Namibia is an amazing country with lots of great, spectacular and countless things to do that are unique to the country. Namibia offers colourful dunes, vast open deserts, spectacular wildlife, local tribes and an endless coastline. When I first visited, I discovered that there were so many more things to do in Namibia.
From adrenaline activities, to eating German bratwurst, to climbing dunes at sunrise, to discovering the smallest town in the country, Namiba is (in my humble opinion) one country that should be added to everyones ‘must see’ bucket list.
I have compiled a list of 25 things to do in Namibia. This list is far from exhaustive, so I have tried my best to make a selection of things that are unique to Namibia.
Top 25 Unique things to do in Namibia
Watch the sunrise from the top of Dune 45 in Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei is the most visited place in Namibia by tourists, and for a good reason. The countless red dunes, which are among the highest in the world, define the breathtaking scenery of Sossusvlei. Dune 45 is situated exactly 45 kilometres from the entry gate and is one of the few dunes that visitors are allowed to climb. It is 85 metres high and provides the best view for watching the early sunrise over the dunes of Sossusvlei. It is a tough climb but the view of the sunrise from the top is just magnificent and makes one feel small in a silent world of dunes.
Tip: Only when staying in the Sesriem Campsite run by NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) which is the only campsite located within the national park, can you leave one hour before sunrise to make the climb of Dune 45 in time. When staying outside the national park, you can only enter at sunrise.
Walk amongst an eerie forest of dead trees in Deadvlei
A forest of dead Acacia trees decorates the white clay pan which is surrounded by the highest red dunes. The pan used to get enough water from the Tsauchab river to make it a more fertile area. But many years ago the wind made the sand dunes grow and block the water from continuing to flood in the pan. It is estimated that the trees are dead since around 900 years, but Deadvlei has such a dry climate that the trees cannot decompose. For me, Deadvlei is one of the most surreal places I have ever seen. The red sand dunes, the white pan, the mysterious shapes of the trees with a blue sky make it a real photographers paradise.
Tip: Make sure to visit Deadvlei either early morning or late afternoon. Apart from the better light at these hours, especially during the summer months, it gets really hot. In the heat of summer, I have seen people losing the soles of their shoes, where the glue had just melted away.
Discover the living desert around Swakopmund
One of the most interesting tours I have taken in Namibia was a “living desert tour” around Swakopmund. Most people think that nothing can survive the heat and dryness of the barren desert. But nothing is further from the truth. During the day, the desert might be sleeping under the baking sun, on the other hand at night, the desert comes alive. We explored the dune belt between Swakopmund and Walvisbay in a 4×4 vehicle with a qualified guide. He showed us all the signs of the desert and where to look to find animal tracks and where they are hiding for the day. He showed us chameleons, snakes, geckos, lizards, skinks, beetles and so much more. He explained how these smaller animals can survive the harsh desert conditions. It was really amazing and very interesting when you like to learn more about desert life and the smaller animals that live there.
Tip: Be sure to take enough water, a sunhat and sunscreen. The tour usually starts in the morning but will last half a day.
Go Skydiving over the Namib desert in Swakopmund
Swakopmund is the adrenaline capital of Namibia. If you want some excitement, skydiving will definitely give you that boost of adrenaline you are looking for. Did I tell you that I am afraid of heights, but conquered my fear by jumping out of a plane (with a parachute) for the first time ever in Swakopmund? It was such a great and thrilling experience.
See the flamingoes in Walvis Bay
The best place to see flamingoes in Namibia is at the Walvis Bay lagoon. At times you can see thousands of the beautiful pink birds wading in the shallow water of the lagoon looking for food. Both the greater and the lesser flamingo can be seen here, together with some other water birds, like pelicans. You can take a walk up and down the waterfront and observe these stunning pink birds.
Tip: Often there is a strong and cold wind, so make sure to bring a windbreaker or something warm to wear, especially when coming straight from the desert.
Savour the worlds famous apple pie of Solitaire
Solitaire is a small settlement situated on the main road (C14) between Walvisbay and Sossusvlei. It is the only place on this route where you can fill up with fuel and get something to drink or eat on your break from the dusty and bumpy roads. Solitaire consists only of a general dealer, a small post office, a petrol station, a bakery, a small restaurant and a campsite. The main attraction that most visitors stop for in this remote town is to eat the iconic apple pie. The late Moose McGregor made such delicious apple pies that it became an icon for any visitor in Namibia and still is. At times it gets so busy in the bakery while busloads of tourists stop to savour this delicious pie. It is definitely a must do.
Tip: Ask for the special bread they make in the bakery. It is really yummy, flavourful and has lots of seeds.
Watch ‘National Geographic’ live at the Okaukuejo waterhole in Etosha
One of my favourite places to observe wildlife is at the Okaukuejo campsite in Etosha National Park. You will be there with many other people, it will not be very quiet, unfortunately, but the wildlife you can see there is really amazing. The most wildlife can be seen during the dry season. Especially during the evenings, many animals will come to drink. It really feels like watching a documentary of National Geographic, but then in real life.
