I journeyed into Namibia from my South Africa vacation with little-to-no expectations. It just doesn’t seem to have the same global fame as Table Mountain in South Africa, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the Serengeti in Tanzania, or even the Souqs in Morocco. With that being said, Namibia absolutely blew me away. To date, it was one of the most beautiful and authentic experiences that I have had and so I wanted to share with you the most incredible things to do in Namibia.
But first, a history lesson.
The word Namibia is derived from the Namib Desert, and the Bantu population started inhabiting Namibia in the 14th Century. In 1884 the Germans entered and called it “Germany West Africa,” but after the first World War it was colonized by South Africa; in 1973 the United Nations recognized the South West Africa Organization as the only entity to rule Namibia. Because of this, you will see quite a lot of German influence within the country from the architecture to the food, and even the newspaper! It wasn’t until 1990 that Namibia actually gained its independence.
Deadvlei – Things to do in Namibia
Some Interesting Facts About Namibia:
- The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world.
- There are 2 million visitors every year, so tourism brings a lot of money into Namibia.
- Their stable economy is greatly tied to South Africa’s economy, but the unemployment rate is still around 27%.
- Namibia has the lowest population density in the world (Mongolia holds the #1 spot)
- There are 32 kids to 1 teacher in the education system, and there’s only one university – the University of Namibia.
- The biggest health problem is HIV/AIDS with a 13.1% prevalence and health care is free for those with the disease.
- It’s very difficult to treat malaria if you are HIV positive, so it’s a big problem for Namibians.
- The life expectancy in Namibia is 52 years old.
- There are 2 official languages (English and Afrikaans), but 9 other unofficial languages associated with the 9 tribes living in Namibia.
How To Get To Namibia…
Most major carriers will fly you to Hosea Kutako International Airport, near the capital city of Windhoek; it’s likely that you will have a layover in either Cape Town or Johannesburg first. Remember to check my link to Skyscanner for all of the best flight deals to/from Namibia.
If you’re already exploring the Southern African countries and don’t want to hop on a plane, check out the Intercape Mainliner, as it runs from multiple destinations in Namibia to Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Victoria Falls. There’s air conditioning, USB charging points, reclining seats, and an onboard toilet to make your journey as comfortable as possible.
If you have the right kind of car, you can cross into Namibia from South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Angola. Of course, make sure you have valid visas (if you need one to visit Namibia), as well as your car registration and license on hand. Sometimes the border crossings can take a bit of time.
If you don’t feel like catching a plane or taking a long bus ride and don’t want to deal with the potential stress of crossing on your own, you can always join an overland tour in either Victoria Falls or Cape Town. While you still cross by land, everything is taken care of for you and there are multiple site-seeing stops along the way so that you aren’t stuck in a car or bus for hours on end. I personally took an overland tour and it couldn’t have been easier!
Spitzkoppe – Things to do in Namibia
How To Get Through Namibia…
I recommend an overland tour for anyone traveling to and through Namibia. Originally I had planned to road trip on my own, but you have to remember that Namibia is a dry and arid country. In fact, we drove for days on our tour without seeing another person, animal, or facility. It’s an isolated, spectacularly beautiful country but if you decide to do it on your own, DO YOUR RESEARCH! It’s recommended that you have a 4WD car with a double fuel tank (ideally a car with a pop-up tent on the roof), your own cooking supplies, and enough food and water for 3-5 days longer than you plan out! You never know what mishaps can happen in a dessert, so you must be prepared for every situation.
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While I will give accommodation options for each location, please note that Namibia is different from many places, as you can camp just about anywhere. While camping certainly saves money and connects you with nature, there’s something to be said for some of the luxury glamping sites and chalets scattered throughout Namibia. That aside, Namibia has some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes and friendliest people. Here are the 12 most incredible things to do in Namibia:
1. Orange River
If you’re coming from Cape Town, you will notice that the landscape changes dramatically once you cross into Namibia. Shortly after the crossing, you will find yourselves at the Orange River. In fact, the Orange River signifies the border between South Africa and Namibia when journeying from Cape Town to the Vioolsdrift Border. I recommend grabbing a canoe to explore the river itself. It’s a leisurely experience that takes about two and a half hours. Wear sunscreen, and don’t forget a hat, as there’s no cover from the sun!
