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Namibia is a country of vast and astonishing landscapes. Home to the world's oldest desert, and one of the least densely populated countries on earth, there is plenty more than just rock and sand in South West Africa.
The Namib desert plays host to some truly incredible sights. The breath-taking ochre dunes of Sossusvlei are some of the highest in the world, the treacherous Skeleton coast lies to the north, populated with thousands of rusting shipwrecks, and perhaps most dramatic of all, Damaraland is home to the Spitzkoppe rock formations, bizarre petrified forests, and oasis-like valleys.
Cities such as Swakopmund and Luderitz stand as time warps, pretty relics of German colonial rule. Windhoek, the capital, is a modern oasis in the desert, offering shelter from the harsh African plains and a great start or end point to an African desert adventure.
Just north of the border with South Africa, the Fish River Canyon may well be one of Africa's greatest natural phenomenon, 100 miles (160km) long, up to 17 miles (27km) wide, and 1800 feet (550m) deep. Etosha National Park in the north is one of the world's great theaters for wildlife viewing. Waterholes around the iconic Etosha Pan are oases for the vast herds and big predators that roam the salt flats. Caprivi, on the tiny strip of land in the north east of the country, connects Namibia with Victoria Falls and the Chobe National Park in Botswana, and is a haven for wildlife in its own right.
Early Portuguese sailors sought to avoid what they called 'the sands of hell'. Today, visitors have discovered the vast potential of Namibia, a country rich in natural resources, with desert landscapes, sunshine, wildlife, and a stark barren beauty.
Travel in Namibia is a celebration of dramatic landscapes. Whether on an organised tour or going solo in a 4x4, visitors cannot fail to be astonished by the Namib desert and the many other natural phenomena they will stumble across. Most tourists start in Windhoek, the capital, getting their bearings among the German colonial architecture before venturing out into the great unknown. Heading in any direction brings its rewards.
South leads to the Fish River Canyon. There is a five day hike along the canyon floor, or for the less adventurous, day trips out to a view point, or a stroll along the edge of the canyon. North heads to Etosha National Park. Stay in stunning bush camps such as Halali or Okaukuejo and witness Africa's herds arrive at the waterholes in their thousands. The extreme north of the country, the Caprivi Strip, hosts exciting new wildlife havens such as Nkasa Rupara National Park, and Bwabwata National Park, both now thriving with new game, and especially birdlife.
Swakopmund, on the west coast, is Namibia's adventure capital where activities include dune boarding, quad biking, hot air balloon tours, and many more. It is also the gateway to the vast Namib desert. Visitors can camp nearby in Sesriem and get up pre-dawn to visit the colossal Sossusvlei dunes. Sunrise from Dune 45 is a truly unforgettable experience. Further inland, Damaraland plays host to the prehistoric rock art of Twyfelfontein and Brandberg. The imposing formations of Spitzkoppe, Africa's Matterhorn, are favoured by experienced climbers.
The Owambo region is Namibia's cultural centre and home to the Himba people, a culturally rich tribe notable for their striking dress. Guided walks in the region are available to visitors who seek a window into the traditional way of life in the desert.
One of the most popular highlights in Namibia are the clay pans of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. The dunes are among the highest in the world, reaching more than 960 feet (300m) and are a wondrous sight of endless rolling shapes and sharp crests sculpted by the wind. The beautiful black and white Oryx antelope is occasionally spotted in the meagre shade of the thorn trees, lizards leave their tiny trails on the pristine mounds of sand, and the black 'tok tokkie' beetle is commonly seen stumbling over the red clay surface. The area is also home to ostriches and springbok. The dunes are located roughly 37 miles (60km) from the Sesriem Gate, which is the entrance to the park.
Christuskirche is a prominent landmark in the historic centre of Windhoek. A 79-foot (24m) spire tops the sandstone church, existing as a national monument. Its portal and altar are Italian marble, and its gothic revival face is unique by virtue of its Art Nouveau elements made from quartz sandstone. Interestingly, the stained glass windows, a gift from Emperor Wilhelm II, were installed backwards until the late 1990s when a tourist noticed the error. The church is a delight to explore, especially for those interested in architecture. The Parliamentary Gardens are wonderful for a stroll and a picnic, and are just around the corner form the church. There is also a small craft market nearby.
