The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for southern Africa: Cherri Briggs of Explore Africa.
Cherri—who splits her time between homes in Zambia and Colorado—has spent the past 25 years combing the African continent to create unique travel experiences: canoeing the Zambezi; galloping on horseback with zebra and giraffe across the Okavango Delta; scuba diving off Mozambique; and exploring the remote corners of Ethiopia, Gabon, Madagascar, Cameroon, and the Congo Basin. She and her trusted deputy, Katie McDonough, ensure that clients—both private travelers and groups—enjoy excellent value and a smart selection of lodges and camps in Southern and East Africa. Cherri serves on the boards of several African conservation organizations, and she selects lodges that support local communities and invest in conservation. In 2013 she was appointed Honorary Consul to the USA by the Zambian government, and in 2014 she became the first non-citizen appointed to the Botswana Tourism Organization.
Covid safety intel
To reduce the Covid exposure involved in moving from place to place, I recommend that travelers focus on just two or three regions in the Namibian wilderness. I recommend only those camps and lodges that have their guides and staff quarantine prior to starting work or that Covid-test them regularly. For instance, we might combine andBeyond’s Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, and Little Ongava—all of which have standalone villas. We always use open-air safari vehicles and limit them to six people; I can also arrange for a private vehicle for game drives. Whenever possible, trip deposits are refundable.
Camps and Lodges
Best-value safari camps
Ultimate Safaris, a Namibian-owned company, operates authentic, classic-style safaris based at semi-permanent camps in two contrasting remote areas: Sossusvlei (near the Great Namib Sand Sea UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Huab (core territory for the endangered desert-adapted black rhino). The lodges are relatively basic but very comfortable and environmentally sustainable. It’s very affordable for four to six people, and still reasonable for only two. The array of activities at Huab Under Canvas is diverse, from guided desert walks to game drives to magnificent sundowners and astronomy discussions. They also offer an optional night under the stars, where the staff actually moves your bed out into the desert under the African sky (not just rolling it onto a veranda, as is the case with many African “star bed” experiences). Guides will stay nearby for guests who feel uncertain about being alone in the vastness of the desert. Sossusvlei Under Canvas is situated just outside of the Neuhof Game Reserve: one of Namibia’s best areas for spotting wildlife, including big cats (leopard and cheetah) as well as zebra, kudu, hartebeest, giraffe, and more.
We also suggest Camp Kipwe and Onguma Tree Top Camp for excellent value for money.
Safari camps worth the splurge
The andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge reopens in October 2019 after a serious upgrade, and it’s going to be worth the splurge. Located in Africa’s only International Dark Sky Reserve, this lodge gives you an unbeatable view of the night sky—even before you look through its own telescope with the resident astronomer. Days are full here, beginning in the early morning with hot-air balloon flights over the famed “fairy circles,” which are still a mystery to scientists. Other activities include climbing the huge sand dunes nearby, quad biking, wildlife viewing, and searching for the San (Bushmen) rock art paintings. Book early: As soon as the word gets out there will be a long wait to get in.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is vast, remote, and isolated. The diversity of wildlife in what seems like a stark environment will make your head spin; where else on the planet can you see both desert-adapted giraffes and fur seals on the same day? The coastal excursion requires a stay of at least three nights; you fly to a desert oasis, have a picnic on the beach, and get a bird’s eye view of the famed Skeleton Coast.
The Sorris Sorris Lodge is a fantastic addition to the luxury options in Namibia. The lodge is perched atop a rocky outcropping and has jaw-dropping views of the Brandberg Massif and the Ugab River basin. The climate-controlled suites provide luxury and comfort in this remote and desolate environment. The pool is an oasis in this barren landscape and offers stunning views and a great way to cool off.
Serra Cafema, in Namibia’s far north near Angola: Fly in over the spiny back of Namibia’s mountains and find yourself at the far end of the earth—but with a swimming pool, great food, and wonderful service. This solar-powered camp was rebuilt recently using natural materials evoking local village designs. The contrasts of this beautiful land will astound you, whether you’re zooming around the ancient dunes on quad bikes or visiting with the Himba, one of the last truly nomadic people on the planet. It doesn’t get remote more and wild than this.
Best safari lodges for families
The Nest at Sossus is a modern-style private villa that offers families a relaxing setting while on safari. We like that they have both a swimming pool and a children’s playground—a win for keeping the kids active after long flights and car rides. The villa sleeps six adults comfortably and has bunk beds in a separate children’s room. Enjoy a sundowner while keeping your eye on the water hole where animals come to quench their thirst. Hot-air ballooning is included in your stay here, along with a private host, chef, butler, naturalist guide, and safari vehicle.
Best for thrill-seekers
White-water rafting in the Kunene River on the Angolan border; the prime time for this varies from year to year, but typically falls between June and August.
Rock climbing the bald granite peaks of the famed Spitzkoppe.
Sandboarding on the dunes just outside the coastal city of Swakopmund. No talent required—it’s as easy as sledding. (You can go fat biking here too.) For the highly skilled, the surfing and kite boarding in Namibia is world-class—but certainly not for the novice.
