doing exactly that for some 40,000 years. Local knowledge is their secret, this hunter gathering tribe revealing an intimate understanding of wildlife behavior. Once again you have two days with a local tribe, with the first afternoon all about meeting and greeting. Admire the local dress and marvel at the difference in appearance between the Bushmen and the Himba. Take time to ask questions and engage with their culture, and don’t be surprised in their intrigue at your way of life.
From Etosha you drive through Tsumeb to Grootfontein, a remote outpost that thrives with birdsong and ungulate herds. After an afternoon in the Bushmen village, you spend day 10 in the bush, learning first hand about their traditions. Walk into the landscape, local gesticulations helping impart knowledge about medicinal plants and bush survival. Tracking clues are everywhere, although they quickly escape the untrained eye. Claw marks can be instantaneously dated, upturned stones are as telltale as footprints, and the slightest of indentations suggests the path an antelope recently took. While you won’t go on a hunt with the San bushmen (unfortunately, an amateur’s presence will inhibit the tribal hunters), you will spend time practicing their ancient traditions. Learn how to make arrows, try your hand at Bushmen archery, and start to recognize how to follow a trail of infinitesimal clues.
It’s not just the men that provide the captivating experiences; your time in the village also involves a genuine interaction with the women. Participate in a bush-style cooking class, all the wilds from the land cultivated into tasty snacks. Discover the meanings behind their jewelry and accessories, and use your expert guide to translate and enhance the experience. This is a version of Africa that many people dream of experiencing, yet almost nobody can accurately preconceive. You’re left with profound impressions, ones that help to dispel stereotypes and deconstruct previous notions of tribal life. In many ways the San Bushmen symbolize the beauty of Northern Namibia; genuine, untouched, and bursting with nuances.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
From Grootfontein you could drive back to Windhoek in a day, but as you know by now, nothing in Namibia should be rushed. Certainly not when the landscapes look like a dreamy art gallery of competing colors and rugged rock formations. Ascend into the Central Highlands and feast your eyes on some cinematic vistas, the inspiring landscapes rolling on and on. There are endless opportunities for hiking around here, yet it’s also easy to spend hour after hour watching the birds and admiring the view from your balcony.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
You’re just 90 minutes drive from Windhoek and the airport, so savor the last views and slowly return to the capital for your departure flight. What lingers most resonantly in the memory? Iconic encounters with the Himba? Sharing trails with elephants? An enchanting San Bushmen? Is it the tribes or the wilderness that most captured your heart? A running thread to each unique experience is Northern Namibia’s effortless ease and tranquility. For all the adventure, this is an extremely relaxed vacation. Furthermore, each experience is a natural part of the environment, so there’s never a moment when Northern Namibia’s beguiling spell loses its foothold.
Northern Namibia is wild and rugged, as far off the beaten track as you could ever possibly hope to be. It’s a place where Black rhinos roam without boundaries, indigenous tribes pass down many millennia of ancestral knowledge, and an ancient continent is revealed in its entire vibrant splendor. This itinerary goes far beyond the clichés and stereotypes of untamed Africa, serving up a platter of unique experiences that compel and confound. Track wild game with barefoot San Bushmen, learn how to survive in the bush with the Himba people, and take game drives through some of Africa’s most astonishing big game landscapes. It’s all done without being intrusive or parading the residents as photo opportunities. These 12 days in Northern Namibia could not be more authentic or intimate. This genuine experience makes tours to Namibia a dream come true!
Two options are provided for your wilderness exploration. Choose to either self-drive or be driven by an experienced local guide. Namibian roads are in excellent condition and it’s rare to see other vehicles. Road signs warn drivers of the giant wildlife that crosses the road, so remember to watch out for the elephants and giraffe. Start in Windhoek and within a couple of hours you’re in the vivid landscapes of Damaraland, home to an eclectic bunch of indelible residents. There’s the wild game that can be spotted on guided walks and safari drives. And there’s the unique Himba people, dressed in goat skinned skirts or leathered loin clothes. An enthusiastic welcome kicks off a rare adventure with this endearing ethnic group. This is a wonderfully relaxed and easy opportunity to spend two days with one of Africa’s most special communities.
After four nights in the wonders of Damaraland, the experience revolves around a very different group of Northern Namibian residents. Tour the waterholes and get personal with lions, leopards, rhinos, giraffe, elephants, and all those other mammals that fill your safari wish list. The epic pans and forests of Etosha National Park make for one of Africa’s most thrilling safari experiences, the competition for water intensifying interactions between predators and prey. It’s a fully immersive sensual feast, from lion roars at bedtime to admiring rhinos in the crisp early morning air. Few safari destinations can match Etosha for getting away from Africa's safari crowds.
That could be said about the whole of Northern Namibia. Every journey is engulfed by rugged panoramas, each day is an adventure into the unknown, and your destinations effortlessly blend serenity with intrepid excitement. Continue to Grootfontein and two days of inimitable San Bushmen experiences. Himba and San Bushmen are very, very different. Yes, they’re both traditional tribes with an ancient culture. But their practices and lifestyles have limited crossover. Learn about tracking antelopes with traditional hunter-gatherers, the barefooted San Bushmen revealing the clues to bush survival. Spend time with the women of the village, learning about medicinal plants and local gastronomic feasts. Laconic tribal members become friends, the verbal language barrier easily negotiated through smiles and gestures. From here you take a leisurely two day journey back to Windhoek, stopping in the Central Highlands for more sumptuous vistas en route.
Like all Zicasso itineraries, everything is fully customizable. This itinerary blends safari experiences with two very different tribes. Some guests choose to increase their time with the Himba or San Bushmen people, or extend the safari experience to some of Namibia’s other wonderful parks and reserves. Browse the safari trip reviews in Namibia to see what other Zicasso travelers experienced while on safari.
$5395 per person (excluding international flights)
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