Orange River – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
There’s really only one place to stay that’s both close to the border crossing and situated along the river: Felix Unite Provenance Camp. This is where we stayed and you can find everything from a well-equipped campground to an airconditioned honeymoon suite with stunning views. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner alongside the Orange River too. When you’re traveling such distances to reach the border, it’s always nice to find a comfortable spot just 9.3 miles after crossing the border to relax and recharge.
If you’d like to stay on the Orange River on South African side though, right before the border crossing, you can have a look at Frontier River Resort. Their tented chalets are comfortable and spacious, and it’s just 3.7 miles from the Vioolsdrift Border Control to Namibia.
If you’re looking for something more upscale on the South African side, I highly recommend the Vioolsdrift Lodge. Each beautiful unit has its own patio, fully equipped kitchen, fireplace, seating area, flat screen TV, and private bathroom with shower.
2. Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon is located 130 miles from the Felix Unite Provenance Camp. Believe it or not, the Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world at 160 km long by 127 km wide and .5m deep. It is said to be 500 million years old! It was an impressive site to say the least, and it’s worth timing your visit so that you can watch the sunset over this massive canyon.
Fish River Canyon – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
The closest lodging to Fish River Canyon is about 13 miles away in Kanebis where you have a few beautiful lodging options, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
My first recommendation is the Gondwana Canyon Lodge. With small units made of stone, private terraces, spacious rooms, and spa baths, these chalets blend beautifully with its surroundings. Breakfast is included and there is a bar on site.
It’s also worth checking out the Gondwana Canyon Village, which is slightly cheaper. The stone-and-thatch rooms all have air conditioning, mosquito nets, and private bathrooms. Breakfast is included and there is a bar on site.
3. Sesriem Canyon
After a drive through the Zaris and Naukluft Mountains, you’ll find yourself at the Sesriem Canyon. This is one of the only canyons in Namibia that holds water year-round. Sesriem means “six ropes,” which refers to the number of ropes that had to be tied together for the early Afrikaans explorers to get buckets of water. Be sure to go down into the canyon – 1.6 km long x 30m deep x 2 m wide in some places – and wander through the narrow corridors.
Sesriem Canyon – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
Le Mirage Resort & Spa will blow you away and is my #1 recommendation! This castle in the middle of the desert simply cannot be missed. With luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, free WiFi, spa treatments, and poolside massages, this hotel will certainly pamper you if you don’t feel like roughing it.
If the castle wasn’t big enough for you, you can check out the Sossusvlei Lodge. The Sossusvlei Lodge offers spectacular views overlooking the red sand dunes and mountains in the distance. Included in the steep price is breakfast and dinner that’s served on the terrace overlooking a floodlit waterhole.
If you want something clean and comfortable, but not as over the top, Desert Camp is a great option. Guests have their own clean and spacious self-catering units so that you can cook up your own food, but they also offer meals on site as well.
4. Dune 45 & Sossusvlei
Set your alarms early, as you’ll certainly want to climb up Dune 45 before sunrise! Look up at the Milky Way overhead as you feel the sand between your toes on each step up. Dune 45 is one of the world’s largest sand dunes and composed of 5 million-year-old sand. It’s one of the only dunes that people are allowed to climb, which is why it’s imperative to get there early if you want to find yourself the best perch on the top. On first glance it doesn’t look difficult, but looks can be deceiving! Factor in more time than planned for this calf burner. There’s nothing quite like watching sunrise over Dune Valley though.
Dune 45 – Things to do in Namibia
Run down the sand dune (because who doesn’t enjoy getting covered in sand?!) before making your way to Sossusvlei. Sossusvlei means “dead end” and it is home to the “crazy dune,” the largest sand dune in the world!
Largest Sand Dune in the World – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
I’d recommend sleeping at the same accommodations as in Sesriem, as they are all close together. Personally, I’d rather not pack up and move everyday if I don’t have to. If you’d like some other options though, there are some more affordable accommodations near Sossusvlei that you can check out here.
Deadvlei was the real “wow” factor for me and the iconic Namibia that you see in photos. 800-900 years ago, this area of Namibia got so dry that all of the acacia trees died. But when they died, there was no moisture in the air so the trees couldn’t decompose; instead, it left a big salt pan in the middle of the desert with dead acacia trees. While this doesn’t sound particularly exciting on paper, it’s absolutely stunning.
Deadvlei – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
As Deadvlei would be visited on the same trip as Dune 45 and Sossusvlei, I would suggest choosing one accommodation and staying there for a few days.