The Skeleton Coast National Park is infamous for inaccessible shores and rough waters. The local San used to call it 'The Land God Made in Anger', while Portuguese sailors named it 'The Gates of Hell'. It's a barren yet hauntingly beautiful destination for photographers, its natural formations creating a surreal world all its own. The Skeleton Coast National Park has some interesting attractions, including the Agate Mountain saltpans, the clay castles of the Hoarasib, and the large Cape fur seal colony at Cape Fria. Known as a great surfing destination and for having a stunning night sky, the heavens are undimmed by human settlements.
The Alte Fest, also known as the Schutztruppe Fort, served as the German colonial power's military headquarters until after World War One and today houses the state historical museum. German commander Curt von Francois laid the foundation stones in 1890, making it one of the oldest buildings in Windhoek and a significant national monument. In fact, the modern city more or less grew around the fort. Today, the museum's exhibition informs visitors of Namibia's history from its San origins to German occupation in 1884 and the resulting struggle for independence. The museum is a bit old-fashioned and rundown but still interesting. Emphasis is on the revolutionary struggle, with fascinating old photographs.
Swakopmund is an enchanting little seaside town in the middle of the Namib Desert, with many colonial buildings and a distinctly German character. The region's food specialities include rock lobster, fish, and Swakopmund oysters. Swakopmund is known as a paradise for extreme sports, and popular activities include sand boarding, paragliding, dune carting, hot air ballooning, shark fishing, and quad biking. The stretch of coast is also famous for its beach angling. Visitors who aren't looking for death-defying activities will enjoy attractions in Swakopmund like the Cape Cross Seal Colony, the National Marine Aquarium, and the Rossmund Desert Golf Course, one of only five all-grass desert golf courses in the world.
The National Botanic Garden of Namibia is a 12 hectare (30 acre) nature reserve in the heart of Windhoek, where tourists can hike, picnic, and learn about the country's fascinating plant life. The small nature reserve only opened to the public in the 1990s. The gardens are great for birdwatching, with lists of plants and birds found in the reserve available at reception. Guided tours are also in operation but should be booked in advance. The gardens can get very dry in winter, between June and September, and are at their most splendid when the plants are lush and in bloom during the rainy season, which is the best time to visit.
The climate of Namibia is generally a hot and dry one. Rainfall occurs exclusively in the summer months, between November and February, when some humidity and heavy thunderstorms are sure to be expected.
Even during the rainy season, thunderstorms tend to be localised and occur more in the centre and east of the country, while the desert receives markedly less rain. Summer is very hot and the Namib Desert should be avoided at this time as temperatures are often above 104ºF (40ºC) and extremely uncomfortable.
The coast is cooler and often foggy in summer. Average winter temperatures during the day range between 64°F (18°C) and 71°F (22°C) and the days are pleasantly warm and sunny. But the nights can be very cold, especially in the desert, with frost covering the ground in the mornings.
The best time to visit Namibia is during the winter months from March to October. April and May are green and fresh, while June and August are the best for game viewing as animals tend to congregate around waterholes, making them easy to spot. September and October are also fantastic for game viewing, but it can be very dry and dusty.
The official currency is the Namibian Dollar (NAD), divided into 100 cents. Its value is equal to the South African Rand, which is accepted as legal currency in Namibia. Major credit cards are accepted, while foreign currency can be exchanged at any bank or bureau de change. ATMs are available in larger towns only.
English is the official language, but many people also speak Afrikaans and German. There are also several indigenous languages spoken, mainly in the rural areas.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round three-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required, for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
UK nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required, for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
CA nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required, for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
AU nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required, for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
ZA nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
IR nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
NZ nationals: Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia. No visa is required for touristic or business-related stays of up to three months.
All foreign passengers to Namibia must have confirmed return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Additionally, visitors should ensure that they have at least two blank pages remaining in their passports, for entry and departure endorsements from the Namibian Immigration Service. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Namibia, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. All travellers must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay in Namibia.
Typhoid, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B vaccinations are recommended for travel to Namibia. Safety regulations in Namibia require all visitors to have a yellow fever certificate if arriving from an infected area. There is a malaria risk in the northern region of Namibia during the rainy season (January to April).
HIV/AIDS is prevalent and precautions are essential, although travellers are seldom at risk unless engaging in unprotected sex. Cholera outbreaks do occur and visitors should drink only boiled or bottled water, avoiding ice in drinks.
There has been an increase in the incidents of rabies among dogs in Windhoek, so travellers at risk of animal bites should consider a rabies vaccination. There are good medical facilities in Windhoek, but medical insurance is essential as treatment is expensive.
Outside of the main cities, medical treatment may be hard to come by. Travellers to Namibia should seek medical advice at least four weeks prior to departure. For peace of mind, it is best to take prescription medications along when travelling.
