Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
An endless sea of towering red dunes … ancient landscapes framed against an ink-black sky … waterholes that beckon rare black rhinos and some of Africa’s most magnificent wildlife. This is Namibia—a place unlike anywhere else on Earth. Join OAT to discover the land and people of Namibia, one of the world’s last unspoiled wilderness destinations. Our small group will travel deep into the ancient Namib Desert—a vast and barren landscape where desert elephants and nomadic oryx dwell. Beyond the desert, we’ll take you to towns dating back to Africa’s colonial era where you might still spot a woman wearing a Victorian-era hoop skirt—and into a Bersig community in the heart of Damaraland. We’ll visit the Skeleton Coast, where the bones of whales wash up along its mist-shrouded shores. And we’ll enjoy safari game-viewing drives at Etosha, where Africa’s most elusive and magnificent wildlife can be seen. Travel to Namibia for all this, and much more …
Depart the U.S. for Johannesburg, South Africa.
Depending on your city of origin, your international flight may involve a stop in a European city prior to your arrival in Johannesburg. Upon arrival, you'll be met at the airport and then transferred to your hotel. Here, you'll be joined by those who traveled on our optional Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe extension.
After breakfast we fly to Windhoek, where we’ll meet our Namibian OAT Trip Leader and check into our hotel. The capital and cultural heart of Namibia, Windhoek offers an unexpected taste of Germany in remote southwest Africa. Originally inhabited by the Herero, a Bantu-speaking cattle-herding tribe, the city’s recorded history dates to the 19th century, with the discovery of its natural hot springs. By 1884, Namibia became a German protectorate called South West Africa, and then a German colony in 1890—a tenure that lasted until World War I. Strong influences of this brief colonial heritage remain in the city’s Bavarian architecture, orderly urban layout—and preponderance of sausages and beer!
Perhaps you’ll sample some for lunch on your own today. The remainder of the afternoon is also yours to explore the city at your leisure or simply relax after your long flights. Be sure to gather with our small group this evening, however, as we enjoy an orientation briefing and a Welcome Dinner at our hotel.
This morning we tour Namibia’s charming capital city, which is spread along a wide valley between the bush-covered hills of the Central Highlands. A highlight of our tour is the Christuskirche, a 500-seat Lutheran church that once served as both a church and a school. Today, it is a national monument and the icon of the city. Constructed of local orange sandstone with white trim, this strikingly unusual gingerbread house of worship was built to symbolize the triumph of European colonists over the native cultures.
Nevertheless, a colorful blend of African cultures characterizes this interesting, multicultural city. As we explore Windhoek, you’re apt to see women of the Herero tribe who walk about town in billowing Victorian-style dresses and brightly colored headgear.
Our tour continues with a visit to Katutura (Herero for “we have no permanent place”), one of Windhoek’s vibrant black townships, where we’ll join the locals for lunch at an informal tavern known locally as a shebeen (traditional lunch).
As you enjoy free time this afternoon, you’re likely to hear German spoken as you wander the city streets. Perhaps you’ll explore a few of Windhoek’s open-air shops along Independence Avenue. You might also browse the National Gallery; visit the Tintenpalast, home of the National Assembly; or stroll the gardens of the National Botanical Research Institute.
Dinner on your own also provides another great opportunity to experience the city’s German heritage at one of its traditional Bavarian restaurants.
Today we fly to the Sossusvlei region of the Namib Desert. Here we'll enjoy one of the highlights of the Namib-Naukluft Park—and, indeed, all of Namibia—where the tallest sand dunes in the world enclose an enormous flat, clay pan that fills with water from the Tsauchab River during exceptionally rainy seasons. Generally, this happens once every five to ten years. (Vlei literally means "shallow depression that fills with water" in Afrikaans.) Because the clay hardens when wet, the water can't penetrate the ground, and a beautiful lake remains for some time before the Sossusvlei reverts to desert.
This is a landscape that is continually, though gradually, shifting, as the wind reshapes the sands, moving the dunes further inland until eventually the river will no longer reach the pan. Now, though, it remains a fascinating mountainscape of towering sands whose colors shift with the light—particularly at sunset.
