Gaze out of the window as you enter Namibian air space, gaping deserts providing a prelude to your inimitable adventure. From the air the scale is baffling, scorched colors punctuated by meandering canyons and old river scars. Touchdown in Windhoek, the capital city that feels much more like a rural village. Time moves slowly in Namibia, the laid-back rhythm quickly soothing travel aches and offering a cozy introduction to Africa. There's always time to say hello and greet strangers here, after all, people are few in nature's great playground. Today is free for you to rest and gently explore the cute charms of Windhoek.
Few people land in Africa without dreams of big cats. Some are even surprised that lions don't patrol the airport runway. Catapulting you straight into safari action, you'll head north to Okonjima, one of the continent's most spectacular leopard hangouts. Every park or reserve has its specialties, and Okonjima's are the predators that usually prove to be most elusive. As the safari truck weaves through the grassland you spot a swishing tail, a captivating glimpse of a cat on a hunt. Wait. Be patient. Slowly the spotted fur emerges and effortlessly glides forward, each movement marked by solemn precision. Springbok are the intended target, unsuspectingly grazing on precious plains. Keep still. A safari tour in Namibia is not like being in the zoo; this is where you'll see the world's greatest mammals in their natural environment. One false move and the sentry raise an alarm, a flurry of hooves kicking up dust and the antelope rushing away.
Today's game drive will have explored Okonjima, picking a trail into a spectacular haven. Tonight's accommodation increases the enchantment. Your lodge sits in the middle of the reserve, surrounded by the same scenes that accompany your game drive. Wild dogs and spotted hyenas hunt and scavenge, the density of predators supported by a diverse collection of ungulates. As night falls the sounds provide an eerie lullaby, silence interrupted by gargling cries and mating calls. Sit on your private balcony and listen to the scenes, then admire the floodlit waterholes as they begin to dance with life. Your lodge has its own private water hole, ensuring that nature delivers a very intimate spell.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Leopards, cheetahs, hyenas...this doesn't sound like a place to put your hands outside the safari vehicle. But the local Bushmen have forever coexisted with nature, effortlessly tracking animal movements and sharing the landscape, so step out of your comfort zone and let 40,000 years of ancestral knowledge take you on a walking safari through Okonjima. Upturned stones, old dung, branches that weep from a sharp cat's claw, the wilderness is alive with clues that guide your journey, enabling you to get spine-tinglingly close yet always remain safe. It all becomes evocatively real when you're at ground level, each mammal inspecting you as an individual, not as a part of a much bigger and scarier vehicle. You're not going to be walking with the big cats, you're going to be sharing the same ground of these stunning creatures.
After a leisurely lunch and gentle siesta the afternoon is free to soak up the landscape. Enjoy, indulge, and appreciate the Namibian definition of silence. As the afternoon sun cools, and the wildlife becomes active, you'll explore the wilderness once more, another game drive unveiling a natural world of delight and intrigue. Then nighttime reveals nocturnal treats, a private hide offering uninterrupted views of everything that comes out to play: porcupine, honey-badgers and caracal among the delights.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Southern Namibia is one of the world's most sparsely populated regions, a thousand mile stretch of desert wilderness that's occasionally dotted with tiny villages. This morning's journey offers your first impression of this scale, six hours of achingly authentic landscapes taking you into the Southern Kalahari. This is one of Africa's truly remote safaris, a rarely experienced journey onto unpredictable plains. It seems desolate and barren. Yet desert dwellers have adapted to the challenges and they await your intrepid eyes.
Okonjima's compactness makes it a perfect first time safari. The Southern Kalahari’s rust colored landscape now builds upon this experience. No sighting can be guaranteed. No game drive can be repeated. Yet every safari is packed with fascination and the unexpected. Perhaps all is quiet, little but a few mountain zebra and wandering gemsbok covering the arid grassland. Then you turn a corner and a pride of black-maned lions doze beside the trail. Meerkats comically emerge, standing to acknowledge your arrival and then scurrying into holes. Roan and sable antelope are among the continent's rarest, and Black rhino will enchant a lucky few. A long game drive fills your afternoon, and then an astonishing night sky mingles with the roars of distant lions.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
The Fish River Canyon cuts a dramatic scar through the heart of Southern Namibia, its stark walls towering over a fleetingly flooded river and a scorching environment. You'll be aware that the Grand Canyon is the world's largest, perhaps you're only just discovering that Fish River is a close second. There are no other people to interrupt your vista here, no coach loads of tourists filling the car park. You stand alone (well, except for your guide and any travel companion) amongst one of nature's most unique wonders, marveling at the canyon walls as they glisten and glow with the sun.
