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Safari outfitter andBeyond reopened 10 stone-and-glass villas in 2011 after a complete redesign. The night skies here are so pure, the area has earned status as an International Dark Sky Reserve. An astronomer leads stargazing sessions at the on-site observatory. The world’s most ancient desert lies just outside the lodge, with famous dunes that can be explored by four-wheeler or on foot. Springbok, kudu, and 26 varieties of homemade sorbets and ice creams are featured on the dinner menu. From $834. 27/(0) 11-809-4314. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image: andBeyond
Rise at dawn and watch the colors light up the world's largest dunes like fire. The depth of oranges, greens and golds is astounding. Sossuslvei is located in the southern part of the Namib Desert. The dune pictured here is the largest known as Big Daddy. (I'm not making that up, its really called Big Daddy). I climbed to the top, past the footprints of critters that had run about in the night, scattering before the tourists arrive. When I reached the tip, I slid all the way down, one foot in the front of the other, like skiing. Giggling all the way, over 300m meters to the bottom where the Dead Vlei awaited. The Dead Vlei (so gothic!) is a dry lake bed with a petrified forest of beautiful trees creating surrealist shapes. As the heat rose I knew it was well worth it to be there early! And breakfast was calling me...
It was our last day in Namibia and we decided to sign up for a sandboarding lesson in Swakopmund. Our two guides took us out to the desert where, after a strenuous hike up the dune, we strapped on snowboards and helmets and rode down the orange sand. The thrill was over in less than two minutes, at which point we had to climb back up to the top of the dune and do it all over again. But what an adrenaline rush it was! The guides, who had never seen snow, killed it doing jumps and tricks on their boards. They were so cool they ended up inviting us to have a drink with them at a bar with them in their township. We played pool, had some local drinks and made new friends. A highlight of our trip.
Don’t let the eerie name fool you. Namibia’s Hoanib Skeleton Coast, a 310-mile stretch of sand scattered with animal bones and shipwrecks, is home to plenty of life: the Himba bushmen, fur seals, and desert-adapted flora whose sole water source is the morning fog that rolls in off the Atlantic. Getting here, however, is tricky. The shoreline, which is a national park, fringes the Namib Desert—where some of the world’s tallest dunes can be found—and is accessible only by tiny plane. Willing to wing it? Stay at Wilderness Safaris’ new eight-tent camp where, when not relaxing on your own deck, you can take to the sky for a tour of the coast. From $565. Photo by Flickr user Jries. This appeared in the October 2014 issue.
[I lifted the description from Wikipedia. Definitely come here if you're in Namibia. There are quite a few tourists so if you do, come early and go with a proper outfitter, you can have more solitude and an easier time getting in.] Deadvlei is a white clay pan located near the more famous salt pan of Sossusvlei, inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. Also written DeadVlei or Dead Vlei, its name means "dead marsh" (from English dead, and Afrikaans vlei, a lake or marsh in a valley between the dunes). The pan also is referred to as "Dooie Vlei" which is the (presumably original) fully Afrikaans name. Dead Vlei has been claimed to be surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world, the highest reaching 300-400 meters (350m on average, named "Big Daddy" or "Crazy Dune"), which rest on a sandstone terrace. The clay pan was formed after rainfall, when the Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools where the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. When the climate changed, drought hit the area, and sand dunes encroached on the pan, which blocked the river from the area. The remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to be about 900 years old, are now black because the intense sun has scorched them. Though not petrified, the wood does not decompose because it is so dry.
Each of the seven suites at a new retreat in Windhoek, Namibia, is inspired by a different region of the country. Landscape photography and lights fashioned from woven baskets decorate the Erongo suite (shown). From $243. This appeared in the September, 2012 issue.
The top wildlife viewing experience of my life. Hands-down. So wild, remote, unplanned...no other people, no other vehicles. Damaraland is my favorite region of Namibia - incredible scenery, geology, views, stars, and so few other travelers. Stay at Mowani, Kipwe or Damaraland Camp (Mowani is my favorite) and get ready to get sandy and dusty tracking ellies through the dry river beds in a 4x4.
Something I never expected to do during five weeks of tent camping in Africa: Ride around endless golden sand dunes for hours on an ATV! Some of these dunes just outside Swakopmund are really high, and for much of the ride we saw nothing except dunes and more dunes. At the end we went up a big slope and just over the top, we saw the Atlantic Ocean.
