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  • The Namib Desert

    The Namib Desert travel guide

    Overview

    The Namib Desert is the oldest and most arid desert region in the world, having been around for more than 80 million years. In the Nama language, 'Namib' means 'vast'. This description perfectly suits the miles of barren landscape stretching endlessly along Namibia's Atlantic coastline.

    In the north, the Skeleton Coast lies as an intensely mysterious, inhospitable area of treacherous rocks, sandbanks, dry gravel plains, and isolated, flat-topped mountains. The bleak wilderness is especially eerie when blanketed in thick coastal fog, brought about by the collision of the cold sea air and searing heat of the harsh interior.

    Over the centuries, shipwrecked sailors soon joined the whale and seal skeletons which littered the coast, having no chance of survival in the wastes of the Namib Desert. Its appeal lies in its untouched quality, the colours and changing moods of the large landscape, and the flora and fauna's incredible adaptions to desert life.

    The southern Namib forms part of the Namib-Naukluft Park, one of Africa's most interesting and diverse nature reserves. It includes Sandwich Lagoon, an important wetland area for migratory birds, as well as canyons, rivers, and the Naukluft mountain massif. It is home to many animal species, particularly the Hartmann's mountain zebra. This section of the Namib Desert is characterised by an endless sea of orange sand dunes, and the famous Sossusvlei dunes, which are the highest in the world.

    Situated along the coast, the charming little seaside resort of Swakopmund emerges from the desert stretch. Its distinctly German character and old world charm makes it a great base for any holiday in the Namib Desert.

    Sossusvlei

    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.

    Opening time: Sunrise to sunset.
    Sossusvlei dune Sossusvlei dune Judith Duk
    Skeleton Coast National Park

    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.

    A wreck on the Skeleton Coast A wreck on the Skeleton Coast Verdi
    Swakopmund

    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.

    Swakopmund coastline Swakopmund coastline Judith Duk

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation
    Walvis Bay Airport
    Location: The airport is located nine miles (15km) east of Walvis Bay.
    Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the first Sunday in April and the first Sunday in September).
    Getting to the city: An airport shuttle bus is available, bookings should be made in advance.
    Car Rental: Avis and Budget have car rental kiosks at the airport.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are available and the trip to into Walvis Bay takes roughly 15 minutes.
    Fascilities: Facilities at the airport include a restaurant, gift shop, mother's room, post box, public phones, mobile telephone rentals, and internet facilities.

    Useful Contacts:

    The Namib Desert boasts the dauntingly desolate landscape of the Skeleton Coast, some of the biggest sand dunes in the world, uniquely adapted desert wildlife, and a number of breath-taking natural attractions.

    Highlights of the Skeleton Coast National Park include the Agate Mountain saltpans, the clay castles of Hoarasib, and the Cape fur seal colony at Cape Fria. The clay pans and huge orange sand dunes of Sossusvlei are among the most famous tourist attractions in Namibia.

    One of the best places to stay when exploring the desert is the charming seaside resort of Swakopmund, located close to a number of superb desert landscapes. It has wonderful food, great beaches, and plentiful water sports and extreme sports facilities.

    Walvis Bay is a good base for travel in the Namib, particularly for birdwatchers. Many tour operators offer a variety of desert wildlife safaris, boat tours along the coast, and 4x4 jaunts through surreal terrain. Surfers should head to Skeleton Bay, while there will be no disappointment for those interested in dune boarding and scuba diving in Namibia.

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