This Namibia Travel Guide to the Namib Desert provides information on landscapes, desert adapted plants and wildlife and Namib Desert safari lodges.
One of the oldest on the planet, the Namib Desert is mysterious, huge
and home to very special creatures and plants. It's dramatically different landscapes line the cold Atlantic Ocean where moisture from coastal fogs sustains life. It is estimated to have been arid or semi-arid for 55 million years and covers around 81 000 square kilometres or 31 000 square miles.
The Namib Desert is a sum of various parts stretching between South Africa in the south and Angola in the north - 1 600km (1 000 miles) of coastline. The south is dominated by mountains that rise up inland from the coast (Namib Naukluft Park, NamibRand Reserve), fantastic colourful dunes (Sossusvlei), Sesriem Canyon
and diamond fields around Luderitz and Orangemund.
The landscape in the central area changes around the Swakop River to gravel plains with isolated hills and mountains (Brandberg Massif). On the coast the National West Coast Recreation
Area encompasses 200km (124 miles) and includes Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Henties Bay, and the Cape Cross Seal Colony.
The Skeleton Coast begins at Ugab Gate and continues north to the Angolan border with the western parts of Damaraland and Kaokoveld
on its inland fringes. This area is dissected by deep valleys with ephemeral rivers. On the coast, Mowe Bay is the last outpost. Any further access is prohibited except for a special Skeleton Coast camping operator and a scenic fly-in safari operator.
Visitors on a fabulous Namib Desert balloon ride
or scenic flight may also see the unexplained "fairy rings". These strange circles on the ground appear along the eastern edges of the desert and remain a mystery.
Amazing Animals And Plants Of The Namib Desert
Extraordinary to think that such a desolate place can still sustain flora and fauna for the world to marvel at! Highly adaptive and survivalists of note, these creatures and plants can be seen in various ways on a Namib Desert safari
The Welwitschia is a living fossil
- a plant without equal found only in Namibia. Two long shaped leaves are produced on either side of the stem, these over time weather into tangled strips that curl round each other. Many plants that can be seen are about 600 years old, but there are some estimated to be as old as 2 500 years. Females produce cone like flowers and the male plants produce pollen.
On west facing slopes of the Namib Desert, lichens grow in abundance
. They survive on the moisture drawn from sea fogs and provide a much needed source of water for desert animals. These tough little plants can survive drought and live a long time but die if disturbed - hence their protected status in most areas, and why vehicle off-roading is not permitted.
The Halfmens [Halfman] is a cactus-like plant
which can be seen in the southern Namib Desert. They grow in groups and from a distance look just like people, with crinkled leaves for hair, their spiny bodies bent in frozen-motion as they struggle forward - always facing toward the north.
Wildlife in the Namib Desert over time has adjusted to the extreme conditions. The beautiful Gemsbok (Oryx) can survive for weeks without water, by not sweating and raising its body temperature to extreme levels during the heat of the day.
Desert Elephant, Giraffe and Black Rhino roam great distances along the dry river beds of the Skeleton Coast Park, searching for edible plants, leaves, grasses and water sources. Predators like Lion and Jackals survive here also and by taking what they can at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve.
The Tok-Tokkie Beetle relies on fog-basking for survival. Climbing to the crest of a dune in foggy conditions
, it lowers its head, raising its rear end into the wind and waits for the precipitation to condense before trickling down to its mouth. Other interesting creatures include the Barking Gecko, side winding snakes and vicious ant-lions. Birdlife is mainly seen along the coast, the most common inland is the Ostrich, and one of 6 endemic birds is the Dune Lark.
Other adaptive wildlife species in the Namib Desert
include; Cheetah, Brown and Spotted Hyena, Cape and Bat Eared Fox, Klipspringer, Steenbok, Springbok, Baboon and Leopard, also Hartmann's Zebra amongst many reptiles, insects and small mammals. Wild horses can also be seen at Garub near to Aus, just off the Luderitz / Keetmanshoop road.
Welwitschia Drive and Moon landscape; Sandwich Harbour; Namib Naukluft Park; Sesriem and Kuiseb Canyons; Sossusvlei; Deadvlei; NamibRand Reserve; Adaptive wildlife and plants; Luderitz; Kolmanskop ghost town; Maltahohe - Duwisib Castle, Nama crafters.
Ballooning over the desert; hiking - Namib Naukluft Trail, Waterkloof Trail, Olive Trail; 4x4 trails; dune climbing; fishing; photography; birding; stargazing; Ludertiz and Kolmanskop attractions.
