Distinguished by its barren environment and desert landscape, the Fish River Canyon is by far one of the best kept secrets of Namibia. The immensity is breathtaking and should definitely be part of everyone’s trip to Namibia. The Fish River Canyon is definitely a highlight when visiting the southern part of Namibia.

The mesmerising beauty of the area lies in the vastness of this arid landscape, variety of desert colours and the peacefulness. There are only a handful of people living here and hardly any signs of civilisation. Electricity lines and telephone / mobile phone poles are around but blend perfectly into the distance and are hardly noticeable. Rest assured, for emergencies, you will often have cellular coverage in the absolute middle of nowhere.

fish river canyon in namibia with text overlay

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Fish River Canyon Facts

  • The Fish River Canyon is 161 km long, up to 27 km wide and nearly 550 metres deep.
  • With 160 km in length, the Fish river canyon is considered the second longest canyon in the world, after the world famous Grand Canyon. Although some other canyons claim to be the second largest canyon and since it’s difficult to really measure one can definitely say that the Fish River Canyon in Namibia is one of the largest canyons in the world.
  • Fish River Canyon vs Grand Canyon: visitors often compare both canyons. The biggest difference however in visiting both canyons is (are the) about 100 thousands of tourists. Even if the Fish river canyon receives a decent amount of visitors per year, it is nothing compared to its bigger brother.
  • It is said that the forming of the canyon started some 1800 million years ago, hence it’s name for being the oldest canyon in the world. Due to movements in the earth’s crust the formations of fractures started forming the canyon, where later the Fish River and water erosion meandered through these fractures forming the actual Fish River Canyon.

Where is the Fish River Canyon located?

The Fish River Canyon is located in the southern part of Namibia. Did you know that Southern Namibia has many highlights to visit and is worth a detour? 

Due to its remote location in the southern tip of the country, the Fish River Canyon is not the biggest tourist hub. Going there means a detour in an already full itinerary and is often removed from the to-visit list. Most tourists that do travel there are mostly passing through on their way to or out of Cape Town. However, the Fish River Canyon does receive a certain amount of visitors every year and there is a good reason for it and one of the things to do in Namibia.

Fish River Canyon landscape view
Fish River Canyon

The route to the Fish river canyon is one of the most desolate yet highly impressive journeys in Namibia. No matter which direction you are coming from, when driving towards the canyon, a cocktail of gravel roads with a healthy pinch of dust will be served. Luckily the Namibian dust roads are one of the best you can find in Africa. Especially the roads in the south of Namibia as lesser traffic passes through. They are easily passable by means of any 2 x 4 vehicle.

How to get to there

It is quiet and peaceful. When driving, take your time to stop next to the road and walk around. The first thing you’ll notice is the silence. There are not many places left where one can savour true silence. No sound of any technical devices, no planes, hardly any cars, not even birds singing. The blowing of the wind is the only sound that one may hear. Furthermore, take some time to look around, as far as the eye can see there is little to nothing, only beautiful desert landscapes.

Every time I drive through the area I take some time to stop, get out of the vehicle and listen to the sound of silence. And every time it amazes me how much I enjoy it. It is a wonderful feeling.

woman sitting on a Desolated road leading to the Fish River Canyon sand road
Desolated road leading to the Fish River Canyon

When approaching the canyon the first thing one can see is a big green water container with the name ‘Hobas’ written on it. This is the closest campsite to the canyon and is operated by NWR (Namibian Wildlife Resorts). The entrance fee for the park is to be paid here. Before leaving for the last 10 km of gravel road to the viewpoint of the canyon, one can use the toilets (the ones at the canyon are more often closed than open) or buy a cold drink or souvenir in the little store.

Best time to visit the Fish River Canyon

At times, you will have the whole place to yourself or sharing it with a handful of other visitors. As most tourists will arrive throughout the day and won’t stay for hours on end, it is mostly pretty empty. It will make it so much nicer to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine, overlooking the quiet immensity of the place and enjoying this natural wonder hidden deep in the desert.

The nicest time to visit is either sunrise or sunset. When staying in Hobas campsite you are free to come and go whenever you like. When staying outside the park, check with the officials what time the gate will close, which is normally at sunset. However mostly they will let you stay till just after sunset, but agree with them first in order not to get fined for staying late.

Hell’s Corner during sunset in the fish river canyon
Hell’s Corner during sunset

Fish River Canyon activities

Take a hike along the rim of the Fish River Canyon

The visitor’s area of the main viewpoint has recently been renewed. It used to have a cozy thatched roof with some benches to sit and enjoy the sunset. The new visitors area is slightly bigger, with more spaces to sit and a little information area about the canyon and its surroundings. To the right of the main visitors area is a small path that leads to the Hiker’s viewpoint. This 2 km hike along the rim provides spectacular views out of different angles over the canyon.

sign saying that Day hikes are not allowed in the Fish River Canyon
Day hikes are not allowed in the Fish River Canyon

Starting point multiple day Fish River Canyon hike

For the ones with good physical condition, a 85 km hike can be taken starting from the Hiker’s viewpoint and will last for about 4 days. A permit is mandatory and can be organised with NWR in Windhoek. The hiking trail is open only during the winter months from May to September. It is definitely not for sissies. Day hikes are not allowed into the canyon.

Beware as well when walking along the rim, there is hardly any protection or safety barriers (if any). It is very tempting to get nice and exciting photos sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking a barren area. The canyon is 550 metres deep and falling in might mean the end of your journey in Namibia, which would a shame.

The Fish River Canyon animals

Even if it seems like a desolated desert, nothing can be further from the truth. It is very much a living desert, but most small animals (insects, snakes, spiders, rodents…) rest during the day and will only be active during the cooler hours of the night. However, occasionally bigger wildlife can be spotted next to the road, mainly zebra, gemsbok, springbok and ostriches (No, these desert ostriches cannot be ridden) But these ones can.

The mighty Fish River Canyon

Standing at the edge of the canyon it feels like how it would be to stand on the surface of the moon. Or even, sometimes I get the feeling that I am part of a the new Star Wars movie and any time a space ship can materialise out of the depths of the canyon.

It is a hidden gem in the desert that should be part of anyone’s trip when visiting Namibia. Not only the canyon itself, but also the wonderful and magical surrounding area.

What is the most beautiful canyon you have ever visited?

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