Our flight lands in mid-morning and we have about a 30-minute drive to our camp. It is located in a tranquil, grassy oasis in the rocky desert adjacent to the towering red dunes that surround the Sossusvlei. We have lunch at the camp and some free time to settle in. Then we set off on an awe-inspiring Namibian "sundowner" nature drive. This is when you'll witness for yourself the magnificence of the last rays of sun bathing the rugged landscapes in a myriad of pastel hues. We'll return to the lodge for dinner this evening.
We’ll get up extra early to journey into the dunes of the Sossusvlei, magnificent ancient towers of shifting red-orange sand, some as high as 1,000 feet above the flat desert. Endlessly carved by the wind, the cascading sands of the Namib form a stunning moonscape of linear beauty covering thousands of square miles. We’ll enjoy a picnic breakfast en route.
Arriving here early allows us to watch as the morning light plays against the sand, changing colors and textures as if in a dream. As we venture out for a walk into the vast, surreal dunes, we’ll make the climbing a bit easier by taking a tip from the nomadic gemsbok (or oryx), who regularly traverse the Namib: They stick to the firmer sand along the dunes’ windswept ridges.
We return to our camp for lunch and have time to relax before joining our expert guide for a nature walk. Dinner this evening is at the camp.
Rise extra early to join an optional hot-air balloon ride that journeys high above vast Sossusvlei, where you can witness the sun rising and soar with the winds for approximately one hour.
Enjoy a morning at leisure in camp. In the afternoon, we take a nature walk to explore the breathtaking scenery in the vast wilderness of Namib-Naukluft, one of the world’s largest national parks, including some on-the-ground exploration of Sesriem Canyon. Surprisingly, the parched sands of the ancient Namib Desert are home to a rich diversity of wildlife and flora, even though only between .2 and 3 inches of rain fall every year. Although the oryx embodies the spirit of the Namibian desert, there is a surprisingly diverse range of exotic animal life that thrives in this harsh environment. These amazing creatures—found nowhere else on Earth—have learned to adapt in this extremely inhospitable region. Fog rolling in from the Atlantic blankets the desert about one in every five days, and the plants and animals use what precious little moisture it provides to survive—and flourish.
The Tenebrionid beetle (black beetle) stands on its head to allow droplets of water to run down its grooved body into its mouth. And the clever Lepidochora discoidalis, another beetle species, builds trenches in the sand to trap water. The Palmetto gecko licks its lidless eyes for the water that accumulates there. The geckos and lizards of the Namib boast the lowest water-loss rates of any desert organisms. Oryx, nomadic animals that resemble gazelles, have been known to walk miles to find just one small patch of grass that will eke out a few drops of water. Snakes have adapted, too, and bury themselves in the sand both for coolness and camouflage from their prey.
We return to our camp for dinner and to enjoy the natural beauty of our surroundings with views of the distant Namib dunes.
Today, we fly to Walvis Bay on Namibia's Atlantic Coast. This scenic flight passes over the Sossusvlei landscape, following the river's course and soaring over dunes, then continues west to the seacoast—passing over part of the Skeleton Coast as we approach Walvis Bay, with views of seal colonies, a shipwreck, granite outcrops, and old mines.
We land at Walvis Bay in the late morning. Coveted for its natural deep-sea harbor, Walvis Bay fell under Dutch control in 1793 and was annexed by the British two years later. In 1910, Walvis Bay was ceded to the South African Union, where it remained until as recently as 1994. Once a center for the whaling industry, Walvis Bay is still an important fishing port, and the salt fields of this area produce 400,000 tons of high-quality salt annually.
As important as its deep waters is Walvis Bay's reed-fringed, fresh-water lagoon—southern Africa's most important wetland for coastal birds. During much of the year, huge flocks of seabirds stroll along the lagoon—while hungry, fleet-footed jackals and other predators hide in the giant dunes skirting the shoreline. After having lunch at a local restaurant, we explore this natural wonder before driving to our hotel in Swakopmund.
Upon arrival in Swakopmund, you'll have some free time to discover Namibia's popular seaside resort on your own. Founded in 1892 as a main harbor during the German colonial era, Swakopmund resembles a romantic Bavarian village nestled between the desert and the misty sea. Infused with Old World charm, this enclave of picturesque, half-timbered homes is still home to the descendants of German settlers, together with an eclectic mix of fishermen, miners, and tribal Africans in traditional dress. There are plenty of charming cafés and restaurants for you to pop into at your whim for dinner on your own this evening.
After breakfast this morning, we head to Cape Cross at the center of Namibia's famed Skeleton Coast. Cape Cross is a large breeding site for Cape fur seals—as we'll be sure to notice, since there may be 100,000 or more of them at any time enjoying the cold Atlantic waters or basking on the beach. We'll have lunch while we're at Cape Cross.
To the north and south of Cape Cross stretches one of the most dangerous lengths of coastline in the world for ancient mariners—Namibia's Skeleton Coast. This legendary coastline is aptly named for the many ships whose "bones" have washed up along its treacherous, mist-shrouded shores over the years. Raging currents, violent storms, heavy fog, and a lack of safe harbors are to blame for the estimated 1,000 shipwrecks that have been found here at the edge of the sea. The windblown sands are constantly unearthing new wrecks and covering old ones. This beautiful but dangerous coastline also harbors the bones of unfortunate sailors who manned the ships and met an untimely end here. Portuguese sailors referred to the coast as "The Sands of Hell," and Namibian Bushmen called it "The Land God Made in Anger." Whale and seal bones also contributed to the coastline's name, as they dotted the shore during the whaling era. You'll find that the Skeleton Coast is a hauntingly beautiful region that retains an aura of profound mystery.
We'll return to Swakopmund this afternoon for time at leisure before enjoying dinner on our own this evening.
Enjoy breakfast and time to make independent discoveries this morning. Or join us as we explore the protected lagoon at Walvis Bay on an optional marine cruise. We depart after breakfast for Walvis Bay, the only natural deepwater harbor on the Skeleton Coast, where we embark on a three-hour cruise inside the protected lagoon. Enjoy Champagne, fresh oysters, and other snacks on board as we watch for the myriad of animal life that lives in the lagoon, such as cormorants, low-flying pelicans, two types of dolphins, and a large seal colony. In fact, the seals have been known to swim up to the boat, offering a wonderful opportunity for a closer look at these playful animals.
After lunch on your own, we’ll embark on a tour of a typical Swakopmund township. Here, we’ll meet members of different tribes, many of whom are related through their language of Bantu (though some people here also speak Portuguese and Afrikaans). We visit a Nama chief and a wonderful Herero woman who shares her knowledge of her culture and traditions, and then we’ll stroll through the streets of the township of Mondesa. Next we drive to the home of some local residents for tea before continuing to a shebeen.
After the township tour, dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, we fly to Damaraland in northwest Namibia, one of Africa’s last true wildernesses. It’s one of the most scenic regions of the country, with a dramatic landscape of wide-open sandy plains and rocky, red-hued mountains. Our flight takes us over a landscape of dramatic mesas, buttes, and other geological formations, and we arrive in time for a late lunch at our picturesque lodge, which is situated between the rugged Etendeka Mountains and the red sandstone cliffs of Twyfelfontein. This is prime elephant country, and the desert elephant that thrives here has adapted to the dry, sandy conditions. In fact, these creatures can go for several days without water.
Late this afternoon, we’ll go out in search of the unique desert elephants, who have smaller bodies and longer legs than other elephants. We'll return to the lodge for dinner this evening.
After breakfast this morning, we’ll discover one of the remarkable wonders nestled in Damaraland’s wild landscape: Twyfelfontain, an open-air gallery of ancient rock engravings depicting African wildlife. Here on the red sandstone you can find more than 2,500 rock carvings, mostly of animals, some even pointing out how to find water. Sections of the vast series of petroglyphs date to the early Stone Age and are considered among the continent’s greatest collections of prehistoric art.
Then we’ll continue to the Damara Living Museum, which provides an insightful glimpse into the Damara culture of yesterday and today. As we tour the open-air exhibits, we'll learn more about the traditional, sustainable lifestyle of these fascinating people.
Later this afternoon, we'll visit a farmstead for a chance to interact with the local community. We return to the lodge for dinner.