Medicines should be kept in their original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor, detailing why the medication is needed.
Tips of 10 percent are expected where a service charge has not been included in the bill. Tour guides, game rangers, and trackers rely on tips for their income and should be tipped accordingly.
The majority of visits to Namibia are safe and trouble free. But street crime and pickpockets are on the increase in Windhoek and other town centres. Theft from vehicles is common, especially at service stations, and valuables should be kept out of sight and the car locked.
Avoid using taxis if possible and never take one alone, taking special care when travelling in the Caprivi Strip. One should travel in daylight hours only, both for general safety and to avoid livestock which wander onto roads causing accidents.
Additionally, stay on the main tarred highway as there is a risk of undiscovered landmines left over from the Angolan civil war. The terrorism threat in Namibia is very low, with no major incidents of violence against foreigners reported. At all times, travellers should carry identification like photocopies of passports.
It is best to check before taking pictures of State House or properties where the President is residing, as well as any buildings guarded by the army or police. Homosexuality is criminalised in Namibia, although these laws may not always be enforced.
Business in Namibia is somewhat formal, although drinking and socialising are an important part of building good working relationships. Standard business etiquette applies. Dress tends to be formal, with more lightweight materials worn in the hotter seasons, and punctuality is important.
People shake hands on greeting and leaving, and should generally be polite and professional. English is the language of business, though German and Afrikaans are widely spoken. Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for Namibia is +264. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)61 for Windhoek.
A GSM 900/1800 mobile network covers most towns and major highways. Large parts of the country are not covered by the mobile network. A satellite phone is a good backup option for those heading off the beaten track.
Internet cafes are pretty common in Windhoek and Walvis Bay. Wifi is increasingly available in hostels, hotels, lodges and guesthouses, but the signal rarely extends beyond the reception area.
Travellers to Namibia over 16 years do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 250g of tobacco; 2 litres wine and 1 litre spirits or liquor; 50ml perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette; and gifts to the value of N$50,000.
Namibian Tourist Office, Windhoek: +264 (0)61 290 6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.namibiatourism.com.na
Embassy of Namibia, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Canada): +1 202 986 0540.
Namibia High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7636 6244.
Namibia High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 481 9100.
United States Embassy, Windhoek: +264 (0)61 295 8500.
British High Commission, Windhoek: +264 (0)61 274 800.
Canadian Consulate, Windhoek: +264 (0)61 251 254.
Australian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Namibia): +27 (0)12 423 6000.
South African High Commission, Windhoek: +264 (0)61 205 7111.
Irish Embassy, Lusaka, Zambia (also responsible for Namibia): +260 211 291 298.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Namibia): +27 (0)12 435 9000.
Twyfelfontein boasts the largest concentration of ancient rock art in the country, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The petroglyphs primarily depict game animals such as giraffe, antelope, elephant, and lion, and the oldest carvings may date back 10,000 years. Most are believed to be around 3,000 years old. Translated as 'uncertain fountain', Twylfontein got its name from a farmer who doubted the spring's ability to sustain their cattle for a long period. Visitors can't enter the site without a guide due to previous vandalism. The uniquely-designed visitor information centre features an exhibition, kiosk, and souvenir shop. Other stunning sights in the area around Twyfelfontein include the Organ Pipes, the Doros Crater, and the Petrified Forest.
The natural beauty of the Spitzkoppe is spectacular: an island of bald granite peaks situated in an endless grassy plain that is visible for miles around. Groot Spitzkop is often referred to as the 'Matterhorn of Africa' because of its similarity in shape, and it is one of Namibia's most famous mountains. Nearby are the Little Spitzkoppe and the Pontok Mountains. Many San rock paintings exist in the Spitzkoppe area and these ancient artworks are thrilling to seek out. At the foot of Groot Spitzkop, Rhino Rock boasts some of the best surviving examples of prehistoric rock paintings. Sadly, many have been destroyed. The area is also renowned for its breath-taking sunrises, which turn the rocks from pale orange to flaming gold.
The Brandberg Massif is famous for its thousands of rock paintings and engravings. Its most celebrated piece is the 'White Lady', estimated to be around 2,000 years old. The painting shows a male with the white colour representing body paint which suggests it is a medicine man. Discovered in 1955, there has been a great deal of controversy over the meaning and origin of the painting. The mountain is a sacred place for the San tribes in the region. Brandberg's highest peak is Königstein, and at 8,550 feet (2,606m), it is the highest mountain in Namibia.
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