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Namibia may evoke vivid monotonous images of an endless, arid panorama of technicolor dunes, shimmering mirages and treacherous dust clouds, but this is just an illusion. The deserts, savanna, canyons, saltpans and windy coastline come together to create a dramatic and magnetic landscape, with safari options to get close to elephants, rhinos, lions and giraffes in their natural habitat. The range of activities you can indulge in the unsurpassable physical environment is truly impressive. Ballooning over the desert, skydiving over land and sea, coastal and fresh water angling, hiking, desert camel riding, and sand skiing along coastal dunes are good activities for starters. More adventurous games to pick from include abseiling, scuba diving, paragliding, whitewater rafting, 4×4 desert runs and mountaineering.
Namibia is sparsely populated, with the native Bushmen ingeniously adapting themselves to the punishing climate, harsh environment and scarce resources. They speak in a unique click language and are very gifted in storytelling, mimicry, and dance. Namibia’s other people, mostly of Bantu origin, are thought to have arrived from western Africa from about 2,400 years ago. The African groups include the Owambo, Kavango, Caprivians, Herero, Himba, Damara, Nama and Tswana. The Coloureds in Namibia, of mixed racial heritage, such as black- white, have a separate identity and culture. The Afrikaans-speaking Basters, descended from Hottentot women and Dutch settlers of the Cape, also have a differentiated identity.
Namibia has four distinct geographical regions. The Etosha Pan in the north is home to exotic African wildlife and is the heart of Etosha National Park. The narrow Caprivi Strip between Zambia and Botswana is a wet forested area with a few rivers. Along the coast is the 80 million year old Namib Desert, considered as the world’s oldest desert. At the coast, the chilly Atlantic meets the blazing African desert, resulting in dense fogs. The well-watered central plateau runs north to south, and comprises rugged mountains, magnificent canyons, rocky outcrops and expansive plains.
The capital Windhoek is the only true city in the country, and the first base for those traveling to more remote regions. German influence is distinct in the charming style of older buildings in the city. Places of interest in the city include the State Museum, State Archives, and the Namibia Crafts Centre. The Dan Viljoen Game Park, 24 km west of Windhoek on Khoma Hochland, is where you can find ostriches, baboons, zebras and over 200 species of birds. The Waterburg Plateau Park, located 230 km from Windhoek is popular with weekenders. This extensive mountain wilderness is home to cheetahs, leopards, kudus, giraffes, and white rhinos.
Namibia’s biggest attraction is the Etosha National Park, rated as one of Africa’s finest game sanctuaries, drawing wildlife lovers. The park is comparable in size and diversity of species with the best in Africa. The unusual terrain of Etosha holds savanna grassland, dense brush and woodland. But it is the Etosha Pan, a depression that sometimes holds water and covers 5,000 sq km, that is the heart of park. The perennial springs around the pan, attract many birds and land animals in the dry winter months. The effect of this background is magical and some of the best wildlife photographs have been taken here. There are 144 mammal species in the park and elephants are particularly abundant. Some other interesting wildlife here includes giraffe, leopard, cheetah, jackal, blue wildebeest, gemsbok and black rhino. The best time to see animals is between May and September, when water draws them in huge numbers to the edge of the pan. Etosha is 400 km to the north of Windhoek by road. The birding is great at Etosha and over 300 bird species have been recorded. There are excellent accommodation facilities at the three rest camps of Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo.
The Fish River Canyon is unrivalled in Africa and only the Grand Canyon in the U.S in larger. The Canyon runs for 160 km and reaches a width of 27 km and depth of 550 m. But size alone does not explain the appeal of the canyon. You experience incredible views at various points along the rim. Adventure lovers do not merely come for the views. Hiking through the canyon is the ultimate endurance adventure for hikers. There is an established 90 km hiking trail that will take you 4-5 days to cover.
The trail ends at Ai-Ais hot spring resort where you can unwind. You are allowed to hike between early May and end of September. The hike is quite strenuous and needless to say, you must be physically fit. The authorities disbelieve the capacity of most people to undertake the hike and will actually insist on seeing a medical certificate of fitness before allowing you to start off. Fish River Canyon is 580 km to the south of Windhoek.
The Skeleton Coast with its dense fogs has been the graveyard of seafarers and whales, and justifies its morbid name. Ahead is the Namib Desert, one of the driest and harshest places. Adventure travelers love trekking along the coastline as they enjoy the stark beauty of the area. The Skeleton Coast Park covers 16,400 sq km and begins at 355 km northwest of Windhoek. To the south at Cape Cross, you find a seal colony carrying tens of thousands of seals.
Further south is the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a vast, diverse wilderness covering mountain outcrops, majestic sand dunes, and deep cut gorges. The Sossusvlei area has spectacular dunes, some rising upto 300m. The orange tint giants extend as far as the horizon, making it a surreal experience.
To the northeast of the country, the well-watered Kavango and Caprivi Strip region offers virgin wilderness suitable for rugged game viewing and camping. The area also promises a feast for bird lovers. Game reserves in the area include Kaudom, Caprivi, Mahango, Mudumu and Mamili. Some of the wildlife in the region includes leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah, lion and various antelope species. The Caprivi Reserve falls in an area of swamps and flood plains. Here you have an opportunity for water activities such fishing and river trips in traditional mokoro boats.
Adventure, romance, wildlife and 300 days of sunshine are a compelling draw, and make Namibia the perfect exotic African destination.