Visit a Himba village in Namibia
The tribe of the Himba people are one of the 13 ethnic groups living in Namibia. The Himba tribe became internationally most famous for the red ochre the women apply to their skin, together with their special dress code and hairstyle. Most Himba villages are in the northwestern part of Namibia. There is one village close to Kamanjab where most visitors take a tour. It is really interesting to see how they live and to learn about their habits and ancient culture. It is good to see that they can still live according to their own local cultural traditions.
Take a bath in the ghost town of Kolmanskop
Kolmanskop was once a prosperous diamond town but has been abandoned ever since a richer diamond area was discovered 250 km further south. The ghost town has been fighting a battle against the forces of nature, wind and sand, ever since. The abandoned houses half covered with sand is a photographers paradise, attracting visitors from all over the world. Kolmanskop is definitely a town that went from diamonds to dust.
Discover a shipwreck on the Namibian Skeleton Coast
When the cold waters of the Atlantic Benguela current collide with the hot and dry air of the Namib desert, a thick and dense fog arises which reaches far inland. This resulted in the early explorers in ships losing their bearings and shipwrecking on the Namibian coast. Survivors of these shipwrecks would not survive very long in the harsh climate of the Namib desert.
The Skeleton Coast is one of the most pristine coastlines in the world. Currently, you can still see some shipwrecks close to the shores. The Skeleton Coast is located in the northern part of the Atlantic coast of Namibia and starts just north of Swakopmund.
Learn how to survive in the bush from the San Bushman tribe
The San or the Bushman were the first inhabitants of Namibia. They were hunter-gatherers roaming over large areas in Southern Africa. Their looks are very different from the Bantu people who arrived much later on Namibian grounds coming from Northern and Central Africa. The San had an incredible knowledge about surviving harsh conditions with hardly any other means than what they would find in nature. Most of this knowledge has been lost to the modern world, but some of it has luckily been passed on. It’s worthwhile to visit a local community. One of the recommended things to do in Namibia is a Bushman interaction to learn about how their ancestors used to survive the Namibian desert.
Walk ‘the maze’ at the Giants Playground
As the name already indicates, the Giants Playground, near the town of Keetmanshoop, looks like a party of Giants just played a great game of stack-the-stones. The result is various shapes of stone one on top of the other, in various shapes and piles. In fact millions of years ago, molten magma pushed its way through the cracks of the rocks. Over the years, due to erosion and weathering the softer stones disappeared and only the harder rocks stayed behind. What has been left behind is some surreal landscapes of scattered and piled up rocks and stones. You can visit the Giants Playground by means of a walking path, but take your bearings, since it is easy to lose your coordination.
Have a local Namibian game meat dinner at Joe’s Beerhouse in Windhoek
No visit to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is complete without a visit to Joe’s Beerhouse. The restaurant must probably be the most famous place to eat in Windhoek. An evening out at Joe’s Beerhouse will indulge you into the real Namibian dining experience. From German origin dishes like Eisbein and Knuckle to African dishes with delicious game meat. It’s a very quirky place, with different areas to sit, indoor and outdoor, lots of African decorations and ornaments and a great food experience. We will definitely return when in Windhoek.
Tip: Joe’s Beerhouse is very popular and fills up quickly. A reservation is highly recommended as well as a good appetite.
Go for a challenging hike in the Fish River Canyon
If you are into a real challenge when in Namibia, you should hike the Fish River Canyon. It is not just any hike, it is really tough. Neither of us have done it, yet, but we would love to do it one day. The hike is around 85km and will take around 4 days to complete. It starts at the viewpoint in Hobas and ends at the Ai-Ais hotsprings (so you can immediately relax your muscles in the therapeutic water). Since the temperatures get really high inside the canyon, the hike is only possible during the winter months (from May 1 until September 15). Only a maximum amount of people per day are allowed to do the hike and you need to book your spot well in advance. Also keep in mind that once you start the hike, there is no way back or means to get out of the canyon and you will have to complete it.
Rinse off the desert dust in the Ai-Ais hot water springs
Ai-Ais means “burning water” in the local Nama language and refers to the sulphurous hot springs that are found in the area of the Fish River Canyon. What is nicer than after having driven for days over dusty roads, or after completing the Fish River Canyon hike, to rinse it off in some therapeutic hot springs in the middle of the desert. Admittedly the water may be a bit too hot during the Namibian summer, but it is so nice during the colder winter months. You can either go as a day visitor or stay overnight in the campsite or the resort. There is a large outdoor pool as well as some indoor pool facilities
Tip: When staying overnight, beware of baboons that raid the campsite in the early morning. They will steal anything edible they can find.
Where to stay: Ai-Ais Resort managed by NWR
Have a sundowner on the rim of the Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is the world’s second largest canyon and is truly breathtaking. The canyon can best be seen in the national park at some dedicated viewpoints. There is a small hike for visitors along the rim of the canyon between the main viewpoint and the entry for the infamous hike. I highly recommend visiting the canyon either at sunrise or sunset, as it can get very hot and there is not much shade. When visiting at sunset, bring some sundowners and snacks with you and watch the sun set behind the horizon while overlooking this immensely spectacular natural world wonder. The main viewpoint has a roof for shade and some benches with tables.
