Stretching 2,000 miles (1,200 km) along the Atlantic coastline of southwest Africa, from the southwest corner of Angola through Namibia into the northwest corner of South Africa, is the coastal land mass known as the Namib Desert.
The word “Namib” is taken from the Nama language and means vast, which describes this phenomenal landscape to a “T”.
This diverse environment features the best that desert geology has to offer to the adventure-loving traveler.
Starting with the coastal sand seas along the western Namibia shoreline, you move inland through gravel plains until you reach the scattered outcroppings of a mountainous terrain. Expansive sand dunes reaching elevations of nearly 1,000 feet (305 meters) and stretching 20 miles (32 km) in length are not uncommon. In fact, only the sand dunes of the Badain Jaran Desert in China are more massive than those of the Namib. It is truly a spectacle worthy of exploration for the adventurous soul.
The climate is equally as diverse as the geography with temperatures ranging from 48 to 68 °F (9–20 °C) along the coast to inland summer temps of 113 °F (45 °C). Fog belts originating along the shoreline occasionally move inland to parts of the Namib. The hazards of this fog are evidenced by the more than 1,000 shipwrecks that have been found along the Skeleton Coast. Still, the fog is a vital source of moisture for the native desert life in the region.
The Allure of the Namib
There surely cannot be many destinations on the face of this earth where you can see gnarled mountains changing from greys to purples and reds as the sun moves over them.
Nor can there be places where you will see mysteriously carved circles in a valley landscape or swim atop a sand dune.
Plus, creatures such as the barking gecko and the painted gemsbok are sure to entertain you from time to time along the way.
For the adventurer/safari aficionado, this is paradise unchained. Without a doubt, you will be taken aback by the strikingly weird landscape. Suffice it to say, it is endlessly compelling yet diverse and varied.
Any safari through the Namib will leave you breathless and without the words needed to describe what you have witnessed along your journey. To say the least, the Namib symbolizes the ease of safari travel and the utmost freedom to journey without bounds.
Two great Deserts and diverse Cultures
The arid country of Namibia is the home of 2 massive deserts, the Kalahari and the Namib.
In the interior, the Kalahari is met by the sloping plateaus of the east and north while the Namib and its constantly shifting, vast sand sea sprawls inland from the Atlantic shore.
Over the years, Namibia’s unique atmosphere and environment has been influenced by British, German, and South African cultures, all of which have, at one time or another, governed over the land. Namibia is characterized by cultural diversity mirroring the varying climate and geography of the area.
Safari Choices Abound
The decision to go on safari in the Namib Desert is not a difficult one. Choosing one that will encompass all there is to see as you move from the coast inland or north to south is another story entirely. There is an abundance of Namib Desert safaris and related information available online.
For example, according to African Budget Safaris, there are nearly 70 different options to choose from ranging from as little as $350 up to as much as $5,000 – an overwhelming number to be sure. Basically, there is something for every budget and interest.
Planning Your Safari
Compared to other areas of southern Africa, Namibia has oftentimes been referred to as a year-round destination due to fewer extreme changes in the seasons. The colder Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean dictates the weather along Namibia’s coastline. As was mentioned above, the dense coastal fog envelopes the Skeleton Coast and the towns of Lüderitz, Swakopmund, and Walvis Bay during the morning until the sun has burned it all off.
Interestingly enough, a Namibian safari is as much about the wildlife as it is about the immense landscape and scenic grandeur of the region. Just keep in mind that seeing that wildlife is never guaranteed and depends on a number of factors such as animal distribution numbers, habitats, season, and water availability. There are basically three seasons in Namibia:
Dry season – June through October
Green season – December through March
Transition seasons – April through May and November
The summers are hot but the contrast created by dark clouds of an impending thunderstorm against the bleached calcrete soils of the desert floor will leave you speechless. The “green desert” of late summer is an explosion of color and life based on the profusion of flowers and grasses as well as the indigenous wildlife. It can well be said that there is no absolute where the ideal time to go on safari in the Namib is concerned. Ultimately, it is a matter of budget and personal preference.
Taking it All in
The diverse landscape of the Namib encompasses a potpourri of differing environments and geographical features. These include the desert itself, the Namib Naukluft National Park, the sand dunes of Sossusvlei, and a number of other features ranging from salt pans and seasonally dry river valleys to gravel plains baking in the summer sun and isolated mountain summits. The national park incorporates beaches that have been battered by the waves while extending out to the Atlantic Ocean’s icy waters and lagoons filled with huge bird populations.
The park is also the home to some very diverse and interesting wildlife such as three members of the antelope family – the gemsbok, kudu, and springbok – that are usually found in areas of vegetation such as the lush river valleys. Other species to watch out for include the black-backed jackal, brown and spotted hyena, leopard, and mountain zebra. Additionally, the evenings are oftentimes filled by the presence of small, nocturnal mammals.
Namib Desert safari accommodation is plentiful to say the least, especially near Sossusvlei. As most travelers visit the desert as a part of a tour, accommodation tends to be included in the tour fee.
Typically, these lodges that provide expert safari guides, fine cuisine, and lavish living quarters. Whether you participate in a game drive or an interpretive hike, these guides bring one of the world’s oldest deserts to life and open up its secrets to the adventurer.
Basic Safari Travel Advice
Though the official language of the region is English, Afrikaans and German are spoken commonly throughout certain areas. Additionally, Bantu and Khoisan are the two most common African languages, but there are a number of other dialects that are categorized into these as well. Other considerations include:
Banks and Foreign Exchange: Namibian banks as well as safari and wilderness camps will only accept 3 currencies, namely The GBP Sterling, South African Rand, and the US dollar. Traveler’s checks are also accepted provided they are based on one of these currencies. Even though they will gladly accept your MasterCard or VISA throughout Namibia, they will refuse American Express, Diner’s Club, and Discover.
Passports and Visas: in addition to proof of accommodation, required travel documents, and sufficient funds for your adventure, visitors to the Namibia must have a valid passport dated 6 months past your scheduled departure date. Make sure that your passport contains at least 3 additional blank visa (not endorsement) pages.
Packing: Try our Safari Packing List on for size. You may also want to take some desert-specific measures to suit the severity of the desert.
Your personal safety – no matter where in the Namib Desert that you select for your safari adventure, follow these 4 simple rules to ensure your personal safety:
- Rule #1: Stay in the vehicle you’re riding in during game drives because some of Africa’s animals will eat you.
- Rule #2: Be aware of your surroundings, especially if part of your safari involves hiking and walking.
- Rule #3: Be quiet unless you don’t care about missing the photographic opportunity of a lifetime.
- Rule #4: Listen to your safari guide and do what they tell you to do.
Although these rules are not difficult to understand and follow, many individuals fail to use common sense – and that’s when things start going badly for them.
Good news: Most safari camps are located in areas where the risk of malaria is relatively low. It is still a good idea to pack malaria tablets as a precaution. You should consult with your family physician, healthcare provider, or a travel medicine specialist before you go to find out what shots and vaccinations might be required before entering Africa and Namibia. Health regulations of these different countries have a habit of changing without notice so it is better that you are prepared. Taking all of the above into consideration, you shoulf return home from your safari safe and sound and have a myriad of memories to share.