Namibia’s history is, for the most part, the same as that of South Africa, being that for many years it was an integrated part of South Africa. Namibia remained isolated for years due to its desert coastline shores and its arid, hostile backcountry. It was only in the early 19 century that traders coming from South Africa and a few German missionaries arrived. In 1883, the German merchant Adolf Lüderitz paved the way for German colonization by buying a few territories from the Nama tribe and then asking the Bismarck Government for help and protection. Namibia officially became a German colony in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck and was given the name German South-West Africa.
This protectorate survived more or less until 1919 when Germany, defeated in the first world war, was forced to renounce all its territories. The Namibian territory was taken over by South African Forces (on behalf of the British crown), and in 1921 it became a mandated territory of the League of Nations, under the administration of South Africa. In 1988, the South African government, under a UN brokered peace initiative, finally agreed to give up control of Namibia, and in 1990 Namibia was granted its independence.
The principal ethnic groups in Namibia are the Ovambo (the biggest and most important group of the country) the Herero, Damara, Nama, bushmen, Himbs, the Kavango, Caprivians and ‘coloureds’ (persons born from 2 different ethnic groups). There is also a vast number of Europeans (Germans, Portoghese and Italians) who originally moved to South Africa and then transferred to Namibia, who are known as “Afrikaners”.
Namibia is a very diverse country with an array of habitats and vegetation. It is said that the Namib Desert, unique in its desolation and characterized by high sand dunes and a sensation of immense open space, is the most ancient desert in the world. The Central Plateau is the core of agricultural life in Namibia. In the north it abuts on the Kunene and Okavango river valleys and in the south on the Orange. Largely savannah and scrub, it is somewhat more wooded in parts of the north and is broken throughout by hills, mountains and ravines, including the majestic Fish River Canyon. Mount Brand (2,573 metres) is Namibia’s highest mountain and is located along the plateau’s western escarpment.
As you travel further north in Namibia towards Etosha National Park, you will find open grasslands, a massive salt pan renown as a huge flamingo mating ground with large camel thorn and Mopani trees.
Testifying to the antiquity of the country, there are a number of well-preserved dinosaur footprints impressed into the sandstones, dating back 170 to 200 thousand years ago and prehistoric rock paintings dating back to 25.000 B.C.
The central region
It is the heart of the country, where Windhoek, the capital and social, economic, political and cultural centre of the country, is found. Windhoek is a modern, dynamic, cosmopolitan city full of hotels, shops and artisan markets. Just 15 kilometers away, the Daan Viljoen Reserve is perfect if you want to spend a day relaxing and watching animals. Moving instead 90 kilometers from the city, you can find Gross Barmen Hot Springs boasting three pools (with different temperatures), tennis courts, restaurants, camp sites and different sizes bungalows. Mount Spitzkoppe, German for “pointed dome” and also referred to the “Matterhorn of Namibia”, is a group of bald granite peaks located between Windhoek and Swakopmund in the Namib desert of Namibia. This colossal granite massif is the main attraction for hikers and climbers. Thanks to a chain mounted into the rock wall, even the most amateur of hikers can reach “Bushmen Paradise Point”, a sacred point for bushmen that boasts an incredible view and rock paintings. Heading southwest from Windhoek, the various different roads that take you from the central region to the coast offer many spectacular landscapes. The most famous, well-known for being the longest and highest road, is the one that comes down from Gamesterg Pass and cuts through the Namib Desert, passing by the Kuiseb and Kuiseb Canyons.
The central southern region
Namibia features some of the most spectacular landscapes in the whole country,being delimitated to the east by the dry savannah of the Kalahari and to the west side by the vast Namib Desert.
The Namib Nauluft Park covers an area of 50.000 square kilometres and is the most versatile area of conservation in Namibia. It is host to many different attractions including Sossusvlei, Sesriem, and Welwitschia plains, the Sandwich Harbour Bay, the Naukluft Mountains and the Kuiseb Canyon. Sossusvlei is the symbol of this park. In Bushmen language it means “dead end marsh”. It is actually a depressed clay pan, of roughly elliptical shape, covered in a crust of salt-rich sand, where the Tsauchab River meets the dunes and stops. A unique feature of this area are the high sand dunes of vivid pink and orange colour, testimony to the high concentrations of iron in the sand. The oldest dunes are those of a more intense reddish colour, and many of them are over 200 metres high. The highest, Big Daddy, is about 380 metres high.
