When I told my friends I was going to Namibia this summer, I got the same few reactions from everyone:
Or “What’s Namibia?”
And sometimes even “Why Namibia?”
I explained countless times that Namibia was a country located near the bottom of Africa on the west coast. After visiting South Africa, we planned to fly to Windhoek, Namibia, rent a Toyota Quantum and drive a loop through the country.
So on July 26, my family and our travel buddies from California piled into the 10-seater van we eventually named Pat. We had 10 days and five 5-7 hour drives ahead of us. Although it was just 10 a.m., we had to hit the road quickly in order to make it to our first destination, Sossusvlei, by sunset. It is prohibited to drive a rental car after sunset due to the wild animals roaming around.
If you look up Sossusvlei, Namibia, on Google, the images will lead you to believe that it is a sand dune destination with nowhere to stay. Thankfully there are a few desert lodges to choose from, and we picked Hoodia Desert Lodge. The stay came complete with a day of exploration through the dunes and surrounding land. As we drove to the dunes, we stopped at places along the way to learn about the animals in the area and take some photos. Once we reached our destination, we decided to hike the smaller of the two giant sand dunes. Upon reaching the top, we got the chance to run down! Let’s just say that the sand will forever be stuck in the threads of my shoes.
The next stop on our itinerary was Swakopmund. German-influenced Swakopmund is one of the bigger cities for adventure with kayaking, skydiving, sandboarding, and more. Sadly, my mom doesn’t plan on letting me skydive anytime soon, so we had to pass on that opportunity, but we did get to kayak at Pelican Point (AKA: seal soup) with 60,000 seals and go sandboarding!
Swakopmund offers tons of places to stay, but we chose Atlantic Sicht, which was an apartment across the street from the ocean. We weren’t able to swim due to the cold weather, but the apartment allowed both of our families to stay together.
On the drive to Damaraland, you will undoubtedly see stands of women selling minerals and rocks. We parked our Toyota Quantum to visit the first stand we saw, and we weren’t disappointed. We picked out many different stones, and got them all for a total of 150 Namibian dollars — or about 10 USD. We also gave them most of the food we had in our van because there are no stores for HOURS. They were actually more excited about the food than the money. These booths are not to be missed, and don’t pass one up in hopes of finding another down the road, because you might not find another.
Damaraland is a good one-day stop (although we stayed two) for travelers. It offers the Damara Living Museum and also cool hiking experiences. Unfortunately, I was quite sick and we only made it to the Living Museum.
For the two days we stayed in Damaraland, we stayed in two different places, Twyfelfontein Country Lodge and then Camp Kipwe. Our favorite was Camp Kipwe because of the small size of the camp and the awesome rooms.
The final stop before returning to the airport city, Windhoek, was Etosha. Etosha is a national park in Namibia, and the place we stayed was the Okaukuejo Rest Camp. It was the kind of place where you paid $3.50 for 70 MB of wifi… which can send about 10 snapchats or refresh Instagram once.
The morning after we arrived, we woke up at 5 AM to go on a safari drive. We had the best safari experience in Timbavati, South Africa, and we got very lucky with all the animals we saw- lions, rhinos, hippos, white lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants, and giraffes. You could say we had high expectations for the Etosha game drive after our amazing luck in Timbavati. The downside to safaris in a national park (as opposed to a private reserve) is that you aren’t allowed to drive off-road, so we couldn’t get as close to the animals.
However, the best part of the Okaukuejo Rest Camp is the watering hole right at the edge of camp. You don’t have to go on game drives to see the animals. You can sit on the benches surrounding the watering hole and the wildlife actually comes to you!
After seeing them at the watering hole, it is a bit depressing to see some of those animals on your dinner plate.
Tips for visiting Namibia:
- Book early! We started planning this trip 10 months in advance and many of our lodging choices were already booked.
- Sossusvlei – Sossusvlei was awesome, but the day trip was quite long in my opinion. I recommend letting the guide know if you want a shorter trip if you tend to tire out quickly.
- Swakopmund – Although our apartment was great, it would’ve been nice to have a more central location to the town… or stayed in Walvis Bay altogether! Walvis Bay was such a cute area compared to Swakopmund, and just a 20 minute drive away.
- Damaraland – Take extra food and water to give to the women and children at the roadside stands in Damaraland. One day is definitely enough for Damaraland, and two felt a bit extensive. However, if you’re having car troubles (which is VERY common), the extra day could come in handy because there is a mechanic there. I think he’s the busiest guy around.
- If you want to visit the Himba tribes, stay at the Grootberg Lodge the night before. Don’t try to make the drive from Damaraland on the same morning.
- Etosha – Don’t book game drives every day. They aren’t necessary. Most activity takes place at the watering hole.