Namibia is a country which has by far some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa. It’s a country of superlatives, with vast unspoiled landscapes, diverse wildlife, unique landmarks and interesting cultures. The name of the country is derived from the Namib desert, the oldest in the world, which makes up a large part of the country. On the other hand, Namibia is the second youngest country in Africa, gaining independence from South Africa in 1990. There are also many highlights in Namibia which are unique to the country.
With a population of around 2 million, Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia. In fact, most of the population live in the centre and northern part of the country which leaves the south extremely sparsely populated. The southern part of Namibia is mainly farmland and arid desert nature reserves with the occasional small settlements and farm houses every 100km or so. They are also very good at blending their settlements in with the local nature so you might drive past a small town, such as Solitaire, and not even notice it.
Highlights of Southern Namibia
Namibia has a great diversity of highlights to visit and see, too many to describe in one blog post. The south is also very different in scenery than the rest of the country. I have made a list of my highlights as I experienced them during my visits to Namibia. But also read about all the unique things to do in Namibia.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in the southern hemisphere and the second largest canyon in the world. Millions of years of glacial movements, continental drift and water erosion formed the canyon to its current shape. It is a true natural wonder and worth a visit.
Read more detailed information about the Fish River Canyon – A hidden gem in the south of Namibia
Sossusvlei is probably Namibia’s most famous and popular tourist attraction. The setting is just spectacular. It is characterised by huge red sand dunes covering a large area of the Namib desert. The red dunes are best visited during sunrise or sunset when the glow of the sun gives the dunes it’s deep red and ochre colours. It’s a unique breathtaking spectacle, every day. The rise of the sun also gives the dunes the typical two coloured view, the shady side nearly black and the sun side bright red.
You are allowed to climb some of the dunes, like Big Daddy (325 metres high) and Dune 45. It is worthwhile climbing them early morning to see the sunrise over the desert. A visit to Sossusvlei is definitely one of the highlights of Namibia and high on the list of activities to do.
Deadvlei is part of Sossusvlei and is as the names says, a dead valley. The valley used to receive water from the Tsauchab river until the winds blew the dunes across the river and cut it off.
Instead of red sand, the valley or rather pan as it is now is covered with white lime stone (also coming from the mountains). The trees are dead, but due to the extreme drought in combination with the deep roots of the trees (80 Meters) they do not fall over, nor decay. The trees that can be seen in Dead Vlei are dead for around 800 years. The landscape is so unique, so different, so special, so beautiful.
Ai Ais Hot Springs
Ai Ais means “place of burning water” in the local Nama language and is an oasis of natural thermal springs found in the area. The hot springs are now part of the Ai-Ais Richtersveld National Park, which is shared between Namibia and South Africa.
A visit to the hot springs resort is worthwhile to wash off the desert sand or just to relax in the warm and enjoyable thermal waters either indoors or out.
The Ai Ais Resort allows day visitors and there is comfortable accommodation as well as a nice campsite available for the overnight visitor.
The south of Namibia consists of various biomes, like Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and Desert. These biomes give the southern part of Namibia its unique landscape and vegetation. Some of the plants that one will not miss on a visit in the region are the following:
Quiver Tree – The quiver tree belongs to the aloe family but looks like a tree. The bark is soft fibre and is easily hollowed out. The first inhabitants of Namibia, the San or the Bushman, used to hollow out the branches to use as a quiver for their hunting darts. The tree is unique to the south of Namibia, as well as a small part of South Africa. It mainly grows on rocky surfaces and beautifully decorates the Namibian landscape.
Milkbush (Euphorbia Damarana) – When driving around in the southern part of Namibia, one cannot miss the abundance of milkbush, a plant native to Namibia. It has green greyish leaves that look like long pencils and which contain a milky substance. It is regarded as a very toxic plant.
The first thing that struck me arriving in Namibia were the vast open landscapes. As far as you can see there is ‘nothing’. Or better, one can see the desert stretching out for kilometres, with barren and ancient mountains in the distance.
Once you take the chance to soak in the bare, unspoilt, open and vast scenery, you will never forget its pristine beauty and will want to return to experience it again and again.
The Orange (now called Gariep) river seeps like a green lung through the south of Namibia. It marks the border between Namibia and South Africa. A famous activity is multi day kayak, rafting or canoeing on the river, with sleeping on the river banks.
Even just a few hours on the river is pleasant. The area on both sides of the river is green and lush with reeds and palm trees as well as vineyards and gives a surreal look to the stark desert landscape.
Vintage cars in the desert
Spread out all over you’ll see rusty vintage car wrecks from a bygone era, some full with bullet holes from the police chasing diamond thieves through the desert. You can see them at various places when driving on the dust roads. Solitaire also has a nice collection of these old cars around the town. It gives a nostalgic feel to the surrounding desert.
Another place to see beautiful rusty old vehicles like Chevy’s and Fords is Cañon Road House. They have a great collection of cars, trucks, an old ambulance, number plates and other memorabilia. Even when not staying overnight, it is worth a stopover to look at their great collection or for a cold beer and a tasty lunch. Definitely try the Roadhouse Burger, it’s well worth it. We tried it and approved of it. We even forgot to take a photo of this burger, it’s that good! Gentlemen, do open Pandoras box, you will be surprised.
On the way from Sossusvlei to Walvisbaai is a small settlement named Solitaire. It is officially the smallest town in Namibia, and it definitely looks like it, since it consists of only a general dealer, fuel station, bakery, post office and a lodge. These are the minimum requirements to be classed as a town in Namibia.
Solitaire is a must stop over, either for the night, or just for trying the delicious home made bread or their famous apple pie. The late Moose McGregor became famous worldwide for his apple pie.
Kolmanskop grew as a town during the diamond boom in the vicinity of Lüderitz. In the ’30’s, after world war I the diamond boom was in decline and richer diamond deposits were found in other regions. The families started leaving town and slowly Kolmanskop became a ghost town in the desert.
Currently it is a photographers paradise, with sand blown into the old buildings. The best time for photography is either at sunrise or sunset.
Read more information – Kolmanskop Ghost Town – From Diamonds to Dust
If you visit Namibia, the guide book we can recommend is the Bradt Travel Guide of Namibia. It gives very useful information about the country and has been really useful to us. The lastest version is from August 2015.
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Have you ever visited the southern part of Namibia, what was your impression? What was your highlight of the trip?
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