From Sossusvlei a short footpath takes you to the “Dead Vlei” area, a white clay pan in the middle of the monumental dunes. After an easy walk about 1km long, you arrive at “Vlei”, the site of a dried “lake”, characterized by a surreal silence and surrounded by ancient camel thorn trees, long ago dead but not decomposed. The chromatic contrasts are incredible: the black of the dead trees, the shiny white of the salty pan floor, the orange and red of the dunes, the intense blue sky….a true photographer’s paradise.
The Sesriem Canyon is found not too far from Sossusvlei. It is the second most important tourist attraction in the area after Sossusvlei. It is a natural canyon shaped by the Tsauchab River over millions of years. The name Sesriem is Afrikaans for “six belts”, a name given by settlers returning from the Dorsland Trek, who had to attach together six belts in order to reach buckets down into the canyon to scoop up water.
Going south you will find Luderitz, a harbour town created in 1908 following the discovery of diamonds in the area; Kolmanskop is a fascinating ghost town in the Namib Desert 20 km inland from Luderitz. Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, residents built the village. The town, however, fell into decline after World War I when the diamond-field slowly exhausted and was ultimately abandoned 40 years later. Now tourists visit what is left of the town under the sand dunes in a surreal landscape. Before the 1900’s, diamonds were found by the thousands and there was no regulation regarding their extraction. In September of 1908, the first laws regulating the extraction of these minerals were written and a zone called “Diamond Area 1” was created and placed under control of the government (German at the time), and access was revoked to all but mine workers.
The Fish River Canyon Park is in the extreme southern part of Namibia and was established in 1989 when the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, the Fish River Canyon and the Huns Mountains were all incorporated into a single protected area. Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, measuring 160km long, up to 27 km wide and almost 550m deep. The Fish river cuts deep into the plateau which today is dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants; it flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a long chain of pools. Even though the flow of the river is intermittent, the water reserves that are always present attract numerous animal species including baboons, leopards and mountain zebras.
Ovamboland is situated between the Kavango and the Kunene Rivers. This name was given by English speaking visitors in the late 1800’s to the lands occupied by the Ovambo people in Northern Namibia and southern Somalia. Today Ovamboland (the Northern region) is home to almost two thirds of the Namibian population. Geographically and geologically, the region is part of the immense Kalahari system that extends from the northern part of South Africa to the basin of the Congo River. In the northern part of this region, there is one of the largest national parks in Namibia: the Etosha National Park. The National Park spans an area of 22.270 square kilometres and gets its name from the large Etosha Pan, which is almost entirely within the park. Etosha, meaning “place of dry water”, is a huge, flat pan of about 5.000 square kilometres. The pan provides a great, parched, silver-white backdrop of shimmering mirage to an area of semi-arid savannah grassland. The pan fills with water briefly in the summer, then converts to a shallow lagoon teeming with flamingos and pelicans. In contrast, the surrounding bush and grasslands provide habitat for Etosha’s diverse wildlife. Zebras and springboks are scattered across the endless horizon, while the numerous waterholes attract rhinos, lions, elephants and large number of antelope including the small Dik-Dik. The park is the home of 144 species of mammals including lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and giraffes as well as over 340 species of birds.
This is one of the areas with the lowest human population densities in Namibia, where giraffes, rhinos, kudu, and elephants can move in absolute freedom. The region touts many treasures including Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain, home to the famous “White lady” Bushman painting; Burnt Mountain, which derives its name from the piles of blackened limestone at its base; and the Organ Pipes, a geological attraction within the mountains of an antique desert that take on spectacular colours at sunset. Then there is the Twyfelfontein, an extrodinary outdoor museum a featuring over 2.500 Bushman engravings. A short stop is also suggested in this area to enjoy the different rock formations that have been formed by erosion over millions of years to assume their modern day shapes that are truly awe-inspiring.
