Great Escapes: Namibia’s Raw, Remote Wilderness
Namibia’s wild, windswept landscapes are bold and dramatic—almost otherworldly. Within moments, its foreground can transform from a dune-speckled desert to an emerald oasis, cleverly concealing herds of feasting elephants and troops of rambunctious baboons. It isn’t out of the ordinary to find sprawling grasslands suddenly interrupted by craggy rock formations fused with layers of sandstone and blackened volcanic basalt. Namibia has undeniably earned its nickname as “the land of many faces.”
Here, the weather is as unpredictable as the surroundings. Temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during summer days, but plummet to 50 degrees Fahrenheit after sunset in the dry season. Just 2.6 million people call Namibia home, but a diverse collection of desert-adapted wildlife can be found around every corner. Outdoor activities range from soft adventure (think river cruising and bird watching) to the extreme (like rock climbing and cave diving). Needless to say, all of these combined factors continue to draw well-heeled holidaymakers in search of the surprising and spectacular.
Wildlife is one of Namibia’s main allures, and joining a safari is the most efficient way to spot the most diverse spectrum of the animal kingdom. Some of the different species with which visitors can expect to cross paths include black rhinoceros, lions, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, elephants, baboons, oryx, crocodiles, and ostriches. There are plenty of viable safari options to choose from, but your best bet is to work with a trusted tour operator that specializes in the region, such as Piper Heath. The company was founded by Chris Liebenberg, who was born and raised in Namibia, and only works with the most reputable partners and expert guides.
Those looking to experience remote nature will feel right at home in Etosha National Park, a former game reserve with an abundance of perennial springs, watering holes, and a massive salt pan. The Namib Desert (one of the oldest and largest in the world) is another popular point of interest, stretching more than 1,000 miles along the Atlantic coast. In central Namibia, Windhoek serves as the country’s capital and its largest city, drawing visitors for its museums, shopping, and restaurants, all which make it a convenient place to start or end any Namibian journey.
Meat reigns supreme in Namibia and can be easily found in the form of steaks, sausages, or kabobs. Beef is common, as well as harder-to-find game, like ostrich meat, oryx, and springbok. Ugali or “pap” is another favorite dish, made from cornmeal and prepared like porridge. Lentil-based soups and sides are also customary, since the nutritional legume can be grown locally and inexpensively. Try vetkoek for dessert, the region’s equivalent of a deep-fried golden doughnut bite.
For modern restaurants with an authentic African flair, spend some time exploring Windhoek’s multifaceted culinary scene. For a gourmet experience, head to Leo’s at The Castle, which sits atop Hotel Heinitzburg and overlooks the bustling city below. Joe’s Beerhouse is a local legend, known for its laid-back vibe and traditional Namibian specialties. Or dine al fresco at The Stellenbosch Wine Bar Bistro, which features an inclusive menu suitable for any traveler’s palate.
Wine flows freely in Namibia, thanks to the wealth of different vineyards producing award-winning varietals in neighboring South Africa. Examples include Bouchard Finlayson, Waterford Estate, and Steenberg Vineyards. There are also a few impressive Namibian-based breweries, such as Windhoek (founded in 1920) and Camelthorn Brewing Company.
Gin is by far the most popular spirit, with local distilleries including Desolate and NAMGIN. But don’t forget to stay hydrated, especially if you plan on imbibing—the risk of dehydration is high, even in the cooler months. Opt for filtered water over drinking from the tap.
Wilderness Safaris has offered sustainable tourism and luxurious yet unpretentious accommodations since 1983. The company owns and operates more than 50 camps and safaris across Africa, including seven in Namibia.
Guests of the Desert Rhino Camp can venture into the field with expert trackers that work to protect the endangered black rhinoceros from illegal poachers. The Damaraland Camp (a partnership with the Torra Conservancy) is encircled by copper-colored, flat-topped mountains and provides an airy escape. But for an unforgettable stay, reserve one of the eight elevated chalets at Serra Cafema. The lavish property recently reopened its doors after a top-to-bottom renovation and sits along the banks of the Kunene River, overlooking Angola just across the way.
Windhoek is also teeming with well-appointed properties, like the stylish Olive Exclusive All-Suite Hotel. Exuding charm and sophistication, it boasts spacious rooms and a trendy restaurant. The elegant Am Weinberg Boutique Hotel is another beloved option, located just 30 minutes from the airport. Visitors also swarm to the five-star Hilton Windhoek for its pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, and helpful concierge team.