The Namib Naukluft Park is the largest nature conservation area in Africa. It consists of the Namib Naukluft Mountains, the Dune Namib, gravel plains and a lovely freshwater lagoon at Sandwich Harbour where many water birds (flamingos) can be seen. This area has very few rivers and low rainfall.
Sossusvlei is the site of giant dunes in magnificent colours which surround a clay pan. The winds change dune shapes constantly and the colours vary according to the time of day, these are the highest in the world, up to 300 metres. Visitors are astounded at the overwhelming beauty and silence. Read about Sossusvlei lodge options...
Deadvlei is located nearby - a clay pan with the skeletons of long dead Camel Thorn trees that are believed to be around 900 years old.
Fantastic rock formations can be seen in the Sesriem Canyon near the Tsauchab River. Visitors on safari can enjoy the Welwitschia Drive and Moon landscape which is close to the Swakop River on the northern border of Namib Naukluft Park.
Many excellent Namib Desert safari lodges and camps are located around the Namib Naukluft Park and NamibRand Nature Reserve, also in Maltahohe. Other accommodation can be found in Luderitz.
National West Coast Recreation Area
Swakopmund - nightlife, historical buildings, aquarium, excellent base for touring; Walvis Bay - birdlife on the lagoon, Dune 7; Henties Bay fishing; the Cape Cross Fur Seal Colony.
Great drives and trails along the coast and inland; golf; sand and dune boarding; sandskiing; paragliding; aerial adventures including ballooning; angling; horse or camel riding; 4x4 trails; Welwitschia Drive and Moon landscape; hiking; birding, boating.
Swakopmund is a popular seaside resort
with a number of attractions - the town becomes extremely busy on long weekends and in the December holidays. Summer temperatures are pleasant providing relief from the heat of the interior.
This area has become the adventure capital of Namibia. From here visitors can enjoy a relaxing break next to the ocean and explore the coast line or choose from an interesting selection of tours and 4x4 trails. Excursions
can be arranged into the northern Namib Naukluft Park and along the coast. The Cape Cross Seal Colony (up to 100 000 animals) and Henties Bay, a popular fishing destination, are located north of Swakopmund along the coastal road (slippery in foggy conditions).
Walvis Bay is a 30 minute drive south from Swakopmund. It has a busy harbour and attractive lagoon where many waterbirds can be seen, including flamingos and pelicans with migratory species arriving seasonally. Dune 7 is the highest dune in the area and is located just outside the town. Special excursions can be arranged in a 4x4 vehicle to go to Sandwich Harbour, a freshwater lagoon favoured by anglers and bird watchers.
A variety of accommodation is available in Swakopmund
, Walvis Bay and Henties Bay, from charming guest houses to smart hotels.
The Skeleton Coast Park
Ship graveyard along the coast; amazing animals and plants; desert landscapes; incredible silence; the roaring dunes; Ugab canyon; Cape Cross Seal Reserve.
Advanced 4x4 trails; fly-in tours - desert walks, dune climbing; fishing; hiking - Ugab River Trail; photography.
Ancient explorers sailing alongside West Africa soon discovered, with disastrous results, the treacherous coastline and its misleading fogs. The Skeleton Coast has the last word on any sort of shipping mistake
. Those that survived a ship wreck and got ashore through icy waters and stormy conditions would discover endless sand in all directions and perish from lack of fresh water.
This forbidding shore of the Namib Desert is best observed from the air. Visitors on a Skeleton Coast scenic flight or fly-in safari can look down on the ship wrecks and bones of sea creatures
and other animals which litter the sands - a mesmerising sight. Other land excursions and safaris take visitors along the southern section only, also a popular fishing destination. Distances between locations are large and off-roading is strictly forbidden as it causes environmental damage.
Ugab gate is the official entrance to the Park on the west coast and visitors can go no further than Terrace Bay without being on a designated safari. Torra Bay is more rustic than Terrace Bay for accommodation
(often booked well in advance) and fishing is the biggest attraction in both places. Springbokwasser is the eastern gate on the Kaokoveld side. The Ugab River valley and canyon has unusual rock formations and is the site of a 3 day guided hike.
Only one safari operator has the rights to a concession in the interior of the Park, where visitors can camp in luxury and see the mountains, dunes, canyons, river beds, flora and fauna
on foot and by Landrover. Henties Bay would be the nearest town for accommodation outside of the Park on the west coast.
Ask your Siyabona Africa Consultant
to recommend excellent Namib lodge options.