Kaokoland is an area in Northern Namibia, and is one of the wildest, least populated and most difficult places to access in the country. It is characterized by rugged mountains, deep gorges, ancient plateaus and watercourses thriving with vegetation and isolated valleys. It covers an area of more than 50.000 square kilometres and is delimited by rolling hills to the south, inaccessible mountains on the north, sandy dunes on the east side and coastal desert on the west. Even though the areas to the south and southwest of Sesfontein up to Brandberg and Uis are considered to be part of Damaraland by political standards, geographically speaking they belong to Kaokoland. The wildlife is as various as it is abundant, offering sightings of springbok, herds of mountain zebras and even the famous desert elephants that run along the riverbeds and adjacent Mopani woods in a never-ending search for food. Forests of the Malakani palm delimit the course of the Kunene River and shade the multitude of springs that gush out of the rolling hills of the Central Plateau.
The Kunene river originates in the Angolan plateau of southern Angola and enters Namibia via the Ruacana Falls where it begins an arduous journey thorough an imposing mountainous territory flowing first through the Zebra Mountains, then forming the Epupa falls, which settle and flow placidly along the Marienfluss valley, where it becomes a refuge for oryx, zebra and desert elephants before taking up its course toward the Hartman mountains and, eventually, the Namib Desert.
The Caprivi Strip is a 450km long, narrow protrusion of Namibia eastwards from the Kavango region. It was named after the German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi who negotiated the acquisition of the land in an exchange with the UK for Uganda and Zanzibar. The Caprivi is a tropical area with high temperatures and rainfall during the rainy season, which occurs from December to March, making it the wettest region of Namibia. Four of the six rivers of Namibia flow in this strip: the Okavango, the Kwando, the Chobe and the Zambezi. In contrast to the arid deserts that characterize this country, here we find a green, wet landscape with 450 animal species that makes it very similar to Botswana and Zambia.
The Okavango river is one of the few remaining natural paradises in Africa, flowing through the desert with a labyrinth of channels creating islets and lagoons surrounded by palms. In the Kavango region visitors find the un-explored, wild area that is home to the Mahango Game Reserve, a small but very interesting reserve characterized by dense forests of Baobab; Omurambas, which are fossil rivers; open grasslands with acacia trees; and dry woodlands to the south. This reserve is populated by elephants, hippos, buffalos and crocodiles. Because of its rather higher rainfall in comparison to most other parts of Namibia, this region has agricultural potential for the cultivation of a variety of crops, as well as for organised forestry and agro-forestry which stimulates furniture making and related industries. In fact, the area is quite renowned for its production artisan wood crafts.
Another small reserve is the Bwabwata National Park. With over 5.700 square kilometres of bush and marsh lands, it is a paradise for birdwatchers hosting over 300 bird species. There are also hundreds of elephants in the park. In the area, there are other two small gems: the Mudumu National Park and the Mamili National Park. Both are located along the Kwando river and host a very small number of visitors, making the safari experience an extremely memorable one.
In north eastern Namibia there is a lesser known region hosting a population important anthropological ancestry: Bushmanland, the capital of which is Tsumkwe. Today the region is inhabited by over 15,000 tribesman. Once, the people of the San tribe were much more diffused as the ventured into much larger areas of the African continent, but now this area is one of the few locations in which Bushman can be found. A visit to this region offers the opportunity for the visitor to get to know the Bushman up close, to understand their habits, to help them in their daily activities and to understand how they have been able to survive in such a hostile environment while maintaining their ancient traditions for so long.
Another unexplored area is the Khaudom Game Park, a nature reserve, situated in the Kalahari Desert and characterized by a sandy habitat peppered with with a few acacia woodlands and isolated baobab trees. It is a very remote and inaccessible reserve, but it is home to many animals such as the lion and hyena. It is only accessible by 4×4 with an expert guide. There are only 2 campsites in the area, neither having access to drinking water or petrol.
When is the best time to go?
UTC +2 hours
The government of Namibia requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
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