There's beauty in the scale, your eyes trying to look beyond the horizon and glimpse where this canyon might end. As you drive to alternative viewpoints it still seems surreal, exuding superlatives as you grapple with the enormity and gaze down into the abyss. It's a four hour journey to the canyon, and after admiring it from above you can marvel at it all from below. Short hiking trails zigzag down the canyon walls and an incumbent feeling of insignificance is impossible to shake. When does it end? 500 meters you can descend and as you look across it's almost 20 miles to the other side with a length of over 100 miles.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6 - 7
On day six it's a long journey to Luderitz, cutting across dusty desert to the ghost town. There's an indelible ruggedness to the landscape, the panoramas occasionally interrupted by a stone farmhouse or juddering mountain. Part of experiencing Southern Namibia is about acknowledging this scale, about driving for six hours and finding that hypnotic enchantment always fills the window. A new vehicle provides the maximum possible comfort in the wilderness, and like most of Namibia, the roads are of a surprisingly good quality. Yes, the distances are big, but you'll be moving at speed, certainly not crawling along and avoiding potholes the whole time.
Kolmanskop was once the home of the rich, diamond diggers that struck it lucky in the Namib Desert. Millionaires Avenue now stands derelict and desolate. A late afternoon sun reflects off faded wood as you start to explore, and the remains of this neighborhood lie engulfed by sand. Dunes fill kitchens, bathtubs stand on scorched red, staircases are redundant as the sand connects floors, and the last relics of street signs poke above the surface. Soon there will be nothing but sand.
After visiting Kolmanskop you'll then spend two nights in Ludaritz, the next place that's destined to be swallowed by sand. Its transition from diamond capital to ghost town has already started, and it makes for some evocative photography. It's impossible to miss nature's irrefutable power as you wander the streets. Wake on day seven and tour Kolmanshop in the morning light, the mist sweeping off the Atlantic and adding further mystique to this surreal sight. The rest of the day is free and offers the chance to unwind along the Atlantic Ocean.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8 - 9
It was sand dunes that kept Namibia so pristine. When explorers landed they couldn't cross the desert, saving Namibia from colonialism until the late 19th century. Some ships turned around. Others perished and left behind wooden skeletons. It's these sand dunes that you now cross, weaving a journey through the endless ridges and peaks, troughs and summits. Tiny oases dot the journey, shocks of green that challenge the red rainbow. Mountains rise and fall with the dunes, shimmering towers that guide your trip towards Sossusvlei. These dunes come alive at sunset, flickering through a euphoric prism of vibrant color. Climb the ridge for an aerial view, hundreds of miles of untamed desert offering a phantasmal panorama.
Your lodge offers unrivaled views, silhouettes of mountains dancing beneath the moonlight and beckoning you towards morning exploration. An early start on day nine takes you to Dune 7, the diamond shaped dune relatively easy to climb and offering Namibia's premiere view: sunrise over the Namib-Naukluft desert. One by one the ridges come alive, illuminated by the sun and bringing their fairytale shape to the day. Return to the lodge for a languid afternoon, the odd springbok herd walking past beneath the unrelenting sun.
A second late afternoon journey provides another ethereal experience. Scorched trees dot the Deadvlei clay pan, brittle remnants stubbornly refusing to accept the desert's power. Are they dead or just hibernating? Deadvlei makes for iconic photographs; cracked clay in the foreground, red dunes in the background, and scarred black trees the indelible focal point. Across another ridge is Sossusvlei itself, sprouts of green filling its pan. When water flows it fills Sossusvlei, transforming the aridity into one of nature's greatest shows. You can't plan to see it. But if the clouds open you're in for a real once in a lifetime experience.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 10 - 11
During your journey you've explored the remote and untamed, the desolate and rugged. In contrast, Swakopmund is Namibia's urban oasis, a charming colonial town that's cooled by the Atlantic Ocean breeze. Palm trees mix with 19th century leftovers, sunset is enjoyed from the beach, excellent restaurants combine African and European cuisine, and encompassing greenery provides a halfway point between desert and civilization. You're still surrounded by natural wonders, the laid-back Swakopmund atmosphere blending with new sights as you enjoy the last few days in Namibia.
It's quite a drive to Swakopmund, not in distance terms, but in the snaking mountain chains that guide you along provocative desert trails. Stop en route at Dune 7, the 383 meter high monster that's now the highest sand dune in the world. It's still growing, and it still attracts people who think they can climb it. The best views are from below, gazing up at its freestanding control of the desert. Evenings in Swakopmund are always leisurely, a handful of cute cafes and bars helping you readjust from the wilderness. Or kick back and take in the ocean view from your balcony.
Namibia's final hurrah comes from the Skeleton Coast, a stretch of desert that hides dozens of shipwrecks. Hulls have become sand pits, masts peak out from beneath dunes, and nautical skeletons have been decimated by nature. It's another sight that will baffle your camera. Many ships became wrecks but not everything is stranded on land. Cape fur seals dive off the rocks, swimming beneath your kayak as you paddle around a sheltered bay. There's hundreds of them, thousands perhaps, all coming out to play on your kayaking adventure. Back on shore you'll also come within touching distance; tens of thousands of these seals cover the beach, comically waddling around and grunting at each other. Heading back to Swakopmund you can still hear them, a cacophonous oink that represents another of Southern Namibia's wonders.
As you prepare to say goodbye to Namibia there's no need for a long journey back to Windhoek. Less than an hour away is Walvis Bay International Airport, offering a quick connection to Johannesburg or Cape Town. From here you connect onto your return flight.
Or, instead of flying home, consider customizing this trip further. See the reviews for Namibia luxury vacations for trip extension ideas, and to see traveler reviews of their time in Africa.
Southern Namibia's scale is beyond baffling. Lost within this ancient region you'll find the world's second largest canyon, thousands of predatory cats, ghost towns lost to the sand, and then the planet's greatest collection of red sand dunes. And this is just the start, the famous scenes that would grace a novel's blurb. You can't breeze over this region and expect to understand the novel's plot. Deep within this untouched world you'll find the nuances and the subtleties, the surreal wonders that come alive before compelled eyes. Breathtakingly authentic and serenely intimate, this unique 12-day journey provides a complete immersion in one of the planet's few remaining untamed landscapes. Like the greatest novels, Southern Namibia feels and seems fictitious. Yet its heart is raw and indelibly real.
Your adventure starts in Windhoek, the village-come-capital city offering a stepping stone to predatory big cats. Africa means safari and few places can rival Okonjima for its wild leopards and rehabilitated cheetahs. An isolated boutique lodge is surrounded by the action and a thrilling walking safari gets you perilously close to these majestic predators. Another selection of unique desert dwellers accompanies you in the Southern Kalahari, before the gaping scar of Fish River Canyon epitomizes the infinite beauty of this sparsely populated region. Driving between destinations is a huge part of the experience, gaping vistas extending in every direction, landscapes dancing with color as the sun makes its irrevocable fall. A modern Land Rover makes light of the adventurous roads, while your skilled driver knows the hidden spots that burst with life.
Namibia's great barrier of sand is integral to the country retaining its ancient charm. When colonial explorers landed they were greeted by 300 meter high dunes. They quickly turned around and left life as it was in desert paradise. Even today the sand still rules, sweeping in and engulfing the diamond towns of Luderitz and Kolmanskop. This photogenic spot exemplifies nature's hold over man, wooden remains overrun and overtaken by burning red dunes. Head north and the sand doesn't relent, the ridges cutting distinct lines from hinterland to sparkling ocean. Stand amidst it all in Sossusvlei, a surreal panorama of dunes punctuated by dead trees and ancient clay riverbeds. The landscape holds you captive, pulling you in with promises of size and then continually delivering a new angle. Because it's always changing, each ridge and every dune succumbing to the sweeping Atlantic wind.
Silence takes on new definitions as you're immersed in Southern Namibia, the phantasmal tranquility complimented by handpicked accommodation that elegantly gazes out onto the landscapes. Here, no there, wait...how about a photo over there? Every mile brings new perspectives as you're left wondering how this novel will end. Thousands of Cape fur seals provide the penultimate chapter, impishly covering the beach and then swimming beside your kayak. The world's highest sand dune offers adventure and the colonial charm of Swakopmund provides a fitting finale.
Gaze at your photos and Southern Namibia still feels fictitious. Yet lingering long in the memory are those personal moments, eclectic scenes that epitomize an ancient world; the solemn stare of a prowling leopard, an empty dune flickering at sunset, gazing up and being overcome by the feeling of insignificance, or opening the curtains to a springbok skipping across the desert. Fully customizable and completely unique, this 12-day journey is all about marrying the personal charm with the endless scale of a destination that doesn't need a superlative blurb.
$5395 per person (excluding international flights)
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