6. Solitaire & the Tropic of Capricorn
Did you know that the best apple pie in the world can be found in the middle of nowhere Namibia? I didn’t, but I sure found out (just one month after discovering that I was allergic to apples too)! I couldn’t refrain though, as McGregor's Bakery in Solitaire truly does live up to the hype of having the world’s best apple pie; it’s worth putting a cold scoop of ice cream on top of it too! Solitaire is a remote settlement that not only offers restaurants and accommodations but – potentially more importantly – it is the only fuel station between Sossusvlei and Swakopmund. It’s a great place to rest and recharge at the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park and just below the Tropic of Capricorn. The Tropic of Capricorn is 23.5 degrees south of the Equator; it is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be directly overhead.
Tropic of Capricorn – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
If you choose to stay in Solitaire, I’d suggest the Gondwana Namib Desert Lodge. Each unit has its own air conditioning, private bathroom with shower, and patio area. It has an on-site pool and breakfast is included.
If you’re more of a luxury traveler, it’s worth checking out The Desert Grace, where each room has sweeping views, private patios, modern amenities.
7. Cape Cross
Hold your noses! I promise you’ll thank me later. There’s a reason that Cape Cross is unofficially named the “Smelly Seal Colony.” Cape Cross was founded by the Portuguese and is the biggest seal colony in the world, with approximately 80,000 Cape Fur seals. The smell is overwhelming, but it’s fascinating to see the seals up close and personal. The babies were incredibly cute! No need to sleep over here though, unless you feel like camping.
Cape Cross – Things to do in Namibia
8. Skeleton Coast
It’s worth a quick pit stop along the Skeleton Coast, also known as “The Land God Made in Anger” and “The Gates of Hell.” The winds blow from land to sea, causing strong surf on the beaches, and the climate is pretty inhospitable. With such a harsh environment, it’s no surprise that there have been hundreds of shipwrecks over the centuries. Here we saw Zelda, the most recent shipwreck on Namibia’s coast in 2007. There’s very little infrastructure on the Skeleton Coast, so, unless you’re camping, continue your drive up to Swakopmund.
Shipwreck on the Skeleton Coast – Things to do in Namibia
Swakopmund is known as the adventure capital of Namibia. You can do everything here from skydiving to ATVing and everything in between; you certainly won’t be short of things to do in Namibia’s adventure capital. All of the adventure activities are quite affordable and I certainly recommend spending a few days in Swakopmund.
ATVing through the Desert – Things to do in Namibia
While I enjoyed ATVing through the untouched sand dunes and wandering through the heavily German-influenced streets, I personally took the time to visit a township in Swakopmund; Swakopmund is divided into 3 sections – the town, the township, and the informal settlements. The township tour was a harsh reminder of how blessed we are to have a roof over our heads, food to eat, clean water to drink, and electricity. Please have a look at this article to read what it was like walking around the Swakopmund township. Oh, and if you want to eat a fat, juicy caterpillar, this is also the place to do so!
Swakopmund Township – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
As this is the first real town you’d be hitting in Namibia (if coming from Cape Town), you’ll notice plenty of accommodation options! I’ll break down my top recommended places:
Luxury: The Mylas Cottage would be my top choice. It’s 969 square feet and the entire place would be yours. The chalet comes with two bedrooms, a full equipped kitchen, flat-screen TV, garden, and free WiFi. It’s beautifully decorated, quite charming, and can even sleep up to 5 people! If you’re not looking for a self-contained place, I’d recommend the honeymoon suite at Swakopmund Luxury Suites. Located in the heart of the town, Swakopmund Luxury Suites has free WiFi, air conditioning, a seating area, and breakfast included.
Mid-Range: Driftwood Guesthouse offers spacious rooms with a patio or balcony, along with free WiFi and an exceptional breakfast included. It’s modern, spacious, and centrally located.
Budget: Villa Sohrada is hands down the best budget option for any couple. Set at $50 per night, you will have your own apartment with a queen bed, patio, garden, kitchen, lounge, free WiFi and more. It’s an absolute steal for Swakopmund!
Spitzkoppe (meaning “Pointed Dome” in German) was one of my favorite areas in all of Namibia and, to date, the place where I’ve witnessed the prettiest sunset (which says a lot).
Sunset in Spitzkoppe – Things to do in Namibia
Commonly known as “The Matterhorn of Africa,” Spitzkoppe is characterized by its 120 million-year-old, 1784m granite mountain which is visible around every turn. It’s quite a dramatic change in landscape from the sand dunes just days prior. In the area, you can also see the Spitzkoppe Cave Paintings; there have been at least 37 Bushmen cave paintings found and are believed to go back 2000-4000 years. I absolutely fell in love with this area and hope to return and explore more.
