Navigating Namibia

Posted by on Aug 1, 2013 in Featured, Namibia | 5 comments

When we look back on this trip next year, ten years from now or fifty years from now, there are going to be images, stories, and countries that stand out. A number of memories will last forever. One of those places that we know will have a lasting impact is Namibia. Not only will we have such incredible memories, but it will reign as one of the top destinations of our entire year. After spending close to two weeks self-drive safariing and camping around this vast and richly diverse landscape, Namibia became an instant highlight. Whether it was scouting amazing wildlife at Etosha National Park, sand boarding down massive dunes outside of Swakopmund, taking otherworldly pictures at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, or camping in a tent on top of our 4×4, Namibia had so much to offer and some of the most jaw-dropping views to go along with it.

Due to lack of planning (and lack of internet in Africa) it wasn’t until about two weeks before leaving our project in Zambia that we finally got around to researching Namibia. What initially was going to be a brief stopover to see the famous red sand dunes of Sossusvlei (a majestic postcard-type image that had me wanting to go here for years), quickly turned into a 12-day odyssey as we learned how much more there was to see. On top of that, we would be doing it in a 4×4 vehicle equipped with a foldable rooftop tent. This truck would allow us the freedom to go at our own pace and skip the annoying tour buses (one thing we try to avoid at all costs!). Despite a few minor hiccups with the truck, our tent, and the Namibian winter temperatures (I am indebted to Kat for sticking out some cold nights!), navigating our way through most of Namibia was one of the biggest successes of our trip to date. 

Here are the highlights from our major stops along the way:


Etosha National Park

Let me take a minute to explain the term “self-drive safari”, because we only first learned about it from former round-the-world traveler friends in Chicago (visit Ryan and Laura’s blog at  At first, we admittedly just brushed the idea aside. I mean, how safe can it really be looking for lions on our own in the middle of the desert? As we would eventually find out, it’s quite safe and really the easiest and most popular way for game viewing in Southern Africa. The national parks have designated sites with fenced-in areas or guards to help keep the animals away. This still seemed shaky to us at the time, but when you realize how the animals behave in the wild and see the set up of some of these campsites, it surprisingly makes sense. And of course, our rooftop tent would keep us high enough out of harm’s way from any serious predators. As for actually driving on our own, all the parks have well-marked gravel roads, maps, and updated suggestions as to where and how to potentially see certain animals or visit popular spots. And as wild as it may seem, most of the animals are used to having vehicles like ours and other group safari jeeps share a fraction of the  9,000 square miles that make up the park. This mutual familiarity allowed us to get closer to these animals than I could have ever imagined.

We had been introduced to some great wildlife in Zambia and Botswana, but there’s no other feeling like being on your own hunt (literally) to find wild lions, leopards, giraffes, rhinos and a variety of antelopes and birds. As soon as we saw our first group of animals, we knew the self-drive safari was the way to go. We spent our days in Etosha searching for whatever we wanted to see, patiently waiting for wild roadblocks to make their way across the road, and carefully watching how different animals share a watering hole during dry season. National Geographic TV was coming to life. I had always enjoyed those programs, but being out on our own made me appreciate it even more. There is definitely a sense of pride and accomplishment when spotting the elusive rhino or resting lion. We felt like we were on our own episode. . .all that was missing was a guy with a British accent doing the narrating. Etosha taught us how easy (and more enjoyable) it can be to go your own way for an African safari and it gave us a better perspective of life in the wild.



About halfway between Etosha and Swakopmund is an area known as Damaraland. This area was never on our radar until our travel agent (Corinna at Africa Travel Info in Windhoek) mentioned it was one of her favorite places in all of Namibia. We put it into the schedule but were honestly not that excited about it. We mainly saw it as a good stopping point to break up the long drive to Swakopmund. As we turned off the main highway onto one of Namibia’s countless gravel roads for the remaining 65km, the barren desert landscape turned to a bright red and orange color surrounded by beautiful mountains and ancient-looking rock formations. This could have been the surprise stop of our trek through Namibia because we had no real prior expectations. In a way, the colors reminded us of Sedona, Arizona, but the extent and openness of this land is what really impressed us. The campsite (Mowani Mountain Campsite) didn’t disappoint either as we spent our time basking in the sun and shaking our heads in disbelief at what surrounded us.



