The road less travelled – Namibia’s classic tourist routes unpacked

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By Kylie Granat

Namibia, a popular destination for international visitors often opting for self-drive when embarking on the country’s tourist routes, all of which show the diversity of its terrain. Tourism Update unpacks Namibia’s top tourist routes.

Nash-Leigh Williams, Marketing Consultant for Namibia Tourism says: “All routes are an adventure, and are exquisite to do.” Peter Sawyer, General Manager of Private Safaris in Namibia, adds that, due to the popularity of certain highlights in Namibia, specific routes will always remain sought after.

Most first-time travellers still do the normal classic route – Windhoek, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Damaraland and Etosha, often guided in small groups or fly-in,” says Nathaly Ahrens, Wilderness Safaris Business manager, Namibia Travel Shop, who explains that these travellers tend to return for self-drives, exploring their favourite regions. According to Ahrens, these tend to include the far south, far northwest and Caprivi, as well as combinations with neighbouring countries.

The Caprivi Wetlands Paradise route takes travellers anywhere from a day and a half to three days. The route has a variety of wildlife and communities protecting and sustainably utilising their resources. Crossing the Okavango Delta to enter the route from the west (Bwabwata National Park) travellers will immediately realise this is not a typical park. Approximately 5 000 people live within the park and have formed an association to co-manage the park with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and derive benefits from the natural resources.

However, Ahrens notes: “We are seeing an increase of self-drive safaris, as well as self-drive/flying combination itineraries.” Some of the most popular self-drive routes, according to Williams, include Fish River Canyon, Lüderitz, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund/Walvis Bay, Skeleton Coast, Twyfelfontein, Etosha National Park, and Windhoek.

In addition, according to Ahrens, Wilderness Safaris is also receiving shorter lead times and a significant increase in younger travellers, with many guests seeking more activity-based adventures/journeys that have a purpose. “Journeys that incorporate authentic cultural exchanges and give back to community empowerment, as well as the conservation of pristine wilderness areas at the same time. Cultural routes are therefore on the rise, as people search for meaningful cultural interactions and unique experiences such as visiting with the Himba – one of the last semi-nomadic peoples on the planet.”

The Himba Cultural Experience on the Arid Eden Route links oasis settlements and springs through the heartland of the Himba tribe. Attractions in the vicinity include the restored German fort dating back to 1896, the Ongogo waterfall and the Khowarib Schlucht (gorge). The road stretches between Sesfontein and Pouros skirts the Namib dune fields, boasting a range of wildlife.

Whilst on Namibia’s main tourist routes, Ahrens says glamping is becoming very popular, and that there is an increased demand for high-end tourism accommodation, such as boutique hotels and smaller, more personalised establishments. In addition, she says: “We’ve seen a growing interest in guided wild camping as a part of the itinerary for a portion of the trip. We have just launched an exciting product as part of our Guided Explorations to accommodate this trend.”

Wilderness Safaris recently announced the opening of the rebuilt Serra Cafema Camp, located in a remote region on the banks of the Kunene River in Hartmann’s Valley. “This will no doubt encourage our guests to continue exploring the north-west circuit and combine Serra Cafema with Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Desert Rhino Camp or Damaraland Camp before heading further south to visit Sossusvlei,” adds Ahrens.

The North West Trail links up the western gate of Etosha National Park, which is teaming with wildlife and features two major waterfalls on the Kunene River. The route traverses Mopani shrubland while skirting the Etosha Park fence. The gravel roads lead travellers past Himba trudging the remote roads bringing their livestock to the nearest water source. The Epupa waterfall is one of the most unspoilt natural wonders of Africa. Ahrens says Wilderness Safaris is receiving increased requests for specialised tailor-made activities, such as art-based and culinary activities, fishing and craft beer tours, as there are a few micro-breweries in Swakopmund.

“There have been some developments over the last few years that have added value to these routes and it would definitely be of benefit for travellers to add a few extra days to their travel plans to have the time to visit these unique opportunities,” says Sawyer, mentioning the popular craft gin trend in Namibia, which currently has three such distilleries – NamGin near Keetmanshoop; Desolate Gin in Walvis Bay; and Stillhouse Atlantic in Swakopmund.

While the Cape winelands are one of the world’s premier wine-growing regions, Sawyer says Dryland Cultivars in Namibia are starting to produce some unique wines.

As for the best time of the year to visit, Williams says that due to the desert adaption and heat, the ideal time to explore Namibia is during the winter months, from May to October. “This is also peak season in Namibia,” adds Williams.

According to Ahrens, Namibia is a true year-round destination, with less severe seasonal changes compared with other parts of southern Africa. “Along the Namibian coastline, the cold Atlantic Benguela Current dictates the weather. The Skeleton Coast and coastal town attractions such as Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Lüderitz are often enveloped in fog for a few hours in the mornings before it is burnt off by the sun. Namibia is as much about the scenic grandeur of its immense landscapes as it is about the wildlife.”

Since Namibia is an all-year-round destination, Sawyer says there is something unique about every season. “My only suggestion would be to ensure that the season you travel in matches your expectations. If you visit the desert in midsummer, expect it to get hot. If you travel in February or March when we typically experience our rains, celebrate the wet weather with the Namibians.

The roads along these routes are in good condition for self-drive, except for the gravel roads during the rainy season, says Williams: “Most of the odd routes are on gravel road, while the main roads are all tarred.”

With the majority of the roads in Namibia being gravel, their condition varies from season to season and is affected by local rain or traffic volumes.

Since the country is diverse and has many areas of interest, Sawyer says a journey will generally be determined by the length of stay, as well as personal interests. “While everybody would like to visit Sossusvlei and Etosha, allow time to explore the less-visited areas of the country.” – Tourism Update

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