Petrified forests are a hallmark of any great American road trip. But in the desolate landscapes of sparsely populated Namibia, it’s the picturesque backdrop of Deadvlei that marks the overland journey of any intrepid traveler.
Located in an orange-tinted valley inside the Namib-Naukluft Park, the vast planes of Deadvlei are scattered with skeleton trees where a rushing river once flowed. This natural wonder ranks high on the country’s list of breathtakingly beautiful sights—which is no small feat in a nation known for its incredibly landscapes. Travelers say the gray clay riverbed, golden dunes and brilliant blue skies make Deadvlei like no place else on earth.
For all its beauty, Namibia can still be a rather unforgiving place. And while the vast deserts and arid plains of this diverse nation have challenged even the most intrepid of adventurers, few places put travelers to the test like hiking Fish River Canyon.
This impressive gorge reaches some 550 meters deep, spans 27 kilometers in width, and stretches more than 150 kilometers in length, making it the second largest canyon in the world. And while navigating the rugged terrain at the canyon’s base can make for a serious challenge, even the most experience hikers warn the descent is not for the faint of heart. The half-mile trail can take upwards of two hours to complete and while embedded chains in the mountain’s rock face alleviate some of the burden, travelers agree this is still the most difficult part of the adventure.
In 1907, the arid plains and vast savannahs in Namibia’s northwest Kunene region were designated as the country’s second game reserve. Today, what’s known as Etosha National Park has become one of the most popular attractions for travelers to this southern African destination. Visitors can spot all of the continent’s famous Big Five on self-guided tours or sunrise, sunset and night game drives. Luxurious rest camps offer modern amenities and their well-kept watering holes provide some of the best game viewing and photo ops during dry season. Massive elephants, graceful gazelle, proud lions and striped zebras sip from the same swell side by side, in what may be one of the country’s most spectacular sites.Etosha spans slightly less than 9,000 square kilometers, with vast saltpans, natural watering holes, sweeping savannahs and expansive grasslands. The Dolomite Hills, a known habitat for predators like leopards, are located near the Andersson entrance gate.
During apartheid, Namibia’s bigger towns were divided between the “town,” where wealthy whites lived, and the “location,” where blacks were forced to stay. While independence and the end of apartheid rule have banished these now archaic laws, it’s still possible for visitors to Namibia to take a location tour to learn how life used to be.
Visitors to Mondesa, a location in Swakopmund, say that owners of these small houses tend to offer travelers a very big welcome. Exploring the streets of this famous location put visitors up close with history, and expert guides can explain how segregation—not only based on skin color, but also based on culture and tribe—determined the lay of the land. See the traditional dress, sample traditional food and even hear the Khoe-Khoe, the famous clicking language spoken by Namibia’s Damara and Nama people.
Namibia ranks high on the world’s economic disparity list, as the income gap between its richest residents and the nation’s poorest people is one of the largest on record. The difference between the haves and the have-nots is particularly evident on a visit to Swakopmund, where well-paved roads, modern streetlights and beautifully constructed colonial buildings sit next to quiet cafes and restaurants dishing up international cuisine. But just beyond the city limits lies an informal settlement called the Democratic Resettlement Community. Once a temporary holding ground for people awaiting government housing, some 6,000 people call the thriving DRC home, an area built from reclaimed trash discarded by the city’s rich.
Namibia may be a relatively young country, but there’s still plenty of history in this South African nation. Duwisib Castle, located on the edge of the Namib Dune Desert, is one of the most famous buildings in Namibia. Built in 1909 after the German-Nama War by a famous European Baron, Duwisib’s architecture gives a strong nod to military culture and looks out over an arid valley.
Although the 22-room castle was constructed entirely in Namibia, many of the materials were shipped from Germany and traveled by oxcart from the port city of Luderitz. Legend has it that the Baron’s favorite horse escaped to the wild after his death—the first of the country’s famous feral horses. Today, Duwisib Castle is open to the public and visitors can wander through the many rooms that house antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. Shaded picnic tables and well-kept campsites make it an ideal stop for travelers en route to the Naukluft Mountains.