Namibia- Africa’s Golden Child

A lot of Americans had never heard of Namibia until Angelina Jolie and Brad made a trip there to give birth to Shiloh. There’s not a lot of big news that comes out of that country because it’s still relatively freshly independent, there’s a small population, and Namibia seems to have learned what not-to-do from it’s neighbor and former landlord, South Africa. Namibia is one of the favorite vacation spots of southern Africans and Angelina allegedly fell in love with it while shooting Beyond Borders. If it’s good enough for Angelina, it must be awesome, right?

Namibia IS awesome. It’s spread out with miles and miles between attractions, but it has a quirkiness and enough interesting spots that it’s perfect for a traveler looking for something a bit different. If you want to REALLY get away from the crowds, it is definitely the place. It’s the size of Spain, Germany and France together, but it’s population is only about two million. Combined with a trip to Cape Town, it’s a fantastic journey. It’s safer than most of the countries in Africa, the currency is stable, people speak English and are tourist friendly, and American dollars go further than they do in the USA.

One of Namibia’s biggest draws is the sand dunes at Sossuslei. They are the biggest in the world and a bright cartoon orange. You might have seen sand dunes before, but you haven’t seen these. Getting there is half the fun. The park is about 6 hours from the capital Windhoek and between the wide empty spaces you find weird little places like Solitaire, the essential stop that has more vintage wrecked cars than it does people, to interesting mountain passes with amazing views. The sand dune area is a National Park so you’re likely to see oryx, ostriches, and lots of gazelles. There’s a camping park right inside the main gate that has frequent animal visitors in the morning and night. Many travelers will drive to the dunes early in the morning to watch the sunrise on the dunes. A few of them are accessible for climbing, but it’s harder and they’re taller than you think.

Etosha National Park is one of the most famous game parks in the world. It’s unique in that it’s center is a salt pan and many of the animals and plants have adapted to live with less water. The park has several interesting campgrounds, with one actually built on the edge of the pan. There’s really nothing to see at this particular lodge  except a REALLY flat ocean landscape with no water, but at least you don’t have to squint to see behind bushes. Most of the camps in Etosha have lodges for those without camping abilities and a watering hole where animals gather. You can watch and photograph them in the comfort of the facilities without being stuck in a car. The more clever animals aren’t stopped by fences so you might encounter a group of mongoose or jackals running around the camp looking for food scraps.

Damaraland in the western desert is a very unique spot. At first glimpse you might think you’re in Arizona. The famous petroglyph site of Twyfelfontein is in the heart of the area and one of the best places to see animals carved in stone thousands of years old. The area was first discovered by Europeans less than 100 years ago and to date over 2,000 individual carvings have been found of giraffes, ostricesh and other animals that the Damaraland ancestors hunted and bragged about on giant stones. Visiting one of the traditional villages in the area is a little touristy, but you’ll get those National Geographic photos that you’ve been looking for. The village people will show you how they make clothing out of goat skin, produce jewelry, and manufacture medicine out of plants and elephant dung. If that’s not exciting enough, they make fire from two sticks, tell you how they make beer out of weeds in ant beds and then teach you the game of mancala. Tribal fortunes have been won and lost at this game, so don’t bet anything you can’t afford to lose if you get caught in a game. There’s a lot of interesting mountain passes and photogenic rock formations in the area, so it’s a great place to hike if that’s your thing.

The eastern most point of the country of the Caprivi strip connects to the upper Zambezi and Okavango river. It’s less than 2 hours to get to Victoria Falls from the Botswana border. Victoria falls is divided between Zambia and Zimbabwe and is a spectacular place to visit. It’s the 2nd largest waterfall in the world and visas can be obtained upon arrival quickly and painlessly.  If you collect countries, it’s possible to visit 4 different ones within a few hours time since the borders are so near each other. The Okavango river area has it’s own mini-version of the famous Okavango Delta with lower prices and less crowds.

The central coast is famous for it’s fishing and Henties Bay is a mecca for anglers all over the world.. Less than an hour north is one of the largest seal colonies in the world. There’s as many as 20,000 Cape fur seals lounging around, breeding, eating, fighting, and doing whatever seals do in their spare time. The site is easily accessible and you are right next to the seals without disturbing them. An hour or so south of Henties, the resort town of Swakopmund is a weird fusion of Germany, Holland and Amity Island from Jaws. It’s the place that Namibians go for their holidays and it’s got several cute restaurants, German bakeries, and other forms of civilization you’ll appreciate if you’ve been driving in the desert for too long. The beaches along the coast aren’t exactly famous for being sunny and calm, but they’re not crowded. If you like shipwrecks, you might be in for a treat. The waters are rough in Namibia and a record number of sailing vessels have met their demise along the coast. There’s a reason that the northern section is called The Skeleton Coast.

Why should you go to Namibia? It’s a weird and wonderful one of a kind experience that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a short 2 hour flight from Capetown to Windhoek and a great place to get lost.

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