While on a 17-day trip to some of Namibia’s most spectacular sites, travelers with Hands Up Holidays spend four days volunteering in the village of Opuwo, home to the nomadic Ovahimba people—known for covering their bodies with a mixture of ochre and fat to protect their skin from the sun. Travelers assist with such projects as building a mud hut. The program aims to encourage meaningful exchanges between diverse cultures and help the Ovahimba preserve their way of life. HOW YOU HELP: Projects include building a traditional dwelling from sand, mud, cow dung, and branches; collecting wood to build an animal shelter; fixing wells; and herding cattle. HIGHLIGHTS: Spot lions, elephants, and giraffes on a safari in Etosha National Park. Zip down sand dunes near Swakopmund on a snowboard. Take a walk into the wilderness with a guide from the San tribe. Hands Up Holidays, (201) 984-5372, 17-day trips from $2,400, including some meals and lodging in tents and hotels. This appeared in the May/June 2010 issue.
In the daytime, explore NamibRand, the largest private nature reserve in southern Africa, on guided walks through sand dunes, drives into the desert, and rides on ATVs. Ostriches, oryx (a kind of antelope), and Hartmann’s mountain zebras might cross your path. At night, in the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge’s observatory, an astronomer leads a safari of the desert sky, using a computerized telescope to point out star clusters, the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius, and other sights that are visible only in the Southern Hemisphere (best seen from April to October). Retire to one of the lodge’s 10 stone villas, each with a skylight above the bed for stargazing until sunrise. From $415 per night, including meals, lodging, and activities in the reserve. Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, (888) 882-3742. Photo courtesy of Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. This story appeared in the January/February 2011 issue.
Wind, fire and water fashioned these dunes over millions of years, forming peaks up to 1,000 feet. Seasonal winds carried sand westward from the Kalahari desert, while the Benguela current from South Africa’s shores blew in sand off the Atlantic coast. These dunes are thought to be the highest in the world, and are some of the oldest on earth. Over time, changing winds shifted their growth and direction. At Deadvlei, the dunes choked off ancient riverbeds, leaving behind 500 year old skeletons of Camel Thorn trees standing on sun-baked mud tiles. Towering over the gnarled starkness of these trees rise Crazy Dune, over 1,000 feet tall looking like a mountain constantly flowing down into the span of sun-baked clay below. How can the top of the world feel so liquid and unstable? (For reference and scale, there is a person standing on the front dune ridge in the lower-left part of the frame.) For group tours through Namibia that includes a visit to Deadvlei see: http://www.which-way.com/
I tried going through Nambia as a solo-traveler and found out that it's very difficult to do. After hitching a ride from a honeymooning couple from Cape Town across the border into the Orange River region of southern Namibia, the hostel owner where we pitched for the night was alarmed that I didn't have any on-ward plans other than continue being a third-wheel on a honeymoon or be stranded with him for a week or more before another tour bus came through. Luckily, a "Whichway Overland Adventures" bus arrived at the hostel that night, and he nudged me to ask the driver to joining them all the way to Victoria Falls, Zambia. It wasn't routine practice to pick up passengers once the tour already departed, but after calling their head office and taking my credit card details, they allowed me to accompany them. I had already been to Victoria Falls, but since this was my only way to get through this vast and mostly barren country and the tour included the Okavango Delta which I was planning to do anyway, it turned out not to be a bad choice. While I have a lot of scenic pictures of the stunning Sussusvlei Dunes, I decided to post one of my tour group since they literally saved me. I was on top of the world Thrilled that I could join them. So my advice to solo-travelers is book an overland tour to go through Namibia. If you're not alone, there are plenty of people who drive through the country with a rental car. For group tours contact: http://www.which-way.com/
The Namib Desert is quite possibly one of the most stunning places in the world. The pockets of green bushes that grow out of the vivid orange sand look almost surreal. To avoid the crowds, we set out to Sossusvlei well before sunrise and made it there by around 7am. The sky was the bluest I'd ever seen, the sand a bright orange. With temperatures already hovering around 97F, we climbed one beautiful dune after another. After a little rest at the top of one, I gave in to my impulse of taking my shoes off to feel the cool sand then ran down to the bottom. What an adrenaline rush!
Minutes after we departed, our balloon climbed to an altitude where we could view the ever-expansive Namib Sand Sea. Our pilot, Dennis, was the son of the founder of Namib Sky Balloons and had grown up on farm we flew over moments after our departure. This view extends north to Conical Hill and the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge in the distance. We spent an hour in the air taking in the views of the sand and the mystical "fairy circles" that pepper the grass plains of the NamibRand. The formation of these circles is still a mystery and several theories exist. After landing on the grasslands we were whisked away to a wonderful breakfast on the edge of the dunes. We drank champagne and toasted to the memorable last several hours.
