Introduction to Namibia Safaris:
The word ‘Namib’ means ‘vast place’ in the language of the Nama People, and is an apt description of this desert nation. From the blinding white salt pan in Etosha, where Elephants caked in the white dust loom large in a flat and almost limitless landscape, to the mist shrouded dunes of the Namib Desert where beetles point their posteriors into the air to catch water droplets, this land of earthy hues is a veritable wonderland for the birder, natural history enthusiast and avid landscape photographer.
Namibia’s western margin is made up of a long arid Atlantic Ocean coastline, where the cold Benguela Current hinders the formation of rain-producing atmospheric conditions. The result is the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world, where precipitation can be as low as 2 mm per year in some regions. The fog created by the interactions of the cold ocean and warm air currents are a vital source of moisture for the coastal strip of the Namib. These fogs have also proved hazardous to ships, with some 1000 wrecks littering this stretch of coast, aptly known as the Skeleton Coast. In the north Namibia shares a border with Angola, while the incongruous Caprivi Strip, a thin ‘arm’ of Namibia, stretches for 450 kilometers eastwards almost all the way to north-western Zimbabwe. Here in the north-east of the region the effects of the cold Atlantic are mitigated and the climate becomes steadily wetter, creating conditions for prime savannah country. Namibia shares its western border with Botswana, and in the south joins South Africa in the Kgalagadi region and along the Gariep River.
Most of the country is arid to extremely arid, comprising the sand dunes, gravel plains and rocky mountains of the Namib Desert. In the far north what rainfall there is allows for arid savannah towards the west and broad-leaf woodland in the east along the Caprivi Strip, where the Okavango, Chobe and Linyanti Rivers provide permanent water.
Namibia is some 825,418 km2 (318,696 sq mi) on size, with a population of around 2.1 million people, making it one of the least populated countries on earth. Historically the region was populated by the Bushman, Damara and Namaqua peoples, which form part of the Khoisan Group, one of 14 known extant ancestral population clusters. Around the 4th Century AD Bantu peoples from further north in African began moving into the area, beginning the displacement of the indigenous population groups. In 1884 it became a German Protectorate, and remained so until the end of World War 1. It was then mandated to South Africa as South-West Africa, and remained under South African administration until 1990, when it became the fully independent nation of Namibia.
Windhoek, situated close to the center of the country, is the capital and the only true city. The far south is the least visited part of the country, with most tourism-related activities taking place in the west / north / central node, which includes the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, the Erongo and Damaraland regions and Etosha National Park. The Caprivi Strip gives access to Botswana and Zambia, with Victoria Falls being a popular end-point for tours beginning in Windhoek. Attractions in the south include the dunes of Sossusvlei, the Fish River Canyon, second largest canyon in the world at 160 kilometers long, the deserted mining town of Kolmanskop and the German-style coastal town of Lϋderitz. See more under Birding and Wildlife.
Summer: September to April
- Namibia is generally a summer rainfall region.
- It can be mild / warm to hot / very hot during the day, depending on altitude and specific location. It’s generally cooler along the coast and hotter inland.
- The north and north-east are wetter and one can expect thunderstorms. Further south it becomes drier, though some rain is possible on the central plateau. The Namib proper is extremely dry.
Winter: May to August
- Winters can be cold to very cold overnight and in the early morning while days are usually cool to mild, though occasional cold fronts can make it cold all day.
- Minimal chances of rain.
As with South Africa, Namibia offers a rather unique birding experience. While there is only one true endemic, the Dune Lark of the seemingly lifeless Namib dune fields, there are around 20 near-endemics to be seen, some of which are restricted to northern Namibia and southern Angola. With Angola being a far more challenging travel destination, Namibia remains the best place to see species such as Cinderella Waxbill, Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Violet Wood-Hoopoe, Herero Chat and others. A new population of Angola Cave-Chat, a species formerly though to occur only in Angola, has recently been found in the Zebra Mountains of northern Namibia, further adding to the country’s list of special birds. See more under ‘Namibia Birding‘…
At first glance, much of the drier parts of Namibia seem devoid of life, more like Martian landscapes than anything earthly. Closer inspection however will reveal an astonishing array of smaller life forms even in the harshest depths of the Namib. Tenebrionid beetles abound, preyed on by the hardy Namaqua Chameleon. Lizards scuttle across the dunes, while at night Barking Geckos emerge from their burrows to fill the still night air with their clicks (in fact, with 125 species, Namibia is the richest country in Africa in terms of Lizards). Bigger animals such desert Elephants and Black Rhino also survive in some of the regions where hardy trees grow along dry river courses. On the coast millions of Cape Fur Seals thrive, with the pups and dead adults scavenged on by Black-backed Jackals, Brown Hyenas and even Lions. In Etosha, land of the blinding white salt pan, the wildlife viewing can be truly spectacular, especially in the dry season where water holes become the stage for dramatic scenes as herds gather to drink and predators lie in ambush. Indeed, Namibia is blessed with a spectacular range of wildlife, from the small desert dwellers to the typical African savanna species. See more under ‘Namibia Wildlife‘…