As one of the original German ports and settlements in Namibia, Swakopmund’s German influence and presence is still definitely a part of it’s unique make up. Plopped in the middle of the African desert, bordering the Atlantic Ocean is a small city that looks and feels like it should be in its mother counterpart in Europe. Swakopmund served as a great 2-night stop to get out of the wild and back into civilization. Highlights here were sandboarding, running along the boardwalk with views of the frigid Atlantic, and drinking steins of German beer at the Swakopmund Brauhaus.



Situated in the Namib-Naukluft National Park is the crown jewel of Namibia’s natural attractions. As previously mentioned, the towering red sand dunes that we would find here were the only reason why Namibia actually made our list in the first place. And it certainly lived up to the hype. Arriving early one afternoon, we eased into our exploration of the area by hiking through Sesriem Canyon and summiting Elim Dune for one of the brightest colored sunsets of our year. By staying inside the park at the Sesriem Campsite, we were allowed an hour head start (5:45am compared to 6:45am for those who come for the day or stay outside the park) the next morning to catch sunrise at Dune 45, one of the first major dunes along the drive toward Sossusvlei. What followed over the next hour will without question be one of the greatest individual moments of the year. It was dark and cold as we exited our truck, the sand a dull red. As we began hiking up the dune, a dim light started to break over the horizon and the colors started to shift. When the sun’s crescent finally topped the distant mountains, we were greeted with a rush of warmth and a view we’ll never forget. Straddling the crest of the dune as we watched the sun rise, it was crazy to see one side of the dune take on a magical red while the other side kept it’s pre-sun shade.

After taking in sunrise at Dune 45, we carried on to Sossusvlei, another 20km down the road. It was tough to imagine how our early morning could be rivaled, but the dunes of Sossusvlei and the Mars-like tree formations of Deadvlei again left us shaking our heads. On more than one occasion, we both turned to one another with looks that asked, “Is this Earth? Are we still on Earth?”. It’s hard to believe the grandeur of sand, but Sossusvlei and Deadvlei have to be some of the most impressive sights on the planet. I had such high hopes of this picturesque landscape and my mind was blown away the entire time we were there. Words cannot really do justice; I just hope that somehow my pictures can.


Aus & Fish River Canyon

Since we opted to take our truck all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa (this eliminated a drive back up to Windhoek and the 22-hour bus ride to Cape Town), we were afforded two other stops in the southern portion of Namibia: Aus and Fish River Canyon. Although it is tough to follow Sossusvlei, the next two days were impressive and unique in their own way. That’s the beauty of Namibia – such drastic and varied landscape. Aus and it’s surrounding mountains eased us back into a more barren and brown landscape and offered us another great afternoon hike with images of unforgivable desert and never-ending plateaus. Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and second to the Grand Canyon as the biggest in the world. Fish River gave us what we imagined to be a comparable feel to the Grand Canyon (sadly, we have not yet been to our own country’s natural wonder). Without any real rules, regulations, or ropes and railings that are inevitably present in the states, we were free to roam wherever (and as close to the edge) as we wanted. This again was just another type of topography and landscape to add to Namibia’s arsenal.


I know that a place will leave a lasting impression when it’s difficult to find the right words to describe it or I find myself struggling to give due. So was the case with Namibia. The experience of sleeping in a rooftop tent, driving through multiple seemingly never-ending deserts, camping in some of the most remote and picturesque locations in the world, and taking some of the most awe-inspiring pictures of our trip, make Namibia the surprise country of the year. 


  1. Incredible pictures! I get nervous around dogs.. so can not even imagine 🙂

  2. WOW !! That’s all I can say -incredible .

  3. Goose bumps again, even after hearing these stories from you and Kat in person. A little too close to the edge, though Mike!!!

  4. Not to mention Kat looks like Lara Croft in most of these pics.

  5. Guys, is this for real? I’m beyond jealous. There, I said it. Straight up jealous. I could cry. Can’t wait to discuss in person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *