There was good reason that the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit was held in Namibia this year — it is a prime off-beat destination for desert adventure travel and sport. But this African jewel is emerging as a progressive leader in many other areas as well, under larger umbrellas, balancing tourism opportunities, conservation efforts and community development. I loved it because of the warmth of the people, their pride of place and the endless wide open spaces… it is a wild and wonderful place.
Here are 11 reasons that you might love it too:
1. Desert adventures: Quad-biking, sand-skiing, sand-boarding; hiking the rim of second largest canyon on Earth; skydiving and sky-high balloon rides are just some of the adventures to be had in Namibia. Even walking up and running down a dune is an exquisite adventure.
2. Animal kingdoms: Desert-adapted animals are slightly different in Namibia than their species’ counterparts in places like South Africa’s Kruger or in the Serengeti in Tanzania — one example of this is the prominent black stripes that dress the animals’ hide, retaining warmth from the strong sun during the day that redistributes during cool desert nights that follow. Namibia has one of the largest cheetah populations in the world—it is home to some 3,000 of approximately 10,000 that remain on the planet. All of the large mammals including the ‘Big 5′ (lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo, and rhino) live in Namibia as well, making it an ideal country for safari. Go to Etosha to witness cheetah conservation and the Big 5 at play. Go to the Skeleton Coast to see a colony of wild cape fur seals and desert adapted elephants, go to the Palmwag Concession to track rare black rhino’s with the expert trackers from Wilderness Safari’s Desert Rhino Camp.
3. The African TV: this is known to westerners as a campfire. Stare at it mindlessly all night; converse mindfully with other travelers.
4. Nomadic tribes: The photogenic Himba tribe is known for the striking deep-red ochre powder that women and children cover their skin with for protection from the sun. The ochre also protects skin from bacteria. When it is time to cleanse and reapply, they don’t head to the shower, but wrap themselves in animal hide and stand before a fire that burns wild sage and other plant-derived cleansers. The smoke plumes billow up from the fire and into the enveloped hide. This wild cleanser regenerates the ochre and the natural perfume from it lasts for weeks. The scantily clad Himba neighbor communities with the Herero tribe whose women dress in modest clothing that was bestowed upon them by Dutch settlers. Despite their differences, they live basically harmoniously.
5. Ancient arts: UNESCO World Heritage site, Twyfelfontein, has the highest concentration of Bushmen paintings found in one single area in southern Africa.
6. Conservation is law: Conservation of the environment is written into the constitution, and now 42-49% of land area is under some form of conservation management. It the only nation in the world with a fully protected coastline. Namibia is the second least populous country in the world, (second to Mongolia,) and is regarded to be among the most wild areas remaining on the African continent. At the same time, it is thriving under protection that the Namib’s bestow upon it.
7. Investment markets: In 2013, Bloomberg named Namibia one of the top 20 emerging global investment markets in the world—an uncommon placement for an African nation—based on ease of doing business, the perceived level of corruption and economic freedom.
8. Star beds: Stargaze, photograph the sky, sleep, and watch the sunrise on a bed with panorama views of the dunes in the Namib Desert—the most ancient desert on Earth.
9. The African sundowner: Across sub-Saharan Africa, the setting of the sun is cause for nightly celebration called a “sundowner.” This beloved tradition, an adult beverage toasted to the falling sun, was brought in with British colonization and is referenced throughout mid-21st century literature. It is tightly comparable to an American happy hour or an after work drink almost anywhere in the modern world. But in Africa, although the event occurs at the end of the work day, there is no networking, no talk of work or watching news or sports on TV (although futbol can usually be found inside every drink hole.) A sundowner is a toast to the Earth and its people coexisting, a moment of pause and enjoyment — a time to savor the day that’s just come and gone with no planning of what will come next.
10. Photographers paradise: Dead Vlei, in Sossusvlei, provides a most immaculate setting for photography. Between the geometric foreground, dead trees, orange dunes and blue sky, you could snap thousands of photos and never capture the same composition twice. Every step in the basin provides a new shape, light and opportunity to capture a shot that you are thrilled to share on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest.
11. Adventurous transport, languages, easy entry: Namibia is rugged, so you can expect long car rides and short flights on puddle jumpers — not always the shortest or simplest form of travel, but certainly among the most exciting. English is widely spoken, so is Afrikaans derived from Flemish and German, as is other tribal dialects. You don’t need a visa (as an American) to get into the country. Score!