Rock Arch – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
As Spitzkoppe is pretty isolated, there are not many accommodation options. In fact, we bush-camped and slept under the stars. If you don’t feel like camping, there are a few lodges 20-30 miles away. I’d recommend the Hohenstein Lodge, as it’s just 20 miles away from Spitzkoppe and includes both breakfast and dinner in the price of your private chalet.
11. Etosha National Park
Declared Etosha National Park in 1967, this game park is home to 114 mammals (excluding buffalo). Etosha means “Great White Place,” named after the giant salt pan in the park. I always recommend doing multiple game drives (safaris) within a national park, so we went out four separate times.
Two Giraffes Spotted in Etosha National Park – Things to do in Namibia
While we saw everything from giraffes to zebras with babies to springbok, oryx, and impala to jackals and warthogs, our highlights were certainly seeing the black rhinos, cheetahs, and lions! We even ended up seeing a pride of ten lions with a kill! Etosha National Park is absolutely exceptional and a must for anyone looking for things to do in Namibia.
Lion Yawning in Etosha National Park – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
Etosha Village is nestled along Etosha National Park, as it’s only 1.2 miles from the Anderson entrance. The Etosha Village does a beautiful job of juxtaposing modern amenities with the surrounding nature. Each private chalet has its own bathroom, and patio, and each reservation includes both breakfast and dinner!
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, you can check out Eldorado Guest Farm. It’s located just 5 miles from the Anderson entrance to the park and there’s free WiFi in the rooms. Even though this may be a more affordable option, it also includes both breakfast and dinner!
Grootfontein isn’t the most popular of things to do in Namibia, but it ended up being very special when we went to visit the San Bushmen Village an hour and a half away. The San Bushmen are the oldest native people in the region and still live the nomadic hunter-gatherer life. They speak in a clicking language, sleep in thatched-roof huts, use herbal remedies, and wear traditional clothing.
San Bushmen Healing Dance – Things to do in Namibia
The elder of the tribe didn’t speak any English, however, through our translator, he taught us how they make fire from two sticks, gather plants and roots from the environment to make medicines, and partook in a healing dance to wash away the bad spirits. The experience with the San people was mesmerizing, as it was so different from any culture I’d ever experienced. They live simple, basic lives – relying on the Earth to survive – and yet they seem to truly make the most of what they have and appreciate what they have.
Blessing the Baby – Things to do in Namibia
Where to Sleep?
Grootfontein isn’t on the typically-traveled tourist path, so there aren’t many accommodations. We stayed at Roy’s Camp, but in the future I would recommend HH 820 Accommodation. It is within walking distance to the main sites in Grootfontein, and all of the rooms have their own patio and free WiFi.
Where are these places located?
Here’s a map to show you the places that I recommend visiting in Namibia. Again, I came from Cape Town, which marks the general direction of the route I took, but this can certainly be done in reverse as well! Hover over the markers to see the name of each pinpoint. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message or leave a comment below.
Fish River Canyon
Tropic of Capricorn
Etosha National Park
Hosea Kutako International Airport
I highly recommend purchasing (and reading!) the Lonely Planet Southern Africa Guide before journeying into this incredible country! You never know what hidden gems you might find that I missed, or other notable safety concerns.
If you plan on camping, I certainly recommend – and personally use – the following gear:
And, of course it should go without saying, but don't forget your bugspray wipes! If you'd like any other packing and travel essentials, please visit my Amazon Store here. If you choose to purchase anything within this article – from flights to hotels to gear – you will need to purchase within 24 hours after clicking the individual links for me to receive a 3% to 8% commission at no extra cost to you. I truly appreciate all of the continued support, as these contributions help to keep my site up and running…thank you so much and I hope you've enjoyed learning about these incredible things to do in Namibia!
Do You Have Travel Insurance?
I hope you don’t travel without travel insurance! If you do, you better think again. Travel insurance is arguably the most important thing to have on hand (after your passports and visas). I’ve had to use my travel insurance multiple times on the road, even though I’m healthy. You never know when something might happen; take comfort in knowing that whether your flight gets cancelled or you wind up sick and in the hospital, you will be covered. I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for each and every one of you travelers. You can get a free quote here.