The AfriCat Foundation & Okonjima Lodge are located on a vast nature reserve just south of Otjiworongo. If you're driving around Namibia on a personal adventure, this lodge is conveniently located along the way from the capitol city of Windhoek on the journey to Etosha. The Hanssens, a Namibian farming family, settled on the property of Okonjima and converted to a mission of conservation and rehabilitating the land. Over the past twenty years they've restored the reserve to its natural, wild beauty with all the animals that go with it including this stunning leopard you see in the photo above. Known for their work with cheetahs, recent successes in 2013 have seen new cubs in the wild! Visit for the scenery, the education in conservation, the top-notch chefs, and knowing you are supporting a vision for the future Namibia's people and wildlife.
Inside a traditional hut, we visited a Himba tribewoman's home. There was barely a crack of light coming in from the doorway, the hut was low to the ground and smoky at times. I was able to play with my camera just enough to take one great natural light shot. I asked our translator to ask her what she thought of our appearances since we were extremely covered up in clothing compared to their only covering their bottoms. It didn't translate, the answer wasn't worth sharing, but I'm curious to know her thoughts.
A few hours north of Windhoek, the Cheetah Conservation Fund is a can't miss experience. Cheetahs are an endangered species, with estimates of around 10,000 left in the world. Namibia is home to approximately 3,000-the largest population in the world. The work that CCF is doing is helping to save the cheetahs through education of local farmers, as well as research. All of the cheetahs at CCF have come there because of some sort of human-wildlife conflict. Some were orphaned, others captured by farmers. While visiting this summer, I was lucky enough to watch the cheetahs run. This is one of the OK cubs, the current ambassador cheetahs for CCF. On a weekly basis, the cheetahs at CCF are taken into the field and using a pully system, run.
After a week on safari in South Africa, we arrived in Namibia via the Windhoek International Airport and a long, dusty ride in the dark. We were taken to one of the six chalets that would be our home for the next few nights and went to sleep. We awoke the next morning to the most beautiful view of the bush veldt and a delicious breakfast. And then we were off to meet Na/an ku se Sanctuary & Foundation founder and our host - Marlice van Vuuren. With Marlice, we toured the property and had a chance to meet members of the conservation team and interact with cheetahs. There are other places in Africa where interaction with animals is possible, but there is something very special about N/an ku se. Not only is Marlice working on animal conservation - primarily but not exclusively cheetahs - but she is also dedicated to improving the lives of the San Bushman community through education and healthcare. We were fortunate enough to be at N/an ku se when three orphaned cheetah cubs arrived as it allowed us to witness firsthand the skill and compassion of Marlice and her team. This was our second trip to Africa and our first to Namibia. From N/an ku se, we headed to the Sossusvlei region of the Namib Desert for an entirely different experience...but I'll save that for another Highlight.
I am standing on top of the highest dune I managed to climb in the early hours just in time to watch the sun rise over these magnificent dunes. By just standing still and allowing the passing sun to paint the palette across the sand, I witnessed the transformation of colors around me from a soft ivory, to gold, to deep ochre. It was stunning and awe inspiring. As I looked around me, the vista of dunes went on for as far as the eyes could see, broken only by the dry ancient river beds cutting through them, shining tiles of ancient clay. Beyond the dunes looking toward the west in this picture, my mind pictured the vast expanse of the Atlantic ocean. This setting lifted me up in a surreal form of levitation until I felt like I was literally on top of the world. (For reference and scale, there is a group of people standing in the middle-right part of the frame.) For group tours through Namibia that includes a visit to Sossusvlei see: http://www.which-way.com/
Our overlander truck raced to the Sossusvlei park gate to make the sunrise open. This morning's goal - to walk Namibia's Dune 45 and witness the play of sun and shadows over the awe-inspriring red sand dunes at daybreak. In our hurry we stopped, jumping out to capture this equally breathtaking moment.
Grootberg Lodge isn't just a place to stay; it's an experience, one that is beneficial to the Namibian people, to the land and to the conservation of Namibia's precious wildlife. Built by the World Wildlife Fund and the European Union on one of Namibia's Communal Conservancies, it is the first Lodge of its kind, 100% owned by the Conservancy on which it is built. With stunning views of the canyon below and surrounded by wildlife, Grootberg Lodge was built sustainably, with low-impact to the environment through the use of solar technology. The Lodge serves to provide jobs to local people and gives direct financial rewards through tourism, creating a win-win. The food is absolutely fantastic, each of the 12 rooms incredibly comfortable, and you can feel at ease that your impact as a tourist here is serving to help the Namibian people.