What to See and Do
The famed Sossusvlei Dunes: a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern Namib Desert. This is an essential item on every Namibia itinerary, but I don’t like to do it the way everyone else does. I recommend that my clients stay at Little Ongava for exclusive use of their private reserve, as well as convenient access to the park. Have us arrange a private naturalist guide for your excursions. The park can be very busy by mid-morning, so we encourage guests to go as early as possible! Besides the privacy and beautiful morning light, my favorite part of the experience is the sit-down, fry-up breakfast that your guide whips up in the park. We can also set up a night-time excursion to photograph the stars; nobody else is allowed in after sunset!
The hot-air balloon trip at Sossusvlei is a must; soaring above this magnificent landscape in a balloon is mind blowing, and the champagne breakfast when you land is a special treat.
The Stone Age rock carvings and paintings at Twyfelfontein (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are well worth the effort for anyone interested in early human history.
Tracking black rhino on foot; the only population of this critically endangered species thrives in northern Namibia. Along the way, you learn about the difficult task of protecting these magnificent creatures from the rhino horn trade, which is decimating the species.
Fish River Canyon, near the country’s southern border, is smaller than the Grand Canyon and thus usually a disappointment to the North American traveler. The time and cost required to get there are difficult to justify in light of the easy access to Fish River’s much “grander” big sister here at home.
Unless you stay at a private concession bordering the park and are guaranteed a great guide, think about giving Etosha National Park a miss. The landscape is exotic and very photogenic, but it can be hard to get your shot if you visit at a busy time of year. (Ask us for best times to go, and avoid school holidays.) The government-owned lodges are massive and charmless, and the miles of paved roads can be jammed with tour buses and cars that all converge at water holes.
Fly over the bleached whale skeletons and rusted shipwrecks along the desolate Skeleton Coast in a vintage Chinese fighter plane. There’s no better way to take in Namibia’s phenomenal landscape than from the sky, and this plane allows you to fly low enough to touch the mists rolling in above the Namib Desert. We can arrange for the plane to stay with you for the duration of your journey, as you move between desert camps along the coast.
Learn all about the behaviors, habitat, and threats to rhinos as you track these horned behemoths with a researcher in the remote Damaraland region, wedged between the Kalahari and Namib deserts. We can arrange this extraordinary experience for just a day or up to a week, depending on your level of interest. You’ll come away with a full understanding of these complex, compelling, and endangered creatures and photos that will put most others to shame.
We can also arrange access to the little-visited, truly authentic Himba villages in the Palmwag concession, where the Himba continue their semi-nomadic way of life. There has been virtually no modern influence on these communities, which makes for a fascinating cultural exchange as you learn about their lifestyle and customs. You will be welcomed as a “friend of a friend,” able to spend considerable time learning the traditional ways of these fascinating nomadic pastoralists.
Turf: Ranching is a big part of Namibia’s economy, so you’ll find no shortage of carnivore options. The kudu and oryx at Gathemann’s in Windhoek are superb (and sustainably farmed). Joe’s Beer House, a great value and local favorite, also serves great game in a fun, lively atmosphere.
Surf: You can’t beat the Namibian oysters and juicy white kingklip fillet at The Tug, a classic old waterfront pub in Swakopmund. Or try out O’Portuga in Windhoek for an array of seafood options with an Angolan/Portuguese twist.
Mid-April through Mid-June, when temperatures are mild night and day, the occasional rains tease the desert wildflowers into bloom, and the animals are fat and happy.
July, when frigid winds from the Atlantic blow hard across the desert, sometimes pulling nighttime temps below freezing (remember, there’s no indoor heating!). November through January is extremely hot and dusty.
Trying to cover too much ground. Distances between destinations are massive in Namibia, and drives are long and arduous. If money is no object, you can take charter flights. If not, it’s better to spend more time in fewer places.
The dunes in the Namib Desert change color throughout the day as the sun changes position. Be there at the first hint of sunrise or just before sunset to capture the most brilliant hues.
Namibia is deservedly famous for its tourmalines and leather goods. There are several great jewelry stores and leather shops (ostrich bags and wallets, springbok pillow covers) along Windhoek’s Independence Avenue .I recommend Nakara Leather Goods and Adrian & Meyer or City Gold for jewelry.
Sasol eBirds of Southern Africa, has more than 600 birds and bird calls and makes bird spotting instantly entertaining even for a novice.
The Kingdon Guide to African Mammals. At $15.99, it’s pricey for an app but worth every penny for the in-depth information it provides on wildlife. Your guide will know almost everything—this fills in the gaps.
Highly variable—we give specific guidelines for each safari. As a general rule of thumb, offer $20–$50 per vehicle per day to the guide and $5–$10 per person per day for staff tips. Tip for transfers and bags as you would do at home.
For private charters, pay extra to fly into and out of Windhoek International. The small domestic airport, Eros, despite its alluring name, takes at least an hour to reach on the far side of the city.
Don’t count on getting much more than fries and a cola at Namibia’s airports. Best to bring a packed lunch from your lodge.