Vast, striking and diverse are all words that could easily be used to sum up Namibia. Anyone who has watched the sun rise over the Namib Desert or seen the ‘green cobra’ flash in the sky over Swakopmund would testify the same. One of the youngest countries in Africa, Namibia is also one of the most ecologically diverse.
The Damaraland Conservancy, home to basalt rock outcrops and scrubby grassland, is one of the best known and is also where you’ll find the Desert Rhino Camp, which offers visitors a unique opportunity to track the magnificent beasts. But black rhinos make up just a small part of Namibia’s wildlife, with desert-adapted elephants, ostrich, gemsbok, zebra, giraffe, lion, cheetah, leopard and many more finding a home in its seemingly inhospitable environment. To the north, in the Caprivi Strip, the country has birdlife to rival Kenya, with hundreds of rare species – some endemic – making the tropical uplands and tropical wetlands their home.
But despite the tropical Caprivi Strip, Namibia is most famous for its deserts, which stretch from the rust-red dunes of the Namib in the west to the arid plains of the Kalahari in the east. In the Namib, you’ll find the striking dunes at Sossusvlei as well as the Skeleton Coast further north, with its rusting shipwrecks and ancient rock art. The Kalahari, on the other hand, offers semi-grassed dunes and plentiful bush tucker – if you know where to look for it. Lucky then that its inhabitants, the Ju/’hoansi San tribe, boast the kind of survival skills that make Bear Grylls look like an amateur. Friendly, warm and handy with a bow and arrow, the San are the remnants of a dwindling culture and all the more precious for that. Namibia is full of fascinating things to see and do, but despite the natural richness, its people, whether San, Afrikaaner or Namib, are the most fascinating of all.
Wild though Namibia might be, its cities of Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are cosmopolitan enclaves that offer nightlife, cultural activities and culinary opportunities to rival any big city on the planet, albeit with a uniquely local flavour. Namibia’s colonial history weighs heavy on its present, particularly in the port of Lüderitz, which architecturally – and culturally – resembles nothing so much as a provincial Bavarian town.
But history aside, it’s what’s happening in the present that makes Namibia such a delight. One of the leading lights in the conservation world, the country has made huge strides in the field and at present, is the only place where black rhinos exist free from the threat of organised poaching. In part, that’s down to Namibia’s vastness but the government can also take credit for some of the toughest anti-poaching laws in the world and a conservancy programme that means locals, many of whom come from deprived communities, also benefit from safari tourism.