This morning we head out for a nearby petrified forest, fossilized trees that stand tall in an old river channel. Then we'll gain an invaluable glimpse into the lives of the Namibian people by experiencing A Day in the Life of a Damaraland community. Enjoy connecting with Namibians who make their homes in this ruggedly beautiful region. Our discoveries begin in the village of Bergsig, where we visit with students at Jacob Basson School (when in session) that is supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative. We'll spend time with the children and their teachers, then enjoy a picnic lunch, dining on traditional local dishes such as goat stew and sorghum (polenta.)
We'll return to our camp in the mid-afternoon and enjoy time at leisure before dinner this evening.
After breakfast this morning, we'll embark on a nature walk, delighting in Damaraland's breathtaking scenery and unique wildlife once more. We'll return to our lodge for lunch before departing for the airport for our flight to Etosha.
Etosha, meaning “great white place of dry water,” is a vast shallow bowl of silvery sand surrounded by savannah plains that would seem to forbid life. But Etosha was aptly (if paradoxically) named, because it is home to dozens of underground springs. And where there’s water—even in a harsh desert—wildlife will seek it out.
Rare desert-adapted plants propagate within this important sanctuary, including the extraordinary Welwitschia mirabilis. One of the oldest plants in the world, this true botanic oddity is unique to the Namib Desert. This bizarre plant has two giant leaves, three feet wide, which are withered by the wind and may absorb water from the thick fog that settles here. It is believed that the Welwitschia plant may live upwards of 2,000 years.
We visit a 70,000-acre private reserve on the border of Etosha National Park. With its own staff of expert guides, it offers activities such as nature walks that are not permitted in Etosha National Park itself. We have dinner in camp this evening.
We devote the next two days to discovering the wildlife in Etosha National Park, an enormous game park with relatively few visitors. Namibia’s premier game reserve, Etosha remains an important bulwark against the continual threat of extinction to Africa’s exotic wildlife. The park was established in 1907, when Namibia was still a German colony, and it held the distinction of being the world’s largest game park for 60 years. Although its size was slashed in 1967 to just 25% of its original acreage, it nevertheless is roughly the size of Switzerland and serves as the third-largest animal sanctuary in the world.
Loosely translated as “great white place of dry water,” Etosha consists of a vast shallow bowl of silvery sand surrounded by savannah plains that would seem to forbid life. But Etosha was aptly named, because along with shimmering mirages there are dozens of underground springs. And where there’s water—even in a harsh desert—wildlife will seek it out.
We’re likely to see plenty during today’s full-day game-viewing drive. The park is a haven to a diversity of wildlife—an untamed wilderness of some 114 mammal and 340 bird species. Scattered through the park’s vast grassland and savannah are natural springs and permanent waterholes where the wildlife congregates at various times of day—often several species at the same time. Every safari is different, of course, but over the next two days we will search for wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, rhino, jackal, and kudu. And with a little luck, we may see lion, leopard, and cheetah, too. Even if you’ve been to Africa before, a visit to Namibia’s Etosha promises to be a unique experience. Enjoy a picnic lunch during our game-viewing drive, and dinner at the camp.
American trader G. McKeirnan exclaimed, “All the menageries in the world turned loose would not compare to the sight I saw that day” when he first laid eyes on the Etosha region in 1876. You may well agree with that sentiment as we explore Etosha today.
Today we'll enjoy an early morning game-viewing drive within the Ongava concession—an exclusive area within the confines of Etosha National Park. If you are a bird enthusiast, keep watch for yellow-billed hornbills, flamingos, pelicans, ostrich, and many other species.
We'll return to our camp for lunch before a late afternoon and early evening game-viewing drive in Ongava. Just as fascinating as the wildlife is the landscape of this starkly evocative region. The salty central pan rolls away toward grassy savannas, and surrounding it are starkly beautiful stands of acacia, mopani, and moringa trees. Admire their spiky thorns, gnarled trunks, and outstretched branches silhouetted against the vast African sky.
This evening, we’ll gather at camp for a final briefing and a Farewell Dinner.
After breakfast and some time to pack this morning, we’ll depart for our flight to Windhoek. We’ll arrive in Windhoek in the afternoon before continuing to Johannesburg and embarking on our return trip to the U.S. which will arrive the following day. Or, if you're extending your adventure, you'll begin your post-trip extension to Cape Town & the Cape of Good Hope.