One of the most desolate places on the planet but one of the most beautiful also. I travelled through this striking landscape for a week and fell in love with it a little more each day. Just when I thought it could get no better I would turn a corner to see another mind-blowing landscape. People say the landscape is other planetary, a lunar landscape if you like. It’s true and moreover the feeling it gives you matches the landscape comparison – out of this world.
I recently visited Namibia for the first time, and I was incredibly surprised by how clean and developed the cities are. Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, has been awarded the "cleanest city in all of Africa and the world" on several occasions; from the other experiences I had prior in different areas of Africa, although lovely, I was extremely (pleasantly) surprised when I arrived to Windhoek. The Fig Tree Guesthouse is conveniently located on Robert Mugave Avenue, close to the center of town and within walking distance to a grocery store. With complimentary breakfast each morning, a kitchen to cook your own meals in, beautifully decorated grounds and tidy, comfortable rooms with lush beds, I found the Fig Tree to be the perfect place to spend a few days.
On my recent trip to Namibia, I went on a 5 day excursion with Ondjamba Safaris to track the desert elephants in the Hoanib Riverbed of northwest Namibia. These majestic creatures have learned to adapt to these harsh desert conditions, creating a life in this riverbed that provides their sustenance. Dieter Risser, the founder of Ondjamba Safaris and known locally as "The Elephant Whisperer," has been tracking these desert elephants for over twenty years. He knows how to study their tracks, their movements, their habits and their behaviors, giving you an experience like none other as you get up close and personal with these beautiful animals. You will be camping three days of the trip in the Namibian desert, with excellent meals prepared by Dieter himself, a warm crackling campfire and comfortable camping arrangements. Learn these elephants by name, and enjoy seeing other animals like oryx, Namibia's National animal, and the kingly desert lion.
It's 4am when I am brusquely awakened by the vigorous shaking of my tent. Time to get up for our hike up Sossusvlei, the lofty red sand dunes in the southern part of the Namib Desert. I am not an early riser by habit and very rarely wake up naturally to see the sun creep into the morning sky. So, reluctantly and still half asleep, I slap on some clothes and brush my teeth. After a short drive in the pitch black, we begin our ascent, slogging through sand to the top, still not fully awake. Then we wait. Soon the sky starts to stir. Yellow and red flickers emerge on the horizon, quickly and completely turning our sandy surroundings into a deep crimson red. Spectacular! I'm always a bit skeptical of these early morning touristic awakenings, but this was most definitely a sunrise to remember.
On the way back to Windhoek after a five day Desert Elephant Tracking Experience with Ondjamba Safaris in northwest Namibia, our guide, Dieter, knew that our group was looking to have an authentic experience with the Himba, one of the most recognized and beautiful tribes in Africa, known for their iconic red women. Dieter knows this land well and led us to a village along the road back, a place where he said the people sometimes sell their handicrafts along the side of the road. After stopping at a store to bring the tribe's Matriarch gifts of sugar, maize and tobacco, we visited the village, presented our gifts and had the opportunity to interact with these incredible people for about an hour. We bought handicrafts: handmade ornaments, dolls and jewelry, and laughed with them, showed them pictures of our families on our smart phones and learned about their fascinating culture. I highly recommend a tour with Ondjamba Safaris- not only was the Desert Elephant experience fascinating, I would have never gotten this genuine interaction with the Himba had I not had Dieter Risser, "The Elephant Whisperer," as my guide.
Traveling with researchers from the N/a’an ku se Foundation, we visited the Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch where they have stationed the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre. Cheetahs, like the fierce female you see here, as well as leopards are rehabilitated and released into the wild. Visitors who stay at the ranch have the unique opportunity to track the wild cheetah and learn about conservation. The scenery is golden grass and gently rolling rocky hilltops in the distance. These daytime golden hues yield sunsets of blazing color and vistas where you can see for miles.... and in those miles are cheetah, leopard, hyena, zebra, oryx, springbok and more. As for this fierce cheetah, she was protecting her sister, and her shady spot. Do not mess with a cat's shady spot on a hot day!
On the way home from a five-day Desert Elephant Tracking Experience with Ondjamba Safaris, I stopped at the Palmwag Lodge for an evening on the way back to Windhoek. After three days of camping in the desert, these comfortable accommodations with hot showers, gourmet food and incredible desert views and sunsets were a welcomed treat. Morning and afternoon game drives are offered, and you can see grazing giraffes and other wildlife from the property while drinking a glass of Sauvingnon Blanc. Palmwag Lodge is a vacation opportunity with a difference, helping to support the area's local Communal Conservancies through tourism dollars.
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