Tip: The gate is 10 km from the viewpoint and closes at sunset, so check the exact time when entering the gate so you will not be late. When staying overnight at the Hobas campsite, you can come back anytime.
Stay overnight at the Spitzkoppe Community camp and sleep on top of the granite boulders
The Spitzkoppe is a group of granite peaks located northeast of Swakopmund. It is also known as the Matterhorn of Africa. The Spitzkoppe is a unique landscape, with dramatic rock features.
Camping in Spitzkoppe is a unique experience. The campsite is spread out over a very large area where campers can stay in full tranquility. You get to see some of the best sunsets in Africa, where the granite rocks light up bright red. What we used to do was take our sleeping bags and climb up on the smaller boulders to sleep under the stars. It is really amazing.
Discover the ‘German influence’ in Swakopmund
Walking in the coastal town of Swakopmund you will notice that the German influence is still clearly visible around town. The German architecture of the town centre, the ‘kaffee und kuchen’ (coffee and cake) you can eat in the various eateries and the German language one can still hear.
Play ‘Hotel California’ at sunset when driving down the Namibian dust roads
If there is one song that you should play while road tripping in Namibia it should be ‘Hotel California’ from The Eagles. From the very first sentence of the song you feel this song was written for driving on the Namibian roads. We used to have sundowners at the Fish River Canyon with our tour groups, but our hotel was still a long 100 km drive away from the canyon. So we started playing this song:
‘On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair…up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim…’
We used to arrive at the hotel in the dark and this specific hotel was literally in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the desert. The tourists loved it. And we have great memories of Namibia every time we hear this fantastic song. So of the things to do in Namibia, play this song. You’ll love it.
Kayak on the border of Namibia and South Africa
The Orange river marks the border between South Africa and Namibia. The fertile river banks stand in strong contrast with the desert mountains on the South African side and the dry vast Namib desert on the Namibian side. The best way to explore is by means of a kayak. You can either do a day tour or go on a multi-day rafting tour. I would say, enjoy the spectacular nature, the relaxed environment and the great bird sightings. The kayaking is such a fun thing to do in Namibia, and it gives you at the same time the feeling you are visiting two countries at once.
Count the numerous seals at Cape Cross
The Cape Cross Seal Reserve, located 120 km north of Swakopmund, is home to the largest breeding colony of Cape Fur Seals in the world. During breeding season in November and December up to 210.000 seals gather to mate, breed and fish in the rich waters of the Benguela current. Imagine the cacophony of sounds and smells which at times can be overwhelming. Nevertheless if you want to see nature in its purest form, it is worthwhile to drive along the Skeleton Coast to visit this Seal reserve at Cape Cross.
Conquer the dunes with a quad bike in Swakopmund
One of the best and fastest ways to explore the dunes is by quad bike. And since Swakopmund is known for having a lot of adrenaline activities, quad biking is one of them. An experienced guide will take you on a thrilling ride in between and over the dunes around Swakopmund. I’m not that much of an adrenaline junkie, but I loved the quad biking through the dunes.
Find the vintage cars in the desert
When driving around the Namib desert, one thing that you really don’t expect to see are vintage cars from a bygone era. I must say, they are mainly vintage car wrecks. A few places have started to collect these cars, like Canyon Road House and Solitaire. However, there are a few places where you can still see them at random places in the desert, full of bullet holes.
Tip: Canyon Road House has a lot of different cars in their restaurant / bar / reception area, together with quite a lot of related paraphernalia. And when you visit, you might as well try the delicious Road House burger.
Where to Stay:
- Gondwana Canyon Road House – This is where we stayed and also the place to stay close to the Fish River Canyon and here is where you can see and experience vintage cars and car wrecks. The campsite is really nice and spacious. The rooms are recently upgraded and highly recommended.
Take a photo at the Tropic of Capricorn
The Tropic of Capricorn is located at 23.5 degrees south of the Equator. This line is where the sun is directly overhead at noon on the solstice on December, 21st. You will pass the sign on the road C14 between Sossusvlei and Walvisbay. There is nothing more to see than a sign, but most visitors will stop for a photo at this imaginary line.
Take a funny photo on the Etosha Pan in dry season
The main feature of Etosha National Park is the Etosha salt pan taking up about one-quarter of the park. It is the largest salt pan in Africa. In the local language Etosha means ‘great white place’ and it is a vast, wide and barren white place. There is one area on the pan where it is allowed to get out of your vehicle and where it’s possible to walk on the pan itself. Just watch out for dangerous wildlife that might be lurking behind a bush at the edge of the pan. In the end, it is a safari park. The pan is a perfect place to take some epic pictures where you can play with perspective.
With this list I wanted to give an overview of some unique and fun things to do in Namibia. As already mentioned before, this list of things to do in Namibia is by no means exhaustive. These are just some of the activities and things I loved to do when in Namibia.
Which one of this list of unique things to do in Namibia would you really not want to miss?
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